The Ramrodders - A Novel
by Holman Day
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War and Peace had swapped corners that morning in the village of Fort Canibas. War was muttering at the end where two meeting-houses placidly faced each other across the street. Peace brooded over the ancient blockhouse, relic of the "Bloodless War," and upon the structure that Thelismer Thornton had converted from officers' barracks to his own uses as a dwelling.

At dawn a telegraph messenger jangled the bell in the dim hall of "The Barracks." It was an urgent cry from the chairman of the Republican State Committee. It announced his coming, and warned the autocrat of the North Country of the plot. The chairman knew. The plotters had been betrayed to him, and from his distance he enjoyed a perspective which is helpful in making political estimates. But Thelismer Thornton only chuckled over Luke Presson's fears. He went back to bed for another nap.

When he came down and ate breakfast alone in the big mess-room, which he had not allowed the carpenters to narrow by an inch, he was still amused by the chairman's panic. As a politician older than any of them, a man who had served his district fifty years in the legislature, he refused to believe—intrenched there in his fortress in the north—that there was danger abroad in the State.

"Reformers, eh?" He sneered the word aloud in the big room of echoes. "Well, I can show them one up here. There's Ivus Niles!"

And at that moment Ivus Niles was marching into the village from the Jo Quacca hills, torch for the tinder that had been prepared. It is said that a cow kicked over a lantern that started the conflagration of its generation. In times when political tinder is dry there have been great men who have underestimated reform torches.

It was a bland June morning. The Hon. Thelismer Thornton was bland, too, in agreement with the weather. A good politician always agrees with what cannot be helped.

He stood in the door of "The Barracks" and gazed out upon the rolling St. John hills—a lofty, ponderous hulk of a man, thatched with white hair, his big, round face cherubic still in spite of its wrinkles. He lighted a cigar, and gazed up into the cloudless sky with the mental endorsement that it was good caucus weather. Then he trudged out across the grass-plot and climbed into his favorite seat. It was an arm-chair set high in the tangle of the roots of an overturned spruce-tree. The politicians of the county called that seat "The Throne," and for a quarter of a century the Hon. Thelismer Thornton had been nicknamed "The Duke of Fort Canibas." Add that the nicknames were not ill bestowed. Such was the Hon. Thelismer Thornton.

He had brought newspapers in his pockets. He set his eyeglasses on his bulging nose, and began to read.

In the highway below him teams went jogging into the village. There were fuzzy Canadian horses pulling buckboards sagging under the weight of all the men who could cling on. There were top carriages and even a hayrack well loaded with men.

Occasionally the old man lifted his gaze from his reading and eyed the dusty wayfarers benignantly. He liked to know that the boys were turning out to the caucus. His perch was a lofty one. He could see that the one long street of Fort Canibas was well gridironed with teams—horses munching at hitching-posts, wagons thrusting their tails into the roadway.

It was quiet at Thornton's end of the village. There was merely twitter of birds in the silver poplar that shaded his seat, busy chatter of swallows, who were plastering up their mud nests under the eaves of the old blockhouse across the road from him. It was so quiet that he could hear a tumult at the other end of the village; it was a tumult for calm Fort Canibas. A raucous voice bellowed oratory of some sort, and yells and laughter and cheers punctuated the speech. Thornton knew the voice, even at that distance, for the voice of "War Eagle" Niles. He grinned, reading his paper. The sound of that voice salted the article that he was skimming:

"—and the fight is beginning early this year. The reform leaders say they find the sentiment of the people to be with them, and so the reformers propose to do their effective work at the caucuses instead of waiting to lock horns with a legislature and lobby controlled by the old politicians of the State. There is a contest on even in that impregnable fortress of the old regime, the 'Duchy of Canibas.' It is said that the whole strength of the State reform movement is quietly behind the attempt to destroy Thelismer Thornton's control in the north country. His is one of the earliest caucuses, and the moral effect of the defeat of that ancient autocrat will be incalculable."

Still more broadly did Thornton smile. "War Eagle" Niles, down there, was a reformer. For forty years he had been bellowing against despots and existing order, and, for the Duke of Fort Canibas, he typified "Reform!" Visionary, windy, snarling, impracticable attempts to smash the machine!

Therefore, in his serene confidence—the confidence of an old man who has founded and knows the solidity of the foundations—Thelismer Thornton smoked peacefully at one end of the village of Fort Canibas, and allowed rebellion to roar at its pleasure in the other end.

Then he saw them coming, heard the growing murmur of many voices, the cackle of occasional laughter, and took especial note of "War Eagle" Ivus Niles, who led the parade. A fuzzy and ancient silk hat topped his head, a rusty frock-coat flapped about his legs, and he tugged along at the end of a cord a dirty buck sheep. A big crowd followed; but when they shuffled into the yard of "The Barracks" most of the men were grinning, as though they had come merely to look on at a show. The old man in his aureole of roots gazed at them with composure, and noted no hostility.

Niles and his buck sheep stood forth alone. The others were grouped in a half circle. Even upon the "War Eagle," Thornton gazed tolerantly. There was the glint of fun in his eyes when Niles formally removed his silk hat, balanced it, crown up, in the hook of his elbow, and prepared to deliver his message.

"The dynasty of the house of Thornton must end to-day!" boomed Niles, in his best orotund.

Thornton found eyes in the crowd that blinked appreciation. Quizzical wrinkles deepened in his broad face. He plucked a cigar from his waistcoat-pocket and held it down toward Mr. Niles.

"No, sir!" roared that irreconcilable. "I ain't holding out my porringer to Power—never again!"

"Power," repulsed, lighted the cigar from the one he was smoking, and snapped the butt at the sheep.

"I'm a lover of good oratory, Ivus," he said, placidly, "and I know you've come here loaded. Fire!" He clasped his upcocked knee with his big hands, fingers interlaced, and leaned back.

The crowd exchanged elbow-thrusts and winks. But the ripple of laughter behind did not take the edge off Mr. Niles's earnestness.

"Honorable Thornton, I do not mind your sneers and slurs. When I see my duty I go for it. I'm here before you to-day as Protest walking erect, man-fashion, on two legs, and with a visible emblem that talks plainer than words can talk. The people need visible emblems to remind them. Like I'm leading this sheep, so you have been leading the voters of this legislative district. The ring has been in here"—Mr. Niles savagely pinched the cartilage of his nose—"and you have held the end of the cord. That's the way you've been led, you people!" The orator whirled and included his concourse of listeners as objects of arraignment. "Here's the picture of you as voters right before your eyes. Do you propose to be sheep any longer?" He put his hat on his head, and shook a hairy fist at the Duke of Fort Canibas. "This ain't a dynasty, and you can't make it into one. I call on you to take note of the signs and act accordingly; for the people are awake and arming for the fray. And when the people are once awake they can't any more be bamboozled by a political despot than the war eagle, screaming across the blue dome of the everlasting heavens, will turn tail when he hears the twittering of a pewee!" Mr. Niles closed, as he always closed a speech, with the metaphor that had given him his sobriquet.

"That is real oratory, Ivus," stated Mr. Thornton, serenely; "I know it is, because a man who is listening to real oratory never understands what the orator is driving at."

The Hon. Thelismer Thornton usually spoke with a slow, dry, half-quizzical drawl. That drawl was effective now. He came down from his chair, carefully stepping on the roots, and loomed above Mr. Niles, amiable, tolerant, serene. His wrinkled crash suit, in whose ample folds his mighty frame bulked, contrasted oddly with the dusty, rusty black in which Mr. Niles defied the heat of the summer day.

"Now I am down where I can talk business, Ivus. What's the matter with you?"

"Look into the depths of your own soul, if you've got the moral eyesight to look through mud," declaimed Mr. Niles, refusing to descend from polemics to plain business, "and you'll see what is the matter. You have made yourself the voice by which this district has spoken in the halls of state for fifty years, and that voice is not the voice of the people!" He stood on tiptoe and roared the charge.

"It is certainly not your voice that I take down to the State House with me," broke in their representative. "Freight charges on it would more than eat up my mileage allowance. Now let's call off this bass-drum solo business. Pull down your kite. To business!" He snapped his fingers under Mr. Niles's nose.

One of those in the throng who had not smiled stepped forth and spoke before the disconcerted "War Eagle" had recovered his voice.

"Since I am no orator, perhaps I can talk business to you, Representative Thornton." He was a grave, repressed, earnest man, whose sunburned face, bowed shoulders, work-stained hands, and general air proclaimed the farmer. "We've come here on a matter of business, sir."

"Led by a buck sheep and a human windmill, eh?"

"Mr. Niles's notions of tactics are his own. I'm sorry to see him handle this thing as he has. It was coming up in the caucus this afternoon in the right way." Thornton was listening with interest, and the man went on with the boldness the humble often display after long and earnest pondering has made duty plain. "When I saw Niles pass through the street and the crowd following, I was afraid that a matter that's very serious to some of us would be turned into horseplay, and so I came along, too. But I am not led by a buck sheep, Mr. Thornton, nor are those who believe with me."

"Believe what?"

"That, after fifty years of honors at our hands, you should be willing to step aside."

The Hon. Thelismer Thornton dragged up his huge figure into the stiffness of resentment. He ran searching eyes over the faces before him. All were grave now, for the sounding of the first note of revolt in a half century makes for gravity. The Duke of Fort Canibas could not distinguish adherents from foes at that moment, when all faces were masked with deep attention. His eyes came back to the stubborn spokesman.

"Walt Davis," he said, "your grandfather put my name before the caucus that nominated me for the legislature fifty years ago, and your father and you have voted for me ever since. You and every other voter in this district know that I do not intend to run again. I have announced it. What do you mean, then, by coming here in this fashion?"

"You have given out that you are going to make your grandson our next representative."

"And this ain't a dynasty!" roared Mr. Niles.

"Is there anything the matter with my grandson?" But Davis did not retreat before the bent brows of the district god.

"The trouble with him is, that he's your grandson."

"And what fault do you find with me after all these years?" There was wrathful wonderment in the tone.

"If you're going to retire from office," returned Mr. Davis, doggedly, "there's no need of raking the thing over to make trouble and hard feelings. I've voted for you, like my folks did before me. You're welcome to all those votes, Representative Thornton, but neither you nor your grandson is going to get any more. And as I say, so say many others in this district."

"No crowned heads, no rings in the noses of the people," declared Niles, yanking the cord and producing a bleat of fury from his emblematic captive.

"I don't stand for Niles and his monkey business," protested Davis. "I'm on a different platform. All is, we propose to be represented from now on; not mis-represented!"

Something like stupefaction succeeded the anger in the countenance of the Duke of Fort Canibas. Again he made careful scrutiny of the faces of his constituents. Then he turned his back on them and climbed up the twisted roots to his chair, sat down, faced them, caught his breath, and ejaculated, "Well, I'll be eternally d——d!"

He studied their faces for some time. But he was too good a politician to put much value on those human documents upraised to him. There were grins, subtle or humorous. There were a few scowls. One or two, tittering while they did it, urged the "War Eagle" on to fresh tirade. It was a mob that hardly knew its own mind, that was plain. But revolt was there. He felt it. It was one of those queer rebellions, starting with a joke for an excuse, but ready to settle into something serious. It was not so much hostility that he saw at that moment as something more dangerous—lack of respect.

"Look here, boys, I've been hearing that some of those cheap suckers from down State have been sneaking around this district. But I've never insulted you by believing you took any stock in that kind of cattle. We're neighbors here together. What's the matter with me? Out with your real grouch!"

"Look at this emblem I've brought," began Niles, oracularly, but Thornton was no longer in the mood that humored cranks. He jumped down, yanked the cord away from Niles, kicked the sheep and sent it scampering off with frightened bleats.

"If you fellows want an emblem, there's one," declared their indignant leader. "I'm all right for a joke—but the joke has got to stop when it has gone far enough."

He had sobered them. His disgusted glance swept their faces, and grins were gone. He went among them.

"Get around me, boys," he invited. "This isn't any stump speech. I'm going to talk business."

They did crowd around him, most of them, but Mr. Niles was still intractable. "You're right, it was your emblem just now! It has always been a kick from you and the rest of the high and mighty ones when you didn't want our wool."

"You're an infernal old liar and meddler, torched on by some one else!" retorted the Duke. "Now, boys, I see into this thing better than you do. Any time when I haven't used my district right, when I've betrayed you, or my word of advice isn't worth anything, I'll step out—and it won't need any bee of this kind to come around and serve notice on me. But I understand just what this shivaree means. Sneaks have come in here and lied behind my back and fooled some of you. Fools need to be saved from themselves. There are men in this State who would peel to their political shirts if they could lick Thelismer Thornton in his own district just now when the legislative caucuses are beginning. But I won't let you be fooled that way!"

"The name of 'Duke' fits you all right," piped Niles from a safe distance. "This is a dynasty and I've said it was, and now you're showing the cloven foot!"

Thornton disdained to reply. He continued to walk about among them. "They're trying to work you, boys," he went on. "I heard they were conniving to do business in this district, but I haven't insulted you by paying any attention to rumors. I want you to go down to that caucus this afternoon and vote for Harlan. You all know him. I'm an old man, and I want to see him started right before I get done. You all know what the Thorntons have done for you—and what they can do. I don't propose to see you swap horses while you're crossing the river."

But they did not rally in the good old way. There was something the matter with them. Those who dared to meet his gaze scowled. Those who looked away from him kept their eyes averted as though they were afraid to show their new faith. They had dared to march up to him behind Niles and his buck sheep, masking revolt under their grins. But Thornton realized that whoever had infected them had used the poison well. They had come to laugh; they remained to sulk. And they who had baited him with the unspeakable Niles understood their business when dealing with such an old lion as he.

"You need a guardian, you fellows," he said, contemptuously. "Your mutton marshal just fits you. But I'm going to keep you from buying the gold brick in politics you're reaching for now."

"Wouldn't it be a good idea, Squire Thornton, to let us run our own business awhile? You've done it for fifty years." It was still another of the rebels that spoke.

"If you had come to me like men, instead of playing hoodlums behind a lunatic and a sheep, I would have talked to you as men. But I say again you need a guardian."

"We won't vote for you nor none you name. We've been woke up."

The old man threw up both his hands and cracked his fingers into his palms. "And you're ready to take pap and paregoric from the first that come along, you infants!"

"You're showing yourself now, Duke Thornton!" shouted Niles. "You've used us like you'd use school-boys for fifty years, but you ain't dared to brag of it till now!"

Thornton strode out from among them. He tossed his big arms as though ridding himself of annoying insects. He had been stung out of self-control. It was not that he felt contempt for his people. He had always felt for them that sense of protection one assumes who has taken office from voters' hands for many years, has begged appropriations from the State treasury for them, has taken in hand their public affairs and administered them without bothering to ask advice. He realized all at once that jealousy and ingratitude must have been in their hearts for a long time. Now some influence had made them bold enough to display their feelings. Thornton had seen that sort of revolt many times before in the case of his friends in the public service. He had always felt pride in the belief that his own people were different—that his hold on them was that of the patriarch whom they loved and trusted.

The shock of it! He kept his face from them as he toiled up the steps of the old house. Tears sparkled in his eyes, sudden tears that astonished him. For a moment he felt old and broken and childish, and was not surprised that they had detected the weakness of a failing old man. He would have gone into "The Barracks" without showing them his face, but on the porch he was forced to turn. Some one had arrived, and arrived tempestuously. It was the Hon. Luke Presson, Chairman of the State Committee. He stepped down out of his automobile and walked around the crowd, spatting his gloved hands together, and looking them over critically. So he came to Thelismer Thornton, waiting on the steps, and shook his hand.

Mr. Presson was short and fat and rubicund, and, just now, plainly worried.

"This was the last place I expected to have to jump into, Thelismer," he complained. "I know the bunch has been wanting to get at you, but I didn't believe they'd try. I see that you and your boys here realize that you're up against a fight!"

He shuttled glances from face to face, and the general gloom impressed him. But it was plain that he did not understand that he was facing declared rebels.

"They've slipped five thousand dollars in here, Thelismer," he went on, speaking low. "They'd rather lug off this caucus than any fifty districts in the State."

"I don't believe there's men here that'll take money to vote against me," insisted Thornton. "But they've been lied to—that much I'll admit."

"You've been king here too long, Thelismer. You take too much for granted. They're bunching their hits here, I tell you. There are fifty thousand straddlers in this State ready to jump into the camp of the men that can lick the Duke of Fort Canibas—it gives a h——l of a line on futures! I thought you had your eye out better."

The deeper guile had masked itself behind such characters as Ivus Niles, and now Thornton realized it, and realized, too, to what a pass his trustful serenity, builded on the loyalty of the years, had brought him.

That strained, strange look of grieved surprise went out of his face. He lighted a cigar, gazing at his constituents over his scooped hands that held the match.

They stared at him, for his old poise had returned.

"This is the chairman of our State Committee, boys," he said, "come up to look over the field. He says there's a rumor going that Thornton can't carry his caucus this year." The Duke dropped into his quizzical drawl now. "I was just telling my friend Luke that it's queer how rumors get started." He walked to the porch-rail and leaned over it, his shaggy head dominating them. And then he threw the challenge at them. "The caucus is going to be held in the other end of the village—not here in my front dooryard. You'd better get over there. I don't need any such clutter here. Get there quick. There may be some people that you'll want to warn. Tell 'em old Thornton hasn't lost his grip."

He took Presson by the arm, and swung him hospitably in at the big door of "The Barracks."



"That's too rough—too rough, that kind of talk, Thelismer," protested the State chairman.

Thornton swung away from him and went to the window of the living-room and gazed out on his constituents.

"You can't handle voters the way you used to—you've got to hair-oil 'em these days."

Presson was no stranger in "The Barracks." But he walked around the big living-room with the fresh interest he always felt in the quaint place. Thornton stayed at the window, silent. The crowd had not left the yard—an additional insult to him. They were gathering around Niles and his sheep, and Niles was declaiming again.

The broad room was low, its time-stained woods were dark, and the chairman wandered in its shadowy recesses like an uneasy ghost.

"It isn't best to tongue-lash the boys that are for you," advised Presson, fretfully, "not this year, when reformers have got 'em filled up with a lot of skittish notions. Humor those that are for you."

"For me?" snarled "the Duke," over his shoulder, and then he turned on Presson. "That bunch of mangy pups out there for me? Why, Luke, that's opposition. And it's nasty, sneering, insulting opposition. I ought to go out there and blow them full of buckshot."

He shook his fists at the gun-rack beside the moose head which flung its wide antlers above the fireplace.

"Where's the crowd that's backing you—your own boys?"

"Luke, I swear I don't know. I knew there was some growling in this district—there always is in a district. A man like Ivus Niles would growl about John the Baptist, if he came back to earth and went in for politics. But this thing, here, gets me!" He turned to the window once more. "There's men out there I thought I could reckon on like I'd tie to my own grandson, and they're standing with their mouths open, whooping on that old blatherskite."

Chairman Presson went and stood with him at the window, hands in trousers pockets, chinking loose silver and staring gloomily through the dusty panes.

"It's hell to pave this State, and no hot pitch ready," he observed. "I've known it was bad. I knew they meant you. I warned you they were going to get in early and hit hard in this district—but I didn't realize it was as bad as this. They're calling it reform, but I tell you, Thelismer, there's big money and big men sitting back in the dark and rubbing the ears of these prohibition pussies and tom-cats. It's a State overturn that they're playing for!"

He began to stride around the big room. In two of the corners stuffed black bears reared and grinned at each other. In opposite corners loup-cerviers stared with unwinking eyes of glass, lips drawn over their teeth. "I'm running across something just as savage-looking in every political corner of this State," he muttered, "and the trouble is those outside of here are pretty blame much alive."

Niles was shouting without, and men were cheering his harangue.

"There used to be some sensible politics in this State," went on the disgusted chairman. "But it's got so now that a State committee is called on to consult a lot of cranks before drawing up the convention platform. Even a fellow in the legislature can't do what he wants to for the boys; cranks howling at him from home all the time. Candidates pumped for ante-election pledges, petitions rammed in ahead of every roll-call, lobby committees from the farmers' associations tramping around the State House in their cowhide boots, and a good government angel peeking in at every committee-room keyhole! Jeemsrollickins! Jim Blaine, himself, couldn't play the game these days."

If Thornton listened, he gave no sign. He had his elbows on the window-sill and was glowering on his constituents. They seemed determined to keep up the hateful serenade. It was hard for the old man to understand. But he did understand human nature—how dependence breeds resentment, how favors bestowed hatch sullen ingratitude, how jealousy turns and rends as soon as Democracy hisses, "At him!"

There was a dingy wall map beside him between the windows. A red line surrounded a section of it: two towns, a dozen plantations, and a score of unorganized townships—a thousand square miles of territory that composed his political barony. And on that section double red lines marked off half a million acres of timber-land, mountain, plain, and lake that Thelismer Thornton owned.

Chairman Presson, walking off his indignation, came and stood in front of the map.

"Between you and me, Thelismer, they've got quite a lot to grumble about, the farmers have. You wild-land fellows have grabbed a good deal, and you don't pay much taxes on it. You ought to have loosened a little earlier."

"You feel the cold water on your feet and you lay it to me rocking the boat, hey?" returned the Duke. "This is no time to begin to call names, Luke. But I want to tell you that where there's one man in this State grumbling about wild-land taxes, there are a hundred up and howling against you and the rest of the gilt-edged hotel-keepers that are selling rum and running bars just as though there wasn't any prohibitory law in our constitution." He had turned from the window. "You're looking at that map, eh? You think I've stolen land, do you? Look here! I came down that river out there on a raft—just married—my wife and a few poor little housekeeping traps on it. We never had a comfort till we got to the age where most folks die. I've had to live to be eighty-five to get a little something out of life. And she worked herself to death in spite of all I could say to stop her. Why, when the bill of sale fell due on the first pair of oxen I owned, she gave me the three hundred old-fashioned cents that she—don't get me to talking, Presson! But, by the Jehovah, I've earned that land up there! Dollars don't pay up a man and a woman for being pioneers. I'm not twitting you nor some of the rest of the men in this State in regard to how you got your money—but you know how you did get it!"

"We've stood by you on the tax question."

"And I've stood by you against the prohibition ramrodders, who were foolish enough to think that rumshops ought to be shut up because the law said so; and I've stood with the corporations and I've stood with the politicians, and played the game according to the rules. From the minute you came into my dooryard to-day you've acted as though you thought I'd stirred this whole uproar in the State."

"Did you ever know a man to get anywhere in politics if he didn't play the game—honesty or no honesty?"

"Yes, a few—they got there, but they didn't stay there long," replied the Duke, a flicker of humor in his wistfulness.

"You bet they didn't," agreed the chairman. "Thelismer, I'm just as honest as the world will let me be and succeed! But when a man gets to be perfectly honest in politics, and tries to lead his crowd at the same time, they turn around and swat him. I reckon he makes human nature ashamed of itself, and folks want to get him out of sight."

"I know," agreed the old man, and he looked out again on Niles and his audience. "The tough part of it is, Presson, those men out there are right—at bottom. They're playing traitor to me and acting like infernal fools, and I wouldn't let them know that I thought them anything else. But I'd like to step out there, Luke, and say, 'Boys, you're right. I've been working you. I've done you a lot of favors, I've brought a lot of benefits home to this district, but I've been looking after myself, and standing in with the bunch that has got the best things of the State tied up in a small bundle. I've only done what every successful politician has done—played the game. But you're right. Now go ahead and clean the State.'"

"You don't mean to say you'd do that?" demanded Presson, looking his old friend over pityingly.

"Luke, I mean that—but I don't intend to do it, not by a blame sight! I don't believe you ever realized that I was really honest deep down. I have told you something from the bottom of my heart. But"—he held out his big hands and closed and unclosed them—"if I should ever let them loose that way they'd be picked up before they'd gone forty feet by some other fellow that might be hollering reform and not be half as honest as I am."

He shoved his hands in his pockets and squinted shrewdly, and spoke with his satiric drawl.

"There was old Lem Ferguson. Lem got to reading books about soul transmigration or something of the kind, and turned to and let all his critters loose. Said that one living being didn't have any right to enslave another living being. Told them to go and be free. And somebody put his steers in the pound, and vealed two calves and sold 'em, and milked his cows, and stole his sheep, and ripped the tags out of their ears and sheared 'em for what wool they had. Luke, I'm no relative of Lem Ferguson's when it comes to practical politics. I know just as well as you do who's trying to steal this State, a hunk at a time. They've had the nerve to tackle my district. But if they think that I'm going to ungrip and let them grab it they've got a wrong line on old Thornton's sheepfold."

"What do you need in the way of help?" asked the State chairman.

"Nothing." Thornton turned again to survey his unruly flock. It was plain that they were baiting their overlord. Presson's acumen in politics enlightened him. An angry man may be made to antagonize the neutrals and even to insult his friends—and Thelismer Thornton was not patient when provoked. There was shrewd management behind this revolt.

Suddenly the yard was full of men, new arrivals. It was an orderly little army, woodsmen with meal-sack packs, an incoming crew on its march to the woods. A big man plodded ahead and marshalled them. Thornton hastened out upon the porch, and the chairman followed. The big man halted his crew, and leaned his elbows on the porch rail.

"Thought I'd walk 'em early in the cool of the day," he explained, "and lay off here for dinner and a rest. Pretty good lot of gash-fiddlers, there, Mr. Thornton. I picked the market for you."

"And I'll sample 'em right now," said the Duke, grimly. "Ben, tell 'em to drop those duffel-bags and rush that gang of steers out of my yard." He pointed at the flock of constituents. Niles had begun fresh harangue in regard to despots, addressing the new arrivals. They did not seem to be especially interested. There were a few long-legged Prince Edward Islanders, but most of them were wiry little French Canadians, who did not seem to understand much of the orator's tumultuous speech.

"If you've got a crew that's any good on a log-landing, we'll find it out," added the Duke. "Get at 'em!"

"Good gaddlemighty!" gasped Presson, "you ain't going to do anything like that!"

"You watch."

"Politics?" queried the big boss, swinging about to go to his crew. He grinned. It was evident that he considered that anything under that general head was in the Duke's supreme control, and that his employer's orders absolved him.

"It's just what they've been trying to prod into you—it's their game," adjured Presson, beating expostulating palms upon Thornton's breast.

"Then it has worked," the old man replied, calmly. He pushed the chairman aside. "Rush'em, Ben, and, if they don't go easy, toss 'em over the fence."

The big boss sauntered among his crew and growled a few crisp commands. The smile he wore gave the affair the appearance of a lark, and the woodsmen took it in that spirit. But the mob was sullen. Those who were not active rebels had been stung by the contempt that their leader now displayed. Some resisted when the woodsmen pushed them half playfully. A burly fellow stood his ground. Ivus Niles lurked at his back.

"The folks up in the Jo Quacca Mountains will snicker in good shape when I tell 'em that Fightin' MacCracken let himself be dumped out of Duke Thornton's dooryard by a pack of lard-eating Quedaws," he sneered in the giant's ear.

MacCracken swept away the first three men with swinging cuffs. He was thinking of his reputation at home. The taunt pricked him.

"Call 'em off—call 'em off, sir," pleaded Davis. "I've been trying to get these men out of your yard. I don't approve of Niles. Let's have our politics clean, Mr. Thornton. I'm willing to argue with you. But don't let's have it said outside that Fort Canibas' politics is run by plug-uglies."

"He's right, Thelismer; you're letting them score a point on you," protested Presson.

But Thornton had been too grievously wounded that day to be able to listen to peace measures. He strode down off the porch, shouting commands. His men were willing, and MacCracken's defiance gave them the provocation they wanted.

"If it's fight you're looking for, you spike-horn stag," announced the boss, bursting through the press to reach the Jo Quacca champion, "we can open a full assortment, and no trouble to show goods."

He knocked MacCracken flat, reaching over the heads of the smaller men, and the next moment the Canadians swarmed on the fallen gladiator like flies, lifted him and tossed him into the road. The rest of the mob escaped. Niles's emblematic buck sheep, cropping the grass in the fence corner, was tossed out behind the fugitives.

"I was hoping there'd be a little more cayenne in it," complained the big boss, scrubbing his knuckles against his belted jacket.

"Come out in the road where it ain't private ground owned by the old land-grabber," pleaded MacCracken. "I'll meet you somewhere, Ben Kyle, where it'll have to be a fair stand-up." But Kyle gave him no further attention.

"Take the boys into the ram pasture," directed his employer. He pointed to a long, low addition in the rear of "The Barracks," the shelter that served for the housing of the Thorntons' crews, migratory to or from the big woods. "I'll bring out a present. I guess you've got a good, able crew there, Ben."

Chairman Presson followed the old man back into the mansion. He was angry, and made his sentiment known, but Thornton was stubborn.

"There may be another way of running this district just at this time, Luke, but this is my way of running it, and I'm going to control that caucus. So what are you growling about?" He was opening a closet in the wall.

"But you're starting a scandal—and they'll get so stirred up that they'll put an independent ticket into the field. You'll have to fight 'em all over again at the polls. You're rasping them too hard."

"Luke, there are a lot of things you know about down-country politics, and perhaps you know more than I do about politics in general. But there's a rule in seafaring that holds good in politics. If you're trying to ratch off a lee shore it's no time to be pulling down your canvas."

He took a jug out of the closet, and went to the low building. The chairman followed along, not comforted.

The woodsmen had piled their duffel-bags in corners and were waiting. There were long tables up and down the centre of the room. They were flanked by benches. The tables were furnished with tin plates, tin pannikins, knives, and two-tined forks. The big boss had already given his orders. He and his crew had been expected. Men were hustling food onto the tables. There were great pans heaped with steaming baked beans, dark with molasses sweetening, gobbets of white pork flecking the mounds. Truncated cones of brownbread smoked here and there on platters. Cubes of gingerbread were heaped high in wooden bowls, and men went along the tables filling the pannikins with hot tea. The kitchen was in a leanto, and the cook was pulling tins of hot biscuits from the oven. There was not a woman in sight about "The Barracks." There had been none for years. Those men in the dirty canvas aprons were maids, cooks, and housekeepers.

It was hospitality rude and lavish. That low, dark room with its tiers of bunks along the four sides, its heaped tables, its air of uncalculated plenty, housed the recrudescence of feudalism in Yankee surroundings. And the lord of the manor set his jug at one end of the table and ordered the big boss to pipe all hands to grog.

"A pretty good lot, Ben," he commented as they crowded around. "And this here is something in the way of appreciation."

"Mr. Harlan coming out here to meet me, or am I going in and hunt him up?" inquired Kyle. "I suppose he has located most of the operations for next season."

"You'll take them in. Harlan won't be out for a while." He turned and walked away, the chairman with him.

"Your grandson seems to be as much in love with the woods as ever," commented Presson. "But I shouldn't think you'd want him to associate with this kind of cattle all his life, herding Canuck goats on a logging operation. You've got money enough, the two of you. He ought to get out into the world, find an up-to-date girl for a wife, and get married."

Thornton had led the way out into the sunshine, and was strolling about the yard, hands behind his back.

"Luke," he confided after a few moments, "you've just tapped me where I'm tender. Look here, if it was just me and me only that this hoorah here to-day was hitting, I'd tell 'em to take their damnation nomination and make it a cock-horse for any reformer that wants to ride. I'd do it, party or no party! But the minute it leaked out that I was putting Harlan up for the caucus they turned on me. And now I propose to show 'em."

The chairman stopped and stared at his friend. That piece of news had not reached him till then.

"You don't mean to tell me," he demanded, "that you're going to take this time of all others to swap horses? Why, Harlan Thornton can't play politics! He doesn't know—"

"He don't need to. I'll play it for him. Between you and me, Luke, he doesn't even know yet that he's going to run for the legislature. I'm keeping him up in the woods so that he won't know. He's one of those stiff-necked young colts that wants to do only what he wants to do in a good many things." He added the last with a growl of disgust. "And he won't allow that any old man can tell him a few things that he doesn't know."

"Now, Thelismer," protested the chairman, "I don't know anything about what's going on in your family, here, and I don't care. I know your grandson is a straight and square young chap, a worker, and a good business man, but he's no politician. I'm not going to stand for his butting in at this stage of the game."

"He isn't butting in. I'm throwing him in, like I'd train a puppy to swim," retorted the old man, calmly. "And, furthermore, what business of yours is it, anyway?"

"I'm chairman of the State committee."

"And I'm the boss of this legislative district. Now, hold on, Luke." He bent over and planted his two big hands on the chairman's shoulders. "Harlan is all I've got. He's always been a steady, hustling boy. But to get him out of these woods and smoothed up like I want him smoothed up has been worse than rooting up old Katahdin. I've been pioneer enough for both of us. I don't propose to have him spend the rest of his life here. First off, he thought it was his duty to me to take the business burden off my shoulders. Now he's got into the life, and won't stand for anything else. And the only thing I care for under God's heavens at my age is to have him be something in this State. He's got the looks and the brains and the money! And he's going to be something! And I'm going to see him started on the way. God knows where I'll be two years from now. You can't reckon on much after eighty. To-day I'm feeling pretty healthy." There was a bite in his tone. "And I'm going to nominate Harlan for the legislature, and then I'm going to elect him. I'm going to see him started right before I die."

"And he doesn't want to go, and the voters don't want him to go," lamented Presson. "You're only trying to bull through a political slack-wire exhibition for your own amusement—and this whole State on the hair-trigger! By the mighty, it isn't right. I won't stand for it!"

The Duke started for the front of the mansion.

"And, furthermore, Thelismer, if you're willing to run a chance of tipping over the politics of this State for the sake of giving your grandson a course of sprouts, you're losing your mind in your old age, and ought to be taken care of."

Thornton turned and bestowed a grim smile on his angry friend.

"Presson, I've stood by the machine a good many years. Now, if I can't stand for a little business of my own without a riot, bring on your riot. I'll lick you in that caucus with one hand while I'm licking that dirty bunch of rebels with the other. I've got my reasons for what I'm doing."

"Give me a good reason, then," begged the chairman. "Killing off your friends for the sake of giving Harlan Thornton a liberal education doesn't appeal to me."

"My real reason wouldn't, either—not just now," returned the Duke, enigmatically.

At that moment half a dozen gaunt hounds raced around the corner of "The Barracks." They leaped at Thornton playfully, daubing his crash suit with their dusty paws. He seemed to recognize them. He cursed them and kicked them away savagely.



A rangy roan horse followed the dogs, galloping so wildly that when his rider halted him his hoofs tore up the turf as he slid. A girl rode him. She was mounted astride, and Presson had to look twice at her to make sure she was a girl, for she wore knickerbockers and gaiters, and her copper-red hair curled so crisply that it seemed as short as a boy's.

"Good-morning, Mr. Duke," she called. "Is Harlan down from the woods yet?"

The old man turned to march off after a scornful glance at her. He kicked away another dog. Then he whirled and stepped back toward her. It was anger and not courtesy that impelled him.

"He isn't here, and he won't be here. And how many times more have I got to tell you not to be impertinent to me?"

"How, Mr. Duke?"

"By that infernal nickname," he stormed. "Young woman, I've told you to stay on your side of the river, and you—"

"Really you ought to be called 'Duke' if you order folks off the earth that way," she cried, saucily. "But I did not come to see you, Mr. Duke. I came to see Harlan. Has he got home yet?"

She swung sideways on her horse and nursed her slender ankle across her knee. It was plain that she had expected this reception, and knew how to meet it. She gazed at him serenely from big, gray eyes. She smiled and held her head a little to one side, her nose tiptilted a bit, giving her an aggravatingly teasing expression.

"I tell you he's not here, and he won't be here."

"Oh yes, he will. For"—she smiled more broadly, and there was malice in her eyes—"I sent word to him to come, and he's coming."

"You sent word to him, you red-headed Irish cat? What do you mean?"

The lord of Fort Canibas strode close to her, passion on his face. Presson could see that this was no suddenly evoked quarrel between the two. It was hostility reawakened.

"I mean that I'm looking out for the interests of Harlan when those at home are plotting against him. I hear the news. I listen to news for him, when he's away in the big woods. And I'm not going to let you send him off down to any old prison of a legislature, where he'll be spoiled for his friends up here. And he doesn't want to go. And he'll be here, Mr. Duke, to see that you don't trade him off into your politics."

She delivered her little speech resolutely, and gave him back his blistering gaze without winking.

"Oh, my God, if you were—were only Ivus Niles, or Beelzebub himself sitting there on that horse," Thornton gasped. "You—you—" he turned away from her maddening smile and stamped about on the turf. The hounds still played around him, persistent in their attentions. He kicked at them.

"It suits me to be just Clare Kavanagh, Mr. Duke—and I'm not afraid of you!"

"Kyle—ho there, Kyle!" The big boss came out of the "ram pasture," wiping food fragments from his beard. "Get a rifle and shoot these dogs. Clean 'em out! Take two men and ride this Irish imp across the river where she belongs."

Kyle balked. His face showed it.

Presson had never seen his old friend in such a fury. He menaced the girl with his fists as though about to forget that she was a woman. But she did not retreat. The picture was that of the kitten and the mastiff. Her sparkling eyes followed him. The scarlet of an anger as ready as his own leaped to the soft curves of her cheeks.

"You've got my orders, Kyle. I stand behind them."

Without taking her eyes off Thornton, the girl reached behind her and jerked a revolver from its holster.

"You shoot my dogs, Kyle, and I'll shoot you." In her tones there was none of the hysteria that usually spices feminine threats. She was angry, but her voice was grimly level. She had the poise of one who had learned to depend on her own resolute spirit. But she displayed something more than that. It was recklessness that was bravado. In the eyes of the State chairman, friend of Thornton, and accustomed to a milder form of femininity, it was impudence. Yet her beauty made its appeal to him. The old man lunged toward her, but the politician seized his arm.

"Thelismer," he protested, "you are going too far. I don't know the girl, or what the main trouble is, but you're acting like a ten-year-old."

Thelismer Thornton knew it, and the knowledge added to his helpless rage. He pulled himself out of Presson's grasp.

He began to revile the girl in language that made Presson set his little eyes open and purse his round mouth.

"Damn it, you don't understand," roared the Duke, whirling on his friend. Presson had faced him at last with protest that stung. "I know it's no kind of talk to use to any one. I'm no ruffian. I'm ashamed to have to use it. But the other kind don't work—not with her. Land-pirate Kavanagh is welcome to the ten thousand acres of timber-land that he stole from me; but when his red-head daughter proposes to steal my grandson, and laugh at me to my face while she's doing it, she'll take what I have to give her if she wants to stay and listen. Look at her, Presson! Look at her! Is that the kind of a girl for any young chap? A rattlebrained imp with a horse between her knees from daylight to dark, riding the country wild, insulting old age, and laughing at me and putting the devil into the head of my grandson! Kyle, get your men and run her across the river into her Canuck country! She isn't even an American citizen, Luke. Do you hear me, Kyle?"

Presson saw that the girl was not looking at her enemy then. From the back of her horse she could see farther up the road than they. She had spied a horseman coming. She recognized him. She uttered a shrill call that he understood, for he forced his horse into a gallop, and came into the yard before Thornton had gathered himself to continue his tirade. The Duke had seen his grandson almost as soon as she, and the passion went out of his face. He looked suddenly old and tired and troubled.

There was appeal in the gaze he turned on his grandson. He stepped forward.

"Don't let her make any more trouble between us, Harlan, not till you understand how she—"

But the girl forestalled him. She had fought her battle alone until he came. She slid off her horse and ran across the yard, sobbing like a child. And now Presson saw how young she was. On her horse, defiant almost to the point of impudence, she had a manner that belied her years. But when she fled to her champion, she was revealed as only a little girl with a child's impulsiveness in speech and action. The young man slipped his foot from a stirrup and held his hand to her. She sprang to him, standing in the stirrup.

"He called me wicked names, Harlan! I was only trying to help you. I wanted you to come, for I thought you ought to know! You've come. I knew you'd come. You won't let him send you away. You'll not let him call me those names ever again!"

He gently swung her down, alighted and faced his grandfather. He had the stalwart frame of Thelismer Thornton, and with it the poise of youth, clean-limbed, bronzed, and erect. He flashed a pair of indignant brown eyes at the old man. The Duke recognized the Thornton challenge to battle in the sparkle of those eyes.

"Let's talk this over by ourselves, Harlan," he advised. "Send the girl along about her business. She has messed things between us badly enough as it is."

"Have you been talking to this poor little girl as she tells me you have talked?" demanded young Thornton, narrowing his eyes.

"That isn't the tone to use to me, boy," warned the Duke. There had been appeal in his face and his voice at the beginning. But this disloyalty in the presence of the girl pricked him. She was still in the hook of Harlan's arm, and from that vantage-point flung a glance of childishly ingenuous triumph at him. "Not that tone from grandson to grandfather."

"It's man to man just now, sir. You know how I feel toward this little friend of mine. If you have abused our friendship here at our home, you'll apologize, grandfather or no grandfather—and that's the first disrespectful word I ever gave you, sir. But this is a case where I have the right to speak."

The Duke stiffened and his face was gray.

"I talked to her the way Land-pirate Kavanagh's daughter ought to be talked to when she comes here mocking me. Now, Harlan, if you want this in the open instead of in private, where it ought to be, I'll give it to you straight from the shoulder. You're not going to marry that girl. She shan't steal you and spoil you. I've told you so before. I give it to you now before witnesses."

The girl ran toward him. She was furious. It was evident that shame as well as anger possessed her.

"Have I ever said I wanted to marry your grandson? Has he ever said he wanted to marry me? Is it because you have such a wicked old mind that you think we cannot always be the true friends we have been? I do not want a husband. But I have a friend, and you shall not take him away from me!"

"You have heard, sir. Do you realize how you have insulted both of us? You shall apologize, Grandfather Thornton!"

For reply the old man walked up to him, snapped the fingers of both hands under his nose, and walked away. "Give me ten words more of that talk and I'll take you across my knee," he called over his shoulder. "There are some men that never grow old enough to get beyond the spanking age."

Presson, interested spectator, looked for the natural outburst of youth at that point. But he stared at the young man, and decided that he truly had inherited the Thornton grit and self-restraint which the Duke seemed now to have lost all at once after all the years.

Harlan gazed after his grandfather, lips tightening. He was an embodiment of wholesome young manhood, as he stood there, struggling with the passion that prompted him to unfilial reproaches. Then he turned to the girl. He had a wistful smile for her.

"I'm sorry, little Clare," he said, softly. She slipped her hands under the belt of his corduroy jacket and gazed up at him tearfully.

"He had no right to say that I—that I—oh, he doesn't understand friendship!" she cried.

"No, and we'll not try to explain—not now! But I have some serious matters to talk over with my grandfather. Ride home, dear; I'll see you before I go back to the woods again."

"And you are going back to the woods? You are not going to let them send you away where you'll forget your best friends?"

"I never shall forget my friends. And I can't believe that you heard right, little girl. My grandfather will not put me in politics. Don't worry. I'll straighten it all out before I leave."

He lifted her to her horse and sent her away with a pat. She went unprotesting, with a trustful smile. The hounds raced wildly after her.

"Woof!" remarked the Hon. Luke Presson to himself, "there's a kitten that's been fed on plenty of raw meat!" And as he always compared all women with his daughter, reigning beauty of the State capital, he added: "I'd like to have Madeleine get a glimpse of that. She'd be glad that it's the style to bring girls up on a cream diet."

He hurried away behind Harlan, who had given him rather curt greeting, and had followed the Duke around to the front of the house. The old man was tramping the porch from end to end.

The boarding creaked under him as he strode, his gait a lurch that moved one side of his body at a time. The smoke from his cigar streamed past his ears.

It was silent at the front of the big house, and in that silence the three of them could hear the occasional shouts that greeted demagogic oratory down in the village. The comment of the lord of Canibas was the anathema that he growled to himself.

His grandson faced him twice on his turns along the porch, protest in his demeanor. But the old man brushed past.

"Grandfather, I want a word with you," Harlan ventured at last.

"You talk girl to me just now, young fellow, and you won't find it safe!"

He marched on, and the grandson resolutely waited his return.

"I'm going to talk business, sir. I want this thing understood. Is it true what I hear? Do you propose to put my name before that caucus? I want to say—"

But the old man strode away from him again.

"He says he's going to do it, and it's fool business," confided Presson. "You've got to stop him. There's no reason in it."

"I've got my reasons. If you don't know enough to see 'em, it isn't my fault," snapped the Duke, passing them and overhearing.

"Then I've got this to say." The young man stopped his grandfather—as big, as determined, as passionate—Thornton against Thornton. "I'll not go to the legislature."

The old man shouted his reply.

"I don't know as you will, you tote-road mule, you! But, by the suffering Herod, they'll have to show me first!"

He elbowed his grandson aside and kept on pacing the porch.



After that outburst Presson went away by himself to sulk. Young Thornton made no further protest. He stared at his grandfather, trying to comprehend what it meant—this bitterness, this savage resentment, this arbitrary authority that took no heed of his own wishes. He had always known a calm, kindly, sometimes caustic, but never impatient Thelismer Thornton. This old man, surly, domineering, and unreasonable, was new to him. And after a little while, worried and saddened, he went away. His presence seemed to stir even more rancor as the moments passed.

Presson understood better, but could not forgive the bullheadedness that seemed to be wrecking their political plans. His own political training had taught him the benefits of compromise. He was angry at this old man who proposed to go down fighting among the fallen props of a lifetime of power. And even though Presson now understood better some of the motives that prompted the Duke to force young Harlan out into the world, his political sensibilities were more acute than his sympathy.

Therefore the beleaguered lord of Canibas was left to fight it out alone.

He stood at the end of the porch and listened to the menacing sounds of the village.

He glared down the long street and grunted, "Grinding their knives, eh?"

Evidently the centrifugal motion of the political machine down there was violent enough to throw off one lively spark. A man came up the road at a brisk gait, stamped across the yard, and went direct to the Duke, who waited for him at the far end of the porch. He did not glance at Presson or at Harlan Thornton.

"Did you ever see anything like it, did you ever hear anything like it, Honor'ble?" the new arrival demanded with heat. "They're goin' to make a caucus out of it—a caucus!"

The man had a lower jaw edged with a roll of black whisker, a jaw that protruded like a bulldog's. With the familiarity of the long-time lieutenant, he pecked with thumb and forefinger at the end of a cigar protruding from his chief's waistcoat-pocket. He wrenched off the tip between snaggy teeth. He spat the tip far.

"Yes, sir, by jehoshaphat, a caucus!"

Chairman Presson's ear had caught the sound of politics. He felt that he was entitled, ex officio, to be present at any conference. He hurried to the end of the porch.

"We ain't had a caucus in this district for more'n forty years," stated the new arrival, accepting the chairman as a friend of the cause. "Except as the chairman catches the seckertery somewhere and then hollers for some one to come in from the street and renominate the Honor'ble Thornton. But, dammit, this is going to be a caucus." The word seemed suddenly to have acquired novel meaning for him. "They must have been pussy-footin' for a month. You could have knocked me down with your cigar-butt, Squire, when I got in here to-day and found how she stood. If it hadn't been for War Eagle Ivus and his buck sheep breakin' out, they'd have ambuscaded ye, surer'n palm-leaf fans can't cool the kitchen o' hell. But even as it is—hoot and holler now, and tag-gool-I-see-ye, they say they've got you licked, and licked in the open—that's what they say!" The man's tone was that of one announcing the blotting-out of the stars.

"Walt Davis bragged about it," said the old man, outwardly calm, but eyes ablaze. "It must be a pretty sure thing when he's got the courage to crawl out from under the wagon and yap."

"Good God!" blurted the chairman of the State Committee, "you don't mean to tell me!"

"It's the ramrodders! They've been up here, one or two of the old cock ones, workin' under cover," stated the unswerving one. "About once in so often the people are ripe to be picked. They've mebbe had drought, chilblains, lost a new milch cow, and had a note come due—and some one that's paid to do it tells 'em that it's all due to the political ring—and then they begin to club the tree! But standing here spittin' froth about it ain't convertin' the heathern nor cooperin' them that imagine vain things. Now here's what I've done, grabbin' in so's to lose no time. I—"

"No, just tell me what the other side has done," commanded the Duke.

"First place, they've got names in black and white of enough Republicans to down you in caucus. They've got 'em, them ramrodders have! I've hairpinned the truth out o' the cracks! They've been sayin' that you've only wanted your office so as to dicker and trade, and make yourself and them in your political bunch richer; they're showin' figgers to prove that much; sayin' you brag you carry our district in your vest-pocket; sayin' everything to stir up the bile that's in every man when you know how to stir for it. Furthermore, Squire, the fact that you're gettin' out yourself and proposin' to put your grandson in gives 'em their chance to say a lot. Next place, this is goin' to be a caucus. It ain't any imitation. They're goin' to use a marked check-list."

"What?" roared the Honorable Thelismer, jarred out of his baleful calm.

"Yes, sir! They've pulled the town clerk into camp and have had him mark a list. And you can imagine who they picked out as Republican voters in this town! And they'll stand and challenge every one else till their throats are sore. You and me has cut up a few little innocent tricks in politics in our time, Squire, but we never framed anything quite as tidy as this for a steal. If your friend, here, is in politics, he—"

"I'm Presson, chairman of the State Committee," explained that gentleman. The Duke of Fort Canibas was too much absorbed to make presentations.

"Hell! That so?" ripped out the other, frankly astonished. "Well, I'm glad you're here. You ought to be able to help us out."

Presson was not cheerful or helpful. "They're slashing this whole State open from one end to the other with their devilish reform hullabaloo," he said.

"I hear there is quite a stir outside," agreed the agitator, blandly. He looked the chairman up and down with interest. "You may call me Sylvester—Talleyrand Sylvester. Yankee dickerer! Buy and sell everything from a clap o' thunder to a second-hand gravestone. It brings me round the country up here, and so I've been the Squire's right-hand man in the political game, such as there's been of it." He turned his back on the pondering Duke and continued, sotto voce: "I reckon if he'd stayed in himself, Colonel, they wouldn't have had the courage to tackle him. They might have hit him with that whole stockin'ful of mud they've been collectin', and he wouldn't have staggered. But when they go to hit the young feller, there, with it, he's down and out."

"Eh!" barked the magnate of Canibas, catching the last words. "I am? Not by a—" He broke off, ashamed of wasting effort in mere boasts. "Presson," he went on, evidently now intent on proceeding according to the plan that he had been meditating, "you've got your own interest in seeing me keep this district in line, haven't you?"

"You're the head of our row of bricks," bleated the chairman. "We've got to keep you standing—got to do it."

"Then we'll get busy." The old man threw back his shoulders. "Carrying a caucus the way we've probably got to carry this one at the last gasp isn't going to be a genteel entertainment." He tapped a stubby finger on the honorable chairman's shirt-front. "I'm going to raise some very particular hell." He turned to his lieutenant. "The boys right in the village, here, our own bunch, are all right, of course, Sylvester?"

"Stickin' to you like pitch in a spruce crack, as usual. It's the outsiders from the other sections in the district. They hadn't known what a caucus was till them ramrodders got after 'em."

"Can't they be handled now that they're in here?"

"Have been lied to already too skilful and thorough. Me and Whisperin' Urban and a few others of the boys blew the haydust out of their ears, and tried to inject the usual—but they can't hold any more. They've got to be unloaded first—and there ain't time to do it."

"And you're pretty sure they can swing the organization when the caucus is called?" demanded the Duke.

"Two to one—and our men ain't got a smell on that check-list they've doctored. Why, they've even got me marked 'Socialist.' You can imagine what they've done to the rest of the boys. It's one o'clock now." (He had looked at four watches, one after the other, a part of his dickerer's stock-in-trade.) "In an hour and fifteen minutes they'll be organized and votin' by check-list. I ain't a man to give up easy, Squire, but I swear it looks as though they had us headed so far on the homestretch that we ain't near enough to trip 'em or bust a sulky wheel on 'em."

"You've got more than an hour's leeway." It was a soft lisp of sound that startled the group. The man had come by devious ways through the gullies of the Thornton field, around the corner of "The Barracks," and upon the porch. Those who knew him declared that "Whispering Urban" Cobb never walked by the straight way when there was a crooked one by which he could dodge around.

"No, they can't get a-goin' at no two o'clock," he assured them. A drooping gray mustache curtained his mouth, drooping gray eyebrows shaded his eyes, and he crowded very close to them and whispered, "I've stole the call for the caucus, and they'll hunt for it about half an hour, and then they'll have to round the committee up and get 'em to sign another, and have constables swear that the other call was posted—and, well, they won't get going much before four."

The Duke looked at him indulgently.

"I took it on myself to do it. I reckoned you might need the extra time, seein' that they was tryin' to spring a trap on you."

He took the cigar that the Duke offered him in lieu of praise.

"Bein' sure of that much time—if you'll see to it that they're regular about the call!" Mr. Cobb cocked inquiring eye at the old man.

"I'll see to it," stated Thornton, grimly.

"Well, then, bein' sure of that time, I'll—Mr. Thornton, would you object if I was to start in this afternoon on the contract of clearing up that slash where you operated on Jo Quacca last winter? Of course, this ain't just the best kind of weather for bonfires, but—the fire will certainly burn!" His whispering voice gave the suggestion ominous significance.

The Hon. Thelismer Thornton stared for a moment at Cobb, and then looked up at the heights that shimmered in the beating sun.

"You may start in, Cobb," he said at last. His perception of what the man meant came instantly. He had hesitated while he figured chances. "Take fifty of those men out behind there," his thumb jerked over his shoulder. "Give every man a shovel, and see that it doesn't get away from you. More smoke than fire, see!"

Mr. Cobb hastened away.

The duller comprehension of the chairman of the State Committee had not grasped the significance of the conversation.

"I'd let business wait till politics are finished, Thelismer," he chided.

"There is such a thing as running the two on a double track," returned Mr. Thornton, serene but non-committal. He whirled on Sylvester, his mien that of the commander-in-chief disposing his forces in the face of the enemy: "Talleyrand, you'll find fifty more quedaws out there after Cobb takes his pick. Take them down to Aunt Charette's and have her set out her best. And keep 'em well bunched and handy!"

He reached through an open window and filled the pockets of his crash suit with cigars from a box on a stand.

"Now, Luke," he invited, blandly, "let's go to a legislative district caucus. I haven't bothered to attend one for a good many years, but this one on the docket now gives signs of being interesting."

They walked down the dusty road toward the village. The State chairman was silent, with the air of a man pondering matters he does not understand; but the Hon. Thelismer Thornton beamed upon all he met. Having a certainty to deal with, and a tangible enemy in sight, he seemed at ease. He felt like one who has recovered from dizzying blows and is on trail of the enemy who dealt them. He was himself again.

A few of those he met he greeted with especial cordiality. To some he gave cigars, not with the air of one seeking favor, not with the cheap generosity of the professional politician, but with the manner of one taking paternal interest in the conduct of a good child. It was an act that seemed to go with his handclasp and smile. He caught the State chairman looking at him rather doubtfully on one of these occasions.

"The folks understand this thing up here," he said. "When those chaps were young ones I used to give them a stick of candy. Now that they are grown up I hand 'em a cigar—got into the habit and can't stop. Or else I send 'em around to Aunt Charette's and have it put on my account. Wicked performance, I suppose, and so the old ladies tell me. But I was born in the old rum-and-molasses times, Luke, when the liquor thing sort of run itself, and didn't give so many cheap snoozers a job on one side or the other."

"What's this Aunt Charette's you're talking about?" asked the chairman.

"An institution!" The Duke enjoyed the puzzled stare the little man rolled up at him. "I reckon you think you've solved the liquor question in this prohibition State at that hotel bar of yours, Luke. I've solved it in my own way up here. Aunt Charette's is an institution that I've founded. Come and look at it."

He led the way off the main street. There was a cottage at the end of a lane, tree-embowered, neat with fresh white paint and blinds of vivid green. An old man sat in an arm-chair under one of the trees. He wore gold earrings and an old-style coat with brass buttons.

"Uncle Charette," explained the Duke, as they passed him. "Simply a lawn ornament."

He led the way into the house without knocking.

"And this is Aunt Charette," he volunteered. In the centre of the spotless fore-room a ponderous woman rocked in her huge chair and knitted placidly. She was a picture of peaceful prosperity in black silk gown and gold-bowed spectacles.

"And here's the nature of Aunt Charette's institution." He pointed to an open cupboard in which there were many bottles.

"Oh! your local liquor agency," hazarded the chairman.

"No, sir! Aunt Charette's own dispensary for the ills of the mind and fatigues of the body, and run according to my own notions. It beats your bar and white jackets, Luke, or that solemn farce of cheap liquors and robber prices of the State agency system. You come in here, if you are not a drunkard or a minor or a pauper—and Aunt Charette knows 'em all—and you go to the cupboard and get your drink, or you go out there in the store-room and get your bottle, and hand the change to Aunt Charette and walk away. No other rumshop tolerated in the section, and pocket peddlers run out of town on a rail! No treating, no foolishness, no fraud. Pays her fine twice a year without going to court, the same as you. And no extras!" He smiled at the chairman significantly.

"No extras, eh!" mused Mr. Presson, enviously. "You must have a different crowd of county officers than we've got down our way."

"Perhaps so," admitted the old man, and then he allowed himself a bit of a boast; "but the secret is, you see, this little institution is something I've taken under my own wing."

It was an ill-starred moment for that honest boast. There came a thumping of feet in the hall. The man who burst in was flushed and sweating and excited.

"I'm glad you're here, Squire," he panted. "You're just in the nick o' time. They're going to jump on the old lady."

"Who's going to jump?"

"High Sheriff Niles and his posse. They ain't more'n ten rods behind, jigger wagon and all."

The Duke of Fort Canibas stared a moment at the herald. Aunt Charette raised her eyes to her protector with the air of one secure under the wings of a patron saint, and went on knitting.

"Gad!" hissed the State chairman. "They certainly do mean you this time, Thelismer! Discrediting your pull in county politics an hour before your caucus! Some one is showing brains!"

Thornton did not answer.

"How in blazes have they pulled over the sheriff?" demanded Presson. But the old man merely stared at the door.

High Sheriff Niles entered at that moment. He stood on the threshold and scowled. He was a stocky man, who had been a butcher. His face was blotched by ruddiness resembling that of raw meat. Behind his cockaded silk hat pressed the faces of his aids. The little yard was filled with men who peered in at the windows. A big truck wagon was creaking as its horses backed it to the door.

"What are you after here, Niles?" demanded Thornton. "After this stock of rum."

The Duke took another swing across the room, licked his lips, and set his extinguished cigar hard between his teeth. He was striving to control the wrath that came boiling up into his purple face and blazing eyes.

"There's the warrant!" The sheriff clapped the paper across his palm. "Take the stuff, boys!" He waved his hand at the cupboard.

"But the most of it's in the cellar," shrilled the voice of a tattler in the hallway. "There's where she keeps it!"

"I don't need any advice," growled the sheriff. His men trudged into the room and made for the cupboard.

Now at last Aunt Charette understood that her stores were threatened. She did not leave her chair. She fumbled frantically at her big bag that hung at her waist.

"Non, non!" she cried. "Yo' may not to'ch! I have pay! I have pay for nex' sax month."

She flapped a paper at the sheriff. He took it perfunctorily. "That's all right, old woman, but it hasn't got anything to do with my business here. I'm after your stuff on a warrant." He gave back the paper and started for the stairs leading to the cellar.

"But I have pay," she vociferated. "You tell them I have pay, M'sieu' Thornton! You' told me if I have pay twice in ye'r I have de privilege—de privilege!"

The sheriff turned and grinned over his shoulder into the convulsed face of the Honorable Thelismer.

"There's a lot of bargains in politics, marm," he stated, dryly, "that takes more'n two to put 'em through when the pinch comes." He enjoyed the discomfiture that her artless confession brought to the Duke. The old man looked him up and down. That this Niles whom he himself had helped into office, who had been taking private toll from the liquor interests of the county as his predecessors had before him, a procedure condoned by the party leaders of whom the Honorable Thelismer was one—that this person should whirl on him in such fashion was a performance that Thornton could not yet fully understand. But there was the fact to contend with. A man he had helped to elevate was engaged in humiliating him in the frankly wondering gaze of his own community.

Those who peeped in at doors and windows were not, all of them, enemies. There were friends who sympathized and were astonished. Their murmurings told that.

"You infernal Hereford bull!" roared Thornton; "don't you dare to slur me before my people. You're making this raid because I haven't buttered you with ten-dollar bills to keep your hands off. You've taken 'em from all the other rumsellers—but this isn't one of your regular rumshops."

"That's right, Squire. Give it to him," muttered men at door and windows.

"We all know how the sheriff's office is run in this county." This statement was made by Talleyrand Sylvester, who came thrusting through the jam of the hall into the fore-room. "Squire," he whispered, hoarsely, "I've brought down them quedaws as you told me to. They're outside. Say the word and we'll light on that old steer in the plug-hat!"

For an instant there was a glint in the old man's eyes which hinted that the word would be given. But the impulse was merely the first reckless one of retaliation. Assault on law, even as represented by such an unworthy executive as he knew Niles to be, would make too wicked a story for slander to handle. Slander would be busy enough as it was.

He pushed the eager Sylvester to one side.

"Let me see your warrant, Niles," he requested. The officer passed it over, with a touch of sudden humility in his demeanor. "I'm only doing my duty as it's laid out by the statutes," he muttered. He quailed under the old man's eyes. He did not like the sound of the mumbling at the windows nor relish the looks of the men who had just come flocking into the yard at the heels of Sylvester.

"'Twas sworn out and passed to me," stated the sheriff.

"Sworn out on complaint of Tom Willy." He looked above the document and saw in the doorway the man who had cried information regarding the liquor in the cellar. "Tom Willy, the cheapest drunkard we've got in the town, taking sneaking revenge because he has been shut off from privileges here that decent men haven't abused! But I tell you, gentlemen, even Tom Willy isn't as cheap as the men who have sneaked behind him and prodded him on to do this. There's some one behind him, for Tom Willy hasn't got brains enough nor sprawl enough to do this all by himself."

He gave the warrant back to the sheriff. He had recovered his self-possession. He was again their Duke of Fort Canibas, who could retire with dignity even from such a position as this. "Go ahead and train with your crowd, Sheriff Niles," he drawled, sarcastically—"Tom Willy, and whoever they are behind him that are too ashamed to show themselves!"

He started for the door, Luke Presson at his heels. Aunt Charette, not exactly understanding, realized that the protecting aegis was departing.

"But I have pay!" she wailed. "You have de power, M'sieu' Thornton! They take my properties!"

He patted the shiny silk of the old woman's shoulder as he passed her.

"Keep your sitting, Aunt Charette," he advised, "and let them take it. It will be a good investment for you—leave it to me."

He lighted a fresh cigar out-of-doors.

"Luke," he declared quietly between puffs, "this is developing into quite a caucus day—take all trimmings. I'm glad you are here to look on!"



The town house of Fort Canibas needed no guide-board that day. All roads led to it. Thelismer Thornton walked down the main street, his following at his heels. His hands were behind his back, and he sauntered along like one who was at peace with the world. His face was serene once more. He seemed to have recovered all the genial good-nature that men associated with Thelismer Thornton. The chairman trotted on short legs at his side, looking up at him sourly. Thornton smiled down at him.

"Finding your old State campaign sicker than you thought for, hey, Luke?"

He was now as Presson had always known him, but the little man did not seem to be consoled thereby.

"I'd like to know what's come over you to-day?" he complained. "Giving a helpless little girl hell-an'-repeat, and then standing for what you did back there right now!"

"Luke, both of us have seen a great many men lose their dignity fighting hornets. But I've come to myself, and I've stopped running and swatting. Well, Briggs, what is it?"

The man who had brought the alarm to Aunt Charette's was crowding close, plainly with something to say.

"I only wanted to tell you, Squire, that Sheriff Niles brought in word to the boys that high-uppers was back of him."

"Thinks he's running with the pack, eh? Well, Briggs, that's hardly news about Bart Niles."

"Thought I'd warn you, Squire. He says things ain't goin' on runnin' in this State the way they have been runnin'. Way he talks, him and them back of him think they've got you layin' with all four paws in the air. But we in the village here, that's behind you, don't understand it that way. Nor we can't figger what started it."

"Don't bother your heads about it to-day, Briggs. Simply stand by and be ready to grab in, you and the boys. That's all."

The post-office was in the lower story of the town house. The walls were brick to the second story. This upper part was a barn-like structure propped on the lower walls. Broad outside stairs led up to it.

Thornton and Presson were obliged to push their way through a crowd to reach the foot of the stairway. They were stopped there by an obstruction. Some men were lifting off a low wagon a cripple in a wheel-chair. He had an in-door pallor that made him seem corpselike. A man in a frock-coat and with a ministerial white tie was bossing the job.

The Duke stopped and gazed on the work amiably. The man of the white tie scowled.

"Raising a few reliable Republicans from the dead, are you, elder?" inquired the Duke, pleasantly.

The elder did not reply until he had started the cripple's chair bumping up the stairs. Then he turned on Thornton. He was not amiable.

"It's time some of the voters with honest convictions got a chance to attend a caucus in this district, even if they have to be brought from beds of pain."

Thelismer Thornton did not lose his smile.

"I'd like to have you meet the Rev. Enoch Dudley, evangelist, Luke. This is Mr. Presson, chairman of the State Committee, elder. Now that you're getting into politics you'd ought to be acquainted with your chief priest."

But Rev. Mr. Dudley, not approving the company that the State chairman was keeping, did not warm up.

"I thank you for your pleasantries, Mr. Thornton," he returned, stiffly. "I hope your sneers may make you as many votes to-day as they have in the past."

"Well, they won't," blurted a voice from a knot of men at the foot of the stairs. "We're getting woke up in this district. And it ain't going to be an empire any longer."

"I'm rather too humble a man, sir, to associate with the high lords of politics," Mr. Dudley remarked to the chairman. "The Honorable Thornton has always been up there. I'm simply one of the plain people."

"And it's time for the plain people to have their innings," declared another in the crowd.

"The pack is off!" muttered the Duke in Presson's ear.

"Why don't you introduce him right," called another. "Reverend Dudley is the next representative from this district, Mr. Chairman. And we know where he stands!"

"An humble little platform is mine," stated the minister. "But it's down where all can step aboard with me. That's all I can say."

There was a growl of approval in chorus from the larger group at the foot of the stairs. Thornton's men were at one side and looked troubled.

"War Eagle" Ivus Niles stepped forth then. He had recovered his buck sheep. He was hoarse, but still full of zeal.

"I want to ask you this, Tyrant Thornton: You ain't quite so sure that you're Lord Gull, monarch of all you survey, since my brother Bartholomew showed you the power of the law triumphant, are you?" But the taunt did not alter the tolerant smile on the Duke's face.

"Go ahead and get in all your yelps," he said, under his breath. "A hound loves company."

"When we start in to purify, we propose to purify in good shape!" cried another. "And a reverend elder ain't a mite too good for us as representative to the legislature."

"Some people think they are purifying when they burn a rag," observed the Duke, serenely. He lighted another cigar, beaming through the smoke on the glowering minister.

"Don't take that wrong, elder. I respect decency in politics. I respect men who are trying to clean things up. But before I'll let you disinfect me, I'll have to see your license and know what system you're using."

"You've got to fight the devil with fire!" roared the War Eagle.

"You mustn't steal my own plan of campaigning, Ivus. I've got a copyright on that."

He had been studying the situation there outside the town hall while he talked. Two men from the shire town, wearing the nickel badges of deputy sheriffs, stood at the foot of the stairs. A group of men that he knew to be his loyal supporters from his own village were standing at one side. He strolled over to them.

"Squire Thornton," said one, "we're barred out of this caucus. They won't let us up."

And still their leader was imperturbable. He turned inquiring gaze on the Reverend Dudley, and that gentleman declared himself with suspicious haste.

"This is going to be a strictly Republican caucus, and the check-list has been marked," he said. "We don't propose to have Democrats come in and run our affairs for us."

It was a challenge thrown down in good earnest.

In spite of the warning that his scout had brought to him, the Duke had hardly believed that amateur politicians would go to this extreme. More than ever he realized that unscrupulous men higher up were using these tools. And it was plain that the instruments had been tutored to believe that the end justified the means. What Ivus Niles said about the devil and fire betrayed them.

The Duke walked over to the minister, and took him by the lapels of his coat.

"Elder," he protested, "I don't like to see a good man used for tongs in politics. There's a lot you don't know about this game. You're in wrong."

"You're not the right man to tell me so, Mr. Thornton. I represent reform. It's time we had it. And your gospel in politics isn't my gospel."

"You've got the revised version, Parson Dudley, if you find a text in it about splitting a caucus at the door of the hall."

"The sheep shall be divided from the goats, sir."

"You've got this caucus and the Judgment Day mixed, elder." He released the minister and stepped back. "I never yet talked rough to a parson. But you've cut loose from common sense. When you get down on a level with me at a caucus door you're no parson—you're a politician, and you'll have to let me say that you're a blasted poor one. You're Enoch Dudley, now. And I want to tell you, Enoch, that neither you nor any bunch of steers you happen to be teaming can keep legal voters out of that hall. As to whether this or that man can vote in the caucus, that will be settled when we get in there. But these men of mine are going in. It's up to you to decide whether they shall go in as lions or lambs."

"Violence shall rest on your own head!" cried the minister. "I'll see that the world knows about it."

"We'll see whose case shows up best when the report is made," retorted the Duke. "But I'm done arguing. Pull off those deputies." Sheriff Niles appeared at that moment. He had left his subalterns to store the confiscated liquors.

"Niles, pull your men off the door, here," commanded the Duke. "Your county politics hasn't any business at our caucus here to-day."

"I've been asked to keep this caucus regular, and I'm going to do it," insisted the sheriff.

"So am I," agreed Thornton. "So when the story goes out it will have to be said that you and I were working together to keep politics pure." The faithful Sylvester was hovering on the outskirts of the crowd. Thornton beckoned to him and he came. The Duke had probed the scheme and understood the stubbornness of the opposition. He was ready to act now.

"Sylvester, you're a constable of this town. Take those fifty woodsmen over there as a special posse. I'm going to stand here at the foot of these stairs, and see to it that this caucus isn't packed. If you see hand laid on me or on a respectable voter going up these stairs, you pile in with those men. Go ahead up, boys, one and all!" He stepped between the deputies and beckoned to the voters. He stood there like a lighthouse marking safe channel. He challenged both the sheriff and the minister with his gaze. "We've got peace in stock and fight on tap, gentlemen," he declared. "Full assortment, and no trouble to show goods."

The village loyalists trooped forward promptly and flocked up. The deputies made no effort to stop them. Niles did not issue orders. Threats and badges might cow voters. But he knew woodsmen. He was not prepared to fight fifty of them.

The opposition hurried up also. Men streamed past on both sides of the old man, looming there in his wrinkled suit of crash.

"Let 'em go. We've got him licked in the caucus anyway," growled Niles to one of his deputies. "The back districts are here two to one against his village crowd."

Chairman Presson stood at one side and waited. Harlan Thornton came to him, leading his horse through the crowd.

"You have influence with my grandfather, Mr. Presson. You have told me yourself that it's folly to try to send me to the legislature. I'm not fitted for such duties. I am interested only in our business. You have had a chance to talk with him since you left the house. Haven't you made him change his mind?"

"I don't know," confessed Mr. Presson. "He's got my opinion, but he doesn't seem to think it's worth much."

"Well, there's only one thing to do." stated Harlan, resolutely. "I'll stand up here and let the voters of this district know how I feel about it. I've got my own rights in this thing, grandfather or no grandfather."

"Harlan, my boy!" The State chairman laid his hand protestingly on the young man's arm. "You've got my sympathy in regard to your going to the legislature in this fashion. But let me say something to you. Thelismer Thornton is standing here to-day putting up as pretty a political fight as I ever looked on. I hope he'll change his mind about sending you. I'll talk with him again. But if you lift one finger now when he's got his back against the wall you'll be a disgrace to your family. Take that from me. You'd better hop on your horse and ride off where the air is better."

After a moment of sombre reflection the young man swung himself to the back of his horse and galloped away. The look that he got from his grandfather when he departed did not enlighten or reassure him.

The little square of the town house was pretty well cleared by this time. The voters had crowded into the hall. One of the last men to pass the Duke hesitated on the stairs and came back. He was a short, chunky, very much troubled gentleman. He had slunk rather than walked past. He came back with the air known as "meeching."

"I'm afraid you're going to misunderstand me, Mr. Thornton."

The Duke offered no opinion.

"I hardly know how to go to work to explain myself in this matter," faltered the apologist.

"Considering that I got your appropriation for your seminary doubled last session in the stingiest year since the grasshoppers ate up Egypt, I should think you'd find it just a little troublesome convincing me that Enoch Dudley has got any claim over my interests so far's you're concerned. What's the matter with you, Professor?"

He invited the State chairman toward them by a toss of his head. His tone had been severe, but there was humor in his eyes.

"This is Principal Tute, of the Canibas Seminary, Luke. You remember the cussing I got from the Finance Committee for holding up the bill till I got the Professor's appropriation doubled. He's trying to tell me how much obliged he is."

Mr. Tute looked very miserable.

"I've always said you were the best man this district ever had in the legislature. I've stood up and said that in the open, Mr. Thornton. You're an institution down to the capitol. When there was talk of a change for the sake of reform—and you know I'm teaching reform principles in my school, Mr. Thornton," he hastened on desperately; "I'm teaching sociological principles in accordance with the advanced movement, and if I don't practice what I preach I'm false to my pupils, and—"

"You're going to vote against me to-day, are you, Tute?"

"I've said right along we ought to bear with you so long as you lived and wanted to be elected."

"Like the seven years' itch, eh?"

"But you are trying to make us mere serfs in politics by dictating our choice, and what I teach of the principles of democracy—"

Thornton tapped the little man on the shoulder.

"What they've done, Tute, is come up here with a dose to fit the palate of every one of you fellows, and you don't know enough to understand that you're being handled. You're going to vote against me, are you?"

"I call on this gentleman to witness that I say you're the best man for the place. You're able, you're efficient, and you have done an immense amount of good for your constituents, and you—"

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