“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!”