Updated: Jan 1, 2022
By Frank Neilson
Clever Magazine, May 1903
Casey, the itinerant, had been on the payroll of The Hillville Press six months, and was growing restless. He knew that he was violating his established rule and custom, and that he should have “moved on” long before.
Peculiar circumstances were making Casey’s sojourn in Hillville unusually pleasant. The county was in the throes of a close and bitter political contest over the election of a representative to the state legislature. There were other officers to elect, but the real fight was over the representative.
The incoming legislature would elect a United States Senator. The situation, state and national, was such that one vote in the legislative assembly might decide the political brand of the new Senator, whose vote in the United States Senate might determine the course of government.
The political telescopes, anxiously sweeping the field from Maine to California, lingered upon Hillville. Hillville seemed to be the pivotal point of the vast battle. At no other place was the sentiment so fluctuating and the result so uncertain. Speakers and specie were hurried to Hillville; it was the specie that made Casey’s sojourn pleasant and prolonged.
With the opposing parties a vote was a vote, and to Casey, the wanderer, a dollar was a dollar and a drink was a drink. One day the blandishments of the Wilson-ites appealed to him irresistibly, the next day the Horton-ites claimed him as their own. On the Democratic poll-book of his precinct the upright mark opposite the name of Coriolanus Casey appeared in the column marked “D”; in the Republican poll-book a corpulent “R” headed the column in which the mark designated Casey's faith. Meanwhile, through all the orating and parading and horn-tooting, Casey flirted with Fate and waxed fat and wanted not. Through the night he set up dry political articles in the back room of the Press building; during the day, in other back rooms, he participated receptively in the setting up of other articles, political, but not dry.
The Hillville Press was the county organ of the party, and its columns blazed with denunciations of Wilson and bloomed with laudations of Horton. Its editor, the “old man,” a grim and uncompromising veteran of a hundred political fights, had satisfactorily sounded Casey, and when he discovered, upon the evening preceding the election, that Casey, for reasons sufficient unto himself, had positively promised to cast his sovereign vote for Wilson, a miniature cyclone swept the office of the Press.
That evening, when Casey reported for duty, he was informed, in a forcible and unmistakable manner, that the name of Coriolanus Casey no longer disgraced the payroll of The Hillville Press.
Casey accepted discharge and wages as a matter-of-course, dropped the latter into a pocket where it found congenial company from a different source, and departed silently to the convivial surroundings he wonted of. In the “wee sma’ hours," through force of habit, perhaps, he wandered back to the press-room. The antiquated press, in the charge of a press-man and a “cub," had just begun its nightly toil. The “old man" had inspected the first impressions and retired to well earned slumber.
Casey picked up a damp sheet and ran his eye down the leading article on the first page. Then he whistled—that long drawn out, expressive sort of a whistle that denotes extreme surprise.
“Good-bye, Wilson,” he muttered gloomily.
He folded the sheet, put it into his pocket, and sat down. For a long time he watched the slowly moving press, and pondered moodily. Suddenly his small red eyes twinkled and flashed. He drew the paper from his pocket and closely scrutinized the offending “leader." With ink-stained finger he pointed off the number of letters in the respective names of the rival candidates. Then he approached the press-man and shouted above the din of clanking machinery:
“It’s tired-out ye look, Jerry. A sandwich and a cup of hot coffee’ll do ye no harm—nor th’ cub, naither. Take this, and run along—both of yez. It’s on th’ committee. I’ll run th’ macheen till ye come back."
As the door closed behind the weary press-man and the “cub" the old press stopped. With deft and nimble fingers, Casey unlocked a form, exchanged the names of the two candidates, replaced the form, and threw the little pile of printed sheets into the fire. When Jerry and the “cub” returned the groaning machine was throwing off copies of the Hillville Press containing the following:
“TREACHERY! “DAMNABLE DUPLICITY!! “JESSE K. HORTON BETRAYS HIS PARTY!!! “Last week, while in our Capital City, a rumor reached our ears concerning a man who is asking of the voters of Walpole County the high privilege of representing them in the legislature of this state.” “We considered it our duty to the community, to our party, and to ourselves, to investigate this rumor. We have done so—with startling results.” “The last mail this evening placed in our hands incontestable proof that the said candidate is a party to an agreement, made with leaders of the opposing forces, for a consideration not yet ascertained, by the terms of which, in the event of his election, he is bound to betray his party, to deliver it into the hands of the enemy.” “To put it plainly, that candidate stands pledged to cast his vote for any man whom the opposite party may name as its candidate for United States Senator.” “Fellow citizens, the name of this scoundrel, this double-dyed traitor, is JESSE K. HORTON.” “If you doubt this almost incredible statement, come to the office of The Press and behold the proof.” “Voters of Walpole County, your course is clear. Let it be proclaimed to the world today that your verdict at the polls is for honesty and against corruption; that no party ties can dull your sense of justice; that you have cast aside all partisanship and have named as your representative in this hour of need, JAMES R. WILSON, a man against whose character, despite the croakings of political columnists, no word of reproach has ever been truthfully uttered. Relegate to the depths of infamy from which he sprang this arch traitor, this political Judas, Jesse K. Horton.” “Men of Hillville and of Walpole County, we have done our duty, painful as it has been. See that you do yours as well.”
Before the rising sun had kissed the bleak November hills the nimble newsboys had distributed the bomb-shells, and all sorts of things were happening in Hillville.
An astounded editor was vainly trying to explain to a howling mob headed by the frantic Horton; votes for Wilson were pouring into the polls; and the staunch members of ‘the old man’s’ own party were openly accusing that martyr of selling out.
Meanwhile, Casey, with light heart and heavy pockets, was reclining in a chair-coach of the morning express, speeding toward the free and unfettered West.
Thus did Casey, Casey the itinerant; little, red-headed, insignificant Coriolanus Casey, elect Wilson by a scant majority, determine the political complexion of a United States Senate, and mould the policy of the government upon national issues pregnant with disastrous possibilities.
Alone he did it—this modern Coriolanus.