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“Mr. Roosevelt's position in Buffalo was, under the circumstances, a peculiarly difficult and delicate one. Whether he should go or stay, there were sure to be critics in plenty. The thought of his sick children urged him to go. Before leaving Buffalo, however, he arranged with two persons in whose cool judgment he felt he could trust to telegraph to him if any change should take place in President McKinley's condition.
"On Wednesday evening, September 11, Mr. Roosevelt reached the Upper Club House, where his family was stopping. It is always spoken of as 'the Upper Club House,' although the building rightfully entitled to that name is merely a general meeting place, with a special dining room for all the ten or more cottages scattered around. Everything that was heard from President McKinley was still in the highest degree encouraging; and on Thursday morning Mr. Roosevelt planned a little trip up as far as Colton Lake with Mr. McIntyre, the two Robinson boys and his family. It is a good five-mile tramp over a rough trail up to the lake from the Tahawas Club House, but Mrs. Roosevelt shares her husband's love of stirring exercise, and with the exception of the two youngest children, the entire family made the trip. Two guides, Edward Dimmock and Noe La Casse, accompanied the party. The plan was to spend the night at the open camp belonging to the club on the lake and return the next morning. Still, there was no thought of hunting, and the only gun in the party was carried by Mr. Robinson.
“In the meanwhile, many miles away the silent poison had begun its fatal work. Friday morning the country hung around the bulletin boards, all the first fears reawakened by the ominous news of the change for the worse in the President's condition. At a quarter past eight o'clock in the morning two messages from Secretary Cortelyou reach North Creek, the terminus of the telegraph line, saying that the President was in a precarious condition and gravest results were apprehended. Two telegrams from Mr. Roosevelt's secretary also were received, one that he was coming on a special train for Mr. Roosevelt and the other that at six o'clock that morning the President's condition was slightly improved. These dispatches were hurried over to the tiny central office of the North Creek telephone systems, from which a slender wire, the only link with the outer world, stretched to the lower Tahawas Club house, or, as it is better known, 'Hunter's.'
"A little after ten o'clock, the unemployed guides were sitting around the roaring fire in their room in the 'Upper Club House,' swapping the usual yarns, when a team from Hunter's, covered with mud from the ten miles of wretched road, dashed up. A wondering silence fell over the company. David Hunter, the superintendent of the club, arose from his seat and went out. In a few moments he returned, and, looking around the room, said:
“'Boys, there is bad news from the President. Who will carry the message to Mr. Roosevelt ?'
“Slow of speech, but quick of thought and action, are the Adirondack guides. It was hard to tell which of the party arose first.
“The task fell to Harrison Hall, tall, thin, weather beaten. Every one of his swift, noiseless movements, as he quietly made ready for the trip, revealed the trained woodsman. By half-past ten his swinging stride carried him over the tiny foot bridge across the Hudson river, here scarcely twenty feet wide, and into the forest on the trail of Lake Colton. Half way up he met the women of the party, in charge of Dimmock, returning to the club house. They told him that Mr. Roosevelt had been tempted to climb up Mount Marcy, and that the rest of the gentlemen had joined him. The swinging stride was hardly broken, and on up the trail Hall pushed toward his destination.
"From the club to Lake Colton the path was plain and clear. Beyond there, it had been rarely used, and the fallen deadwood clogged every step. Still, with the same sure, catlike stride, too wise to hurry, too eager to slacken speed, he pushed on through the black tangle of primeval forest. Many strange sights had those huge old gray pines beheld, many tragedies of hunter and hunted, but this spectacle of the silent messenger, with the fateful slips of paper in his hand, was new to them. New, also to the world, for never before had so strange a courier borne notice to a man of destiny that his time of ruling was at hand.
"In the meanwhile every breath of fresh air had improved Mr. Roosevelt's spirits. In spite of the rain, in spite of the difficulties of the trail, the outlook grew brighter and brighter to him as the day wore on. He even insisted on carrying one of the packs a part of the way, so as to do his share. Finally, about half-past one o'clock, the party reached the prettily named Tear of the Clouds. High up on the side of Mount Marcy-in fact, the highest body of water in the State, 4,500 feet above the sea level—this beautiful sheet forms the source of the Hudson river. The rain had turned the high grass around the margin into a marsh, and there was much good natured grumbling before the edge was reached. Once there, however, lunch was quickly spread, and all hands fell to it with a will. Mr. Roosevelt had made a joking remark about exercise being needed to keep Vice-Presidents alive, when a crackling twig caught the quick ear of La Casse, their guide.
“The whole party turned instinctively to follow his gaze, and there, swinging through the marsh, with the same unswerving stride, grim visaged and grizzled, an ideal messenger of fate, appeared Harrison Hall, the yellow slips still in his hand. This was about a quarter past two o'clock in the afternoon. Silently Mr. Roosevelt received them. In profound silence he read them. There were no questions asked. Somehow everyone seemed to understand. They remembered suddenly that it was raining, that the mountain air was bitterly damp and raw. All the life and freshness seemed to go out of the day as they waited in respectful silence for the news they dreaded to hear.
"At last Mr. Roosevelt read the messages aloud, in a choked voice. Then, slowly rising, as if the weight of a nation's burdens was already on his shoulders, he said, simply: 'Gentlemen, I must return to the club house at once.'
“As for Harrison Hall, he calmly sat him down and started on his lunch. His was a 'message' with a vengeance; and, having fulfilled his trust, he took up his simple life just where he had left off. There is something in the constant companionship of silent forests and impassionate mountains that makes all of mankind's affairs, even the most important, seem too trivial to worry over.
“Mr. Roosevelt kept well ahead of his party. Evidently the sudden change in the President's condition seemed beyond belief. Finally, when almost home, he said:
“ 'I have thought it all over, and unless I hear further news, I shall adhere to my original plans, and go down Saturday morning.'
“The reasons that lay behind this decision are not hard to see. The hopeful telegram from Secretary Loeb, whose judgment he would naturally prefer to that of the overwrought Cortelyou, the realization that if he rushed out of the woods at the first bad symptom and arrived at Buffalo only to find it a temporary relapse, there would be a storm of the harshest criticism on his seeming eagerness—this and the fact that neither of the gentlemen he had asked to keep him informed had telegraphed to him, seemed to counsel delay until the certainty was established of his presence being required.
“Just how long the time on which the tramp back to the club house was accomplished, none of the party could exactly tell. Mr. Roosevelt striding nervously along, soon distanced all but the guides. Harrison Hall, with the French Canadian, La Casse, and the Vice-President arrived at the club about half-past six o'clock. Secretary Loeb, true to his word, had caught the special train at Albany and arrived at North Creek about noon. He commenced at once telephoning inquiries, often repeated during the afternoon, asking when the Vice-President would reach the lower club house. By some mischance no one thought to send a message giving the later bulletins as to President McKinley's condition. Only frantic inquiries of Mr. Roosevelt had been found. To properly understand the long delay which followed, it must be remembered that the upper and lower club houses are a good two hours' drive apart, with no telephone communication. Thus it happened that when Mr. Roosevelt returned, at half-past six, to the upper club, he found no news later than the first telegrams, for the excellent reason that none had been forwarded. There was nothing to do but to send to the lower club for more news. As that meant a four hours' delay, Mr. Roosevelt decided to get a little sleep, so
as to prepare himself in case he should have to leave in response to a sudden summons.
"The messenger from the upper club found no messages for the VicePresident at Hunter's where the telephone line ended. Secretary Loeb was called up and asked for news. There were plenty of telegrams and bulletins for Mr. Roosevelt' at North Creek, but Secretary Loeb had held them there until he learned of Mr. Roosevelt's whereabouts. Precious minutes were used writing out the budget that was sent over the telephone, and when the 'rig' started back to the upper club it was almost nine o'clock. A misty rain had set in, and it was so dark that it was eleven o'clock before the messages reached the Vice-President at his cottage. There was no longer any doubt as to the need of haste. Indeed, a bulletin, dated six o'clock in the evening, announcing that the President was dead, was among the dispatches and only a later bulletin from Secretary Cortelyou saying that the President was being kept alive by the use of oxygen revealed the falsity of the report. All who were present at the time those messages were received unite in praising Mr. Roosevelt's simple yet dignified bearing, and mention particularly his great grief and amazement at the news, which he persisted in hoping had been exaggerated.
“At a little before midnight David Hunter drove up in a light wagon before the cottage, the Vice-President tossed in his dress suit case, pulled his hat down over his eyes, said 'Go ahead, and the thirty-five mile drive had begun. The road for the ten miles between the club houses was little more than the old trail used for hauling the pig iron in years past. Most of the way a hank from two to thirty feet high slopes down to the shores of a chain of little lakes on one side, while every few feet huge bowlders or massive stumps are so close to the wheel ruts on the other side that their surfaces bear many scars where, even in daylight, teams have failed to entirely clear them. The road is narrow enough, as it is, to be dangerous, but, in addition, there are deep mudholes at frequent intervals, to pass through which faster than a walk might mean a wrecked wagon, and to skirt which would bring the outer wheels within a few inches of the steep bank. From the start it was a mad game, with almost certain death, should the horses leave, even so slightly, the beaten track.
“It requires little imagination to picture what a long, horrible nightmare that drive must have seemed to Mr. Roosevelt, the light wagon swinging and bounding, the horses plunging at the countless steep, short hills, only to slide and slip down into what appeared to be bottomless pits, the dense fog making the dashboard light a mere yellow dot in the darkness.
"The splash, splash of hoofs through the mud; the sharp click of the shoes against the stones; the broad back of driver Hunter in the front seat
dimly outlined, as he sat firmly braced, peering out into the night; the sharp scrape of the hubs against a bowlder; the sudden lurch of the wagon, that might be the beginning of a fatal roll down the bank—surely all things must have seemed to Mr. Roosevelt resolved back into the elemental chaos and black darkness. Yet, through it all, the thought that the President was dying and he was wanted was his one clear idea. Rocks, ruts and precipices all were unheeded, only to go on, on, on.
"Only an hour and a quarter were required for that first stage. Two hours in broad daylight with dry roads had previously been considered excellent time. When the 'rig' pulled up at Hunter's, Mr. Roosevelt leaped out, and, running up the steps, anxiously inquired for news. The latest bulletins were handed him, and, asking the way to the telephone, he soon was receiving and sending messages to Secretary Loeb. Only the same sad tale that the President was slowly and surely sinking greeted him. A hasty lunch was bolted down, and fresh horses, with Orrin Kellogg for driver, carried him forward. It was two o'clock when the start for Aiden Lair was made, and in fifteen minutes the office of Vice-President would be vacant. Still, the obstinate hope of a strong willed man, who refuses to take no from fate, possessed Mr. Roosevelt. “They say the President is dying,' he told Kellogg, but I have hope yet.' The nine miles from Hunter's to Aiden Lair were the best along the route, save for about three miles at the finish. Yet the hills were longer, with great marshed places, bare to the granite ledges that form the backbone of the hills. Sure of foot and full of courage was Kellogg's wiry team. It was more open now, and the trees, stretching out gaunt arms, loomed like spectres through the mist.
"A country dance was just breaking up at a little school house on the way. The plunging team dashed past the returning revellers, black and silent, in sharp contrast, on its sad errand. Still the monotonous splash of hoofs, still the wild swaying of the wagon, still the danger lurking just ahead; small wonder there was little conversation. Shortly after three o'clock Aiden Lair was reached. Mike "Cronin sat on his buckboard waiting, with a team of gaunt black horses, most deceptive in appearance, ready to spring into a run at the word 'go.'
"Mr. McKinley had been dead nearly an hour, yet Mr. Roosevelt did not know it even then, as no news was given him here. There were sixteen miles of dangerous road yet to cover. How Mr. Roosevelt sat, watch in hand, and urged Cronin on, how the sturdy blacks tore through the darkness at a run, already has been told. Of the hundred narrow escapes from death, of the moments when the new President's life hung trembling in the course of a slender wagon wheel along the edge of a ravine, has not, can not, be told.