Chapter XVI. A Gallant Fight
 

In the Rectory the night was one long agony of fear and anxiety. Adrien had taken Mrs. Egan and her babe home in a taxi as soon as circumstances would warrant, and then, lest they should alarm their mother, they made pretense of retiring for the night.

After seeing their mother safely bestowed, they slipped downstairs, and, muffling the telephone, sat waiting for news, slipping out now and then to the street, one at a time, to watch the glare of the fire in the sky and to listen for the sounds of rioting from the town.

At length from Victor came news of the tragedy. With whitening face, Adrien took the message. Not for nothing had she walked the wards in France.

"Listen, Victor," she said, speaking in a quick, firm voice. "It is almost impossible to get a nurse in time and quite impossible to get one skilled in this sort of case. Come for me. I shall be ready and shall take charge. Tell Dr. Meredith I am quite free."

"All right. Lose no time."

"Oh, what is it, Adrien?" said Patricia, wringing her hands. "Is it Jack? Or Victor?"

Adrien caught her by the shoulders: "Patricia, I want your help. No talk! Come with me. I will tell you as I dress."

Swiftly, with no hurry or flurry, Adrien changed into her uniform, packed her bag, giving Patricia meantime the story of the tragedy which she had heard over the telephone.

"And to think it might have been Jack," said Patricia, wringing her hands. "Oh, dear, dear Annette. Can't I help in some way, Adrien?"

"Patricia, listen to me, child. The first thing is keep your head. You can help me greatly. You will take charge here and later, perhaps, you can help me in other ways. Meantime you must assume full responsibility for them all here. Much depends on you!"

The girl stood gazing with wide-open blue eyes at her sister. Then quietly she answered:

"I'll do my best, Adrien. There's Vic." She rushed swiftly downstairs. Suddenly she stopped, steadied her pace, and received him with a calm that surprised that young man beyond measure.

"Adrien is quite ready, Vic," she said.

"Topping," said Vic. "What a brick she is! Dr. Meredith didn't know where to turn for a nurse. The hospital is full. Every nurse is engaged. So much sickness, you know, in town. Ah, here she is. You are a lightning-change artist, Adrien."

"How is Annette, Vic? Is she still living?" asked Patricia.

"I don't know," replied Vic, wondering at the change in the girl before him.

"Darling," said Adrien, "I will let you know at once. I hate to leave you."

"Leave me!" cried Patricia. "Nonsense, Adrien, I shall be quite all right. Only," she added, clasping her hands, "let me know when you can."

When the ambulance arrived at the Maitland home, Adrien was at the door. All was in readiness--hot water, bandages, and everything needful to the doctor's hand.

McNish carried Annette up to the room prepared for her, laid her down and stood in dumb grief looking down upon her.

Adrien touched him on the arm.

"Come," she said. And, taking his arm, led him downstairs. "Stay here," she said. "I will bring you word as soon as possible."

An hour later she returned, and found him sitting in the exact position in which she had left him. He apparently had not moved hand or foot. At her entrance he looked up, eager, voiceless.

"She is resting," said Adrien. "The bullet is extracted. It had gone quite through to the outer skin--a clean wound."

"How long," said McNish, passing his tongue over his dry lips, "how long does the doctor say--"

"The doctor says nothing. She asked for you."

McNish started up and went toward the door.

"But you cannot go to her now."

"She asked for me?" said McNish.

"Yes. But she must be kept quite quiet. The very least excitement might hurt her."

"Hurt her?" said McNish, and sat down quietly.

After a moment's silence, he said:

"You will let me see her--once more--before she--she--" He paused, his lips quivering, his great blue eyes pitifully beseeching her.

"Mr. McNish," said Adrien, "she may not die."

"Ma God!" he whispered, falling on his knees and catching her hand in both of his. "Ma God! Dinna lee tae me."

"Believe me, I would not," said Adrien, while the great eyes seemed to drag the truth from her very soul. "The doctor says nothing, but I have seen many cases of bullet wounds, and I have hope."

"Hope," he whispered. "Hope! Ma God! hope!" His hands went to his face and his great frame shook with silent sobbing.

"But you must be very quiet and steady."

Immediately he was on his feet and standing like a soldier at attention.

"Ay, A wull," he whispered eagerly. "Tell me what tae do?"

"First of all," said Adrien, "we must have something to eat."

A shudder passed through him. "Eat?" he said, as if he had never heard the word.

"Yes," said Adrien. "Remember, you promised."

"Ay. A'll eat." Like a man under a mesmeric spell, he went through the motions of eating. His mind was far away, his eyes eager, alert, forever upon her face.

When they had finished their meal, Adrien said:

"Now, Mr. McNish, is there anything I can do for you?"

"A would like to send word to ma mither," he said. "She disna ken onything--aboot--aboot Annette--aboot Annette an' me," a faint touch of red coming slowly up in his grey face.

"I shall get word to her. I know the very man. I shall phone the Reverend Murdo Matheson."

"Ay," said McNish, "he is the man."

"Now, then," said Adrien, placing him in an easy chair, "you must rest there. Remember, I am keeping watch."

With the promise that he would do his best to rest, she left him sitting bolt upright in his chair.

Toward morning, Maitland appeared, weary and haggard. Adrien greeted him with tender solicitude; it was almost maternal in its tone.

"Oh, Adrien," said Maitland, with a great sight of relief, "you don't know how good it is to see you here. It bucks one tremendously to feel that you are on this job."

"I shall get you some breakfast immediately," she answered in a calm, matter-of-fact voice. "You are done out. Your father has come in and has gone to lie down. McNish is in the library."

"And Annette?" said Maitland. He was biting his lips to keep them from quivering. "Is she still--"

"She is resting. The maid is watching beside her. Dear Jack," she uttered with a quick rush of sympathy, "I know how hard this is for you. But I am not without hope for Annette."

A quick light leaped into his eyes. "Hope, did you say? Oh, thank the good Lord." His voice broke and he turned away from her. "You know," he said, coming back, "she gave her life for me. Oh, Adrien, think of it! She threw herself in the way of death for me. She covered me with her own body." He sat down suddenly as if almost in collapse, and buried his head in his arms, struggling for control.

Adrien went to him and put her arm round his shoulder--she might have been his mother. "Dear Jack," she said, "it was a wonderful thing she did. God will surely spare her to you."

He rose wearily from his chair and put his arms around her.

"Oh, Adrien," he said, "it is good to have you here. I do need, we all need you so."

Gently she put his arms away from her. "And now," she said briskly, "I am going to take charge of you, Jack, of you all, and you must obey orders."

"Only give me a chance to do anything for you," he said, "or for anyone you care for."

There was a puzzled expression on Adrien's face as she turned away. But she asked no explanation.

"My first order, then," she said, "is this: you must have your breakfast and then go to bed for an hour or two."

"I shall be glad to breakfast, but I have a lot of things to do."

"Can't they wait? And won't you do them better after a good sleep?"

"Some of them can't wait," he replied. "I have just got Tony to bed. The doctor has sent him to sleep. His father and mother are watching him. Oh, Adrien, that is a sad home. It was a terrible experience for me. Tony I must see when he wakes and the poor old father and mother will be over here early. I must be ready for them."

"Very well, Jack," said Adrien in a prompt, businesslike tone. "You have two clear hours for sleep. You must sleep for the sake of others, you understand. I promise to wake you in good time."

"And what about yourself, Adrien?"

"Oh, this is my job," she said lightly. "I shall be relieved in the afternoon, the doctor has promised."

When the Employers' Defence Committee met next morning there were many haggard faces among its members. In the large hall outside the committee room a considerable number of citizens, young and old, had gathered and with them the Mayor, conversing in voices tinged with various emotions, anxiety, pity, wrath, according to the temper and disposition of each.

In the committee room Mr. Farrington was in the chair. No sooner had the meeting been called to order than Mr. Maitland arose, and, speaking under deep but controlled feeling, he said:

"Gentlemen, I felt sure none of us would wish to transact ordinary business this morning. I was sure, too, that in the very distressing circumstances under which we meet you would feel as I do the need of guidance and help. I therefore took the liberty of inviting the deputation from the Ministerial Association which waited on us the other day to join us in our deliberation. Mr. Haynes is away from town, but Dr. Templeton and Mr. Matheson have kindly consented to be present. They will be here in half an hour's time."

A general and hearty approval of his action was expressed, after which the Chairman invited suggestions as to the course to be pursued. But no one was ready with a suggestion. Somehow the outlook upon life was different this morning, and readjustment of vision appeared to be necessary. No man felt himself qualified to offer advice.

From this dilemma they were relieved by a knock upon the door and the Mayor appeared.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I have no wish to intrude, but a great many of our citizens are in the larger hall. They are anxious to be advised upon the present trying situation. It has been suggested that your committee might join with us in a general public meeting."

After a few moments' consideration, the Mayor's proposition was accepted and the committee adjourned to the larger hall, Mr. Farrington resigning the chair to His Worship, the Mayor.

The Mayor's tongue was not so ready this morning. He explained the circumstances of the meeting and thanked the committee for yielding to his request. He was ready to receive any suggestions as to what the next step should be.

The silence which followed was broken by Mr. McGinnis, who arose and, in a voice much shaken, he inquired:

"Can anyone tell us just what is the last word concerning the young girl this morning?"

Mr. Maitland replied: "Before I left the house, the last report was that she was resting quietly and, while the doctor was not able to offer any hope of her recovery, he ventured to say that he did not quite despair. And that from Dr. Meredith, as we know, means something."

"Thank God for that," said McGinnis, and leaning his head upon his hand, he sat with his eyes fixed upon the floor.

Again the Mayor asked for suggestions, but no one in the audience appeared willing to assume the responsibility of offering guidance.

At length Rupert Stillwell arose. He apologised for speaking in the presence of older men, but something had to be done and he ventured to offer one suggestion at least.

"It occurs to me," he said, "that one thing at least should be immediately done. Those responsible for the disgraceful riot of last evening, and I mean more than the actual ringleaders in the affair, should be brought to justice." He proceeded to elaborate upon the enormity of the crime, the danger to the State of mob rule, the necessity for stern measures to prevent the recurrence of such disorders. He suggested a special citizens' committee for the preservation of public order.

His words appeared to meet the approval of a large number of those present, especially of the younger men.

While he was speaking, the audience appeared to be greatly relieved to see Dr. Templeton and the Reverend Murdo Matheson walk in and quietly take their seats. They remembered, many of them, how at a recent similar gathering these gentlemen had advised a procedure which, if followed, would have undoubtedly prevented the disasters of the previous night.

Giving a brief account of the proceedings of the meeting to the present point, the Mayor suggested that Dr. Templeton might offer them a word of advice.

Courteously thanking the Mayor for his invitation, the Doctor said:

"As I came in this room, I caught the words of my young friend, who suggested a committee for the preservation of public order. May I suggested that the preservation of public order in the community is something that can be entrusted to no committee? It rests with the whole community. We have all made mistakes, we are constantly making mistakes. We have yielded to passion, and always to our sorrow and hurt. We have vainly imagined that by the exercise of force we can settle strife. No question of right or justice is settled by fighting, for, after the fighting is done, the matter in dispute remains to be settled. We have tried that way and to-day we are fronted with disastrous failure. I have come from a home over which the shadow of death hangs low. There a father and mother lie prostrate with sorrow, agonising for the life of their child. But a deeper shadow lies there, a shadow of sin, for the sting of death is sin. A brother torn with self-condemnation, his heart broken with grief for his sister, who loved him better than her own life, lies under that shadow of sin. But, gentlemen, can any of us escape from that shadow? Do we not all share in that sin? For we all have a part in the determining of our environment. Can we not, by God's grace, lift that shadow at least from our lives? Let us turn our faces from the path of strife toward the path of peace, for the pathway of right doing and of brotherly kindness is the only path to peace in this world."

The Chairman then called upon the Reverend Murdo Matheson to express his mind. But at this point, the whole audience were galvanised into an intensity of confused emotion by the entrance of the Executive of the Allied Unions, led by McNish himself. Simmons alone was absent, being at that moment, with some half dozen others, in the care of the police. Silently the Executive Committee walked to the front and found seats, McNish alone remaining standing. Grey, gaunt, hollow-eyed, he met with steady gaze the eyes of the audience, some of them aflame with hostile wrath, for in him they recognised the responsible head of the labour movement that had wrought such disaster and grief in the community.

Without apology or preface McNish began: "I am here seeking peace," he said, in his hoarse, hard, guttural voice. "I have made mistakes. Would I could suffer for them alone, but no, others must suffer with me. I have only condemnation for the outrages of last night. We repudiate them, we lament them. We tried to prevent them, but human passion and circumstances were too strong for us. We would undo the ill--would to God could undo the ill. How gladly would I suffer all that has come to others." His deep, harsh voice shook under the stress of his emotion. He lifted his head: "I cannot deny my cause," he continued, his voice ringing out clear. "Our cause was right, but the spirit was wrong." He paused a few moments, evidently gathering strength to hold his voice steady. "Yes, the spirit was wrong and this day is a black day to me. We come to ask for peace. God knows I have no heart for war."

Again he paused, his strong stern face working strangely under the stress of the emotions which he was fighting to subdue. "We suggest a committee of three, with powers to arbitrate, and we name as our man one who till recently was one of our Union, a man of fair and honest mind, a man without fear and with a heart for his comrades. Our man is Captain Maitland."

His words, and especially the name of the representative of the labour unions produced an overwhelming effect upon the audience. No sooner had he finished than the Reverend Murdo Matheson took the floor. He spoke no economics. He offered no elaborate argument for peace. In plain, simple words he told of experiences through which he had recently passed:

"Like one whom I feel it an honour to call my father," he began, bowing toward Dr. Templeton, "I, too, have made a visit this morning. Not to a home, but to a place the most unlike a home of any spot in this sad world, a jail. Seven of our fellow-citizens are confined there, six of them boys, mere boys, dazed and penetrated with sorrow for their folly--they meant no crime--I am not relieving them of the blame--the other, a man, embittered with a long, hard fight against poverty, injustice and cruel circumstance in another land, with distorted views of life, crazed by drink, committed a crime which this morning fills him with horror and grief. Late last night I was sent to the home of one of my people. There I found an aged lady, carrying with a brave heart the sorrows and burdens of nearly seventy years, waiting in anxiety and grief and fear for her son, who was keeping vigil at what may well be the deathbed of the girl he loves. You have just heard his plea for peace. Some of you are inclined to lay the blame for the ills that have fallen upon us upon certain classes and individuals in this community. They have their blame and they must bear the responsibility. But, gentlemen, a juster estimate of the causes of these ills will convince us that they are the product of our civilisation and for these things we must all accept our share of responsibility. More, we must seek to remove them from among us. They are an affront to our intelligence, an insult to our holy religion, an outrage upon the love of our brother man and our Father, God. Let us humbly, resolutely seek the better way, the way we have set before us this morning, the way of right doing, of brotherly kindness and of brotherly love which is the way of peace."

It was a subdued company of men that listened to his appeal. In silence they sat looking straight before them with faces grave and frowning, as is the way with men of our race when deeply stirred.

It was a morning of dramatic surprises, but none were so startling, none so dramatic as the speech of McGinnis that followed.

"This is a day for confessions," he said, "and I am here to make one for myself. I have been a fighter, too much of a fighter, all my life, and I have often suffered for it. I suffered a heavy loss last night and to-day I am sick of fighting. But I have found this: that you can't fight men in this world without fighting women and children, too. God knows I have no war with the old, grey- haired lady the Padre has just told us about. I have no war with that broken-hearted father and mother. And I have no war with Annette Perrotte, dear girl, God preserve her." At this point, McGinnis's command quite forsook him. His voice utterly broke down, while the tears ran down his rugged fighting face. "I am done with fighting," he cried. "They have named Captain Maitland. We know him for a straight man and a white man. Let me talk with Captain Jack Maitland, and let us get together with the Padre there," pointing to the Reverend Murdo Matheson, "and in an hour we will settle this matter."

In a tumult of approval the suggestion was accepted. It was considered a perfectly fitting thing, though afterwards men spoke of it with something of wonder, that the Mayor should have called upon the Reverend Doctor to close the meeting with prayer, and that he should do so without making a speech.

That same afternoon the three men met to consider the matter submitted to them. Captain Jack Maitland laid before the committee his figures and his charts setting forth the facts in regard to the cost of living and the wage scale during the past five years. In less than an hour they had agreed upon a settlement. There was to be an increase of wages in keeping with the rise of the cost of living, with the pledge that the wage scale should follow the curb of the cost of living should any change occur within the year. The hours of labour were shortened from ten to nine for a day's work, with the pledge that they should be governed by the effect of the change upon production and general conditions. And further, that a Committee of Reference should be appointed for each shop and craft, to which all differences should be submitted. To this committee also were referred the other demands by the Allied Unions.

It was a simple solution of the difficulty and upon its submission to the public meeting called for its consideration, it was felt that the comment of the irrepressible Victor Forsythe was not entirely unfitting:

"Of course!" said Victor, cheerfully. "It is the only thing. Why didn't the Johnnies think of it before, or why didn't they ask me?"

The committee, however, did more than settle the dispute immediately before them. They laid before the public meeting and obtained its approval for the creation of a General Board of Industry, under whose guidance the whole question of the industrial life of the community should be submitted to intelligent study and control.