While he was speaking Presson came in. He pulled the House bill from his pocket.
“Thornton,” he said, walking up to Harlan, “I didn’t think there could be anything more important just now than the damnable performance you’ve just been through and the part my family plays in it. But here’s something I propose to take while it’s hot!” He shook the document at the young man. Harlan swept it out of his grasp before he could prevent, and buttoned it in his breast-pocket.
“That is mine,” he stated, not flinching under the indignant protest.
“If it’s yours will you inform me what you intend to do with it?”
“I intend to introduce it in the House at to-morrow’s session and work for its passage.”
“He’s got a bill there,” roared the chairman, turning to the Duke, “that’s written by the Devil himself! It makes old Waymouth archfiend of all the ramrodders in this State! Our sheriffs are made his deputies and the Russian Tsar becomes a hog-reeve beside him.” He blurted out the purport of the measure, garnishing the recital with good, round oaths.
“So you’re loaded with that, are you?” inquired the elder Thornton. He was as careless of the presence of the listeners as the chairman had been. He began invective, but the young man broke in.
“Grandfather,” he said, firmly, “I’ve listened long enough to that kind of talk from you and Mr. Presson—I’ve listened to all kinds of reasons why a man should come here and sell his soul for the sake of getting ahead in politics.” He was thinking of the temptation that had come to him in the form of Madeleine Presson. “I don’t want any more of it. I don’t know of any reason why this State shouldn’t obey its laws so long as they remain laws. As to my private business, I suggest that the two of you keep still.”
They had no appetite for further discourse with this young madman just then.
The Duke turned on his heel and walked out. Presson followed.
“Gentlemen,” said the young man to those who remained, “I have no quarrel with you. I do not want any. Do you understand?” He wiped his hands with his handkerchief, smoothed his hair, and walked past them.
As calmly as he could he hurried through the lobbies and the rotunda of the State House. The crowds were thinning. The band had gone. The women had scattered to prepare for the ball of the evening. Among the few that were left he could not find her.
He went back to his committee-room and pondered until dusk fell.
One matter presented itself to his mood as a duty. He called a carriage and was driven to the Presson home.
Madeleine came down in answer to his card. But as she entered the reception-room her father followed at her heels, beginning threats as he came in.
“Father,” she said, quietly, “I have just listened to you. You need not fear that I do not understand myself and my duty. I ask you to retire.”