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A Hoosier Chronicle by Meredith Nicholson

In any view Bassett was preferable to Thatcher


He

saw his life in sharp fulgurations; the farm (cleared of debt through Bassett's generosity, to be sure!) where his father and brothers struggled to wrest a livelihood from reluctant soil, and their pride and hope in him; he saw his teachers at college, men who had pointed the way to useful and honorable lives; and more than all, Sumner rose before him--Sumner who had impressed him more than any other man he had ever known. Sumner's clean-cut visage was etched grimly in his consciousness; verily Sumner would not have dallied with a man of Bassett's ilk. He had believed when he left college that Sumner's teaching and example would be a buckler and shield to him all the days of his life; and here he was, faltering before a man to whom the great teacher would have given scarce a moment's contemptuous thought. He could even hear the professor's voice as he ironically pronounced upon sordid little despots of Bassett's stamp. And only forty-eight hours earlier he had been talking to a girl on the campus at Madison who had spoken of idealism and service in the terms of which he had thought of those things when he left college. Even Allen Thatcher, in his whimsical fashion, stood for ideals, and dreamed of the heroic men who had labored steadfastly for great causes. Here was his chance now to rid himself of Bassett; to breathe free air again! On the other hand, Bassett had himself suggested that Harwood, once in a position to command attention, might go his own gait. His servitude would
be for a day only, and by it he should win eternal freedom. He caught eagerly at what Bassett was saying, grateful that the moment of his choice was delayed.

"The state convention is only three weeks off and I had pretty carefully mapped it out before the 'Courier' dropped that shot across Thatcher's bows. I've arranged for you to go as delegate to the state convention from this county and to have a place on the committee on resolutions. This will give you an introduction to the party that will be of value. They will say you are my man--but they've said that of other men who have lived it down. I want Thatcher to have his way in that convention, naming the ticket as far as he pleases, and appearing to give me a drubbing. The party's going to be defeated in November--there's no ducking that. We'll let Thatcher get the odium of that defeat. About the next time we'll go in and win and there won't be any more Thatcher nonsense. This is politics, you understand."

Harwood nodded; but Bassett had not finished; it clearly was not his purpose to stand the young man in a corner and demand a choice from him. Bassett pursued negotiations after a fashion of his own.

"Thatcher thinks he has scored heavily on me by sneaking into Fraserville and kidnaping old Ike Pettit. That fellow has always been a nuisance to me; I carried a mortgage on his newspaper for ten years, but Thatcher has mercifully taken that burden off my shoulders by paying it. Thatcher can print anything he wants to about me in my own town; but it will cost him some money; those people up there don't think I'm so wicked, and the 'Fraser County Democrat' won't have any advertisements for a while but fake medical ads. But Ike will have more room for the exploitation of his own peculiar brand of homely Hoosier humor."

Bassett smiled, and Harwood was relieved to be able to laugh aloud. He was enjoying this glimpse of the inner mysteries of the great game. His disdain of Thatcher's clumsy attempts to circumvent Bassett was complete; in any view Bassett was preferable to Thatcher. As the senator from Fraser had said, there was really nothing worse than Thatcher, with his breweries and racing-stable, his sordidness and vulgarity. Thatcher's efforts to practice Bassett's methods with Bassett's own tools was a subject for laughter. It seemed for the moment that Harwood's decision might be struck on this note of mirth. Dan wondered whether, in permitting Bassett thus to disclose his plans and purposes, he had not already nailed his flag to the Bassett masthead.


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