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Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work, a novel by L. Frank Baum

Chapter 13. The Boomerang

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The lawn fete was a tremendous success, and every farmer's wife was proud of her satin badge bearing the monogram: "W. P. L.," and the words: "FORBES FOR REPRESENTATIVE."

Certain edibles, such as charlotte-russe, Spanish cream, wine jellies and mousses, to say nothing of the caviars and anchovies, were wholly unknown to them; but they ate the dainties with a wise disregard of their inexperience and enjoyed them immensely.

The old butler was a general in his way, and in view of the fact that the staff of servants at Elmhurst was insufficient to cope with such a throng, he allowed Louise to impress several farmers' daughters into service, and was able to feed everyone without delay and in an abundant and satisfactory manner.

After luncheon began the speech-making, interspersed with music by the band.

Louise made the preliminary address, and, although her voice was not very strong, the silent attention of her hearers permitted her to be generally understood.

She called attention to the fact that this campaign was important because it promised more beautiful and attractive houses for the farmers and townsmen alike.

"We had all grown so accustomed to advertising signs," she said, "that we failed to notice how thick they were becoming or how bold and overpowering. From a few scattered announcements on fence boards, they had crowded themselves into more prominent places until the barns and sheds and the very rocks were daubed with glaring letters asking us to buy the medicines, soaps, tobaccos, and other wares the manufacturers were anxious to sell. Every country road became an advertising avenue. Scarcely a country house was free from signs of some sort. Yet the people tamely submitted to this imposition because they knew no way to avoid it. When Mr. Forbes began his campaign to restore the homesteads to their former beauty and dignity, a cry was raised against him. But this was because the farmers did not understand how much this reform meant to them. So we gave them an object lesson. We painted out all the signs in this section at our own expense, that you might see how much more beautiful your homes are without them. We believe that none of you will ever care to allow advertising signs on your property again, and that the quiet refinement of this part of the country will induce many other places to follow our example, until advertisers are forced to confine themselves to newspapers, magazines and circulars, their only legitimate channels. This much Mr. Forbes has already done for you, and he will now tell you what else, if he is elected, he proposes to do."

Kenneth then took the platform and was welcomed with a hearty cheer. He modestly assured them that a Representative in the State Legislature could accomplish much good for his district if he honestly desired to do so. That was what a Representative was for--to represent his people. It was folly to elect any man who would forget that duty and promote only his own interests through the position of power to which the people had appointed him. Mr. Forbes admitted that he had undertaken this campaign because he was opposed to offensive advertising signs; but now he had become interested in other issues, and was anxious to be elected so that he could carry on the work of reform. They needed more school-houses for their children, and many other things which he hoped to provide as their Representative.

During this oration Beth happened to glance up at the house, and her sharp eyes detected the maid, Eliza, standing shielded behind the half-closed blind of an upper window and listening to, as well as watching, the proceedings below. Then she remembered how the girl had been laughing and talking with Mr. Hopkins, when she first saw her, and with sudden dismay realized that Eliza was a spy in the service of the enemy.

Her first impulse was to denounce the maid at once, and have her discharged; but the time was not opportune, so she waited until the festivities were ended.

It had been a great day for the families of the neighboring farmers, and they drove homeward in the late afternoon full of enthusiasm over the royal manner in which they had been entertained and admiration for the girls who had provided the fun and feasting. Indeed, there were more kindly thoughts expressed for the inhabitants of Elmhurst than had ever before been heard in a single day in the history of the county, and the great and the humble seemed more closely drawn together.

When the last guest had departed Beth got her cousins and Kenneth together and told them of her discovery of the spy.

Kenneth was at first greatly annoyed, and proposed to call Martha and have the false maid ejected from the premises; but Patsy's wise little head counselled caution in handling the matter.

"Now that we know her secret," she said, "the girl cannot cause us more real harm, and there may be a way to circumvent this unscrupulous Hopkins and turn the incident to our own advantage. Let's think it over carefully before we act."

"There's another thing," said Beth, supporting her cousin. "I'm interested in the mystery surrounding the girl. I now think I was wrong in suspecting her to be the lost Lucy Rogers; but there is surely some romance connected with her, and she is not what she seems to be. I'd like to study her a little."

"It was absurd to connect her with Lucy Rogers," observed Kenneth, "for there is nothing in her character to remind one of the unhappy girl."

"Except her looks," added Beth. "She's the living image of Mrs. Rogers."

"That isn't important," replied Louise. "It is probably a mere coincidence. None of us have ever seen the real Lucy, and she may not resemble her mother at all."

"Mrs. Rogers claims she does," said Beth. "But anyhow, I have a wish to keep this girl at the house, where I can study her character."

"Then keep her, my dear," decided Kenneth. "I'll set a couple of men to watch the gates, and if she goes out we'll know whom she meets. The most she can do is to report our movements to Mr. Hopkins, and there's no great harm in that."

So the matter was left, for the time; and as if to verify Beth's suspicions Eliza was seen to leave the grounds after dusk and meet Mr. Hopkins in the lane. They conversed together a few moments, and then the maid calmly returned and went to her room.

The next day Mr. Hopkins scattered flaring hand-bills over the district which were worded in a way designed to offset any advantage his opponent had gained from the lawn fete of the previous day. They read: "Hopkins, the Man of the Times, is the Champion of the Signs of the Times. Forbes, who never earned a dollar in his life, but inherited his money, is trying to take the dollars out of the pockets of the farmers by depriving them of the income derived by selling spaces for advertising signs. He is robbing the farmers while claiming he wants to beautify their homes. The farmers can't eat beauty; they want money. Therefore they are going to vote for the Honorable Erastus Hopkins for Representative." Then followed an estimate of the money paid the farmers of the district by the advertisers during the past five years, amounting to several thousands of dollars in the aggregate. The circular ended in this way: "Hopkins challenges Forbes to deny these facts. Hopkins is willing to meet Forbes before the public at any time and place he may select, to settle this argument in joint debate."

The girls accepted the challenge at once. Within two days every farmer had received a notice that Mr. Forbes would meet Mr. Hopkins at the Fairview Opera House on Saturday afternoon to debate the question as to whether advertising signs brought good or evil to the community.

The campaign was now getting hot. Because of the activity of the opposing candidates every voter in the district had become more or less interested in the fight, and people were taking one side or the other with unusual earnestness.

Mr. Hopkins was not greatly pleased that his challenge had been accepted. He had imagined that the Forbes party would ignore it and leave him the prestige of crowing over his opponent's timidity. But he remembered how easily he had subdued Kenneth at the school-house meeting before the nominations, and had no doubt of his ability to repeat the operation.

He was much incensed against the girls who were working for Kenneth Forbes, for he realized that they were proving an important factor in the campaign. He even attributed to them more than they deserved, for Uncle John's telling activities were so quietly conducted that he was personally lost sight of entirely by Mr. Hopkins.

Mr. Hopkins had therefore become so enraged that, against the advice of his friends, he issued a circular sneering at "Women in Politics." The newspapers having been subsidized by the opposition so early in the game, Mr. Hopkins had driven to employ the circular method of communicating with the voters. Scarcely a day passed now that his corps of distributors did not leave some of his literature at every dwelling in the district.

His tirade against the girls was neither convincing nor in good taste. He asked the voters if they were willing to submit to "petticoat government," and permit a "lot of boarding-school girls, with more boldness than modesty" to dictate the policies of the community. "These frizzle-headed females," continued the circular, "are trying to make your wives and daughters as rebellious and unreasonable as they are themselves; but no man of sense will permit a woman to influence his vote. It is a disgrace to this district that Mr. Forbes allows his girlish campaign to be run by a lot of misses who should be at home darning stockings; or, if they were not able to do that, practicing their music-lessons."

"Good!" exclaimed shrewd Miss Patsy, when she read this circular. "If I'm not much mistaken, Mr. Hopkins has thrown a boomerang. Every woman who attended the fete is now linked with us as an ally, and every one of them will resent this foolish circular."

"I'm sorry," said Kenneth, "that you girls should be forced to endure this. I feared something like it when you insisted on taking a hand in the game."

But they laughed at him and at Mr. Hopkins, and declared they were not at all offended.

"One cannot touch pitch without being defiled," said Mr. Watson, gravely, "and politics, as Mr. Hopkins knows it, is little more than pitch."

"I cannot see that there is anything my girls have done to forfeit respect and admiration," asserted Uncle John, stoutly. "To accuse them of boldness or immodesty is absurd. They have merely gone to work in a business-like manner and used their wits and common-sense in educating the voters. Really, my dears, I'm more proud of you today than I've ever been before," he concluded.

And Uncle John was right. There had been no loss of dignity by any one of the three, and their evident refinement, as well as their gentleness and good humor, had until now protected them from any reproach. It had remained for Mr. Hopkins to accuse them, and his circular had a wide influence in determining the issue of the campaign. _

Read next: Chapter 14. Lucy's Ghost

Read previous: Chapter 12. Beth Meets A Rebuff

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