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At an early hour on Sunday all Kirton seemed astir. The streets were alive with thronging people, with banners, with inchoate and still amorphous processions, with vendors of meat, drink, and newspapers. According to the official arrangements, the proceedings were not to begin till one o'clock, and, in theory, the forenoon hours were left undisturbed; but, what with the people who were taking part in the demonstration, and those who were going to look on, and those who hoped to suck some profit to themselves out of the day's work, the ordinary duties and observances of a Sunday were largely neglected, and Mr. Puttock, passing on his way to chapel at the head of his family, did not lack material for reprobation in the temporary superseding of religious obligations.
The Governor and his family drove to the Cathedral, according to their custom, Eleanor Scaife having pleaded in vain for leave to walk about the streets instead. Lady Eynesford declined to recognise the occasion, and Eleanor had to content herself with stealthy glances to right and left till the church doors engulfed her. The only absentee was Alicia Derosne, and she was not walking about the streets, but sitting under the verandah, with a book unopened on her knees, and her eyes set in empty fixedness on the horizon. The luxuriant growth of a southern summer filled her nostrils with sweet scents, and the wind, blowing off the sea, tempered the heat to a fresh and balmy warmth; the waves sparkled in the sun, and the world was loud in boast of its own beauty; but poor Alicia, like many a maid before, was wondering how long this wretched life was to last, and how any one was ever happy. Faith bruised and trust misplaced blotted out for her the joy of living and the exultation of youth. If these things were true, why did the sun shine, and how could the world be merry? If these things were true, for her the sun shone no more, and the merriment was stilled for ever. So she thought, and, if she were not right, it needed a philosopher to tell her so; and then she would not have believed him, but caught her woe closer to her heart, and nursed it with fiercer tenderness against his shallow prating. Perhaps he might have told her too, that it is cruel kindness unasked to set people on a pinnacle, and, when they cannot keep foothold on that slippery height, to scorn their fall. Other things such an one might well have said, but more wisely left unsaid; for cool reason is a blister to heartache, and heartache is not best cured by blisters. Never yet did a child stop crying for being told its pain was nought and would soon be gone. Yet this prescription had been Lady Eynesford's--although she was no philosopher, to her knowledge--for Alicia, and it had left the patient protesting that she felt no pain at all, and yet feeling it all the more.
"What do you accuse me of? Why do you speak to me?" she had burst out. "What is it to me what he has done or not done? What do you mean, Mary?"
Before this torrent of questions Lady Eynesford tactfully retreated a little way. A warning against hasty love dwindled to an appeal whether so much friendliness, such constant meetings, either with daughter or with father, were desirable.
"I'm sure I'm sorry for the poor child," she said; "but in this world----"
"Suppose it's all a slander!"
"My dear Alicia, do they say such things about a man in his position unless there's something in them?"
"It's nothing to me," said Alicia again.
"Of course, you can do nothing abrupt; but you'll gradually withdraw from their acquaintance, won't you?"
Alicia had escaped without a promise, pleading for time to think in the same breath that she denied any concern in the matter. She was by way of thinking now, and all that Lady Eynesford had said repeated itself in her mind as she looked out on the garden and the glimpses of the town beyond. She understood now Dick's banishment, her sister-in-law's unresting hostility to the Medlands, and the reason why she had been pressed to go to Australia. She spared a minute to grief for Daisy, but her own sorrow would not be denied, and engrossed her again. In the solitude she had sought, she cried to herself, "Why didn't they tell me before? What's the use of telling me now?" Then she would fly back to the hope that the thing was not true, that her friends had clutched too hastily at anything which would save her from what they dreaded, and, she confessed to herself, rightly dreaded. No, she would not believe it yet; and, if it were not true, why should she not be happy? Why should she not, even though she did what Dick had not dared to do, and what, when Coxon asked her, she had laughed at for an absurdity?
There began to be more movement outside the gates. The first note of band-music was wafted to her ear, and the roll of wheels announced the return of the church-goers. She roused herself and went to meet them. They were agog with excitement, partly about the meeting, partly about the murder. While Eleanor was trying to tell her of the state of popular feeling, the Governor seized her arm and began to detail the story of the discovery.
"You remember the man?" he asked. "He was at our flower-show--had a sort of row with Medland, you know. Well, he's been found murdered (so the police think) in a low part of the town! The woman who keeps the house found him. He didn't come down in the morning, and, as she couldn't make him hear, she forced the door, and found him with his throat cut."
"Awful!" shuddered Lady Eynesford. "He looked such a respectable man too."
"Ah, I fancy he'd gone a bit to the bad lately--taken to drinking and so on."
"He was a friend of Mr. Kilshaw's, wasn't he?" asked Alicia.
"A sort of hanger-on, I think. Anyhow, there he was dead, and with his pockets empty."
"Perhaps he killed himself," she suggested.
"They think not. They've arrested the woman, but she declares she knows nothing about it!"
"Poor man!" said Alicia; and, at another time, she might have thought a good deal about the horrible end of a man whom she had known as an acquaintance. But, as it was, she soon forgot him again, and, leaving the rest, returned to her solitary seat.
In the town, the news of the murder was but one ruffle more on the wave of excitement, and not a very marked one. Few people knew Benham's name, and when the first agitation following on the discovery of the body died away and the onlookers found there was no news to be had, they turned away to join the processions or to stare at them. The police were left to pursue their investigations in peace, and they soon reached a conclusion. The landlady of the house where Benham died lived alone, save for the occasional presence of her son: he was away at work in an outlying district, and she had been the only person in the house that night. She let beds to single men, she said, and the night before two men had arrived, one the worse for drink. They had asked for adjoining rooms. As they went up-stairs, she had heard the one who had been drinking say to the other, "What are you bringing me here for? This isn't the place for what I want." His companion, the shorter of the two, whom she thought she would know again, had answered--"All in good time; you go and lie down, and I'll fetch what you want." Soon after, the short one came down and asked if she had any brandy; she gave him a bottle half full and he went up-stairs again. She heard voices raised as if in dispute for a few minutes, and one of them--she could not say which--said something which sounded like "Well, finish the drink first, and then I'll go." Silence followed, at least she could not hear any more talking; and presently, it not being her business to spy on gentlemen, she went to bed, and knew nothing more till she woke at seven o'clock. Going up-stairs, she found one door open and the room empty, not the room the two men had been in together, but the other. The second door was locked, and she did not knock; gentlemen often slept late. At half-past ten she ventured to knock, got no answer, knocked again and again, and finally, with the help of the man from next door, broke the lock and found the taller of the two men dead on the bed. She had at once summoned the police; and that, she concluded, was all she knew about the matter, and she was a respectable, hard-working woman, a widow who could produce her marriage certificate in case any person present desired to inspect it.
The Superintendent listened to her protestations of virtue with an ironical smile, told her the police knew her house very well, frightened her wholesomely, took down her very vague description of the missing man, and kept her in custody; but he did not seriously doubt the truth of her story, and, if it were true, the man he wanted was evidently the sober man, the shorter man, who had introduced his friend to the house on a pretext, had called for drink, and vanished in the early morning, leaving a dead man behind him. Who was this man? Where did he come from? Had he been missing since last night? On these inquiries the Superintendent launched several intelligent men, and then was forced for the time to turn his attention to the business of the day.
To search a large town for a missing man takes time, and the searchers did not happen to fall in with Company B of Procession 3, which at one o'clock had mustered in Digby Square, prepared to march to the Public Park. Had they done so, it might or might not have seemed to them worth noticing that Company B of Procession 3, which was composed of carpenters and joiners, had missed some one, namely the officer whom they called their "Marshal," and who was to have ordered their ranks and marched at their head; and the name of their Marshal was none other than François Gaspard. The Superintendent himself was keeping watch over Company B, but, in a professionally Olympian scorn of processions, he was far from asking or caring to know who the Marshal was, and indeed, if he had known, he would scarcely have drawn such a lightning-quick inference as that the missing Marshal and the missing murderer were one and the same. So Mr. Gaspard's absence was passed over with a few curses on his laziness, or, from the more charitable, a surmise that there had been a misunderstanding, and Company B, having appointed a new Marshal, went on its way.
One demonstration of the public will is much like another in the shape it takes and the incidents it produces. This Sunday's was, however, as friends and foes agreed, remarkable not only for the numbers who took part, but still more for the spirit which animated it, and when the Premier and his colleagues made their appearance on the great platform there was no room to doubt that somehow, by his gifts or his faults, his policy or his demagogic arts, his love of humanity or his adroit wooing of popularity, Medland held a position in the eyes of the common people of the capital which had seldom or never been equalled in the history of the Colony. He had caused them to be called together in order to raise their enthusiasm, and to elicit from them a visible, unmistakable pledge of support. But, when he stood before them, bareheaded, in vain beckoning for silence, their cries and cheers told him that his task was rather to moderate than to stir up, and the first part of his speech was a somewhat laboured proof of the consistency of gatherings of that nature with the proper independence of representative assemblies. The people heard him through this argument in respectful silence, clapping their hands when, at the end of it, he paused before he passed to the second part of his speech. At the first sign of attack, at the first quietly drawn contrast between what the seceders had promised and what they were doing, his audience was a changed one. Fierce murmurs of assent and groans became audible now, and when Medland, caught by the contagion that spread to him from his listeners, gave rein to his feelings, and launched into a passionate declaration that, to his mind, the liberty claimed for members did not mean liberty to betray those who had trusted them, the murmurs and groans rose into one tumult of savage applause, and men raised both hands over their heads and shook them, as though they would have clenched every word that fell from him with a blow of the fist.
Daisy Medland sat just behind her father, exulting in his triumph, and, at every happy stroke, glancing at Norburn, and by sharing her joy with him doubling his. When the Premier had finished, and the last resolution had been carried, she ran to him, crying, "Splendid! I never heard you so good. Wasn't he splendid?" and looking so completely joyful that Medland was sure she must quite have forgotten Dick Derosne. She took his arm, and they made their way together to a carriage which was in waiting. An escort of police surrounded it, to save the Premier from his friends, and he, with Daisy, Norburn, and Mr. Floyd, the Treasurer, got in without disturbance. The coachman drove off rapidly down the main avenue, distancing the enthusiasts who would have had the horses out of the shafts. They passed a long row of carriages, belonging to people who had not feared to come and look on from a distance, and at last, knowing the procession would go back another way, Medland bade his driver stop under the trees, and lit a cigar.
"And I wonder if it will all make any difference!" said he, puffing delightedly. He had all an old political organiser's love for a big meeting, which does not exclude scepticism as to its value.
"Oh, you gave it 'em finely," said the Treasurer.
"I believe it'll frighten two or three anyhow," observed Norburn.
"I know we shall win to-morrow," cried Daisy, squeezing her father's arm.
"Ah! here's a special Sunday evening paper--how we encourage wickedness!" said the Premier, seeing a newsvendor approaching. "Let's see what they say of us!"
"I've seen it all for myself," remarked Daisy, and she went on chattering to the other two, who were ready to talk over every incident of the meeting, as people who have been to meetings ever are. On they went, reminding one another of the bald man in the third row who cheered so lustily, of the fat woman who had somehow got into the front row and fanned herself all the time, of rude things shouted about Messrs. Puttock and Coxon, and so forth. The Premier, listening with one ear, opened his paper; but the first thing he saw was not about his procession. He started and looked closer, then gave a sudden, covert glance at his companions; they were busy in talk, and, with breathless haste, he devoured the meagre details of Benham's wretched death. The end reached, he let the paper fall on his knees, lay back, and took a long pull at his cigar. He was shocked--yes, he supposed he was shocked. He had known the man, and it was shocking to think of his throat being cut; yes, he had known him, and he didn't like to think of that. But--The Premier gave a long-drawn sigh of relief. That unknown murderer's hand had done great things for him. His daughter was safe now--anyhow, she was safe. She could never be subject to the degradation the dead man had once hinted at; and when he thought of what the man had threatened, pity for him died out of Medland's heart. More--although Kilshaw no doubt knew something--there was a chance that Benham had kept his own counsel, and that his employer would be helpless without his aid. Medland's sanguine mind caught eagerly at the chance, and in a moment turned it into a hope--almost a conviction. Then the whole thing would go down to the grave with the unlucky man, and not even its spectre survive to trouble him. For if no one had certain knowledge, if there were never more than gossip, growing, as time passed, fainter and fainter from having no food to feed on, would not utter silence follow at last, so that the things that had been might be as if they had never been?
"Well, what do they say about us?" asked the Treasurer.
"Oh, nothing much," he answered, thrusting the paper behind him with a careless air. He did not want to discuss what the paper had told him.
"What's happened to-day," said Daisy, "ought to make all the difference, oughtn't it, father?"
"I hope it will," replied the Premier; but, for once in his life, he was not thinking most about political affairs.
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