“When they buried old Zenas Bellew up our way (Zenas weighed three hundred and fifty, and lived in a cottage about the size of a wood-box) the undertaker found he couldn’t get the coffin into the house or get Zenas out—not through doors or windows. A half-witted fellow we call ‘Simpson’s Rooster’ spoke up, and said they’d better bury the old man in the house and move the family out into the coffin.” That was Thelismer Thornton’s comment on the political situation in the Republican party on the morning after the election. The chairman heard it with the gloom of a mourner. He could see nothing bright in the jest or the prospects.
There was a frigid truce during the four months that elapsed between the election and the assembling of the legislature.
General Waymouth retired to the brick house in Burnside, and gave ear to those who promptly made his home the Mecca of the State. There were office-holders who wanted to hold to their jobs, office-seekers who suspected that there would be a break in the plans of party patronage; there were officious gentlemen suggesting new legislation for the next administration to consider; there were crafty gentlemen trying to discover what the administration would recommend. The day was full of cares, duties, annoyances, and the nagging pleadings of persistent petitioners.
Harlan Thornton, now representative-elect from the Fort Canibas district, became still more indispensable in General Waymouth’s daily life. Duties at a desk had worn upon him. This everlasting mingling with men was more to his taste. He had natural adaptability. He was a good judge of human nature. He had serene good nature. Physique and manner made him master of many situations at the old brick house that otherwise would have sadly tried the General’s strength and temper. Therefore, his chief placed greater dependence upon his lieutenant with every day that passed, solicited his opinions as his knowledge of men increased and his judgment became worth more, relied upon his instinctive estimates of character, and shifted many burdens to the broad shoulders that seemed so well fitted to carry them.
Harlan Thornton was slow to realize what a tremendous power, as chamberlain, he really exercised in the State.
He awoke to that fact more slowly than did the men who came to solicit. He did not try to use his power for his own ends. He promptly noted the deference that men paid him; as promptly he penetrated certain plans men made to corrupt him, if they could. These attempts were made slyly, and did not proceed very far. Something in his demeanor prevented the plotters from openly broaching their desires and their willingness to make their interests worth his while. They knew that one of the Thorntons could not be won by money, but they were rather surprised to find out that he could not be beguiled by other inducements. He was so big and manly, and he had rapidly become so self-poised, that they did not realize that in experience he was only a boy, with the ingenuous faith and simple aims and candor of boyhood. He perceived what he might win. But the pride of serving General Waymouth loyally was worth more to him than anything they could offer.