“I tell you, Thelismer, you’ll never get across with this! It’s too devilish rank!”
Elder Dudley marched past, leading the last stragglers of his following from the hall. His face was flushed with passion, but he had neither word nor look for the Duke. Even Niles was silent, bringing up the rear of the retreat, pumped dry of invective.
“You’ll be up against Dudley, there, at the polls, running on an independent ticket. He’s sure to do it!” went on Presson, watching them out of sight.
“You don’t know the district,” said Thornton, serenely. “And what’s more important, I’ve got almost three months to meet that possibility in. I had only three hours to-day. You needn’t worry about the election, Luke.”
With his eyes still on the seething smoke vomiting up from the Jo Quacca hills he lighted a fresh cigar.
“There’s something up there that’s worrying me more. Cobb has got fire enough to break up a State convention.”
Certain columns of smoke shot up, bearing knobs like hideous mushrooms. The knobs were black with cinders and spangled with sparks. The menace they bore could be descried even at that distance. A breeze wrenched off one of those knobs, and carried it out from the main conflagration. The roof of a barn half-way down the hillside began to smoke. Sparks had dropped there. After a time the two men could see trickles of fire running up the shingles.
“There goes one stand of buildings,” announced Thornton.
“I swear, you take this thing cool enough!”
“Well, I’m not a rain-storm or a pipe-line, Luke. There’s nothing more I can do. When Sylvester gets there with his crowd I’ll have a hundred men or so of my own fighting it. And if a man sets fire on his land the law makes him pay the neighbors if the fire gets away and damages them. I’m prepared to settle without beating down prices. Let’s go over to The Barracks.”
Presson went along grumbling.
“You ought to have stayed in this fight this year for yourself, Thelismer. There was no need of all this uproar in ticklish times. A proposition like this makes the general campaign all the harder.” He kept casting apprehensive glances behind at the swelling smoke-clouds.
“I’m paying the freight, Luke.”
“There’d have been no fight to it if you’d stayed in yourself. Even your old whooping cyclone of a Niles, there, said that much. You’ve gone to work and got your grandson nominated, but between him and the bunch and that fire up there it looks to me as though your troubles were just beginning. Say, look here, Thelismer, honest to gad, you’re using our politics just to grind your own axes with!”
“And you never heard of anybody except patriots in politics, eh?”
“When you prejudice a State campaign in order to break up a spooning-match and to give your grandson a course of sprouts outside a lumbering operation, you’re making it a little too personal—and a little too expensive for all concerned.”