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.