Through them, friends and foes jostling each other, the Duke took his leisurely way. Presson was close behind him.
The rostrum, elevated a few feet above the main floor, was enclosed by boarding that came almost to the shoulders of those who stood within. Thornton, arrived at the front of the hall, put his shoulders against the boarding, shoved his hands into his trousers pockets, and gazed into the faces of his constituents. He was still amiable. But Presson sulked. It was hot in there, and the proletariat was unkempt and smoked rank tobacco.
“It’s worth your while just the same, Luke,” advised Thornton, in an undertone. He was conscious of the chairman’s disgust, and it amused him. “They’re going to have real caucuses in this State this year, they tell me. And this seems to be a nice little working model of the real thing. Better study it. It’ll give you points on ‘popular unrest,’ as the newspapers are calling it.”
The men in the pen above them were having an animated discussion. They were the members of the town committee. Thornton craned his neck and looked up at them. One of his loyal friends was there.
“What’s the matter, Tom? Why not call to order?”
The man gave him a cautious wink before replying.
“There don’t seem to be any copy of the call here, Squire. Some of ’em says we’ll waive the reading of it. I say no. I say we don’t want any holler to go out that this caucus wasn’t run regular.”
“It’s only a ‘technetical’ point, anyway,” protested one of the disputants.
“Well, I wouldn’t allow too many of those ‘technetical’ points to get by in a caucus that you’re ready to advertise under your reform headlines,” advised the Duke. He settled himself against the boarding again. “Better give us straight work, boys.”
It was not a threat. But it operated as effectually. A member of the town committee rapped for silence, and explained the situation rather shamefacedly. He asked the voters to be patient until the call could be prepared in the regular way.
“And now comes War Eagle Niles to help us kill time,” observed Thornton. The agitator was pushing toward them. Men were urging him forward. It was evident that baiting their autocrat had become the favorite diversion of Fort Canibas’ voters that day.
“Perhaps it was all right once for politicians to lead people by the nose, but it ain’t all right now,” stated Niles, as soon as he had squirmed into a favorable position for attack. “People didn’t know, once. They didn’t have newspapers, nor grange discussions, nor lecturers, nor anything to keep ’em posted. They let themselves be led.”
“Don’t let yourself be led, Ivus. You’re more interesting as you are now, bolting with your head and tail up. But I wonder whether you know just what it was you shied at?”
“Know? You bet I know!” shouted the demagogue. “How about taxes? I’m paying more to-day on my little farm out back there than you’re paying on a whole township of your wild lands. And don’t you suppose I know how it’s all arranged?”