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

Chapter 21. The "Returns" From Fairview

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Election day dawned sunny and bright; but there was a chill in the air that betokened the approach of winter.

Uncle John had suggested serving coffee to the voters at the different polling places, and Kenneth had therefore arranged for a booth at each place, where excellent coffee was served free all day long. These booths were decorated with Forbes banners and attracted a great deal of comment, as the idea was a distinct innovation in this district.

"You wouldn't catch Hopkins giving anything away," remarked one farmer to another. "'Rast is too close-fisted."

"Why, as fer that," was the reply, "the thing is done to catch votes. You know that as well as I do."

"S'pose it is," said the first speaker. "I'd ruther my vote was caught by a cup of hot coffee on a cold day, than by nothin' at all. If we've got to bite anyhow, why not take a hook that's baited?"

Patsy and Beth made the rounds of the polling places in an automobile covered with flags and bunting, and wherever they appeared they were greeted with cordial cheers.

Mr. Hopkins was noticeable by his absence, and this was due not so much to his cowardice as to an unfortunate accident.

Neither Squiers nor Hopkins knew just how their secret had leaked out, for Patsy's presence in the dentist's office had not been disclosed; so each one suspected the other of culpable foolishness if not downright rascality. After Uncle John's visit Erastus stormed over to Squiers's office and found his accomplice boiling with indignation at having been trapped in a criminal undertaking.

As the two men angrily faced each other they could not think of any gentle words to say, and Dr. Squiers became so excited by the other's reproaches that he indulged in careless gestures. One of these gestures bumped against the Honorable Erastus's right eye with such force that the eye was badly injured.

The candidate for re-election, therefore, wakened on election morning with the damaged optic swollen shut and sadly discolored. Realizing that this unfortunate condition would not win votes, Mr. Hopkins remained at home all day and nagged his long-suffering spouse, whose tongue was her only defence.

The Representative had promptly telephoned to Marshall at Fairview telling him not to vote the men as arranged. He was not especially charmed with the manager's brief reply:

"Don't be alarmed. We're not _all_ fools!"

"I guess, 'Rast," remarked Mary Hopkins, looking at her damaged and irritable husband with a blending of curiosity and contempt, "that you're 'bout at the end of your rope."

"You wait," said Erastus, grimly. "This thing ain't over yet."

The day passed very quietly and without any especial incident. A full vote was polled, and by sundown the fate of the candidates had been decided. But the counting seemed to progress slowly and the group assembled around the telephone in Kenneth's library thought the returns would never arrive.

The Republican Committee had given Mr. Forbes a table showing what the vote of each precinct should be, according to their canvass.

The first report was from Elmwood, and showed a gain of seventeen over the estimate. Patsy was delighted, for she had worked hard in Elmwood, and this proved that her efforts had been successful. Then came a report from Longville, in Jefferson County. It showed a gain of forty-three votes for Hopkins, and a consequent loss for Forbes. This was a startling surprise, and the next advice from a country precinct in Washington County showed another gain of twelve for Hopkins.

The little group of workers looked at one another with inquiring eyes, and Patsy could hardly refrain from crying.

The butler announced dinner, but only Louise and Mr. Watson could eat anything. The others were too intent on learning their fate and could not leave the telephone.

It seemed queer that the precincts furthest away should be first to respond, but so it was. Jefferson County returns began to come in rapidly, and were received in dismal silence. Hopkins gained four here, seven there, and twenty-two in another precinct.

"It looks," said Kenneth, quietly, "like a landslide for Hopkins, and I wonder how our Committee was so badly informed."

"You see," said Uncle John, "voters won't usually tell the truth about how they've decided to vote. Lots of them tell both sides they're going to vote their way. And people change their minds at the last minute, too. You can't do much more than average the thing by means of a canvass."

By nine o'clock, complete returns from the part of Jefferson County included in the Eighth District showed a net gain of one hundred and eight for Hopkins--a lead that it seemed impossible to overcome. Washington County was not so bad. Incomplete returns indicated a slight gain for Hopkins, but not more than a dozen votes altogether.

"Everything now depends upon Dupree and Fairview," announced Kenneth, "but I can't get any connection with them yet. We won in Elmwood, anyhow, and Hopkins isn't ahead more than a hundred and sixty as the thing stands now. Cheer up, girls. A defeat won't hurt us much, for we've all made a good fight. Better get to bed and sleep, for you're tired out. We'll know all about everything in the morning."

But they would not move. Disappointment unnerved them more than victory would have done. They resolved to wait until the last returns were in.

"Telephone, sir," said Tom Gates.

Kenneth picked up the receiver.

"Here's Dupree," he said. "Our majority over Hopkins is two hundred and eleven. Let's see, that's a gain of seventy-four votes, my dears."

"Hooray!" cried Patsy, delightedly. "I don't care a rap now, what happens. Old Hopkins won't have much to crow over if--"

"Wait a minute," said Kenneth. "Here's Fairview, at last!"

They held their breaths and watched his face. Kenneth flushed red as he held the receiver to his ear, and then grew white. He turned around to the expectant group and Beth knew from the sparkle in his eyes what had happened.

"Fairview's six precincts give us six hundred and forty-one majority," announced the boy, in an awed tone. "That's a gain of nearly four hundred!"

They gazed at him in silent wonder. Then Uncle John rose slowly and took the boy's hand.

"That means we've won--and won in a walk," said the little man. "Kenneth, we congratulate you."

Patsy's face was buried in her handkerchief, and Beth's great eyes were bright with unshed tears. But Louise laughed her soft, musical laugh and remarked:

"Why, I knew all the time we would win. We had the better candidate, you see."

"And the best campaign managers," added Uncle John, with a proud smile.

"That may be true," admitted Beth. "But the thing that really won the fight was Patsy's sore tooth." _

Read next: Chapter 22. The Awakening

Read previous: Chapter 20. Pricking A Bubble

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