Englishman the wife of flanders eyes of youth the maid the wood of life eaucourt by the waters the hidden city the regicide 10. The marplot




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After that . . ." "After that," said Stanton, with something like enthusiasm in his voice, "you'll be the first President of a truly united America, with a power and prestige the greatest since Washington." Lincoln's gaze had left the other's face and was fixed on the blue dusk now gathering in the window. "I don't know about that," he said. "When the war's over, I think I'll go home." IV Two years passed and once again it was spring in Washington--about half-past ten of the evening of the 14th of April--Good Friday--the first Eastertide of peace. The streets had been illuminated for victory, and the gas jets were still blazing, while a young moon, climbing the sky, was dimming their murky yellow with its cold pure light. Tenth Street was packed from end to end by a silent mob. As a sponge cleans a slate, so exhilaration had been wiped off their souls. On the porch of Ford's Theatre some gaudy posters advertised Tom Taylor's comedy, Our American Cousin, and the steps were littered with paper and orange peel and torn fragments of women's clothes, for the exit of the audience had been hasty. Lights still blazed in the building, for there was nobody to put them out. In front on the side-walk was a cordon of soldiers. Stanton elbowed his way through the throng to the little house, Mr. Peterson's, across the street. The messenger from the War Department had poured wild news into his ear,--wholesale murder, everybody--the President--Seward--Grant. Incredulous he had hurried forth and the sight of that huge still crowd woke fear in him. The guards at Mr. Peterson's door recognised him and he was admitted. As he crossed the threshold he saw ominous dark stains. A kitchen candle burned below the hat-rack in the narrow hall, and showed further stains on the oilcloth. From a room on the left hand came the sound of women weeping. The door at the end of the passage was ajar. It opened on a bare little place, once perhaps the surgery of some doctor in small practice, but now a bedroom. A door gave at the farther side on a tiny verandah, and this and the one window were wide open. An oil lamp stood on a table by the bed and revealed a crowd of people. A man lay on the camp-bed, lying aslant for he was too long for it. A sheet covered his lower limbs, but his breast and shoulders had been bared. The head was nearest to the entrance, propped on an outjutting bolster. A man was leaving whom Stanton recognised as Dr. Stone, the Lincoln family physician. The doctor answered his unspoken question. "Dying," he said. "Through the brain. The bullet is now below the left eye. He may live for a few hours--scarcely the night." Stanton moved to the foot of the bed like one in a dream. He saw that Barnes, the Surgeon- General, sat on a deal chair on the left side, holding the dying man's hand. Dr. Gurley, the minister, sat beside the bed. He noted Sumner and Welles and General Halleck and Governor Dennison, and back in the gloom the young Robert Lincoln. But he observed them only as he would have observed figures in a picture. They were but shadows; the living man was he who was struggling on the bed with death. Lincoln's great arms and chest were naked, and Stanton, who had thought of him as meagre and shrunken, was amazed at their sinewy strength. He remembered that he had once heard of him as a village Hercules. The President was unconscious, but some tortured nerve made him moan like an animal in pain. It was a strange sound to hear from one who had been wont to suffer with tight lips. To Stanton it heightened the spectral unreality of the scene. He seemed to be looking at a death in a stage tragedy. The trivial voice of Welles broke the silence. He had to give voice to the emotion which choked him. "His dream has come true," he said--"the dream he told us about at the Cabinet this morning. His ship is nearing the dark shore. He thought it signified good news from Sherman." Stanton did not reply. To save his life he could not have uttered a word. Then Gurley, the minister, spoke, very gently, for he was a simple man sorely moved. "He has looked so tired for so long. He will have rest now, the deep rest of the people of God. . . . He has died for us all. . . . To-day nineteen hundred years ago the Son of Man gave His life for the world. . . . The President has followed in his Master's steps." Sumner was repeating softly to himself, like a litany, that sentence from the second Inaugural--"With malice toward none, with charity for all." But Stanton was in no mood for words. He was looking at the figure on the bed, the great chest heaving with the laboured but regular breath, and living again the years of colleagueship and conflict. He had been Loyal to him: yes, thank God he had been loyal. He had quarrelled, thwarted, criticised, but he had never failed him in a crisis. He had held up his hands as Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses. . . The Secretary for War was not in the habit of underrating his own talents and achievements. But in that moment they seemed less than nothing. Humility shook him like a passion. Till his dying day his one boast must be that he had served that figure on the camp-bed. It had been his high fortune to have his lot cast in the vicinity of supreme genius. With awe he realised that he was looking upon the passing of the very great. . . . There had never been such a man. There could never be such an one again. So patient and enduring, so wise in all great matters, so potent to inspire a multitude, so secure in his own soul. . . . Fools would chatter about his being a son of the people and his career a triumph of the average man. Average! Great God, he was a ruler of princes, a master, a compeller of men. . . . He could imagine what noble nonsense Sumner would talk. . . . He looked with disfavor at the classic face of the Bostonian. But Sumner for once seemed to share his feelings. He, too, was looking with reverent eyes towards the bed, and as he caught Stanton's gaze he whispered words which the Secretary for War did not condemn: "The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places." The night hours crawled on with an intolerable slowness. Some of the watchers sat, but Stanton remained rigid at the bed-foot. He had not been well of late and had been ordered a long rest by his doctor, but he was not conscious of fatigue. He would not have left his post for a king's ransom, for he felt himself communing with the dying, sharing the last stage in his journey as he had shared all the rough marches. His proud spirit found a certain solace in the abasement of its humbleness. A little before six the morning light began to pale the lamps. The window showed a square of grey cloudy sky, and outside on the porch there was a drip of rain. The faces revealed by the cold dawn were as haggard and yellow as that of the dying man. Wafts of the outer air began to freshen the stuffiness of the little room. The city was waking up. There came the sound of far-away carts and horses, and a boy in the lane behind the house began to whistle, and then to sing. "When I was young," he sang-- "When I was young I used to wait At Magea'n table 'n' hand de plate An' pais de bottie when he was dry, An' brush away de blue-tailed fly." "It's his song," Stanton said to himself, and with the air came a rush of strange feelings. He remembered a thousand things, which before had been only a background of which he had been scarcely conscious. The constant kindliness, the gentle healing sympathy, the homely humour which he once thought had irritated but which he now knew had soothed him. . . . This man had been twined round the roots of every heart. All night he had been in an ecstasy of admiration, but now that was forgotten in a yearning love. The President had been part of his being, closer to him than wife or child. The boy sang-- "But I can't forget, until I die Ole Massa an' de blue-tailed fly." Stanton's eyes filled with hot tears. He had not wept since his daughter died. The breathing from the bed was growing faint. Suddenly the Surgeon-General held up his hand. He felt the heart and shook his head. "Fetch your mother," he said to Robert Lincoln. The minister had dropped on his knees by the bedside and was praying. "The President is dead," said the Surgeon-General, and at the words it seemed that every head in the room was bowed on the breast. Stanton took a step forward with a strange appealing motion of the arms. It was noted by more than one that his pale face was transfigured. "Yesterday he was America's," he cried. "Our very own. Now he is all the world's. . . . Now he belongs to the ages." EPILOGUE Mr. Francis Hamilton, an honorary attache of the British Embassy, stood on the steps of the Capitol watching the procession which bore the President's body from the White House to lie in state in the great Rotunda. He was a young man of some thirty summers, who after a distinguished Oxford career was preparing himself with a certain solemnity for the House of Commons. He sought to be an authority on Foreign affairs, and with this aim was making a tour among the legations. Two years before he had come to Washington, intending to remain for six months, and somewhat to his own surprise had stayed on, declining to follow his kinsman Lord Lyons to Constantinople. Himself a staunch follower of Mr. Disraeli, and an abhorrer of Whiggery in all its forms, he yet found in America's struggle that which appealed both to his brain and his heart. He was a believer, he told himself, in the Great State and an opponent of parochialism; so, unlike most of his friends at home, his sympathies were engaged for the Union. Moreover he seemed to detect in the protagonists a Roman simplicity pleasing to a good classic. Mr. Hamilton was sombrely but fashionably dressed and wore a gold eyeglass on a black ribbon, because he fancied that a monocle adroitly used was a formidable weapon in debate. He had neat small sidewhiskers, and a pleasant observant eye. With him were young Major Endicott from Boston and the eminent Mr. Russell Lowell, who, as Longfellow's successor in the Smith Professorship and one of the editors of The North American Review, was a great figure in cultivated circles. Both were acquaintances made by Mr. Hamilton on a recent visit to Harvard. He found it agreeable to have a few friends with whom he could have scholarly talk. The three watched the procession winding through the mourning streets. Every house was draped in funeral black, the passing bell tolled from every church, and the minute-guns boomed at the City Hall and on Capitol Hill. Mr. Hamilton regarded the cortege at first with a critical eye. The events of the past week had wrought in him a great expectation, which he feared would be disappointed. It needed a long tradition to do fitting honour to the man who had gone. Had America such a tradition? he asked himself. . . . The coloured troops marching at the head of the line pleased him. That was a happy thought. He liked, too, the business-like cavalry and infantry, and the battered field-pieces. . . . He saw his Chief among the foreign Ministers, bearing a face of portentous solemnity. . . . But he liked best the Illinois and Kentucky delegates; he thought the dead President would have liked them too. Major Endicott was pointing out the chief figures. There's Grant . . . and Stanton, looking more cantankerous than ever. They say he's brokenhearted." But Mr. Hamilton had no eye for celebrities. He was thinking rather of those plain mourners from the west, and of the poorest house in Washington decked with black. This is a true national sorrow, he thought. He had been brought up as a boy from Eton to see Wellington's funeral, and the sight had not impressed him like this. For the recent months had awakened odd emotions in his orderly and somewhat cynical soul. He had discovered a hero. The three bared their heads as the long line filed by. Mr. Lowell said nothing. Now and then he pulled at his moustaches as if to hide some emotion which clamoured for expression. The mourners passed into the Capitol, while the bells still tolled and the guns boomed. The cavalry escort formed up on guard; from below came the sound of sharp commands. Mr. Hamilton was shaken out of the admirable detachment which he had cultivated. He wanted to sit down and sob like a child. Some brightness had died in the air, some great thing had gone for ever from the world and left it empty. He found himself regarding the brilliant career which he had planned for himself with a sudden disfavour. It was only second-rate after all, that glittering old world of courts and legislatures and embassies. For a moment he had had a glimpse of the firstrate, and it had shivered his pretty palaces. He wanted now something which he did not think he would find again. The three turned to leave, and at last Mr. Lowell spoke. "There goes," he said, "the first American!" Mr. Hamilton heard the words as he was brushing delicately with his sleeve a slight berufflement of his silk hat. "I dare say you are right, Professor," he said. "But I think it is also the last of the Kings." End
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