He now fixed the Duke with his gaze.
“You don’t dare to deny, do you, that the system in this State is screwing the last cent out of the exposed property and letting the dodgers go free? Tax the necessities of the poor, say you! I say, tax the luxuries of the rich!”
“In some countries, I believe, they get quite a revenue by taxing mustaches,” stated the Duke, thus appealed to.
Spinney indignantly broke in on the laughter.
“You’ve carried off oppression so far as a joke, but you can’t do it any longer, Squire Thornton. The people are awake this time. They’ve got done electing lawyers and dudes and land-grabbers for Governors. They’re going to have a Governor that will make State officials work for fair day’s wages, as the farmers and artisans work. No more high-salaried loafers in public office! No more dynasties, Sir Duke of Fort Canibas! You’ll be having a coat of arms next!”
This last was said in rude jest—the public horseplay of a man anxious to win his laugh at any cost.
“I’ve got a coat of arms, Arba; I won the decoration when I retired from hard work at the age of fifty. That was about the time you were starting in life by selling fake mining stock around this State. My coat of arms is two patches on a homespun background, surrounded by looped galluses. And I can show you the mile of stone walls I built before you were born.”
Spinney did not relish the merriment which followed that sally.
“You’ve outgrown that coat of arms, then, in these days,” he retorted. “They all know you by a different stripe since you set the other chap at work, Squire Thornton. And the pendulum of power is swinging the other way! The people are behind me. You’d better get aboard.” His style of humor depended most on its effrontery. He held out one of his badges. “Better put it on,” he advised. “Get aboard with the rush! They’re all for ‘Honest Arba.’”
The Duke stepped forward and presented his breast.
“Pin it on, Arba. When a man shifts his business and is introducing a brand-new line of goods, different from what he ever carried before, he needs all the advertising he can get. Pin it on!”
But Mr. Spinney did not pin it on. He had been sure that the old man would indignantly refuse, and his discomfiture was evident.
“You’re showing your regular disposition, I see,” he growled. “Grabbing everything you can get hold of. But a joke is a joke—let this one rest right here! Thornton, I say it here to your face, where all the boys can hear me: the people want a change in this State. I am not going behind a door to talk with you—that’s been done too much! I stand in the open and say it! Open fighting after this—that’s my code. I fight for the people. The people shall be put wise and kept wise to all that’s going on.”
“It’s a good plan,” counselled the Duke, unperturbed. “I see I can’t tell you anything about advertising.” He tapped a badge on the breast of a man near him.