“Sylvester, you’re a constable of this town. Take those fifty woodsmen over there as a special posse. I’m going to stand here at the foot of these stairs, and see to it that this caucus isn’t packed. If you see hand laid on me or on a respectable voter going up these stairs, you pile in with those men. Go ahead up, boys, one and all!” He stepped between the deputies and beckoned to the voters. He stood there like a lighthouse marking safe channel. He challenged both the sheriff and the minister with his gaze. “We’ve got peace in stock and fight on tap, gentlemen,” he declared. “Full assortment, and no trouble to show goods.”
The village loyalists trooped forward promptly and flocked up. The deputies made no effort to stop them. Niles did not issue orders. Threats and badges might cow voters. But he knew woodsmen. He was not prepared to fight fifty of them.
The opposition hurried up also. Men streamed past on both sides of the old man, looming there in his wrinkled suit of crash.
“Let ’em go. We’ve got him licked in the caucus anyway,” growled Niles to one of his deputies. “The back districts are here two to one against his village crowd.”
Chairman Presson stood at one side and waited. Harlan Thornton came to him, leading his horse through the crowd.
“You have influence with my grandfather, Mr. Presson. You have told me yourself that it’s folly to try to send me to the legislature. I’m not fitted for such duties. I am interested only in our business. You have had a chance to talk with him since you left the house. Haven’t you made him change his mind?”
“I don’t know,” confessed Mr. Presson. “He’s got my opinion, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s worth much.”
“Well, there’s only one thing to do.” stated Harlan, resolutely. “I’ll stand up here and let the voters of this district know how I feel about it. I’ve got my own rights in this thing, grandfather or no grandfather.”
“Harlan, my boy!” The State chairman laid his hand protestingly on the young man’s arm. “You’ve got my sympathy in regard to your going to the legislature in this fashion. But let me say something to you. Thelismer Thornton is standing here to-day putting up as pretty a political fight as I ever looked on. I hope he’ll change his mind about sending you. I’ll talk with him again. But if you lift one finger now when he’s got his back against the wall you’ll be a disgrace to your family. Take that from me. You’d better hop on your horse and ride off where the air is better.”
After a moment of sombre reflection the young man swung himself to the back of his horse and galloped away. The look that he got from his grandfather when he departed did not enlighten or reassure him.
The little square of the town house was pretty well cleared by this time. The voters had crowded into the hall. One of the last men to pass the Duke hesitated on the stairs and came back. He was a short, chunky, very much troubled gentleman. He had slunk rather than walked past. He came back with the air known as “meeching.”