“Well, wasn’t it your own suggestion that we use these men right?” demanded his grandfather. He gazed benignantly on the claimants. “I’m square, myself, when it comes to my debts, boys. You all know that. But Harlan argued your case last night in a way that’s worth the extra money. If he can do that here at home, first crack out of the box, when it’s our own money at stake, don’t you think he’ll do a pretty good job for you down at the State House, where it’ll be a case of the public money?”
His grandson had gone into the house. He had found himself at a loss for words, suddenly.
“Harlan is as straight as a stilya’d, and allus has been,” admitted one of the men, gratefully. He was wondering how much the Duke had added to the amount.
“All of you think now that a fellow like that will make a pretty good sort of a representative, don’t you?”
They muttered assent.
“Well, why did you back-district chaps come in here yesterday and try to lick him in the caucus?”
They had no answer ready. They looked at the porch floor, and rasped their hard hands together and cracked their knuckles in embarrassment. The old man kept his complacency.
“I’ll tell you how it was, boys. You got fooled, now, didn’t you? You let ’em use you like old Samson used the foxes. Now, the next time one of those disturber fellows ties a blazing pine knot to your tail, you sit right down and gnaw the string in two before you start to run. Because a man holds office it’s no sign he’s a renegade. You’ll usually find the renegades standing outside and slandering him and trying to get his office away for their own use. They got you going, didn’t they, when they went around telling that I thought I owned you in this district, body and soul? Got you jealous and suspicious and mad? Can you afford to be jealous and mad when you’ve got a fellow like Harlan Thornton willing to go down to the legislature and work for you? Do you want one of those blatherskites to represent you? Now tell me!”
“Poor men that have to work all the time don’t have the chance to look into public things as much as they ought to,” said one of the men, apologetically. “And sometimes when a fellow comes around who can talk smooth we get fooled.”
“You’ve bought a lot of fake things from travelling agents in this county. Now don’t buy fake politics,” He took the checks from his grandson’s hand. Harlan had brought them, and a pen. He cocked his knee and scrawled his signature. They came to him and took their checks. Each stood there, holding the slip of paper awkwardly pinched between thumb and forefinger. The Duke waited.
“I want to say this,” stammered the spokesman. “You get fooled sometimes. Most often in politics. But no one can fool us again—not about the Thornton family.”
“Pass that word around the district, boys,” advised the Duke, complacently. “There’s an election coming, you know.”