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Southern Lights and Shadows by Edited by William Dean Howells & Henry Mills Alden

Part 4 out of 4

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An' mended 'em wid er wooden peg."

Next morning at nine o'clock sharp the convention was called to order,
General John Duff Tolliver in the chair. Speeches were expected, and it had
been arranged that Tom Bannister should first appear, Colonel Sommerton
would follow, and then the ballot would be taken.

This order of business showed the fine tactics of the Colonel, who well
understood how much advantage lay in the vivid impression of a closing

As the two candidates made their way from opposite directions through the
throng to the platform, which was under a tree in a beautiful suburban
grove, both were greeted with effusive warmth by admiring constituents.
Many women were present, and Tom Bannister felt the blood surge mightily
through his veins at sight of Phyllis standing tall and beautiful before
him with her hand extended.

"If you lose, die game, Tom," she murmured, as he pressed her fingers and
passed on.

The young man's appearance on the stand called forth a tremendous roar of
applause. Certainly he was popular. Colonel Sommerton felt a queer shock of
surprise thrill along his nerves. Could it be possible that he would lose?
No; the thought was intolerable. He sat a trifle straighter on his bench,
and began gathering the points of his well-conned speech. He saw old
Barnaby moving around the rim of the crowd, apparently looking for a seat.

Meantime, Tom was proceeding in a clear, soft, far-reaching voice. The
Colonel started and looked askance. What did it mean? At first his brain
was confused, but presently he understood. Word for word, sentence for
sentence, paragraph for paragraph, Tom was delivering the Colonel's own
sonorous speech! Of course the application was reversed here and there, so
that the wit, the humor, and the personal thrusts all went home. It was a
wonderful piece of _ad captandum_ oratory. The crowd went wild from start
to finish.

Colonel Mobley Sommerton sat dazed and stupefied, mopping his forehead and
trying to collect his faculties. He felt beaten, annihilated, while Tom
soared superbly on the wings of Sommertonian oratory so mysteriously at his

From a most eligible point of view Phyllis was gazing at Tom and receiving
the full brilliant current of his speech, and she appeared to catch a fine
stimulus from the flow of its opening sentences. As it proceeded her face
alternately flushed and paled, and her heart pounded heavily. All around
rose the tumult of unbridled applause. Men flung up their hats and yelled
themselves hoarse. A speech of that sort from a young fellow like Tom
Bannister was something to create irrepressible enthusiasm. It ended in
such a din that when General John Duff Tolliver arose to introduce Colonel
Sommerton he had to wait some time to be heard.

The situation was one that absolutely appalled, though it did not quite
paralyze, the older candidate, who, even after he had gained his feet and
stalked to the front of the rude rostrum, was as empty of thought as he was
full of despair. This sudden and unexpected appropriation of his great
speech had sapped and stupefied his intellect. He slowly swept the crowd
with his dazed eyes, and by some accident the only countenance clearly
visible to him was that of old Barnaby, who now sat far back on a stump,
looking for all the world like a mightily mystified baboon. The negro
winked and grimaced, and scratched his flat nose in sheer vacant stupidity.
Colonel Sommerton saw this, and it added an enfeebling increment to his
mental torpor.

"Fellow-citizens," he presently roared, in his melodious bass voice, "I am
proud of this honor." He was not sure of another word as he stood, with
bagging trousers and sweat-beaded face, but he made a superhuman effort to
call up his comatose wits. "I should be ungrateful were I not proud of this
great demonstration." Just then his gaze fell upon the face of his
daughter. Their eyes met with a mutual flash of restrospection. They were
remembering the bargain. The Colonel was not aware of it, but the
deliberateness and vocal volume of his opening phrases made them very
impressive. "I assure you," he went on, fumbling for something to say,
"that my heart is brimming with gratitude so that my lips find it hard to
utter the words that crowd into my mind." At this point some kindly friend
in the audience gingerly set going a ripple of applause, which, though
evidently forced, was like wine to the old man's intellect; it flung a glow
through his imagination.

"The speech you have heard the youthful lamb of law declaim is a very good
one, a very eloquent one indeed. If it were his own, I should not hesitate
to say right here that I ought to stand aside and let him be nominated;
but, fellow-citizens, that speech belongs to another and far more
distinguished and eligible man than Tom Bannister." Here he paused again,
and stood silent for a moment. Then, lifting his voice to a clarion pitch,
he added:

"Fellow-citizens, I wrote that speech, intending to deliver it here to-day.
I was called to Canton on business early in the week, and during my absence
Tom Bannister went to my house and got my manuscript and learned it by
heart. To prove to you what I say is true, I will now read."

At this point the Colonel, after deliberately wiping his glasses, drew from
his capacious coat-pocket the manuscript of his address, and proceeded to
read it word for word, just as Bannister had declaimed it. The audience
listened in silence, quite unable to comprehend the situation. There was no
applause. Evidently sentiment was dormant, or it was still with Tom.
Colonel Sommerton, feeling the desperation of the moment, reached forth at
random, and seeing Barnaby's old black face, it amused him, and he chanced
to grab a thought as if out of the expression he saw there.

"Fellow-citizens," he added, "there is one thing I desired to say upon this
important occasion. Whatever you do, be sure not to nominate to-day a man
who would, if elected, ally himself with the niggers. I don't pretend to
hint that my young opponent, Tom Bannister, would favor nigger rule, but I
do say--do you hear me, fellow-citizens?--I do say that every nigger in
this county is a Bannister man! How do I know?? I will tell you. Last
Saturday night the niggers had a meeting in an old stable on my premises.
Wishing to know what they were up to, I stole slyly to where I could
overhear their proceedings. My old nigger, Barnaby--yonder he sits, and he
can't deny it--was presiding, and the question before the meeting was,
'Which of the two candidates, Tom Bannister and Colonel Sommerton, shall we
niggers support? On this question there was some debate and difference of
opinion, until old Bob Warmus arose and said, 'Mistah Pres'dent, dey's no
use er talkin'; I likes Colonel Sommerton mighty well; he's a berry good
man; dey's not a bit er niggah in 'im. On t' odder han', Mistah Pres'dent,
Mistah Tom Bannistah is er white man too, jes de same; but I kin say fo'
Mistah Bannistah 'at he's mo' like er niggah an' any white man 'at I ebber
seed afore!"'

Here the Colonel paused to wait for the shouting and the hat-throwing to
subside. Meantime the face of old Barnaby was drawn into one indescribable
pucker of amazement. He could not believe his eyes or his ears. Surely that
was not Colonel Sommerton standing up there telling such an enormous
falsehood on him! He shook his woolly head dolefully, and gnawed a little
splinter that he had plucked from the stump.

"Of course, fellow-citizens," the Colonel went on, "that settled the
matter, and the niggers endorsed Tom Bannister unanimously by a rising

The yell that went up when the speaker, bowing profoundly, took his seat,
made it seem certain that Bannister would be beaten; but when the ballot
was taken it was found that he had been chosen by one vote majority.

Colonel Mobley Sommerton's face turned as white as his hair. The iron of
defeat went home to his proud heart with terrible effect, and as he tried
to rise, the features of the hundreds of countenances below him swam and
blended confusedly in his vision. The sedentary bubbles on the knees of his
trousers fluttered with sympathetic violence.

Tom Bannister was on his feet in a moment--it was an appealing look from
Phyllis that inspired him--and once more his genial voice rang out clear
and strong.

"Fellow-citizens," he said, "I have a motion to make. Hear me." He waved
his right hand to command silence, then proceeded: "Mr. President, I
withdraw my name from this convention, and move that the nomination of
Colonel Mobley Sommerton be made unanimous by acclamation. I have no right
to this nomination, and nothing, save a matter greater than life or death
to me, could have induced me to steal it as I this day have done. Colonel
Sommerton knows why I did it. He gave his word of honor that he would cease
all objections to giving his daughter to me in marriage, and that
furthermore he would deed Sommerton Place to us as a wedding present, if I
beat him for the nomination. Mr. President and fellow-citizens, do you
blame me for memorizing his speech? That magnificent speech meant to me the
most beautiful wife in America, and the handsomest estate in this noble

If Tom Bannister had been boisterously applauded before this, it was as
nothing beside the noise which followed when Colonel Mobley Sommerton was
declared the unanimous nominee of the convention. Meantime, Phyllis had
hurried to the carriage and been driven home: she dared not stay and let
the crowd gaze at her after that bold confession of Tom's.

The cheering for the nominee was yet at its flood when Bannister leaped at
Colonel Sommerton and grasped his hand. The old gentleman was flushed and
smiling, as became a politician so wonderfully favored. It was a moment
never to be forgotten by either of the men.

"I cordially congratulate you, Colonel Sommerton, on your nomination," said
Tom, with great feeling, "and you may count on my hearty support."

"If I don't have to support you, and pay your office rent in the bargain,
all the rest of my life, I miss my guess, you young scamp!" growled the
Colonel, in a major key. "Be off with you!"

Tom moved away to let the Colonel's friends crowd up and shake hands with
him; but the delighted youth could not withhold a Parthian shaft. As he
retreated he said, "Oh, Colonel, don't bother about my support; Sommerton
Plantation will be ample for that!"

"Hit do beat all thunder how dese white men syfoogles eroun' in politics,"
old Barnaby thought to himself. Then he rattled the coins in his two
pockets. The contributions of Colonel Sommerton chinked on the left, those
of Tom Bannister and Phyllis rang on the right. "Blame this here ole
chile's eyes," he went on, "but 'twar a close shabe! Seem lak I's kinder
holdin' de balernce ob power. I use my inflooence fer bofe ob 'em--yah,
yah, yah-r-r! an' hit did look lak I's gwine ter balernce fings up tell I
'lee' 'em bofe ter oncet right dar! Bofe of 'em got de nomination--yah,
yah, yah-r-r! But I say 'rah fo' little Miss Phyllis! She de one 'at know
how to pull de right string--yah, yah, yah-r-r!"

The wedding at Sommerton Place came on the Wednesday following the fall
election. Besides the great number of guests and the striking beauty of the
bride there was nothing notable in it, unless the song prepared by Barnaby
for the occasion, and sung by him thereupon to a captivating banjo
accompaniment, may be so distinguished. A stanza, the final one of that
masterpiece, has been preserved. It may serve as an informal ending, a
charcoal tail-piece, to our light but truthful little story.

"Stan' by yo' frien's and nebber mek trouble,
An' so, ef yo's got any sense,
Yo'll know hit's a good t'ing ter be sorter double,
An' walk on bofe sides ob de fence!"


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