But from the supper-table he hurried out each evening into the country, escaping from the city by the side streets, tramping miles of lane and highway and field. His muscles craved the exertion. The city oppressed him. His unwonted toil within four walls sapped his energy.
One evening he stepped aside from the highway. A horse, trotting smartly, was overtaking him. But the horse did not pass him. It slowed down to his stride, and Madeleine Presson called him from her trap. She was alone.
“As this is the campaign of ‘honesty,’ I’ll be honest with you,” she said. “This is not an accidental meeting. I have been guessing at the roads you might take, and have been on your trail for days. That’s a bold confession for a girl to make; but I’ve got even a bolder request: please climb up here and ride.”
He climbed up. He went up with alacrity. From the first of their acquaintance the girl had interested him—and yet it was more than mere interest or feminine attraction. Her culture, her keen analysis of events and men, her knowledge of conditions informed and instructed him. Her subtle humor and droll insight into the characters of those who attempted to pose in the public eye entertained him, for he lacked humor. But, most of all, her satire gave him a truer perspective. Fresh from the north country, where his knowledge of public men had been limited to the information which newspapers had given him, he had classed them wrongly. His own gravity had given them too eminent qualities. The girl, knowing them, had pricked their assumptions with good-humored satire, and he looked at them again and found them as she said. As he sat beside her and the horse walked on, he was conscious that in avoiding her he had been depriving himself both of entertainment and valuable instruction. It was a rather selfish reflection, but he could not help it.
“Now, Mr. Harlan Thornton, from what my father says about the house, when he’s so angry that he really doesn’t know what it is he’s saying, I understand you’re playing hob with all the traditions of politics. In order to be honest, do you find it necessary to oppose all the things my father wants to do? If you dare to say so you’ll be called on to have some very serious conversation with my father’s daughter!”
“I don’t want any differences with your father—or with you, Miss Presson,” he declared, earnestly. “I honestly don’t! It all seems to be a mighty mixed-up mess. I sometimes wish I’d stayed back home in the woods. I’m too little a fellow to be in such a big game. I’m afraid I’m so small I can only see one side of it.”
“You admit there are two sides?”
“My grandfather and your father have impressed that on me pretty strongly.”
“Isn’t there any good in the other side? Do you mean to tell me that all the men in politics in this State are wrong except you and old General Waymouth?”
“No, but it’s the way of doing things. I guess it’s that.”