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STEALING A MARCH.
Alicia Derosne had a fantastic dream that night. She saw Medland again chasing a butterfly, as she had seen him on the day he came to Government House to receive his office. The butterfly floated always just over his head, and he always came near to catching it, yet never caught it. Then, by one of sleep's strange transformations, she seemed to be herself in spirit in the butterfly, and she knew that it flew so near because desire brought it, that it longed to be caught, and yet, at the last, by some sudden impulse, avoided his net. At last, as if wearied, he turned from her to another fluttering thing, and that he caught. And she heard a great murmur of voices applauding him, and he smiled and was content with his prize. Then she, the first butterfly, could not be happy unless she were caught also, envying the other, and she went and fluttered and spread her wings before his eyes, but he would not heed her, nor stretch the net over her, but smiled in triumph at the bright colours of his prize and the murmur of applause. And, with drooping wings, the first butterfly fell to the ground and died.
It needed no Joseph to interpret this dream. When he had called, she would not come. Now he would forget her and turn to the life of ambition and power that he loved. He would rule men, and trouble his head or his heart no more with the vagaries of girls and the strict scruples of their code. And she--what was there left for her? "The last time," he had said. There was nothing for her to do but what the neglected butterfly had done. In a few weeks more the sea would lie between them, and she would be no more to him, nor he to her, than a memory--a memory soon to fade in him, whose days and thoughts were so full; in her, it seemed, always to endure, ousting everything else, reigning in triumphant sorrow in an empty heart.
The news of the final result of the elections which Eleanor Scaife brought her in the morning while she was still in bed, presented to her mind another picture of the man, which appealed to her almost more strongly.
"It's a knock-down blow for Mr. Medland, isn't it?" asked Eleanor, sitting on the side of the bed. "As we're alone together, I may dare to say that I'm rather sorry. I didn't want him to win, but it's very hard on him to be crushed like this. How he must feel it!"
"He seems to have won in Kirton."
"Oh yes, just the town mob is with him. Fancy coming down to that! Of course he'll be quite powerless, compared to what he was. I wonder if he'll stay in politics. Captain Heseltine said some people thought that he'd throw the whole thing up and retire into private life."
"Yes, I'm sorry too," said Alicia, who lay all this while with her face away from Eleanor and towards the wall.
"And then his daughter's going to be married, and, of course, can never be such a companion to him as she has been; he'll be very much alone. Upon my word, Alicia, I'm getting quite sentimental about the man, and it's all his own fault, really. Why does he make it impossible for respectable people to follow him?" After a short pause, Miss Scaife suddenly laughed. "Do you know," she asked, "what that shameless Dick says? He says I ought to marry Mr. Medland, because we're both 'emancipated.' Really I'm not quite so 'emancipated' as Mr. Medland seems to be."
Alicia smiled faintly.
"What an idea!" she said, at last turning her face to her friend.
"He was only joking, of course. Assuming Mr. Medland asked me, and I'm sure nothing could be further from his thoughts, I'm afraid I should have to decline the honour. Wasn't it impertinent of Dick? It's lucky Mary didn't hear him. But, my dear, you must get up. All sorts of things are going on. It's most exciting."
"I thought all the excitement was over," said Alicia languidly.
"Oh, no. There was a riot in the streets last night, and they arrested some popular favourite and took him to prison. The mob's furious, and the police are afraid of a disturbance when he's brought before the magistrate this morning. Then Mr. Medland is to arrive at twelve o'clock, and they're afraid of another riot then. Sir Robert was here at half-past eight, and at his request the Governor authorised calling out the Mounted Volunteers to keep order. Lord Eynesford says he'll go with them. Do get up," and Eleanor went off, eager to hear the latest news. The present situation was justifying her tenacious opinion that new communities were interesting.
In spite of her many inquiries, her intelligence was not quite the latest. The police had stolen a march on the crowd, and Big Todd had been quietly brought before the seat of justice at nine o'clock, remanded for a week, and carried off to the prison, which was situated outside the town, about half-a-mile beyond Government House. The van containing the captive had rolled unsuspected through the streets, and it was not till the crowd had waited an hour outside the court that the secret leaked out. The outwitted men were in a fury. The mounted police lined the sides of the street, and their impassive demeanour seemed to rouse the mob to fresh anger. There had been a plan to rescue Big Todd, now it was too late, and men looked at one another in sullen wrath. The crowd drifted off towards the railway station, thinking to welcome Medland. The Mounted Volunteers were on guard there. They saw Kilshaw at the head of his company and hailed him with a groan. Behind the ranks, the Governor sat on his horse, flanked by his aides-de-camp and talking to Sir Robert Perry. No one was allowed within the station-yard, every one was compelled to move about, the preparations were complete, to riot would be to run against a stone wall.
Suddenly an idea, a suggestion, flew through the crowd. It was greeted with surly smiles and emphatic nods. To the surprise of the officers and of the Governor, the crowd began to melt away. Splitting up in twos and threes, it sauntered off, as if it had made up its mind to submit quietly to the inevitable. Soon only women and children were left, and the Governor began to feel that the array of force was almost ridiculously out of proportion to the need. The whole thing was, as Captain Heseltine regretfully observed, "fizzling out," and he proposed to go home to lunch.
Medland's train arrived half-an-hour later, and he came out of the station, looking round in surprise at the martial aspect of the scene. Then he smiled.
"We look rather asses," whispered Heseltine. "I wonder if they did it on purpose."
Medland came down the steps and found himself almost face to face with Kilshaw. The ex-Premier was smoking a cigar, and he took it out of his mouth, in order to smile more freely.
"If," he said to Kilshaw, "it's not dangerous to public order, I should like a cab."
Kilshaw heard a shamefaced, stifled giggle from his men behind him and turned very red. The next minute Sir Robert came up, holding out his hand.
"This is a great compliment to you," he said, smiling.
"Evidently beyond my deserts," answered Medland, getting into his cab. "To my house," he called to the man, and was driven rapidly away.
The Governor rode up to Sir Robert with a look of vexation on his face.
"The sooner we end this farce the better," he said. "I'm going home. I suppose you'll send the men to quarters."
"I really don't understand it," protested Sir Robert. "They looked like mischief."
"I suppose we frightened them. Oh, no doubt you were right," and the Governor turned his horse.
Suddenly the figure of a man on horseback, going at a gallop, was seen in the distance. The Governor drew rein and waited. The man came nearer, and, as soon as he was within earshot, he shouted.
"The prison! the prison! They've all gone to the prison."
"What?" cried the Governor.
"All the crowd," panted the messenger. "They mean to have Big Todd out. We've only got ten men there, and the people are threatening to burn the place down if he's not given up."
"By Jove, they've jockeyed us!" cried Captain Heseltine, and he turned to his chief for orders.
"We must be after them," exclaimed the Governor. "Let the orders be given. You, Heseltine, go and bring up the police. This looks like business."
The column was soon on the march, followed by a string of women and children, which was speedily outstripped when the word to trot was given. The outskirts of the town were reached; they met man after man who told them of a gathering crowd round the prison; they overtook more men, armed with cudgels, who slunk on one side and tried to hide their sticks. They reached the gates of Government House, and Lord Eynesford spied his wife and Alicia looking out of the windows of the lodge.
"Go and tell them what's up," he said to Flemyng. "Say there's no danger," and the column trotted on.
"This is what Mr. Medland has brought us to," observed Lady Eynesford, when Mr. Flemyng made his report. "I'm glad we've done with him, anyhow, aren't you, Eleanor?"
"Perhaps we haven't," suggested Eleanor. "I wonder if he's come back."
"No doubt he's encouraging this riot. I only hope he'll get the treatment he deserves."
Alicia stood by in silence. The little room felt close and hot. She was tired and worn out, for she had spent the morning writing a letter that seemed very hard to write.
"Mightn't we go into the garden?" she asked. "There's no danger to us, is there, Mr. Flemyng?"
"Oh dear, no, Miss Derosne. They're only thinking of Big Todd. I'll go on if you don't want me, Lady Eynesford."
He trotted off and overtook the rest just as they came in sight of the prison. The crowd was thick round it.
"By heaven, they've got the door open!" cried Heseltine.
They had. The heavy door hung on its hinges, and, as the Governor drew nearer, he saw the prisoner, Big Todd himself, in the centre of the crowd. There were near three thousand there, almost all men; most had sticks, here and there the sun caught the gleam of a knife or the glint from a revolver-barrel. A rude kind of rampart of the tables and chairs from the gaol formed a slight makeshift barricade, and behind it, the crowd, backed by the building, stood waiting for the attack.
The Governor halted.
"It really looks rather serious," he said.
Sir Robert Perry, whose fat cob was panting with unusual exertions, nodded assent.
"We don't want bloodshed, if we can help it," he observed.
"No, but we'll have that fellow," said the Governor curtly, "or I'll know the reason why."
His old instincts were astir in him. He had been a soldier in his time, and he almost regretted that his first duty was to reason with these men. Endeavouring to carry out this duty, he said to Heseltine,
"Go and say I'll give them three minutes to hand over Todd and disperse."
Heseltine rode forward till he came to the barricade and delivered his message, adding,
"Look sharp. There you are, Todd! Now come along, my man."
"Come and fetch me," grinned Big Todd.
"So we will," answered the Captain, smiling, "but you'd better come quietly."
"Look here, sir. Say no more about what happened last night and we'll give the Governor back his prison. We ain't hurt it, not to speak of."
"You're an insolent scoundrel," he said.
"You'd better get a bit further off before you talk like that, young man," growled a fierce-looking little fellow.
"Let the gentleman alone, Tim," said Big Todd. "He's a flag o' truce."
"Then you won't come?" asked the Captain.
"Declined with thanks, sir," bowed Big Todd.
Heseltine rode back and delivered the reply. An angry flush crossed Lord Eynesford's face.
"Very well," he said shortly, and turned to the Colonel. "Colonel," he said, "I want your men to scatter that crowd and bring Todd here. Don't fire without asking me again. Use the flat of the sword unless the crowd use knives or shoot; if they do, use the edge. I can't come with you, I wish I could."
"May I go, sir?" broke simultaneously from Dick and Heseltine.
"No," answered Lord Eynesford shortly.
"What a damned shame!" grumbled Dick.
The Colonel had spoken to the captains of his two companies, Kilshaw and another, and they in their turn had briefly communicated the Governor's orders to their men. Everything was ready, and the Colonel turned a last inquiring glance towards the Governor.
"Yes," said Lord Eynesford; but at the same moment a loud cheer rang out from the defenders of the gaol--
"Three cheers for Jimmy Medland!" they cried.
The Governor turned and saw the ex-Premier leaping from a cab and hurrying towards them.
"Stop!" cried Medland. "Stop!"
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