The Gray Dawn by Stewart Edward White
Coleman returned at once to the hall to resume his interrupted labours with the committee. The results of his conference with the governor seemed very satisfactory,
"We can now go ahead with free minds," said Clancey Dempster.
The business was astonishingly varied in scope. Charles Doane--not to be confused with Duane, the ex-fire chief--was appointed military commander- in-chief; Colonel Johns, captain of artillery; Olney was given the task of guarding the jail from the outside "with a force numerous enough to prevent escape." After considerable discussion Aaron Burns was made head of a civilian committee to take charge of all prisoners. It was moved and carried that no city or county official should be admitted to membership, a striking commentary on the disesteem in which such men were held. Permanent headquarters were arranged for; committees appointed for the solicitation of funds. A dozen other matters of similar detail were taken up, intelligently discussed, and provided for with the celerity of men trained in crises of business or life. At length it was moved the "committee, as a body, shall visit the county jail at such time as the Executive Committee might direct; and take thence James P. Casey and Charles Cora, give them a fair trial, and administer such punishment as justice shall demand."
This was the real business, for the transaction of which all these lesser businesses had been prepared. A slight pause followed its introduction, as though each member present were savouring the significance of the moment.
"Are you ready for the question?" asked Coleman in grave tones. "Those in favour----"
"Aye," came the instant response from every man present.
A messenger opened the door to announce that Governor Johnson was in the anteroom requesting speech with Coleman. The latter, handing his gavel to Dempster, immediately answered the summons.
He found Johnson, accompanied by Sherman, Garrison, and two strangers, lounging in the anteroom. The governor sprawled in a chair, his hat pulled over his eyes, a cigar in the corner of his mouth. His companions arose and bowed gravely as Coleman entered the room, but he remained seated, nodding at Coleman with an air of cavalier bravado that was plainly intended to conceal his nervousness. Without waiting for the exchange of spoken greetings, he burst out:
"We have come to ask what you intend to do," he demanded truculently of Coleman, as though he had never seen or talked to him before.
Coleman stared at him for an instant, completely surprised; read him; set his mouth grimly.
"Outrages are of constant occurrence," he recited briefly; "our suffrages are profaned, our fellow-citizens shot down in the street, our courts afford us no redress, we will endure it no longer."
"I agree with you as to the grievances," rejoined the governor, almost as though reciting a learned lesson; "but I think the courts are the proper remedy. The judges are good men, and there is no necessity for the people to turn themselves into a mob and obstruct the execution of the laws."
A flush mounted Coleman's cheek.
"Sir!" he cried indignantly, "this is no mob! You know this is no mob!"
Johnson looked at him from between half-closed lids, as though from a great distance.
"The opposition is stronger than you imagine," he said. "There is danger to the city--great danger of bloodshed--which should be prevented if possible." He paused, focussed his whole attention on Coleman, and went on with deliberate significance: "It may be necessary to bring out all the force at my command. I strongly advise you to leave the case of Casey to the courts; and I pledge myself to his fair and speedy trial."
Although realizing fully what a formidable element this change of front threw into the situation, Coleman's expression did not change: Sherman, watching him closely, could not see that his eyes even flickered,
"That will not satisfy the people," he told the governor, coldly and formally. "However they might consider your intention, they will doubt your ability to keep such a promise," He was going to say more, but checked, himself abruptly. The silent but intent attitude of the governor's four companions had struck his attention. "They are present as witnesses!" he told himself. Aloud he said, "Sir, I will report your remarks to my associates," Coleman wanted witnesses, too.
He returned to the committee, interrupting the proceedings,
"The governor has flopped over the fence." he informed them. "He is out there with Sherman and some others threatening to bring in the State troops unless we turn Casey over to the courts and disband. He personally guarantees a fair and speedy trial."
"What did you tell him?" demanded Hossfros.
"I haven't told him anything. It suddenly occurred to me that I ought to have witnesses for my side of the conversation, What do you think?"
"Same as I've always thought," replied Ward.
A murmur of assent greeted this.
After a remarkably brief discussion, considering the delicacy of the crisis, Coleman with others returned to the anteroom.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting," he said blandly, "but some consideration of the question was necessary. Let us understand each other clearly. As I understand your proposal, it is that, if we make no move, you guarantee no escape, immediate trial, and instant execution?"
"That is it," agreed Johnson, after a moment's focussing of his mind. For the first time it became evident to Coleman that the man had a trifle too much aboard.
"We doubt your ability to do this," went on Coleman, "but we are ready to meet you halfway. This is what we will promise: we will take no steps without first giving you notice. But in return we insist that ten men of our own selection shall be added to the sheriff's force within the jail."
"And," added Isaac Bluxome, "that they be fed and kept and treated well. That's part of the bargain."
"Why, that sounds fair and reasonable, gentlemen!" the governor cried heartily. "I see no objection to that! I was sure we could come to an agreement!"
He was suddenly all cordiality, all smiles, shaking each man's hand in turn. His companions retained their manner of glacial formality, however. He shortly withdrew, full of spirits, very much relieved at the lifting of what seemed to him a cloud of unjust oppression for a poor official who merely wanted peace. The real situation, evident enough to the keener brains on either side, was veiled to him. For poor Johnson had thus far stepped from one blunder into another. If Coleman were completely outside the law, then he, as an executive of the law, had no business treating or making agreements with him at all. Furthermore, as executive of the State, he had no legal right to interfere with city affairs unless formally summoned by the authorities--a procedure that had not been adopted. And to cap it all, he had for the second time treated with "rebels" and to their advantage. For, as the astute Coleman well knew, the final agreement was all to the benefit of the committee. They gained the right to place a personal guard over the prisoners; they gave, practically, only a promise to withdraw that guard before attacking the jail--a procedure eminently sensible if they cared anything for the guard.
This little weakness was immediately and vigorously pointed out to Johnson when he returned triumphantly to his hotel. Keen minds were plenty in the Law and Order party. Johnson was crestfallen. Like all men of little calibre elevated by expediency to high office, he wanted above everything to have peace, to leave things as they were, to avoid friction.
"Upon my word, gentlemen!" cried the governor, dismayed, "I did it for the best; and I assure you I am still convinced that this agreement--entered into in all faith, and sincerity----"
"Bosh!" boomed Judge Caldwell.
"I beg your pardon!" said Johnson, flushing.
"I said 'bosh,'" repeated the judge, bringing the point of his cane against the floor. "You've muddied it, as every sensible man can see. Best thing is to put a bold face on it. Take it for granted that the committee has promised to surrender all right of action, and that they have promised definitely to leave the case to the courts."
"I hardly think they intended that," murmured Johnson.
"Meant!" snorted the judge. "The words will bear that interpretation, won't they? Who cares what they meant!"
The following morning this version was industriously passed about. When Coleman heard of it he pulled his long moustache,
"The time has come," he said with decision. "After that, it is either ourselves or a mob."
He went immediately to the hall.
"Call Olney," he told a messenger. The head of the guard was soon before him.
"Olney," said his chief, "will you accept the command of a picked company in an important but somewhat perilous movement?"
Olney's tall form stiffened with pleasure.
"I will--with thanks!"
"Well, then, pick out from all the forces, of whatever companies, sixty men. Accept none but men--of the very highest bravery. Let them know that they are chosen for the post of danger, which is the post of honour, and permit none to serve who does not so esteem it."
Olney saluted, and went at once to the main floor, which, for drilling purposes, was shared by four companies. He stood still until his eye fell on Johnny Fairfax--him he called aside.
"You can get the whole sixty right here if you want to," Johnny told him. "But if you want to distribute things----"
"I do," said Olney.
"Then I'd take Keith, Carter, that teamster McGlynn, and Salisbury."
Together they went the rounds of the impromptu armouries, going carefully over the rolls, picking a man here and there. By eight o'clock the sixty, informed, equipped, and ready, were gathered at the hall. Olney dismissed all others, and set himself to drilling his picked body.
"I don't care whether you can do 'shoulder arms' or not," he said, "but you've got to learn simple evolutions so I can handle you. And you must learn one another's faces. Now, come on!"
At two o'clock in the morning he expressed himself as satisfied. From the stock of blankets with which the headquarters were already provided they selected, bedding, and turned in on the floor. At six o'clock Olney began to send out detachments for breakfast.
"Feed up," he advised them. "I don't know what this is all about, but it pays to eat well."
By eight o'clock every man was in his place, lined up to rigid attention as Coleman entered the building.
"There they are!" said Olney proudly. "Every man of them of good, tough courage, and you can handle them as well as any old soldiers!"
Other men came into the hall, some of them in ranks, as they had fallen in at their own company headquarters outside, others singly or in groups. Doorkeepers prevented all exit; once a man was in, he was not permitted to go out. Some of the leaders and captains, among whom were Doane, Olney, and Talbot Ward, were summoned to Coleman's room. Shortly they emerged, and circulated through the hall giving to each captain of a company detailed and explicit directions. Each was instructed as to what hour he and his command were to start; from what given point; along exactly what route; and at exactly what time he was to arrive at another given point--not a moment sooner or later. Each was ignorant as to the instructions given the others. Never was a plan better laid out for concerted action, and probably never before had such a plan been so well carried out. Each captain listened attentively, returned to head his company, thoughtful with responsibility.
Olney gave the orders to his picked, company in person. They were told to leave their muskets. Armed only with pistols, they were to make their way by different routes to the jail.
Keith, and Johnny Fairfax started out together, "This is a mistake, as far as I am concerned," observed Keith to his companion. "I can't shoot a pistol. I ought to be in the rank and file, not with this picked lot. They chose me merely because I was your friend."
"You can make a noise, anyway," replied Johnny, whose eyes were alight with excitement. "I wonder what's up? This looks like business! I wouldn't miss it for a million dollars!"
Apparently the general populace had no inkling that anything was forward. The streets were much as usual except that an inordinate amount of street- corner discussion seemed to be going on; but that in view of the circumstances was normal. A broad-beamed Irish woman, under full sail alone accosted them. Her face Keith vaguely recognized, but he could not have told where he had seen it.
"I hear Mr. King, God rest him, is better," she said. "And what are the men going to do with that villain, Casey? If the men don't hang him, the women will!".
A little farther Keith stopped short at sight of two men hurrying by.
"Hold on, Watkins!" he called.
The four of them drew aside a little, out of the way.
"Weren't you in the jail guard?" asked Keith.
"How does it happen you're outside?"
"The committee sent notice that the truce was over."
Johnny uttered an exultant yell, which he cut short shamefacedly when a dozen passersby looked around.