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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 10. A Country Polling Place
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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 10. A Country Polling Place Post by :jorgemv Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :1961

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A Spoil Of Office: A Story Of The Modern West - Chapter 10. A Country Polling Place


The suffering of the county papers was acute. They had supported the "incumbents" for so long, and had derived a reciprocal support so long, that they could not bring themselves to a decision. The Democratic paper, the _Call_, was too feeble to be anything distinctive at this stage of its career Chard Foster had not yet assumed control of it. It lent a half-hearted support to the Independent movement, and justified its action on the ground that it was really a Democratic movement leading toward reform, and it assumed to be the only paper advocating reform. The other paper, unequivocally Republican, supported the regular ticket with that single-heartedness of enmity, born of bribery, or that ignorance which shuts out any admission that the other side has a case.

The Oak Grove schoolhouse was the real storm-centre of the election, and there was a great crowd there all day. It was a cold, raw day. The men and boys all came in their overcoats and stood about on the leeward side of the schoolhouse--where a pale sunlight fell--and scuffled, and told stories, and bet cookies and apples on the election.

Some of the boys made up fires out in the woods near by, to which they ran whooping whenever the cold became intolerable. They crouched around the flames with a weird return of ancestral barbarism and laughed when the smoke puffed out into their faces. They made occasional forages in company with boys who lived near, after eggs, and apples, and popcorn, which they placed before the fire and ate spiced with ashes.

Horsemen galloped up at intervals, bringing encouraging news of other voting places. Teams clattered up filled with roughly-dressed farmers, who greeted the other voters with loud and hearty shouts. They tumbled out of the wagons, voted riotously, and then clattered back into the corn-fields to their work, with wild hurrahs for the granger ticket.

The schoolhouse itself roared with laughter and excited talk, and the big stove in the centre devoured its huge chunks of wood, making the heat oppressive near it. No presidential election had ever brought out such throngs of voters, or produced such interested discussion.

Bradley had been made clerk. His capital handwriting and knowledge of book-keeping made him a valuable man for that work. He sat behind his desk with the books before him, and impassively performed his duties, but it was his first public appointment, and he was really deeply gratified. He felt paid for all his year's hard study.

About two o'clock, when the voters were thickest at the polls, a man galloped up with an excited air, and reining in his foaming horse, yelled:

"Deering has withdrawn in favor of Russell!" The crowd swarmed out.

"What's the matter?"

"Who spoke?"

"Deering has withdrawn in favor of Russell. Cast your votes for Russell," repeated the man, and plunged off up the road.

The farmers looked at each other. "What the hell's all this?" said Smith.

"Who was it?"

"I don't know."

"He's a liar, whoever he is," said Councill. "Where've I seen him before?"

"I know--it's Deering's hired man."

"You don't say so!" This seemed like the truth.

"I know who it is--it's Sam Harding," shouted Milton. "But that ain't Deering's horse. It's a Republican trick. Jump y'r horse there, Councill." He was carried out of himself by his excitement and anger. The men leaped upon their horses.

"Some o' you fellers take his back trail," shouted Councill. "He'll come from Shell-rock and Hell's Corner."

The men saw the whole trick. This man had been sent out to the most populous of the county voting places to spread a lying report, trusting to the surprise of the announcement to carry a few indecisive votes for Russell.

Other men leaped their horses and rode off on Harding's back trail, while Councill, Milton, and old man Bacon rode away after him. Bacon growled as he rode:

"I'm agin you fellers, but by God! I b'lieve in a square game. If I kin git my paw on that houn'"--

They rode furiously in the hope of overtaking him before he reached the next polling-place. Milton was in the lead on his gray colt, a magnificent creature. He was light and a fine rider, and forged ahead of the elder men. But the "spy" was also riding a fine horse, and was riding very fast.

When they reached the next polling-place he was just passing out of sight beyond. They dashed up, scattering the wondering crowd.

"It's a lie! It's a trick!" shouted Milton. "Deering wouldn't withdraw. Cast every vote for Deering. It's all done to fool yeh!"

The others came thundering up. "It's a lie!" they shouted.

"Come on!" cried Milton, dropping the rein on Mark's neck, and darting away on the trail of the false courier.

The young fellows caught the excitement, and every one who had a horse leaped into the saddle and clattered after, with whoop and halloo, as if they were chasing a wolf.

The rider ahead suddenly discovered that he was being followed, and he urged his horse to a more desperate pace along the lane which skirted the woods' edge for a mile, and then turned sharply and led across the river.

Along the lane is the chase led. There was something in the grim silence with which Milton and Bacon rode in the lead that startled the spy's guilty heart. He pushed his horse unmercifully, hoping to discourage his pursuers.

Milton's blood was up now, and bringing the flat of his hand down on the proud neck of his colt--the first blow he ever struck him, he shouted--

"Get out o' this, Mark!"

The magnificent animal threw out his chin, his ears laid flat back, he seemed to lower and lengthen, his eyes took on a wild glare. The air whizzed by Milton's ears. A wild exultation rose in his heart. All the stories of rides and desperate men he had ever read came back in a vague mass to make his heart thrill.

Mark's terrific pace steadily ate up the intervening distance, and Milton turned the corner and thundered down the decline at the very heels of the fugitive.

"Hey! Hold on there!" Milton shouted, as he drew alongside and passed the fellow. "Hold on there!"

"Git out o' my way!" was the savage answer.

"Stop right here!" commanded Milton, reining Mark in the way of the other horse.

The fellow struck Mark. "Git out o' my way!" he yelled.

Milton seized the bit of the other horse and held it. The fellow raised his arm and struck him twice before Bacon came thundering up.

"H'yare! Damn yeh--none o' that!"

He leaped from his horse, and running up, tore the rider from his saddle in one swift effort. The fellow struggled fiercely.

"Let go o' me, 'r I'll kill yeh!"

Bacon growled something inarticulate as he cuffed the man from side to side, shook him like a rag, and threw him to the ground. He lay there dazed and scared, while Bacon caught his horse and tied it to a tree.

He came back to the fellow as he was rising, and again laid his bear-like clutch upon him.

"Who paid you to do this?" he demanded, as Councill and the others came straggling up, their horses panting with fatigue.

The fellow struck him in the face. The old man lifted him in the air and dashed him to the ground with a snarling cry. His gesture was like that of one who slams a biting cat upon the floor. The man did not rise.

"You've killed him!" cried Milton.

"Damn 'im--I don't care!"

The man was about thirty-five years of age, a slender, thin-faced man with tobacco-stained whiskers. The fellows knew him for a sneaking fellow, but they plead for him.

"Don't hit 'im agin, Bacon. He's got enough."

The fellow sat up and looked around. The blood was streaming from his nose and from a wound in his head. He had a savage and hunted look. He was unsubdued, but was too much dazed to be able to do anything more than swear at them all.

"What a' yuh chasen' me fur, y' damn cowards? Six on one!"

"What're you do-un ridin' across the country like this fur?"

"None o' your business, you low-lived"--

Bacon brought the doubled leading-strap which he held in his hand down over the fellow's shoulders with a sounding slap.

"What you need is a sound tannun," he said. He plied the strap in perfect silence upon the writhing man, who swore and yelled, but dared not rise.

"Give him enough of it!" yelled the crowd.

"Give the fool enough!"

Bacon worked away with a curious air of taking a job. The strap fell across the man's upheld hands and over his shoulders, penetrating even the thick coat he wore--but it was not the blows that quelled him, it was the look in Bacon's eyes. He saw that the old man would stand there till sunset and ply that strap.

"Hold on! Dam yeh--y' want 'o kill me?"

"Got 'nough?"

"Yes, yes! My God, yes!"

"Climb onto that horse there."

He climbed upon his horse, and with Bacon leading it, rode back along the road he had come, covered with blood.

"Now I want you to say with y'r own tongue ye lied," Bacon said, as they came to the last polling-place he had passed.

The crowd came rushing out with excited questions.

"What y' got there, Bacon?"

"A liar. Come, what ye goun't' say?" he asked the captive.

"I lied--Deering aint withdrawn."

They rode on, Councill and Milton following Bacon and his prisoner. At the Oak Grove schoolhouse a great crowd had gathered, and they came out in a swarm as the cavalcade rode up. Bradley left his book and came out to see the poor prisoner, who reeled in his saddle, covered with blood and dirt.

They rode on to the next polling-place, relentlessly forcing the man to undo as much of his villainy as possible. Milton remained with Bradley. "That shows how desperate they are," he said as they went back into the schoolhouse. "They see we mean business this time."

* * * * *

All was quiet, even gloomy, when Bradley and Milton reached Rock River. The streets were deserted, and only an occasional opening door at some favorite haunt, like the drug-store or Robie's grocery, showed that a living soul was interested in the outcome of the election. There were no bonfires, no marching of boys through the street with tin pans and horns.

Some reckless fellows tried it out of devilment, but were promptly put down by the strong hand of the city marshal, whose sympathies were with the broken "ring." It had been evident at an early hour of the day that the town of Rock River itself was divided. Amos Ridings and Robie had carried a strong following over into the camp of the farmers. A general feeling had developed which demanded a change.

Milton was wild with excitement. He realized more of the significance of the victory than Bradley. He had been in politics longer. For the first time in the history of the county, the farmers had asserted themselves. For the first time in the history of the farmers of Iowa, had they felt the power of their own mass.

For the first time in the history of the American farmer there had come a feeling of solidarity. They perceived, for a moment at least, their community of interests and their power to preserve themselves against the combined forces of the political pensioners of the small towns. They made the mistake of supposing the interests of the merchant, artisan, and mechanic were also inimicable.

They saw the smaller circle first. They had not yet risen to the perception of the solidarity of all productive interests. That was sure to follow.

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