THE BEES AND THE WOULD-BES
Men—a swarm of men—a hiveful of men. Lobbies, parlors, corridors, stairways of the big hotel packed with men.
Men in knots, in groups, in throngs, pressing together, disintegrating to form new groups, revolving in the slow mass of the herd, shaking hands, crying greetings, mumbling confidential asides. An observer who did not understand would find it all as aimless as the activity of an ant-heap—as puzzling as the slow writhings of a swarm of bees. Clouds of cigar smoke over all—voices blended into one continual diapason; medley, and miasma of close human contact.
After supper, in the crowded hotel dining-room, Harlan Thornton accompanied his grandfather through the press of jostling men.
The night before a State Convention was a new experience for him. He walked behind the Duke, who made his slow, urbane way here and there, drawling good-humored replies to salutations. He had quip ready for jest, handclasp for his intimates, tactful word for the newer men who were dragged forward to meet him. Even the Governor of the State, a ponderous dignitary with a banner of beard, did not receive so hearty a welcome, for the Governor was accorded only the perfunctory adulation given to one whose reign was passing.
“Governors come and Governors go, Thornton, but you’ve got where you’re an institution!” cried one admirer. “I’ll be sorry to miss you out of the legislature this winter.”
“But here’s another Thornton—and you can see that he won’t rattle ’round in the seat,” returned the Duke, his arm affectionately about his grandson’s shoulders.
As he went about, in this unobtrusive way, varying his manner with different men, he presented his political heir.
At that hour there was no surface hint of the factional spirit that divided the gathering which had flocked from the ends of the State. Jealousy, spite, apprehension, rivalry were hidden under the gayety of men meeting after long separation. The political kinship of party men dominated all else in those early hours. It was a reunion. Food nestled comfortably under the waistbands. Tobacco—cigars exchanged, lights borrowed from glowing tips—loaned its solace. Bickerings were in abeyance. Men were sizing up. Men were trying out each other. Courtesy invites confidences. The candidates had not “taken their corners.” The suites that they had selected for headquarters were now occupied only by the lieutenants who were arranging the boxes of cigars and stacking the literature ready for distribution.
The Hon. David Everett, serene in the consciousness of approval by his party machine, held preliminary court in one corner of the spacious office lobby. The State chairman was with him—his executioner skilfully disguised.
Thelismer Thornton forged through the crowd in that direction. He paid his respects publicly and heartily. In that hour when congratulations sugared the surface of conditions, after he had pump-handled men until his arm ached, Everett forgot that he ever had entertained doubts.