On their way to Derrick’s ranch house, Hilma and Mrs. Derrick heard the sounds of distant firing.
“Stop!” cried Hilma, laying her hand upon young Vacca’s arm. “Stop the horses. Listen, what was that?”
The carry-all came to a halt and from far away across the rustling wheat came the faint rattle of rifles and revolvers.
“Say,” cried Vacca, rolling his eyes, “oh, say, they’re fighting over there.”
Mrs. Derrick put her hands over her face.
“Fighting,” she cried, “oh, oh, it’s terrible. Magnus is there—and Harran.”
“Where do you think it is?” demanded Hilma. “That’s over toward Hooven’s.”
“I’m going. Turn back. Drive to Hooven’s, quick.”
“Better not, Mrs. Annixter,” protested the young man. “Mr. Annixter said we were to go to Derrick’s. Better keep away from Hooven’s if there’s trouble there. We wouldn’t get there till it’s all over, anyhow.”
“Yes, yes, let’s go home,” cried Mrs. Derrick, “I’m afraid. Oh, Hilma, I’m afraid.”
“Come with me to Hooven’s then.”
“There, where they are fighting? Oh, I couldn’t. I—I can’t. It would be all over before we got there as Vacca says.”
“Sure,” repeated young Vacca.
“Drive to Hooven’s,” commanded Hilma. “If you won’t, I’ll walk there.” She threw off the lap-robes, preparing to descend. “And you,” she exclaimed, turning to Mrs. Derrick, “how CAN you—when Harran and your husband may be—may—are in danger.”
Grumbling, Vacca turned the carry-all about and drove across the open fields till he reached the road to Guadalajara, just below the Mission.
“Hurry!” cried Hilma.
The horses started forward under the touch of the whip. The ranch houses of Quien Sabe came in sight.
“Do you want to stop at the house?” inquired Vacca over his shoulder.
“No, no; oh, go faster—make the horses run.”
They dashed through the houses of the Home ranch.
“Oh, oh,” cried Hilma suddenly, “look, look there. Look what they have done.”
Vacca pulled the horses up, for the road in front of Annixter’s house was blocked.
A vast, confused heap of household effects was there—chairs, sofas, pictures, fixtures, lamps. Hilma’s little home had been gutted; everything had been taken from it and ruthlessly flung out upon the road, everything that she and her husband had bought during that wonderful week after their marriage. Here was the white enamelled “set” of the bedroom furniture, the three chairs, wash-stand and bureau,—the bureau drawers falling out, spilling their contents into the dust; there were the white wool rugs of the sitting-room, the flower stand, with its pots all broken, its flowers wilting; the cracked goldfish globe, the fishes already dead; the rocking chair, the sewing machine, the great round table of yellow oak, the lamp with its deep shade of crinkly red tissue paper, the pretty tinted photographs that had hung on the wall—the choir boys with beautiful eyes, the pensive young girls in pink gowns—the pieces of wood carving that represented quails and ducks, and, last of all, its curtains of crisp, clean muslin, cruelly torn and crushed—the bed, the wonderful canopied bed so brave and gay, of which Hilma had been so proud, thrust out there into the common road, torn from its place, from the discreet intimacy of her bridal chamber, violated, profaned, flung out into the dust and garish sunshine for all men to stare at, a mockery and a shame.
To Hilma it was as though something of herself, of her person, had been thus exposed and degraded; all that she held sacred pilloried, gibbeted, and exhibited to the world’s derision. Tears of anguish sprang to her eyes, a red flame of outraged modesty overspread her face.
“Oh,” she cried, a sob catching her throat, “oh, how could they do it?” But other fears intruded; other greater terrors impended.
“Go on,” she cried to Vacca, “go on quickly.”
But Vacca would go no further. He had seen what had escaped Hilma’s attention, two men, deputies, no doubt, on the porch of the ranch house. They held possession there, and the evidence of the presence of the enemy in this raid upon Quien Sabe had daunted him.
“No, SIR,” he declared, getting out of the carry-all, “I ain’t going to take you anywhere where you’re liable to get hurt. Besides, the road’s blocked by all this stuff. You can’t get the team by.”
Hilma sprang from the carry-all.
“Come,” she said to Mrs. Derrick.
The older woman, trembling, hesitating, faint with dread, obeyed, and Hilma, picking her way through and around the wreck of her home, set off by the trail towards the Long Trestle and Hooven’s.
When she arrived, she found the road in front of the German’s house, and, indeed, all the surrounding yard, crowded with people. An overturned buggy lay on the side of the road in the distance, its horses in a tangle of harness, held by two or three men. She saw Caraher’s buckboard under the live oak and near it a second buggy which she recognised as belonging to a doctor in Guadalajara.
“Oh, what has happened; oh, what has happened?” moaned Mrs. Derrick.
“Come,” repeated Hilma. The young girl took her by the hand and together they pushed their way through the crowd of men and women and entered the yard.
The throng gave way before the two women, parting to right and left without a word.
“Presley,” cried Mrs. Derrick, as she caught sight of him in the doorway of the house, “oh, Presley, what has happened? Is Harran safe? Is Magnus safe? Where are they?”
“Don’t go in, Mrs. Derrick,” said Presley, coming forward, “don’t go in.”
“Where is my husband?” demanded Hilma.
Presley turned away and steadied himself against the jamb of the door.
Hilma, leaving Mrs. Derrick, entered the house. The front room was full of men. She was dimly conscious of Cyrus Ruggles and S. Behrman, both deadly pale, talking earnestly and in whispers to Cutter and Phelps. There was a strange, acrid odour of an unfamiliar drug in the air. On the table before her was a satchel, surgical instruments, rolls of bandages, and a blue, oblong paper box full of cotton. But above the hushed noises of voices and footsteps, one terrible sound made itself heard—the prolonged, rasping sound of breathing, half choked, laboured, agonised.
“Where is my husband?” she cried. She pushed the men aside. She saw Magnus, bareheaded, three or four men lying on the floor, one half naked, his body swathed in white bandages; the doctor in shirt sleeves, on one knee beside a figure of a man stretched out beside him.
Garnett turned a white face to her.
“Where is my husband?”
The other did not reply, but stepped aside and Hilma saw the dead body of her husband lying upon the bed. She did not cry out. She said no word. She went to the bed, and sitting upon it, took Annixter’s head in her lap, holding it gently between her hands. Thereafter she did not move, but sat holding her dead husband’s head in her lap, looking vaguely about from face to face of those in the room, while, without a sob, without a cry, the great tears filled her wide-opened eyes and rolled slowly down upon her cheeks.
On hearing that his wife was outside, Magnus came quickly forward. She threw herself into his arms.
“Tell me, tell me,” she cried, “is Harran—is——”
“We don’t know yet,” he answered. “Oh, Annie——”
Then suddenly the Governor checked himself. He, the indomitable, could not break down now.
“The doctor is with him,” he said; “we are doing all we can. Try and be brave, Annie. There is always hope. This is a terrible day’s work. God forgive us all.”
She pressed forward, but he held her back.
“No, don’t see him now. Go into the next room. Garnett, take care of her.”
But she would not be denied. She pushed by Magnus, and, breaking through the group that surrounded her son, sank on her knees beside him, moaning, in compassion and terror.
Harran lay straight and rigid upon the floor, his head propped by a pillow, his coat that had been taken off spread over his chest. One leg of his trousers was soaked through and through with blood. His eyes were half-closed, and with the regularity of a machine, the eyeballs twitched and twitched. His face was so white that it made his yellow hair look brown, while from his opened mouth, there issued that loud and terrible sound of guttering, rasping, laboured breathing that gagged and choked and gurgled with every inhalation.
“Oh, Harrie, Harrie,” called Mrs. Derrick, catching at one of his hands.
The doctor shook his head.
“He is unconscious, Mrs. Derrick.”
“Where was he—where is—the—the——”
“Through the lungs.”
“Will he get well? Tell me the truth.”
“I don’t know. Mrs. Derrick.”
She had all but fainted, and the old rancher, Garnett, half-carrying, half-leading her, took her to the one adjoining room—Minna Hooven’s bedchamber. Dazed, numb with fear, she sat down on the edge of the bed, rocking herself back and forth, murmuring:
“Harrie, Harrie, oh, my son, my little boy.”
In the outside room, Presley came and went, doing what he could to be of service, sick with horror, trembling from head to foot.
The surviving members of both Leaguers and deputies—the warring factions of the Railroad and the People—mingled together now with no thought of hostility. Presley helped the doctor to cover Christian’s body. S. Behrman and Ruggles held bowls of water while Osterman was attended to. The horror of that dreadful business had driven all other considerations from the mind. The sworn foes of the last hour had no thought of anything but to care for those whom, in their fury, they had shot down. The marshal, abandoning for that day the attempt to serve the writs, departed for San Francisco.
The bodies had been brought in from the road where they fell. Annixter’s corpse had been laid upon the bed; those of Dabney and Hooven, whose wounds had all been in the face and head, were covered with a tablecloth. Upon the floor, places were made for the others. Cutter and Ruggles rode into Guadalajara to bring out the doctor there, and to telephone to Bonneville for others.
Osterman had not at any time since the shooting, lost consciousness. He lay upon the floor of Hooven’s house, bare to the waist, bandages of adhesive tape reeved about his abdomen and shoulder. His eyes were half-closed. Presley, who looked after him, pending the arrival of a hack from Bonneville that was to take him home, knew that he was in agony.
But this poser, this silly fellow, this cracker of jokes, whom no one had ever taken very seriously, at the last redeemed himself. When at length, the doctor had arrived, he had, for the first time, opened his eyes.
“I can wait,” he said. “Take Harran first.” And when at length, his turn had come, and while the sweat rolled from his forehead as the doctor began probing for the bullet, he had reached out his free arm and taken Presley’s hand in his, gripping it harder and harder, as the probe entered the wound. His breath came short through his nostrils; his face, the face of a comic actor, with its high cheek bones, bald forehead, and salient ears, grew paler and paler, his great slit of a mouth shut tight, but he uttered no groan.
When the worst anguish was over and he could find breath to speak, his first words had been:
“Were any of the others badly hurt?”
As Presley stood by the door of the house after bringing in a pail of water for the doctor, he was aware of a party of men who had struck off from the road on the other side of the irrigating ditch and were advancing cautiously into the field of wheat. He wondered what it meant and Cutter, coming up at that moment, Presley asked him if he knew.
“It’s Delaney,” said Cutter. “It seems that when he was shot he crawled off into the wheat. They are looking for him there.”
Presley had forgotten all about the buster and had only a vague recollection of seeing him slide from his horse at the beginning of the fight. Anxious to know what had become of him, he hurried up and joined the party of searchers.
“We better look out,” said one of the young men, “how we go fooling around in here. If he’s alive yet he’s just as liable as not to think we’re after him and take a shot at us.”
“I guess there ain’t much fight left in him,” another answered. “Look at the wheat here.”
“Lord! He’s bled like a stuck pig.”
“Here’s his hat,” abruptly exclaimed the leader of the party. “He can’t be far off. Let’s call him.”
They called repeatedly without getting any answer, then proceeded cautiously. All at once the men in advance stopped so suddenly that those following carromed against them. There was an outburst of exclamation.
“Here he is!”
“Good Lord! Sure, that’s him.”
“Poor fellow, poor fellow.”
The cow-puncher lay on his back, deep in the wheat, his knees drawn up, his eyes wide open, his lips brown. Rigidly gripped in one hand was his empty revolver.
The men, farm hands from the neighbouring ranches, young fellows from Guadalajara, drew back in instinctive repulsion. One at length ventured near, peering down into the face.
“Is he dead?” inquired those in the rear.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, put your hand on his heart.” “No! I—I don’t want to.”
“What you afraid of?”
“Well, I just don’t want to touch him, that’s all. It’s bad luck. YOU feel his heart.”
“You can’t always tell by that.”
“How can you tell, then? Pshaw, you fellows make me sick. Here, let me get there. I’ll do it.”
There was a long pause, as the other bent down and laid his hand on the cow-puncher’s breast.
“I can’t tell. Sometimes I think I feel it beat and sometimes I don’t. I never saw a dead man before.”
“Well, you can’t tell by the heart.”
“What’s the good of talking so blame much. Dead or not, let’s carry him back to the house.”
Two or three ran back to the road for planks from the broken bridge. When they returned with these a litter was improvised, and throwing their coats over the body, the party carried it back to the road. The doctor was summoned and declared the cow-puncher to have been dead over half an hour.
“What did I tell you?” exclaimed one of the group.
“Well, I never said he wasn’t dead,” protested the other. “I only said you couldn’t always tell by whether his heart beat or not.”
But all at once there was a commotion. The wagon containing Mrs. Hooven, Minna, and little Hilda drove up.
“Eh, den, my men,” cried Mrs. Hooven, wildly interrogating the faces of the crowd. “Whadt has happun? Sey, den, dose vellers, hev dey hurdt my men, eh, whadt?”
She sprang from the wagon, followed by Minna with Hilda in her arms. The crowd bore back as they advanced, staring at them in silence.
“Eh, whadt has happun, whadt has happun?” wailed Mrs. Hooven, as she hurried on, her two hands out before her, the fingers spread wide. “Eh, Hooven, eh, my men, are you alle righdt?”
She burst into the house. Hooven’s body had been removed to an adjoining room, the bedroom of the house, and to this room Mrs. Hooven—Minna still at her heels—proceeded, guided by an instinct born of the occasion. Those in the outside room, saying no word, made way for them. They entered, closing the door behind them, and through all the rest of that terrible day, no sound nor sight of them was had by those who crowded into and about that house of death. Of all the main actors of the tragedy of the fight in the ditch, they remained the least noted, obtruded themselves the least upon the world’s observation. They were, for the moment, forgotten.
But by now Hooven’s house was the centre of an enormous crowd. A vast concourse of people from Bonneville, from Guadalajara, from the ranches, swelled by the thousands who had that morning participated in the rabbit drive, surged about the place; men and women, young boys, young girls, farm hands, villagers, townspeople, ranchers, railroad employees, Mexicans, Spaniards, Portuguese. Presley, returning from the search for Delaney’s body, had to fight his way to the house again.
And from all this multitude there rose an indefinable murmur. As yet, there was no menace in it, no anger. It was confusion merely, bewilderment, the first long-drawn “oh!” that greets the news of some great tragedy. The people had taken no thought as yet. Curiosity was their dominant impulse. Every one wanted to see what had been done; failing that, to hear of it, and failing that, to be near the scene of the affair. The crowd of people packed the road in front of the house for nearly a quarter of a mile in either direction. They balanced themselves upon the lower strands of the barbed wire fence in their effort to see over each others’ shoulders; they stood on the seats of their carts, buggies, and farm wagons, a few even upon the saddles of their riding horses. They crowded, pushed, struggled, surged forward and back without knowing why, converging incessantly upon Hooven’s house.
When, at length, Presley got to the gate, he found a carry-all drawn up before it. Between the gate and the door of the house a lane had been formed, and as he paused there a moment, a group of Leaguers, among whom were Garnett and Gethings, came slowly from the door carrying old Broderson in their arms. The doctor, bareheaded and in his shirt sleeves, squinting in the sunlight, attended them, repeating at every step:
“Slow, slow, take it easy, gentlemen.”
Old Broderson was unconscious. His face was not pale, no bandages could be seen. With infinite precautions, the men bore him to the carry-all and deposited him on the back seat; the rain flaps were let down on one side to shut off the gaze of the multitude.
But at this point a moment of confusion ensued. Presley, because of half a dozen people who stood in his way, could not see what was going on. There were exclamations, hurried movements. The doctor uttered a sharp command and a man ran back to the house returning on the instant with the doctor’s satchel. By this time, Presley was close to the wheels of the carry-all and could see the doctor inside the vehicle bending over old Broderson.
“Here it is, here it is,” exclaimed the man who had been sent to the house.
“I won’t need it,” answered the doctor, “he’s dying now.”
At the words a great hush widened throughout the throng near at hand. Some men took off their hats.
“Stand back,” protested the doctor quietly, “stand back, good people, please.”
The crowd bore back a little. In the silence, a woman began to sob. The seconds passed, then a minute. The horses of the carry-all shifted their feet and whisked their tails, driving off the flies. At length, the doctor got down from the carry-all, letting down the rain-flaps on that side as well.
“Will somebody go home with the body?” he asked. Gethings stepped forward and took his place by the driver. The carry-all drove away.
Presley reentered the house. During his absence it had been cleared of all but one or two of the Leaguers, who had taken part in the fight. Hilma still sat on the bed with Annixter’s head in her lap. S. Behrman, Ruggles, and all the railroad party had gone. Osterman had been taken away in a hack and the tablecloth over Dabney’s body replaced with a sheet. But still unabated, agonised, raucous, came the sounds of Harran’s breathing. Everything possible had already been done. For the moment it was out of the question to attempt to move him. His mother and father were at his side, Magnus, with a face of stone, his look fixed on those persistently twitching eyes, Annie Derrick crouching at her son’s side, one of his hands in hers, fanning his face continually with the crumpled sheet of an old newspaper.
Presley on tip-toes joined the group, looking on attentively. One of the surgeons who had been called from Bonneville stood close by, watching Harran’s face, his arms folded.
“How is he?” Presley whispered.
“He won’t live,” the other responded.
By degrees the choke and gurgle of the breathing became more irregular and the lids closed over the twitching eyes. All at once the breath ceased. Magnus shot an inquiring glance at the surgeon.
“He is dead, Mr. Derrick,” the surgeon replied.
Annie Derrick, with a cry that rang through all the house, stretched herself over the body of her son, her head upon his breast, and the Governor’s great shoulders bowed never to rise again.
“God help me and forgive me,” he groaned.
Presley rushed from the house, beside himself with grief, with horror, with pity, and with mad, insensate rage. On the porch outside Caraher met him.
“Is he—is he—” began the saloon-keeper.
“Yes, he’s dead,” cried Presley. “They’re all dead, murdered, shot down, dead, dead, all of them. Whose turn is next?”
“That’s the way they killed my wife, Presley.”
“Caraher,” cried Presley, “give me your hand. I’ve been wrong all the time. The League is wrong. All the world is wrong. You are the only one of us all who is right. I’m with you from now on. BY GOD, I TOO, I’M A RED!”
In course of time, a farm wagon from Bonneville arrived at Hooven’s. The bodies of Annixter and Harran were placed in it, and it drove down the Lower Road towards the Los Muertos ranch houses.
The bodies of Delaney and Christian had already been carried to Guadalajara and thence taken by train to Bonneville.
Hilma followed the farm wagon in the Derricks’ carry-all, with Magnus and his wife. During all that ride none of them spoke a word. It had been arranged that, since Quien Sabe was in the hands of the Railroad, Hilma should come to Los Muertos. To that place also Annixter’s body was carried.
Later on in the day, when it was almost evening, the undertaker’s black wagon passed the Derricks’ Home ranch on its way from Hooven’s and turned into the county road towards Bonneville. The initial excitement of the affair of the irrigating ditch had died down; the crowd long since had dispersed. By the time the wagon passed Caraher’s saloon, the sun had set. Night was coming on.
And the black wagon went on through the darkness, unattended, ignored, solitary, carrying the dead body of Dabney, the silent old man of whom nothing was known but his name, who made no friends, whom nobody knew or spoke to, who had come from no one knew whence and who went no one knew whither.
Towards midnight of that same day, Mrs. Dyke was awakened by the sounds of groaning in the room next to hers. Magnus Derrick was not so occupied by Harran’s death that he could not think of others who were in distress, and when he had heard that Mrs. Dyke and Sidney, like Hilma, had been turned out of Quien Sabe, he had thrown open Los Muertos to them.
“Though,” he warned them, “it is precarious hospitality at the best.”
Until late, Mrs. Dyke had sat up with Hilma, comforting her as best she could, rocking her to and fro in her arms, crying with her, trying to quiet her, for once having given way to her grief, Hilma wept with a terrible anguish and a violence that racked her from head to foot, and at last, worn out, a little child again, had sobbed herself to sleep in the older woman’s arms, and as a little child, Mrs. Dyke had put her to bed and had retired herself.
Aroused a few hours later by the sounds of a distress that was physical, as well as mental, Mrs. Dyke hurried into Hilma’s room, carrying the lamp with her. Mrs. Dyke needed no enlightenment. She woke Presley and besought him to telephone to Bonneville at once, summoning a doctor. That night Hilma in great pain suffered a miscarriage.
Presley did not close his eyes once during the night; he did not even remove his clothes. Long after the doctor had departed and that house of tragedy had quieted down, he still remained in his place by the open window of his little room, looking off across the leagues of growing wheat, watching the slow kindling of the dawn. Horror weighed intolerably upon him. Monstrous things, huge, terrible, whose names he knew only too well, whirled at a gallop through his imagination, or rose spectral and grisly before the eyes of his mind. Harran dead, Annixter dead, Broderson dead, Osterman, perhaps, even at that moment dying. Why, these men had made up his world. Annixter had been his best friend, Harran, his almost daily companion; Broderson and Osterman were familiar to him as brothers. They were all his associates, his good friends, the group was his environment, belonging to his daily life. And he, standing there in the dust of the road by the irrigating ditch, had seen them shot. He found himself suddenly at his table, the candle burning at his elbow, his journal before him, writing swiftly, the desire for expression, the craving for outlet to the thoughts that clamoured tumultuous at his brain, never more insistent, more imperious. Thus he wrote:
“Dabney dead, Hooven dead, Harran dead, Annixter dead, Broderson dead, Osterman dying, S. Behrman alive, successful; the Railroad in possession of Quien Sabe. I saw them shot. Not twelve hours since I stood there at the irrigating ditch. Ah, that terrible moment of horror and confusion! powder smoke—flashing pistol barrels—blood stains—rearing horses—men staggering to their death—Christian in a horrible posture, one rigid leg high in the air across his saddle—Broderson falling sideways into the ditch—Osterman laying himself down, his head on his arms, as if tired, tired out. These things, I have seen them. The picture of this day’s work is from henceforth part of my mind, part of ME. They have done it, S. Behrman and the owners of the railroad have done it, while all the world looked on, while the people of these United States looked on. Oh, come now and try your theories upon us, us of the ranchos, us, who have suffered, us, who KNOW. Oh, talk to US now of the ‘rights of Capital,’ talk to US of the Trust, talk to US of the ‘equilibrium between the classes.’ Try your ingenious ideas upon us. WE KNOW. I cannot tell whether or not your theories are excellent. I do not know if your ideas are plausible. I do not know how practical is your scheme of society. I do not know if the Railroad has a right to our lands, but I DO know that Harran is dead, that Annixter is dead, that Broderson is dead, that Hooven is dead, that Osterman is dying, and that S. Behrman is alive, successful, triumphant; that he has ridden into possession of a principality over the dead bodies of five men shot down by his hired associates.
“I can see the outcome. The Railroad will prevail. The Trust will overpower us. Here in this corner of a great nation, here, on the edge of the continent, here, in this valley of the West, far from the great centres, isolated, remote, lost, the great iron hand crushes life from us, crushes liberty and the pursuit of happiness from us, and our little struggles, our moment’s convulsion of death agony causes not one jar in the vast, clashing machinery of the nation’s life; a fleck of grit in the wheels, perhaps, a grain of sand in the cogs—the momentary creak of the axle is the mother’s wail of bereavement, the wife’s cry of anguish—and the great wheel turns, spinning smooth again, even again, and the tiny impediment of a second, scarce noticed, is forgotten. Make the people believe that the faint tremour in their great engine is a menace to its function? What a folly to think of it. Tell them of the danger and they will laugh at you. Tell them, five years from now, the story of the fight between the League of the San Joaquin and the Railroad and it will not be believed. What! a pitched battle between Farmer and Railroad, a battle that cost the lives of seven men? Impossible, it could not have happened. Your story is fiction—is exaggerated.
“Yet it is Lexington—God help us, God enlighten us, God rouse us from our lethargy—it is Lexington; farmers with guns in their hands fighting for Liberty. Is our State of California the only one that has its ancient and hereditary foe? Are there no other Trusts between the oceans than this of the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad? Ask yourselves, you of the Middle West, ask yourselves, you of the North, ask yourselves, you of the East, ask yourselves, you of the South—ask yourselves, every citizen of every State from Maine to Mexico, from the Dakotas to the Carolinas, have you not the monster in your boundaries? If it is not a Trust of transportation, it is only another head of the same Hydra. Is not our death struggle typical? Is it not one of many, is it not symbolical of the great and terrible conflict that is going on everywhere in these United States? Ah, you people, blind, bound, tricked, betrayed, can you not see it? Can you not see how the monsters have plundered your treasures and holding them in the grip of their iron claws, dole them out to you only at the price of your blood, at the price of the lives of your wives and your little children? You give your babies to Moloch for the loaf of bread you have kneaded yourselves. You offer your starved wives to Juggernaut for the iron nail you have yourselves compounded.”
He spent the night over his journal, writing down such thoughts as these or walking the floor from wall to wall, or, seized at times with unreasoning horror and blind rage, flinging himself face downward upon his bed, vowing with inarticulate cries that neither S. Behrman nor Shelgrim should ever live to consummate their triumph.
Morning came and with it the daily papers and news. Presley did not even glance at the “Mercury.” Bonneville published two other daily journals that professed to voice the will and reflect the temper of the people and these he read eagerly.
Osterman was yet alive and there were chances of his recovery. The League—some three hundred of its members had gathered at Bonneville over night and were patrolling the streets and, still resolved to keep the peace, were even guarding the railroad shops and buildings. Furthermore, the Leaguers had issued manifestoes, urging all citizens to preserve law and order, yet summoning an indignation meeting to be convened that afternoon at the City Opera House.
It appeared from the newspapers that those who obstructed the marshal in the discharge of his duty could be proceeded against by the District Attorney on information or by bringing the matter before the Grand Jury. But the Grand Jury was not at that time in session, and it was known that there were no funds in the marshal’s office to pay expenses for the summoning of jurors or the serving of processes. S. Behrman and Ruggles in interviews stated that the Railroad withdrew entirely from the fight; the matter now, according to them, was between the Leaguers and the United States Government; they washed their hands of the whole business. The ranchers could settle with Washington. But it seemed that Congress had recently forbade the use of troops for civil purposes; the whole matter of the League-Railroad contest was evidently for the moment to be left in status quo.
But to Presley’s mind the most important piece of news that morning was the report of the action of the Railroad upon hearing of the battle.
Instantly Bonneville had been isolated. Not a single local train was running, not one of the through trains made any halt at the station. The mails were not moved. Further than this, by some arrangement difficult to understand, the telegraph operators at Bonneville and Guadalajara, acting under orders, refused to receive any telegrams except those emanating from railway officials. The story of the fight, the story creating the first impression, was to be told to San Francisco and the outside world by S. Behrman, Ruggles, and the local P. and S. W. agents.
An hour before breakfast, the undertakers arrived and took charge of the bodies of Harran and Annixter. Presley saw neither Hilma, Magnus, nor Mrs. Derrick. The doctor came to look after Hilma. He breakfasted with Mrs. Dyke and Presley, and from him Presley learned that Hilma would recover both from the shock of her husband’s death and from her miscarriage of the previous night.
“She ought to have her mother with her,” said the physician. “She does nothing but call for her or beg to be allowed to go to her. I have tried to get a wire through to Mrs. Tree, but the company will not take it, and even if I could get word to her, how could she get down here? There are no trains.”
But Presley found that it was impossible for him to stay at Los Muertos that day. Gloom and the shadow of tragedy brooded heavy over the place. A great silence pervaded everything, a silence broken only by the subdued coming and going of the undertaker and his assistants. When Presley, having resolved to go into Bonneville, came out through the doorway of the house, he found the undertaker tying a long strip of crape to the bell-handle.
Presley saddled his pony and rode into town. By this time, after long hours of continued reflection upon one subject, a sombre brooding malevolence, a deep-seated desire of revenge, had grown big within his mind. The first numbness had passed off; familiarity with what had been done had blunted the edge of horror, and now the impulse of retaliation prevailed. At first, the sullen anger of defeat, the sense of outrage, had only smouldered, but the more he brooded, the fiercer flamed his rage. Sudden paroxysms of wrath gripped him by the throat; abrupt outbursts of fury injected his eyes with blood. He ground his teeth, his mouth filled with curses, his hands clenched till they grew white and bloodless. Was the Railroad to triumph then in the end? After all those months of preparation, after all those grandiloquent resolutions, after all the arrogant presumption of the League! The League! what a farce; what had it amounted to when the crisis came? Was the Trust to crush them all so easily? Was S. Behrman to swallow Los Muertos? S. Behrman! Presley saw him plainly, huge, rotund, white; saw his jowl tremulous and obese, the roll of fat over his collar sprinkled with sparse hairs, the great stomach with its brown linen vest and heavy watch chain of hollow links, clinking against the buttons of imitation pearl. And this man was to crush Magnus Derrick—had already stamped the life from such men as Harran and Annixter. This man, in the name of the Trust, was to grab Los Muertos as he had grabbed Quien Sabe, and after Los Muertos, Broderson’s ranch, then Osterman’s, then others, and still others, the whole valley, the whole State.
Presley beat his forehead with his clenched fist as he rode on.
“No,” he cried, “no, kill him, kill him, kill him with my hands.”
The idea of it put him beside himself. Oh, to sink his fingers deep into the white, fat throat of the man, to clutch like iron into the great puffed jowl of him, to wrench out the life, to batter it out, strangle it out, to pay him back for the long years of extortion and oppression, to square accounts for bribed jurors, bought judges, corrupted legislatures, to have justice for the trick of the Ranchers’ Railroad Commission, the charlatanism of the “ten per cent. cut,” the ruin of Dyke, the seizure of Quien Sabe, the murder of Harran, the assassination of Annixter!
It was in such mood that he reached Caraher’s. The saloon-keeper had just opened his place and was standing in his doorway, smoking his pipe. Presley dismounted and went in and the two had a long talk.
When, three hours later, Presley came out of the saloon and rode on towards Bonneville, his face was very pale, his lips shut tight, resolute, determined. His manner was that of a man whose mind is made up. The hour for the mass meeting at the Opera House had been set for one o’clock, but long before noon the street in front of the building and, in fact, all the streets in its vicinity, were packed from side to side with a shifting, struggling, surging, and excited multitude. There were few women in the throng, but hardly a single male inhabitant of either Bonneville or Guadalajara was absent. Men had even come from Visalia and Pixley. It was no longer the crowd of curiosity seekers that had thronged around Hooven’s place by the irrigating ditch; the People were no longer confused, bewildered. A full realisation of just what had been done the day before was clear now in the minds of all. Business was suspended; nearly all the stores were closed. Since early morning the members of the League had put in an appearance and rode from point to point, their rifles across their saddle pommels. Then, by ten o’clock, the streets had begun to fill up, the groups on the corners grew and merged into one another; pedestrians, unable to find room on the sidewalks, took to the streets. Hourly the crowd increased till shoulders touched and elbows, till free circulation became impeded, then congested, then impossible. The crowd, a solid mass, was wedged tight from store front to store front. And from all this throng, this single unit, this living, breathing organism—the People—there rose a droning, terrible note. It was not yet the wild, fierce clamour of riot and insurrection, shrill, high pitched; but it was a beginning, the growl of the awakened brute, feeling the iron in its flank, heaving up its head with bared teeth, the throat vibrating to the long, indrawn snarl of wrath.
Thus the forenoon passed, while the people, their bulk growing hourly vaster, kept to the streets, moving slowly backward and forward, oscillating in the grooves of the thoroughfares, the steady, low-pitched growl rising continually into the hot, still air.
Then, at length, about twelve o’clock, the movement of the throng assumed definite direction. It set towards the Opera House. Presley, who had left his pony at the City livery stable, found himself caught in the current and carried slowly forward in its direction. His arms were pinioned to his sides by the press, the crush against his body was all but rib-cracking, he could hardly draw his breath. All around him rose and fell wave after wave of faces, hundreds upon hundreds, thousands upon thousands, red, lowering, sullen. All were set in one direction and slowly, slowly they advanced, crowding closer, till they almost touched one another. For reasons that were inexplicable, great, tumultuous heavings, like ground-swells of an incoming tide, surged over and through the multitude. At times, Presley, lifted from his feet, was swept back, back, back, with the crowd, till the entrance of the Opera House was half a block away; then, the returning billow beat back again and swung him along, gasping, staggering, clutching, till he was landed once more in the vortex of frantic action in front of the foyer. Here the waves were shorter, quicker, the crushing pressure on all sides of his body left him without strength to utter the cry that rose to his lips; then, suddenly the whole mass of struggling, stamping, fighting, writhing men about him seemed, as it were, to rise, to lift, multitudinous, swelling, gigantic. A mighty rush dashed Presley forward in its leap. There was a moment’s whirl of confused sights, congested faces, opened mouths, bloodshot eyes, clutching hands; a moment’s outburst of furious sound, shouts, cheers, oaths; a moment’s jam wherein Presley veritably believed his ribs must snap like pipestems and he was carried, dazed, breathless, helpless, an atom on the crest of a storm-driven wave, up the steps of the Opera House, on into the vestibule, through the doors, and at last into the auditorium of the house itself.
There was a mad rush for places; men disdaining the aisle, stepped from one orchestra chair to another, striding over the backs of seats, leaving the print of dusty feet upon the red plush cushions. In a twinkling the house was filled from stage to topmost gallery. The aisles were packed solid, even on the edge of the stage itself men were sitting, a black fringe on either side of the footlights.
The curtain was up, disclosing a half-set scene,—the flats, leaning at perilous angles,—that represented some sort of terrace, the pavement, alternate squares of black and white marble, while red, white, and yellow flowers were represented as growing from urns and vases. A long, double row of chairs stretched across the scene from wing to wing, flanking a table covered with a red cloth, on which was set a pitcher of water and a speaker’s gavel.
Promptly these chairs were filled up with members of the League, the audience cheering as certain well-known figures made their appearance—Garnett of the Ruby ranch, Gethings of the San Pablo, Keast of the ranch of the same name, Chattern of the Bonanza, elderly men, bearded, slow of speech, deliberate.
Garnett opened the meeting; his speech was plain, straightforward, matter-of-fact. He simply told what had happened. He announced that certain resolutions were to be drawn up. He introduced the next speaker.
This one pleaded for moderation. He was conservative. All along he had opposed the idea of armed resistance except as the very last resort. He “deplored” the terrible affair of yesterday. He begged the people to wait in patience, to attempt no more violence. He informed them that armed guards of the League were, at that moment, patrolling Los Muertos, Broderson’s, and Osterman’s. It was well known that the United States marshal confessed himself powerless to serve the writs. There would be no more bloodshed.
“We have had,” he continued, “bloodshed enough, and I want to say right here that I am not so sure but what yesterday’s terrible affair might have been avoided. A gentleman whom we all esteem, who from the first has been our recognised leader, is, at this moment, mourning the loss of a young son, killed before his eyes. God knows that I sympathise, as do we all, in the affliction of our President. I am sorry for him. My heart goes out to him in this hour of distress, but, at the same time, the position of the League must be defined. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the people of this county. The League armed for the very purpose of preserving the peace, not of breaking it. We believed that with six hundred armed and drilled men at our disposal, ready to muster at a moment’s call, we could so overawe any attempt to expel us from our lands that such an attempt would not be made until the cases pending before the Supreme Court had been decided. If when the enemy appeared in our midst yesterday they had been met by six hundred rifles, it is not conceivable that the issue would have been forced. No fight would have ensued, and to-day we would not have to mourn the deaths of four of our fellow-citizens. A mistake has been made and we of the League must not be held responsible.”
The speaker sat down amidst loud applause from the Leaguers and less pronounced demonstrations on the part of the audience.
A second Leaguer took his place, a tall, clumsy man, half-rancher, half-politician.
“I want to second what my colleague has just said,” he began. “This matter of resisting the marshal when he tried to put the Railroad dummies in possession on the ranches around here, was all talked over in the committee meetings of the League long ago. It never was our intention to fire a single shot. No such absolute authority as was assumed yesterday was delegated to anybody. Our esteemed President is all right, but we all know that he is a man who loves authority and who likes to go his own gait without accounting to anybody. We—the rest of us Leaguers—never were informed as to what was going on. We supposed, of course, that watch was being kept on the Railroad so as we wouldn’t be taken by surprise as we were yesterday. And it seems no watch was kept at all, or if there was, it was mighty ineffective. Our idea was to forestall any movement on the part of the Railroad and then when we knew the marshal was coming down, to call a meeting of our Executive Committee and decide as to what should be done. We ought to have had time to call out the whole League. Instead of that, what happens? While we’re all off chasing rabbits, the Railroad is allowed to steal a march on us and when it is too late, a handful of Leaguers is got together and a fight is precipitated and our men killed. I’M sorry for our President, too. No one is more so, but I want to put myself on record as believing he did a hasty and inconsiderate thing. If he had managed right, he could have had six hundred men to oppose the Railroad and there would not have been any gun fight or any killing. He DIDN’T manage right and there WAS a killing and I don’t see as how the League ought to be held responsible. The idea of the League, the whole reason why it was organised, was to protect ALL the ranches of this valley from the Railroad, and it looks to me as if the lives of our fellow-citizens had been sacrificed, not in defending ALL of our ranches, but just in defence of one of them—Los Muertos—the one that Mr. Derrick owns.”
The speaker had no more than regained his seat when a man was seen pushing his way from the back of the stage towards Garnett. He handed the rancher a note, at the same time whispering in his ear. Garnett read the note, then came forward to the edge of the stage, holding up his hand. When the audience had fallen silent he said:
“I have just received sad news. Our friend and fellow-citizen, Mr. Osterman, died this morning between eleven and twelve o’clock.”
Instantly there was a roar. Every man in the building rose to his feet, shouting, gesticulating. The roar increased, the Opera House trembled to it, the gas jets in the lighted chandeliers vibrated to it. It was a raucous howl of execration, a bellow of rage, inarticulate, deafening.
A tornado of confusion swept whirling from wall to wall and the madness of the moment seized irresistibly upon Presley. He forgot himself; he no longer was master of his emotions or his impulses. All at once he found himself upon the stage, facing the audience, flaming with excitement, his imagination on fire, his arms uplifted in fierce, wild gestures, words leaping to his mind in a torrent that could not be withheld.
“One more dead,” he cried, “one more. Harran dead, Annixter dead, Broderson dead, Dabney dead, Osterman dead, Hooven dead; shot down, killed, killed in the defence of their homes, killed in the defence of their rights, killed for the sake of liberty. How long must it go on? How long must we suffer? Where is the end; what is the end? How long must the iron-hearted monster feed on our life’s blood? How long must this terror of steam and steel ride upon our necks? Will you never be satisfied, will you never relent, you, our masters, you, our lords, you, our kings, you, our task-masters, you, our Pharoahs. Will you never listen to that command ‘LET MY PEOPLE GO’? Oh, that cry ringing down the ages. Hear it, hear it. It is the voice of the Lord God speaking in his prophets. Hear it, hear it—‘Let My people go!’ Rameses heard it in his pylons at Thebes, Caesar heard it on the Palatine, the Bourbon Louis heard it at Versailles, Charles Stuart heard it at Whitehall, the white Czar heard it in the Kremlin,—‘LET MY PEOPLE GO.’ It is the cry of the nations, the great voice of the centuries; everywhere it is raised. The voice of God is the voice of the People. The people cry out ‘Let us, the People, God’s people, go.’ You, our masters, you, our kings, you, our tyrants, don’t you hear us? Don’t you hear God speaking in us? Will you never let us go? How long at length will you abuse our patience? How long will you drive us? How long will you harass us? Will nothing daunt you? Does nothing check you? Do you not know that to ignore our cry too long is to wake the Red Terror? Rameses refused to listen to it and perished miserably. Caesar refused to listen and was stabbed in the Senate House. The Bourbon Louis refused to listen and died on the guillotine; Charles Stuart refused to listen and died on the block; the white Czar refused to listen and was blown up in his own capital. Will you let it come to that? Will you drive us to it? We who boast of our land of freedom, we who live in the country of liberty? Go on as you have begun and it WILL come to that. Turn a deaf ear to that cry of ‘Let My people go’ too long and another cry will be raised, that you cannot choose but hear, a cry that you cannot shut out. It will be the cry of the man on the street, the ‘a la Bastille’ that wakes the Red Terror and unleashes Revolution. Harassed, plundered, exasperated, desperate, the people will turn at last as they have turned so many, many times before. You, our lords, you, our task-masters, you, our kings; you have caught your Samson, you have made his strength your own. You have shorn his head; you have put out his eyes; you have set him to turn your millstones, to grind the grist for your mills; you have made him a shame and a mock. Take care, oh, as you love your lives, take care, lest some day calling upon the Lord his God he reach not out his arms for the pillars of your temples.”
The audience, at first bewildered, confused by this unexpected invective, suddenly took fire at his last words. There was a roar of applause; then, more significant than mere vociferation, Presley’s listeners, as he began to speak again, grew suddenly silent. His next sentences were uttered in the midst of a profound stillness.
“They own us, these task-masters of ours; they own our homes, they own our legislatures. We cannot escape from them. There is no redress. We are told we can defeat them by the ballot-box. They own the ballot-box. We are told that we must look to the courts for redress; they own the courts. We know them for what they are,—ruffians in politics, ruffians in finance, ruffians in law, ruffians in trade, bribers, swindlers, and tricksters. No outrage too great to daunt them, no petty larceny too small to shame them; despoiling a government treasury of a million dollars, yet picking the pockets of a farm hand of the price of a loaf of bread.
“They swindle a nation of a hundred million and call it Financiering; they levy a blackmail and call it Commerce; they corrupt a legislature and call it Politics; they bribe a judge and call it Law; they hire blacklegs to carry out their plans and call it Organisation; they prostitute the honour of a State and call it Competition.
“And this is America. We fought Lexington to free ourselves; we fought Gettysburg to free others. Yet the yoke remains; we have only shifted it to the other shoulder. We talk of liberty—oh, the farce of it, oh, the folly of it! We tell ourselves and teach our children that we have achieved liberty, that we no longer need fight for it. Why, the fight is just beginning and so long as our conception of liberty remains as it is to-day, it will continue.
“For we conceive of Liberty in the statues we raise to her as a beautiful woman, crowned, victorious, in bright armour and white robes, a light in her uplifted hand—a serene, calm, conquering goddess. Oh, the farce of it, oh, the folly of it! Liberty is NOT a crowned goddess, beautiful, in spotless garments, victorious, supreme. Liberty is the Man In the Street, a terrible figure, rushing through powder smoke, fouled with the mud and ordure of the gutter, bloody, rampant, brutal, yelling curses, in one hand a smoking rifle, in the other, a blazing torch.
“Freedom is NOT given free to any who ask; Liberty is not born of the gods. She is a child of the People, born in the very height and heat of battle, born from death, stained with blood, grimed with powder. And she grows to be not a goddess, but a Fury, a fearful figure, slaying friend and foe alike, raging, insatiable, merciless, the Red Terror.”
Presley ceased speaking. Weak, shaking, scarcely knowing what he was about, he descended from the stage. A prolonged explosion of applause followed, the Opera House roaring to the roof, men cheering, stamping, waving their hats. But it was not intelligent applause. Instinctively as he made his way out, Presley knew that, after all, he had not once held the hearts of his audience. He had talked as he would have written; for all his scorn of literature, he had been literary. The men who listened to him, ranchers, country people, store-keepers, attentive though they were, were not once sympathetic. Vaguely they had felt that here was something which other men—more educated—would possibly consider eloquent. They applauded vociferously but perfunctorily, in order to appear to understand.
Presley, for all his love of the people, saw clearly for one moment that he was an outsider to their minds. He had not helped them nor their cause in the least; he never would.
Disappointed, bewildered, ashamed, he made his way slowly from the Opera House and stood on the steps outside, thoughtful, his head bent.
He had failed, thus he told himself. In that moment of crisis, that at the time he believed had been an inspiration, he had failed. The people would not consider him, would not believe that he could do them service. Then suddenly he seemed to remember. The resolute set of his lips returned once more. Pushing his way through the crowded streets, he went on towards the stable where he had left his pony.
Meanwhile, in the Opera House, a great commotion had occurred. Magnus Derrick had appeared.
Only a sense of enormous responsibility, of gravest duty could have prevailed upon Magnus to have left his house and the dead body of his son that day. But he was the President of the League, and never since its organisation had a meeting of such importance as this one been held. He had been in command at the irrigating ditch the day before. It was he who had gathered the handful of Leaguers together. It was he who must bear the responsibility of the fight.
When he had entered the Opera House, making his way down the central aisle towards the stage, a loud disturbance had broken out, partly applause, partly a meaningless uproar. Many had pressed forward to shake his hand, but others were not found wanting who, formerly his staunch supporters, now scenting opposition in the air, held back, hesitating, afraid to compromise themselves by adhering to the fortunes of a man whose actions might be discredited by the very organisation of which he was the head.
Declining to take the chair of presiding officer which Garnett offered him, the Governor withdrew to an angle of the stage, where he was joined by Keast.
This one, still unalterably devoted to Magnus, acquainted him briefly with the tenor of the speeches that had been made.
“I am ashamed of them, Governor,” he protested indignantly, “to lose their nerve now! To fail you now! it makes my blood boil. If you had succeeded yesterday, if all had gone well, do you think we would have heard of any talk of ‘assumption of authority,’ or ‘acting without advice and consent’? As if there was any time to call a meeting of the Executive Committee. If you hadn’t acted as you did, the whole county would have been grabbed by the Railroad. Get up, Governor, and bring ‘em all up standing. Just tear ‘em all to pieces, show ‘em that you are the head, the boss. That’s what they need. That killing yesterday has shaken the nerve clean out of them.”
For the instant the Governor was taken all aback. What, his lieutenants were failing him? What, he was to be questioned, interpolated upon yesterday’s “irrepressible conflict”? Had disaffection appeared in the ranks of the League—at this, of all moments? He put from him his terrible grief. The cause was in danger. At the instant he was the President of the League only, the chief, the master. A royal anger surged within him, a wide, towering scorn of opposition. He would crush this disaffection in its incipiency, would vindicate himself and strengthen the cause at one and the same time. He stepped forward and stood in the speaker’s place, turning partly toward the audience, partly toward the assembled Leaguers.
“Gentlemen of the League,” he began, “citizens of Bonneville”
But at once the silence in which the Governor had begun to speak was broken by a shout. It was as though his words had furnished a signal. In a certain quarter of the gallery, directly opposite, a man arose, and in a voice partly of derision, partly of defiance, cried out:
“How about the bribery of those two delegates at Sacramento? Tell us about that. That’s what we want to hear about.”
A great confusion broke out. The first cry was repeated not only by the original speaker, but by a whole group of which he was but a part. Others in the audience, however, seeing in the disturbance only the clamour of a few Railroad supporters, attempted to howl them down, hissing vigorously and exclaiming:
“Put ‘em out, put ‘em out.”
“Order, order,” called Garnett, pounding with his gavel. The whole Opera House was in an uproar.
But the interruption of the Governor’s speech was evidently not unpremeditated. It began to look like a deliberate and planned attack. Persistently, doggedly, the group in the gallery vociferated: “Tell us how you bribed the delegates at Sacramento. Before you throw mud at the Railroad, let’s see if you are clean yourself.”
“Put ‘em out, put ‘em out.”
“Briber, briber—Magnus Derrick, unconvicted briber! Put him out.”
Keast, beside himself with anger, pushed down the aisle underneath where the recalcitrant group had its place and, shaking his fist, called up at them:
“You were paid to break up this meeting. If you have anything to say; you will be afforded the opportunity, but if you do not let the gentleman proceed, the police will be called upon to put you out.”
But at this, the man who had raised the first shout leaned over the balcony rail, and, his face flaming with wrath, shouted:
“YAH! talk to me of your police. Look out we don’t call on them first to arrest your President for bribery. You and your howl about law and justice and corruption! Here”—he turned to the audience—“read about him, read the story of how the Sacramento convention was bought by Magnus Derrick, President of the San Joaquin League. Here’s the facts printed and proved.”
With the words, he stooped down and from under his seat dragged forth a great package of extra editions of the “Bonneville Mercury,” not an hour off the presses. Other equally large bundles of the paper appeared in the hands of the surrounding group. The strings were cut and in handfuls and armfuls the papers were flung out over the heads of the audience underneath. The air was full of the flutter of the newly printed sheets. They swarmed over the rim of the gallery like clouds of monstrous, winged insects, settled upon the heads and into the hands of the audience, were passed swiftly from man to man, and within five minutes of the first outbreak every one in the Opera House had read Genslinger’s detailed and substantiated account of Magnus Derrick’s “deal” with the political bosses of the Sacramento convention.
Genslinger, after pocketing the Governor’s hush money, had “sold him out.”
Keast, one quiver of indignation, made his way back upon the stage. The Leaguers were in wild confusion. Half the assembly of them were on their feet, bewildered, shouting vaguely. From proscenium wall to foyer, the Opera House was a tumult of noise. The gleam of the thousands of the “Mercury” extras was like the flash of white caps on a troubled sea.
Keast faced the audience.
“Liars,” he shouted, striving with all the power of his voice to dominate the clamour, “liars and slanderers. Your paper is the paid organ of the corporation. You have not one shadow of proof to back you up. Do you choose this, of all times, to heap your calumny upon the head of an honourable gentleman, already prostrated by your murder of his son? Proofs—we demand your proofs!”
“We’ve got the very assemblymen themselves,” came back the answering shout. “Let Derrick speak. Where is he hiding? If this is a lie, let him deny it. Let HIM DISPROVE the charge.” “Derrick, Derrick,” thundered the Opera House.
Keast wheeled about. Where was Magnus? He was not in sight upon the stage. He had disappeared. Crowding through the throng of Leaguers, Keast got from off the stage into the wings. Here the crowd was no less dense. Nearly every one had a copy of the “Mercury.” It was being read aloud to groups here and there, and once Keast overheard the words, “Say, I wonder if this is true, after all?”
“Well, and even if it was,” cried Keast, turning upon the speaker, “we should be the last ones to kick. In any case, it was done for our benefit. It elected the Ranchers’ Commission.”
“A lot of benefit we got out of the Ranchers’ Commission,” retorted the other.
“And then,” protested a third speaker, “that ain’t the way to do—if he DID do it—bribing legislatures. Why, we were bucking against corrupt politics. We couldn’t afford to be corrupt.”
Keast turned away with a gesture of impatience. He pushed his way farther on. At last, opening a small door in a hallway back of the stage, he came upon Magnus.
The room was tiny. It was a dressing-room. Only two nights before it had been used by the leading actress of a comic opera troupe which had played for three nights at Bonneville. A tattered sofa and limping toilet table occupied a third of the space. The air was heavy with the smell of stale grease paint, ointments, and sachet. Faded photographs of young women in tights and gauzes ornamented the mirror and the walls. Underneath the sofa was an old pair of corsets. The spangled skirt of a pink dress, turned inside out, hung against the wall.
And in the midst of such environment, surrounded by an excited group of men who gesticulated and shouted in his very face, pale, alert, agitated, his thin lips pressed tightly together, stood Magnus Derrick.
“Here,” cried Keast, as he entered, closing the door behind him, “where’s the Governor? Here, Magnus, I’ve been looking for you. The crowd has gone wild out there. You’ve got to talk ‘em down. Come out there and give those blacklegs the lie. They are saying you are hiding.”
But before Magnus could reply, Garnett turned to Keast.
“Well, that’s what we want him to do, and he won’t do it.”
“Yes, yes,” cried the half-dozen men who crowded around Magnus, “yes, that’s what we want him to do.”
Keast turned to Magnus.
“Why, what’s all this, Governor?” he exclaimed. “You’ve got to answer that. Hey? why don’t you give ‘em the lie?”
“I—I,” Magnus loosened the collar about his throat “it is a lie. I will not stoop—I would not—would be—it would be beneath my—my—it would be beneath me.”
Keast stared in amazement. Was this the Great Man the Leader, indomitable, of Roman integrity, of Roman valour, before whose voice whole conventions had quailed? Was it possible he was AFRAID to face those hired villifiers?
“Well, how about this?” demanded Garnett suddenly. “It is a lie, isn’t it? That Commission was elected honestly, wasn’t it?”
“How dare you, sir!” Magnus burst out. “How dare you question me—call me to account! Please understand, sir, that I tolerate——”
“Oh, quit it!” cried a voice from the group. “You can’t scare us, Derrick. That sort of talk was well enough once, but it don’t go any more. We want a yes or no answer.”
It was gone—that old-time power of mastery, that faculty of command. The ground crumbled beneath his feet. Long since it had been, by his own hand, undermined. Authority was gone. Why keep up this miserable sham any longer? Could they not read the lie in his face, in his voice? What a folly to maintain the wretched pretence! He had failed. He was ruined. Harran was gone. His ranch would soon go; his money was gone. Lyman was worse than dead. His own honour had been prostituted. Gone, gone, everything he held dear, gone, lost, and swept away in that fierce struggle. And suddenly and all in a moment the last remaining shells of the fabric of his being, the sham that had stood already wonderfully long, cracked and collapsed.
“Was the Commission honestly elected?” insisted Garnett. “Were the delegates—did you bribe the delegates?”
“We were obliged to shut our eyes to means,” faltered Magnus. “There was no other way to—” Then suddenly and with the last dregs of his resolution, he concluded with: “Yes, I gave them two thousand dollars each.”
“Oh, hell! Oh, my God!” exclaimed Keast, sitting swiftly down upon the ragged sofa.
There was a long silence. A sense of poignant embarrassment descended upon those present. No one knew what to say or where to look. Garnett, with a laboured attempt at nonchalance, murmured:
“I see. Well, that’s what I was trying to get at. Yes, I see.”
“Well,” said Gethings at length, bestirring himself, “I guess I’LL go home.”
There was a movement. The group broke up, the men making for the door. One by one they went out. The last to go was Keast. He came up to Magnus and shook the Governor’s limp hand.
“Good-bye, Governor,” he said. “I’ll see you again pretty soon. Don’t let this discourage you. They’ll come around all right after a while. So long.”
He went out, shutting the door.
And seated in the one chair of the room, Magnus Derrick remained a long time, looking at his face in the cracked mirror that for so many years had reflected the painted faces of soubrettes, in this atmosphere of stale perfume and mouldy rice powder.
It had come—his fall, his ruin. After so many years of integrity and honest battle, his life had ended here—in an actress’s dressing-room, deserted by his friends, his son murdered, his dishonesty known, an old man, broken, discarded, discredited, and abandoned. Before nightfall of that day, Bonneville was further excited by an astonishing bit of news. S. Behrman lived in a detached house at some distance from the town, surrounded by a grove of live oak and eucalyptus trees. At a little after half-past six, as he was sitting down to his supper, a bomb was thrown through the window of his dining-room, exploding near the doorway leading into the hall. The room was wrecked and nearly every window of the house shattered. By a miracle, S. Behrman, himself, remained untouched.