When the Falcks and John Pollikop had been arrested and had joined her father in prison, when such more timid rebels as Mungo Kitterick and Harry Kindermann had been scared away from New Underground activities, Mary Greenhill had to take over the control of the Fort Beulah cell, with only Sissy, Father Perefixe, Dr. Olmsted and his driver, and half-a-dozen other agents left, and control it she did, with angry devotion and not too much sense. All she could do was to help in the escape of refugees and to forward such minor anti-Corpo news items as she could discover, with Julian gone.
The demon that had grown within her ever since her husband had been executed now became a great tumor, and Mary was furious at inaction. Quite gravely she talked about assassinations—and long before the day of Mary Greenhill, daughter of Doremus, gold-armored tyrants in towers had trembled at the menace of young widows in villages among the dark hills.
She wanted, first, to kill Shad Ledue who (she did not know, but guessed) had probably done the actual shooting of her husband. But in this small place it might hurt her family even more than they had been hurt. She humorlessly suggested, before Shad was arrested and murdered, that it would be a pretty piece of espionage for Sissy to go and live with him. The once flippant Sissy, so thin and quiet ever since her Julian had been taken away, was certain that Mary had gone mad, and at night was terrified… . She remembered how Mary, in the days when she had been a crystal-hard, crystal-bright sportswoman, had with her riding-crop beaten a farmer who had tortured a dog.
Mary was fed-up with the cautiousness of Dr. Olmsted and Father Perefixe, men who rather liked a vague state called Freedom but did not overmuch care for being lynched. She stormed at them. Call themselves men? Why didn't they go out and do something?
At home, she was irritated by her mother, who lamented hardly more about Doremus's jailing than she did about the beloved little tables that had been smashed during his arrest.
It was equally the blasts about the greatness of the new Provincial Commissioner, Effingham Swan, in the Corpo press and memoranda in the secret N.U. reports about his quick death verdicts against prisoners that made her decide to kill this dignitary. Even more than Shad (who had not yet been sent to Trianon), she blamed him for Fowler's fate. She thought it out quite calmly. That was the sort of thinking that the Corpos were encouraging among decent home-body women by their program for revitalizing national American pride.
Except with babies accompanying mothers, two visitors together were forbidden in the concentration camps. So, when Mary saw Doremus and, in another camp, Buck Titus, in early October, she could only murmur, in almost the same words to each of them, "Listen! When I leave you I'll hold up David—but, heavens, what a husky lump he's become!—at the gate, so you can see him. If anything should ever happen to me, if I should get sick or something, when you get out you'll take care of David—won't you, won't you?"
She was trying to be matter-of-fact, that they might not worry. She was not succeeding very well.
So she drew out, from the small fund which her father had established for her after Fowler's death, enough money for a couple of months, executed a power of attorney by which either her mother or her sister could draw the rest, casually kissed David and Emma and Sissy good-bye, and—chatty and gay as she took the train—went off to Albany, capital of the Northeastern Province. The story was that she needed a change and was going to stay near Albany with Fowler's married sister.
She did actually stay with her sister-in-law—long enough to get her bearings. Two days after her arrival, she went to the new Albany training-field of the Corpo Women's Flying Corps and enlisted for lessons in aviation and bombing.
When the inevitable war should come, when the government should decide whether it was Canada, Mexico, Russia, Cuba, Japan, or perhaps Staten Island that was "menacing her borders," and proceed to defend itself outwards, then the best women flyers of the Corps were to have Commissions in an official army auxiliary. The old-fashioned "rights" granted to women by the Liberals might (for their own sakes) be taken from them, but never had they had more right to die in battle.
While she was learning, she wrote to her family reassuringly—mostly postcards to David, bidding him mind whatever his grandmother said.
She lived in a lively boarding-house, filled with M.M. officers who knew all about and talked a little about the frequent inspection trips of Commissioner Swan, by aeroplane. She was complimented by quite a number of insulting proposals there.
She had driven a car ever since she had been fifteen: in Boston traffic, across the Quebec plains, on rocky hill roads in a blizzard; she had made repairs at midnight; and she had an accurate eye, nerves trained outdoors, and the resolute steadiness of a madman evading notice while he plots death. After ten hours of instruction, by an M.M. aviator who thought the air was as good a place as any to make love in and who could never understand why Mary laughed at him, she made her first solo flight, with an admirable landing. The instructor said (among other things less apropos) that she had no fear; that the one thing she needed for mastery was a little fear.
Meantime she was an obedient student in classes in bombing, a branch of culture daily more propagated by the Corpos.
She was particularly interested in the Mills hand grenade. You pulled out the safety pin, holding the lever against the grenade with your fingers, and tossed. Five seconds after the lever was thus loosened, the grenade exploded and killed a lot of people. It had never been used from planes, but it might be worth trying, thought Mary. M.M. officers told her that Swan, when a mob of steel-workers had been kicked out of a plant and started rioting, had taken command of the peace officers, and himself (they chuckled with admiration of his readiness) hurled such a grenade. It had killed two women and a baby.
Mary took her sixth solo flight on a November morning gray and quiet under snow clouds. She had never been very talkative with the ground crew but this morning she said it excited her to think she could leave the ground "like a reg'lar angel" and shoot up and hang around that unknown wilderness of clouds. She patted a strut of her machine, a high-wing Leonard monoplane with open cockpit, a new and very fast military machine, meant for both pursuit and quick jobs of bombing … quick jobs of slaughtering a few hundred troops in close formation.
At the field, as she had been informed he would, District Commissioner Effingham Swan was boarding his big official cabin plane for a flight presumably into New England. He was tall; a distinguished, military-looking, polo-suggesting dignitary in masterfully simple blue serge with just a light flying-helmet. A dozen yes-men buzzed about him—secretaries, bodyguards, a chauffeur, a couple of county commissioners, educational directors, labor directors—their hats in their hands, their smiles on their faces, their souls wriggling with gratitude to him for permitting them to exist. He snapped at them a good deal and bustled. As he mounted the steps to the cabin (Mary thought of "Casey Jones" and smiled), a messenger on a tremendous motorcycle blared up with the last telegrams. There seemed to be half a hundred of the yellow envelopes, Mary marveled. He tossed them to the secretary who was humbly creeping after him. The door of the viceregal coach closed on the Commissioner, the secretary, and two bodyguards lumpy with guns.
It was said that in his plane Swan had a desk that had belonged to Hitler, and before him to Marat.
To Mary, who had just lifted herself up into the cockpit, a mechanic cried, admiringly pointing after Swan's plane as it lurched forward, "Gee, what a grand guy that is—Boss Swan. I hear where he's flying down to Washington to chin with the Chief this morning—gee, think of it, with the Chief!"
"Wouldn't it be awful if somebody took a shot at Mr. Swan and the Chief? Might change all history," Mary shouted down.
"No chance of that! See those guards of his? Say, they could stand off a whole regiment—they could lick Walt Trowbridge and all the other Communists put together!"
"I guess that's so. Nothing but God shooting down from heaven could reach Mr. Swan."
"Ha, ha! That's good! But couple days ago I heard where a fellow was saying he figured out God had gone to sleep."
"Maybe it's time for Him to wake up!" said Mary, and raised her hand.
Her plane had a top of two hundred and eighty-five miles an hour—Swan's golden chariot had but two hundred and thirty. She was presently flying above and a little behind him. His cabin plane, which had seemed huge as the Queen Mary when she had looked up at its wing-spread on the ground, now seemed small as a white dove, wavering above the patchy linoleum that was the ground.
She drew from the pockets of her flying-jacket the three Mills hand grenades she had managed to steal from the school yesterday afternoon. She had not been able to get away with any heavier bomb. As she looked at them, for the first time she shuddered; she became a thing of warmer blood than a mere attachment to the plane, mechanical as the engine.
"Better get it over before I go ladylike," she sighed, and dived at the cabin plane.
No doubt her coming was unwelcome. Neither Death nor Mary Greenhill had made a formal engagement with Effingham Swan that morning; neither had telephoned, nor bargained with irritable secretaries, nor been neatly typed down on the great lord's schedule for his last day of life. In his dozen offices, in his marble home, in council hall and royal reviewing-stand, his most precious excellence was guarded with steel. He could not be approached by vulgarians like Mary Greenhill—save in the air, where emperor and vulgarian alike are upheld only by toy wings and by the grace of God.
Three times Mary maneuvered above his plane and dropped a grenade. Each time it missed. The cabin plane was descending, to land, and the guards were shooting up at her.
"Oh well!" she said, and dived bluntly at a bright metal wing.
In her last ten seconds she thought how much the wing looked like the zinc washboard which, as a girl, she had seen used by Mrs. Candy's predecessor—now what was her name?—Mamie or something. And she wished she had spent more time with David the last few months. And she noticed that the cabin plane seemed rather rushing up at her than she down at it.
The crash was appalling. It came just as she was patting her parachute and rising to leap out—too late. All she saw was an insane whirligig of smashed wings and huge engines that seemed to have been hurled up into her face.