An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Twelve

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Eleven

Former Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, November 1911

Feigning jealousy, Sammie Belle rises from her chair. “Papa, I am heading to the kitchen to help Mama, Fannie and Maydelle with dinner. Calling on me obviously is not why Clarence is here. He and John Bowman, along with all the hundreds of Texans who mail you letters each week, are determined to talk you into the race for Senate.” From behind Tom’s chair, his daughter affectionately hugs his neck and slips out of the parlor.

Clarence Dilley smiles. “Fortunately, your daughter is accustomed to talk of politics so does not begin to yawn the second John Bowman and I get started. After serving as your secretary, John can’t bear for you to not to be in there fighting for what is right. Why, the liquor interests bought the July election outright, paying poll taxes for anyone they could snare with free-mug-of-beer bait. You will run for the Senate, will you not, sir?”

Silence.

“Sir, is that the same ‘enigmatic’ smile you’re accused of giving the newspapermen? They complain you are more tight-lipped than the Sphinx, dodging questions about your plans by praising the peach crisp you had for lunch. I swore to John I wouldn’t enter the dining room tonight without hearing your pledge to pitch your horseshoe into the game.”

“Then I’m afraid you’ll find yourself starving, sitting here so long you’ll be growing whiskers,” Thomas warns. “You’ll be like Thomas Ball at the Oriental Hotel during the Dallas conference. Stayed up almost round the clock for three days plotting about the alleged ‘Campbell slate.’ When he got ready to check out on Sunday, his stubble left him looking too shabby to board the train. Had to hide out in his room until someone fetched a barber for him.

“My standing for the Senate is far from the most important issue in Texas, Clarence. Ensuring that Governor Colquitt does not succeed himself is. If trading away my potential candidacy will garner support for Judge Ramsey to run against that so-called Methodist who has not dared set foot in his church in Dallas since the election, then, by granny, I gladly will remain right here in Palestine practicing law.  

“Governor Colquitt is a mere puppet of the breweries. But the more conversations I have throughout the state, the more I’m convinced we must beware of making prohibition the sole issue of the election. We can’t run candidates as Pros if we want to retain the labor support I enjoyed as governor. While seething at the corruption of our elections by the liquor business, many a toiling man is not ready to forego his beer. 

“Additionally, I want to put some distance between Judge Ramsey and some of the language spouting too freely out of the mouths of the likes of Senator Horace Vaughan and Cullen Thomas. Urging Texans to line up against ‘negroism’ in favor of ‘Anglo-American rule.’ Blaming the election on the negroes and the Mexicans, they’ve gone so far as to call for constitutional amendments eliminating the negro vote, curtailing immigration and making immigrants live here for 21 years before becoming eligible to vote.”

“Papa, I can hear your voice rising louder and louder,” Sammie interrupts as she enters the room.  “It worries Mother. She says it is bad for your health. And my sisters are making me repeat every detail of the wedding plans as though they have never heard them before, so I’ve returned. Clarence, you can talk until you’re blue in the face, but my father is not going to reach a decision tonight or any time before our wedding. Enough politics.

“I received a letter from Margaret Bowman. She warned me that John had wound Clarence up about the need for you to don a senatorial toga, and that I would have a struggle to divert your attention to more entertaining topics. She sent a clipping from the Dallas News of a parlor game for us to play. We’ll see which of you clever gentlemen can best follow my clues.” 

She continues without pausing to give either man an opportunity to decline participation. “What will I contribute to our Thanksgiving feast? I am bringing a country from Asia to Thanksgiving dinner.”

Thomas has no desire to end the spirited discussion with his future son-in-law. “Sammie, how can you bring a country to dinner?”

“Don’t be so literal, Papa.”

“Turkey,” blurts out Clarence laughing. 

“The country about which I am most concerned is this one,” continues Thomas. “And I’m convinced Woodrow Wilson is the remedy for evils menacing popular government and our civil liberty. His speech at the State Fair ranks as one of the most magnificent utterances in the history of this country. Governor Wilson said wealthy men know nothing of the struggle most men experience in their daily lives. With no regard for alleviating the travails of the common man, special interests care only about guarding their wealth and buying politicians who will pass the laws to do so. The cure he recommends for rotten politicians is to make them ‘live and sleep in the open.’ The business of State has no business behind closed doors. Governor Wilson said he would like to see all scoundrels in the same shape as David Crockett’s raccoon. Skinned.”

Sammie Belle interrupts. “I will summon a blossom for Thanksgiving dinner.” Receiving no answer, she clears her throat as though she were a strict schoolmaster testing whether students had completed their assignments. “I will summon a blossom for Thanksgiving dinner.”

“Cauliflower,” answers Clarence. “Call-a-flower.”

Thomas finds himself competing for Clarence’s attention. “You are right, Clarence. About the election. The hand of every Texan should be raised in protest. If there were a statewide investigation, we would see beer barons wearing striped suits and lugging balls and chains.”

“I will invite well-matched couples to Thanksgiving dinner.” Sammie refuses to abandon her parlor game.

Thomas ignores her. “I only wish we could put all of the prohibition politics aside and take up the truly important issues affecting our state. Education for one. We should provide free textbooks for all children.”

“Papa, Clarence has heard this speech before,” Sammie chides.

“I never tire of listening to your father, Sammie. How many men are so fortunate as to be schooled by a former Governor? And, perhaps, a future Senator? As for your well-matched couples—pears.”

“I will contribute an oven-baked English essayist to Thanksgiving dinner,” Sammie reads. 

“What are we, cannibals?” asks Thomas. “I think I much prefer turkey to a roasted Mister Lamb for Thanksgiving. Turkey, the only thing I ever pardoned at Thanksgiving time. The sitting governor signed forty-two pardons yesterday, offering no valid excuses for setting convicted felons free, overriding the legitimate and informed decisions of hundreds of jurors.” 

Sammie insists. “I will bring an English philosopher to Thanksgiving dinner,” says Sammie.

“Bacon,” Clarence obliges. “Although bacon is not normally on the menu.”

Thomas laughs. “Trying to carry on a conversation with a young lady in the room flirting with her fiancée is near impossible.” Sammie’s face is aglow. He knows he will miss her presence in the parlor greatly, even though she sometimes elects games over discussion. “I feel like that man in Fort Worth. Went out to fetch his Thanksgiving turkey from the coop, only to find a large chicken hawk in its place. Now, did someone steal the turkey? Or did the hawk squeeze into the turkey’s quarters, gobble the gobbler up, only to find himself then too fat to escape the way he had entered?”

“Papa, are you trying to switch games? I still have many more Thanksgiving riddles. Or is it that Clarence is outwitting you?”

“I am sure you have a bountiful supply,” her father answers. “As the rules governing the menu for the feast are not rigid, how about chewing on this one? I will bring sorceresses from the desert to your dinner.” 

If he must give his daughter away at the end of the week, he feels fortunate it is to Clarence.

Footnotes

Clarence Dilley was indeed heading to the altar with Sammie Belle Campbell, but this conversation is drawn from newspaper accounts of politics. The parlor game popped up in the Dallas paper.

The Author did not realize “sand witch” was a popular slang phrase of the time. Blogger Patrick Spedding explains: “After a lot of digging I think I have discovered the origin of this meme: it is a joke—first published in the Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph—that did the rounds in 1902. ‘Look at Miss Gaswell as she sits on the sand in her bathing-suit,’ exclaimed a Pittsburgher at Atlantic City. ‘She is pretty enough to eat.’ ‘That’s what she is,’ assented his hearer. ‘She is a regular sand witch.’ Cue postcard-caption for any bathing beauty; anyone on the sand who is ‘pretty enough to eat.’”

Continue to Chapter Thirteen

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