On the day before, Thelismer Thornton emerged from the back room of headquarters at the State capital, and with Chairman Presson and Harlan journeyed to the scene of the conflict. Before their departure the Duke had been obliged, smilingly, to refuse a request of Mrs. Presson’s.
She had asked that young Mr. Thornton be delegated as squire of dames to accompany herself and her party to the convention.
“I’m afraid you haven’t realized for a week or so that the boy is in politics, Lucretia. I’ve let him run to pasture with a pretty long cord on him. He’ll have to come in under the saddle now. We’ll have one of the young beaus from the Governor’s staff on the lookout for you at the hall. This fellow here”—he patted Harlan’s arm—“he hasn’t been broken to the society bridle yet. He was allowing to me the other day that he didn’t propose to be, either.”
Miss Presson had overheard.
Harlan, remembering, flashed a glance of rebuke and anger at the old man. It was a shock to him to have his own sentiments thrust back at him in that manner.
“We haven’t found Mr. Harlan ungallant,” protested Mrs. Presson. She treated the matter in jest, though the young man’s face did not indicate that he especially appreciated the humor.
“Oh, he’s probably just been playing ’possum—practising dissimulation, getting used to being a politician! You be watching out, Lucretia. He’ll forget himself and make a bolt pretty soon. The test of the thing will be in seeing whether he holds out or not!”
In his indignation, Harlan was too confused just then to grasp the fact that his tormentor was craftily handing him over to the Presson womenfolk, bound, branded, and supple—unless he proposed to merit his grandfather’s label in their estimation.
“Now, look here, grandfather”—he began, wrathfully; but the Duke pulled him away, drowning his protests in a laugh.
“You have placed me in a ridiculous position, and that’s a mighty mild way to put it,” complained the indignant victim, when they were outside. “I don’t understand, grandfather, why you do something to me every now and then that knocks all the props out from under me. It isn’t decent—it’s vulgar—it’s shameful, the way you do some things!”
“Operate in a queer way, do I?” inquired the old man, blandly.
“You certainly do.”
“Did you ever stop to think, boy, that human nature is a queer thing?”
“Whose human nature are you referring to—yours or mine?”
“You know what the old Quaker said to his wife: ’All the world’s queer, dear, except thee and me—and thee’s a little queer!’”
The angry young man would have liked to get a little more light on the question, but Chairman Presson was ready for them and hustled them into the carriage. And on the ride to the station, during the journey by train, at the convention city, there were other matters uppermost besides a young man’s pique.