September 18th, 1901.
We received news of the attack on Mr. McKinley, and
as we left the Irish coast we heard by wireless telegraphy throughout
the afternoon the latest accounts of his condition; conflicting
accounts they were, but on the utmost verge of the ether waves the
messages that came were more hopeful. Then there was a blank until
seventy miles from Nantucket lightship, when again these ether waves
commenced to whisper to us the news of the world—and the message
that came was that the President was seriously ill but still alive.
Next morning before the tugs reached the Lucania’s
[sic] side the Marconi instrument had carried the message that the
President was dead.
After landing at the wharf one passes
through a fringe of slums on the way to one’s hotel. Already signs
of mourning were being hung out, and as I passed a dirty little
wooden house in a side street off the quay from an upper window
a small flag had been hoisted out on the end of a broom-handle,
and a young urchin was stretched out engaged in tying on a black
rag by way of crape to the end of it, while a big woman with an
upper lip suggestive of Irish origin had hold of him by the seat
of his breeches as he leaned perilously out over the street. As
I went on the Stars and Stripes over immense buildings wept at half-mast
from their flag-poles, but the black rag of that dirty thin-armed
youngster had as real a touch of mourning about it as the largest
of them. A genuine sense of calamity lay on the whole city, and
as the day wore on great buildings were everywhere draped in black.
The Stock Exchange was closed and most of the theatres, except,
auri sacra fames, some few owned by Jews, whose ruling passion
could not even temporarily be stilled by the death of their President.
There was no panic or excitement, but on the contrary something
very dignified about the restrained fortitude with which this blow
was borne by the people.
In financial circles the character
of McKinley’s successor was the absorbing topic of interest. I recall
the last time I came in contact with Roosevelt. It was when he was
in command of the roughriders in the trenches outside Santiago.
For weeks the army had been living in that miasmatic climate that
seemed like a perpetual vapour bath. On all sides men were falling
ill, and the all-pervading invisible vampire of disease seemed slowly
sucking the vitality out of all the soldiers. But I cannot forget
the impression left on my mind by Roosevelt. Never have I seen such
a combination of physical and intellectual energy. What affected
others affected him not. He stood out beyond his fellows as a man
born to lead men and to lead them masterfully. He was absolutely
unsparing of himself through those trying days, and not less than
his energy then does his absolute straightforwardness and honesty
shine out luminously in every action of his life. Yet, nevertheless,
in conservative minds there are some who see danger in his restlessness
and feel apprehensive of his stubbornness, but the majority feel
that increased responsibility will bring a corresponding accession
of prudence. On one thing everybody agrees, that the new President
is a live man. Moreover, he is a man entering on this office absolutely
free and untrammelled by any pledges. There is the dramatic element
in the position. Singularly attractive and upright as was the private
character of McKinley, there was always a sense of pledges given
and obligations to those who had placed him in the position of president.
In the last scenes in the death chamber we have the sinister figure
of Mark Hanna, the wire-pulling president-maker, hovering around.
But Hanna no longer holds the same position with the new President
that he did with the last. The king-maker is dethroned. Amongst
men who hold the first place in states or rule the peoples of the
earth to-day the new President resembles more the German Kaiser
than any other—the same restless energy, something of the same headstrongness,
all of the same honesty.
And the first of “Teddy’s” triumphs
comes to-day. The fears of the little group of brokers and bankers
on board the Lucania, and who were playing the big game of
poker on board during the voyage, have not been realised; the markets
have boomed. When I was at school long ago the master, knowledgable
of boys, took early opportunity of making the most obstreperous
perfect. Wall Street believes that Teddy will be a concentrated
essence of House of Lords conservatism with the assumption of graver
responsibilities; but we believe all the same that this boomlet
has been engineered by careful arrangement as has also, according
to rumour, many other things connected with the President’s illness
so as to break the news gently to the markets and prevent any such
panic as succeeded the death of Garfield. With stocks at their present
giddy price panics would be perilous. This is the first of “Teddy’s”
triumphs; the next a quieter but not a less real one do I now prophesy.
It will be when the world sees a slight
dark-eyed woman with brown hair plainly drawn back from her forehead,
only a few tiny ringlets clustering around the brow, with perfect
teeth through which her words come with peculiarly slow distinction,
take one of the children to whom she has devoted the main part of
her life off her knee, and leaving the books in which she delights
stand up before the world as consort to the President of the United
States, as hostess of the White House—by birth and culture and feeling
a lady to her finger-tips. As we have glanced around at the aspect
of the men leaders of mankind it is even with more assurance of
comparison that our mental eye rests upon Mrs. Roosevelt. She has
done more for the present President than the world wots of. Society,
not of America alone but of the world, will see the great column
of American life, rough in its foundation, solid in its structure,
crowned now with the Corinthian capital of refinement and intellect
at the White House.
In old days swords flashed from their
scabbards in salute to the cry of Le roi est mort; vive le roi.
In our commonplace, hard-working, tape-ticking days we don’t enthuse
much, yet all the same in the hearts of men there is salute-homage
of greeting for clean-handed valour—for queenliness of womanhood—as