Niles was shouting without, and men were cheering his harangue.
“There used to be some sensible politics in this State,” went on the disgusted chairman. “But it’s got so now that a State committee is called on to consult a lot of cranks before drawing up the convention platform. Even a fellow in the legislature can’t do what he wants to for the boys; cranks howling at him from home all the time. Candidates pumped for ante-election pledges, petitions rammed in ahead of every roll-call, lobby committees from the farmers’ associations tramping around the State House in their cowhide boots, and a good government angel peeking in at every committee-room keyhole! Jeemsrollickins! Jim Blaine, himself, couldn’t play the game these days.”
If Thornton listened, he gave no sign. He had his elbows on the window-sill and was glowering on his constituents. They seemed determined to keep up the hateful serenade. It was hard for the old man to understand. But he did understand human nature—how dependence breeds resentment, how favors bestowed hatch sullen ingratitude, how jealousy turns and rends as soon as Democracy hisses, “At him!”
There was a dingy wall map beside him between the windows. A red line surrounded a section of it: two towns, a dozen plantations, and a score of unorganized townships—a thousand square miles of territory that composed his political barony. And on that section double red lines marked off half a million acres of timber-land, mountain, plain, and lake that Thelismer Thornton owned.
Chairman Presson, walking off his indignation, came and stood in front of the map.
“Between you and me, Thelismer, they’ve got quite a lot to grumble about, the farmers have. You wild-land fellows have grabbed a good deal, and you don’t pay much taxes on it. You ought to have loosened a little earlier.”
“You feel the cold water on your feet and you lay it to me rocking the boat, hey?” returned the Duke. “This is no time to begin to call names, Luke. But I want to tell you that where there’s one man in this State grumbling about wild-land taxes, there are a hundred up and howling against you and the rest of the gilt-edged hotel-keepers that are selling rum and running bars just as though there wasn’t any prohibitory law in our constitution.” He had turned from the window. “You’re looking at that map, eh? You think I’ve stolen land, do you? Look here! I came down that river out there on a raft—just married—my wife and a few poor little housekeeping traps on it. We never had a comfort till we got to the age where most folks die. I’ve had to live to be eighty-five to get a little something out of life. And she worked herself to death in spite of all I could say to stop her. Why, when the bill of sale fell due on the first pair of oxen I owned, she gave me the three hundred old-fashioned cents that she—don’t get me to talking, Presson! But, by the Jehovah, I’ve earned that land up there! Dollars don’t pay up a man and a woman for being pioneers. I’m not twitting you nor some of the rest of the men in this State in regard to how you got your money—but you know how you did get it!”