HEN Colonel William Hucks, of Upper Slate Creek, in Center Township, better known as "Uncle Billy Hucks of Center," was elected delegate to the State Republican League convention at Topeka, in 1891, he untangled his legs from the low school-house desk where he had been sitting, and, rising, said that he supposed the members of the club knew what they were doing. He further said that he did n't need to tell them that he had been an Alliance man the year before, and had made a speech or two on the "Muddy'' for the Alliance ticket, "though," he added with one of his smiles from the corner of his mouth, looking all over the room to assure the fellows that he was about to make a point, "I won't make any this year" (Enthusiastic stamping of feet.) "Not if I know myself." (More pedal enthusiam.) But, nevertheless, the old man, as he rode home that night, was a little exercised over the prospect of being called a traitor by his Alliance friends, and he wondered rather unconsciously, if his declaration wouldn't look rather queer.
But when he thought of seeing all the old time Republicans at the "Copeland" and of shaking hands with "old Plumb", and of hearing the speeches and the resolutions, he forgot his doubts, hit Bolivar an unusually hard lick as he came down off the slant from the Slate Creek bridge, and thereby showed that his spirits his were improving and that his Rubicon had been forded.
"Mother," saod Colonel Hucks the next mornig, "I guess I will go to Topeky next week."
"Is that so?" said Mrs. Hucks, who had long since learned that the best way to find long out a thing was not to ask about it.
"Yes," said the Colonel. "There is goin' to be some sort of a Republican doin's there, and I guess I better go."
And "Mother," whose father had "fit with old Grant," and whose brother had died at Shiloh, and whose faith in the war party had known no wavering, though her voice had been quiet for a year or so, only smiled and said, ''I am glad to hear you are going, William, for you do need the rest."
But the Colonel knew what she meant. The next week when he drove out of the front gate he was whistling "John Brown's Body." As he stopped to latch the gate, he could hear a thin, quavering, little voice, down at the spring house, as he had heard it before at the bean dinners, and the camp fires, and the rallies for a quarter of a century, singing with his own,
"His soul goes marching on." Colonel Hucks recalled how proudly that little voice had sung that song at the ratification of his own election to the legislature, in the Center Township schoolhouse, way back in the seventies. He remembered how she had taught the children at the township Sunday school to sing the song before they could afford singing books.
On the main road an Alliance neighbor, afoot, climbed into the Colonel's wagon. The Colonel did not talk much, for his memory was wandering back to the time when little Link had died and they had buried him in the cute, blue soldier clothes "Mother" had made for the boy to play soldier in at the school exhibition; and the old man seemed to hear the children of the neighbors, as they gathered around the little, rough coffin, singing that song, the only song that every one knew: "But his soul goes marching on.''
"Got a pretty big cold, ain't you, Bill? It don't pay to go to Republican meetings; the Lord is on our side," said the Alliance neighbor, who was riding beside him, and who had noticed the Colonel's watery eyes.
"You just go to hell a spell, will you?" growled the old man, as he sniffed and reached for a handkerchief.
But, for all this, the old doubt often had been troubling him in his calmer moments. Once, it came very strong, when the fellows at the Center Township Alliance said he would make a good county treasurer on the Alliance ticket. When they started to pass resolutions to that effect and to elect him to the county convention, it was all Colonel William Hucks could do to get up and tell them that he was going up to Topeka on some private and important business on the day of the county convention. For he was human. And being human, he was weak. So when the county Alliance lecturer asked him if he was really going as a delegate to the Republican convention in Topeka, the Colonel told the lecturer that he expected to be in Topeka, anyhow, and that he supposed he would maybe drop in during the afternoon and see what kind of a show the Republicans could make when they tried.
The Colonel spread his name on the "Copeland" register, "William Hucks, Hucksville,'' and as the clerk was asking him, "Will you have a room, Colonel Hucks?" he saw the names of the heroes of his party, the men who had made its speeches and written its platforms for a score of years, on the big register before his own; then it was that the old Doubt folded its tent. When he walked over to the convention hall and climbed the capitol steps with his wonted vigor, he stopped to look back and down to see if any of the "old fellows" were coming. He went into the governor's room, and found Lew Hanback there with a lot of "statesmen" around, stopped a moment to shake then went on up stairs.
In the convention, the delegates were just getting down to business, and Burton was making a speech. The cheering had only begun, and he joined it. All the pent-up enthusiasm of the day, all the two years of compromised silence, during which he had been in training with the Alliance, found vent in that first yell he gave. He did n't really know what the speaker had said He did n't care. He felt the "power." He wanted to cheer. And he cheered. He was n't afraid of anybody. He saw an Alliance female lecturer in the gallery, and the first time he caught her eye he put his hat on the crook of his cane and yelled like a Fiji when the speaker alluded to Blaine. The others in the convention were not so enthusiastic as he. He thought them very tame. They were younger than Colonel Hucks and more careful of the proprieties. But the Colonel was wedded to his idols, and he didn't care whether school kept or not. He found he was put on the committee on resolutions, and he made a gallant fight to have Blaine's name mentioned in the committee's report. But the young man with the type-written set of resolutions out-voted the Colonel; so in the convention when the clause about reciprocity was read, he led the delegates off with an old-fashioned ''rouser.'' The Colonel attracted so much attention that the young fellows, who were at the head of things, put his name up as a candidate for some office or other, that was being voted upon, but as he saw he couldn't make it, he withdrew. While on his feet, he was tempted to make a school-house speech, but he lacked courage, and sat down.
The Colonel's soul was at peace, and he was happy.
But when the "Capital'' reporter came to him for an interview, after adjournment, the Colonel's cup ran over. Before this, there had always been so many big fellows at the state conventions, that Colonel Hucks had not been worth an interview from a newspaper standpoint.
He had once achieved the proud distinction of having his name misspelled in the personal column of the "Capital," in connection with being a guest at the "Copeland" and of reporting "crops in fine condition in the Slate Valley"; but he had never before been interviewed by a real city reporter. He wondered what they would say when they read this at home. He would have stayed with that reporter all day, if he had not heard some one behind him say, ''Plumb's come, Plumb's come!''
This talismanic signal passed around the lobby of the hotel, with telegraphic rapidity. And the Colonel joined the procession, which was headed toward the Senator.
Plumb was a little heavier and a little paler than he had been on the day when Colonel Hucks voted for him for Senator in the legislature, but otherwise he was unchanged. The great man leaned forward with his head on one side, and extended to the Colonel one hand, putting the other upon the farmer's shoulder. "I hear you have been helping the Alliance and the rebels pass the force bill, Colonel,'' said the Senator, smiling. "Your pension comes all right now, do n't it? Did you get that horse book you sent for? I spoke to Rusk about it, and he said he'd answer you. Why, hello there, Jim, how are you?" And before he knew it, the Colonel found himself explaining to the crowd how he had written to Plumb for one of Jerry Rusk's "agricultural reports,'' and how he 'd got a letter from Rusk saying that they were all out, but that m'm'm', and the hum of the other voices drowned his own.
At night, when Plumb was on the rostrum, Colonel Hucks was tired. The old man's applause, instead of being what the papers call "loud and continuous," was of the kind which nods the head, and nudges the man sitting next, and claps the hands. He followed the Senator pretty closely, and when the speaker alluded to those "on whose heads have fallen the snow which never melts," the Colonel caught his eye, and the pathos of the remark brought the moisture to his own. After that, the old man nearly nodded his head off with approbation. When "Joe" Ady roasted the Alliance, the Colonel felt rested and his loyal whoop led the applause; its echo was the last to die after the speech had closed.
When he got back to Willow Creek, his county seat, the next day, the Colonel went to the office of the Lincoln County ''Republican," wherein that week appeared this item: "Colonel William Hucks, of Hucksville, the war-horse of Center Township, was in town last night on his return from the State Republican League convention, and made this office a pleasant call. Colonel Hucks has been in training with the Alliance for the past eighteen months, but he authorizes us to say that he is back in the fold and hopes the ninety and nine will rejoice with him. Uncle Billy raised the biggest crop of wheat ever raised on Slate Creek, and all of the corn in his 200 acre field was sold by him this morning for $15 an acre. He left the wherewithal to pay for one year's subscription to this great family newspaper and the State "Capital" for one year. Uncle Billy, you're a daisy, and here's our "
As he drove into his front yard that night he noticed the old regimental flag waving over the door. Inside of the house, he observed that "Mother" had brought out the pictures of Grant and Sherman and Lincoln, which she had put away the year before. They were hanging in the best room with little "Link's" faded blue soldier-cap in the center of the group.
"Did you have a nice time at Topeky, William?"
"Yes, Mother," and after a pause he added, as he looked at the little cap and the old flag, which now and then floated in through the door, "and say, Mother,'his soul goes marching on.' "
For Colonel William Hucks was never what you would call a "soft" man.