Mr. Crewe's Career
THE HONOURABLE HILARY VANE SITS FOR HIS PORTRAIT
I may as well begin this story with Mr. Hilary Vane, more frequently
addressed as the Honourable Hilary Vane, although it was the gentleman's proud
boast that he had never held an office in his life. He belonged to the Vanes of
Camden Street,—a beautiful village in the hills near Ripton,—and was, in common
with some other great men who had made a noise in New York and the nation, a
graduate of Camden Wentworth Academy. But Mr. Vane, when he was at home, lived
on a wide, maple-shaded street in the city of Ripton, cared for by an elderly
housekeeper who had more edges than a new-fangled mowing machine. The house was
a porticoed one which had belonged to the Austens for a hundred years or more,
for Hilary Vane had married, towards middle age, Miss Sarah Austen. In two years
he was a widower, and he never tried it again; he had the Austens' house, and
that many-edged woman, Euphrasia Cotton, the Austens' housekeeper.
The house was of wood, and was painted white as regularly as leap year. From
the street front to the vegetable garden in the extreme rear it was exceedingly
long, and perhaps for propriety's sake—Hilary Vane lived at one end of it and
Euphrasia at the other. Hilary was sixty-five, Euphrasia seventy, which is not
old for frugal people, though it is just as well to add that there had never
been a breath of scandal about either of them, in Ripton or elsewhere. For the
Honourable Hilary's modest needs one room sufficed, and the front parlour had
not been used since poor Sarah Austen's demise, thirty years before this story
In those thirty years, by a sane and steady growth, Hilary Vane had achieved
his present eminent position in the State. He was trustee for I know not how
many people and institutions, a deacon in the first church, a lawyer of such
ability that he sometimes was accorded the courtesy-title of "Judge." His only
vice—if it could be called such—was in occasionally placing a piece, the size of
a pea, of a particular kind of plug tobacco under his tongue,—and this was not
known to many people. Euphrasia could not be called a wasteful person, and
Hilary had accumulated no small portion of this world's goods, and placed them
as propriety demanded, where they were not visible to the naked eye: and be it
added in his favour that he gave as secretly, to institutions and hospitals the
finances and methods of which were known to him.
As concrete evidence of the Honourable Hilary Vane's importance, when he
travelled he had only to withdraw from his hip-pocket a book in which many
coloured cards were neatly inserted, an open-sesame which permitted him to sit
without payment even in those wheeled palaces of luxury known as Pullman cars.
Within the limits of the State he did not even have to open the book, but merely
say, with a twinkle of his eyes to the conductor, "Good morning, John," and John
would reply with a bow and a genial and usually witty remark, and point him out
to a nobody who sat in the back of the car. So far had Mr. Hilary Vane's talents
The beginning of this eminence dated back to the days before the Empire, when
there were many little principalities of railroads fighting among themselves.
For we are come to a changed America. There was a time, in the days of the sixth
Edward of England, when the great landowners found it more profitable to
consolidate the farms, seize the common lands, and acquire riches hitherto
undreamed of. Hence the rising of tailor Ket and others, and the leveling of
fences and barriers, and the eating of many sheep. It may have been that Mr.
Vane had come across this passage in English history, but he drew no parallels.
His first position of trust had been as counsel for that principality known in
the old days as the Central Railroad, of which a certain Mr. Duncan had been
president, and Hilary Vane had fought the Central's battles with such telling
effect that when it was merged into the one Imperial Railroad, its
stockholders—to the admiration of financiers—were guaranteed ten per cent. It
was, indeed, rumoured that Hilary drew the Act of Consolidation itself. At any
rate, he was too valuable an opponent to neglect, and after a certain interval
of time Mr. Vane became chief counsel in the State for the Imperial Railroad, on
which dizzy height we now behold him. And he found, by degrees, that he had no
longer time for private practice.
It is perhaps gratuitous to add that the Honourable Hilary Vane was a man of
convictions. In politics he would have told you—with some vehemence, if you
seemed to doubt—that he was a Republican. Treason to party he regarded with a
deep-seated abhorrence, as an act for which a man should be justly outlawed. If
he were in a mellow mood, with the right quantity of Honey Dew tobacco under his
tongue, he would perhaps tell you why he was a Republican, if he thought you
worthy of his confidence. He believed in the gold standard, for one thing; in
the tariff (left unimpaired in its glory) for another, and with a wave of his
hand would indicate the prosperity of the nation which surrounded him,—a
prosperity too sacred to tamper with.
One article of his belief, and in reality the chief article, Mr. Vane would
not mention to you. It was perhaps because he had never formulated the article
for himself. It might be called a faith in the divine right of Imperial
Railroads to rule, but it was left out of the verbal creed. This is far from
implying hypocrisy to Mr. Vane. It was his foundation-rock and too sacred for
light conversation. When he allowed himself to be bitter against various "young
men with missions" who had sprung up in various States of the Union, so-called
purifiers of politics, he would call them the unsuccessful with a grievance, and
recommend to them the practice of charity, forbearance, and other Christian
virtues. Thank God, his State was not troubled with such.
In person Mr. Hilary Vane was tall, with a slight stoop to his shoulders, and
he wore the conventional double-breasted black coat, which reached to his knees,
and square-toed congress boots. He had a Puritan beard, the hawk-like Vane nose,
and a twinkling eye that spoke of a sense of humour and a knowledge of the
world. In short, he was no man's fool, and on occasions had been more than a
match for certain New York lawyers with national reputations.
It is rare, in this world of trouble, that such an apparently ideal and happy
state of existence is without a canker. And I have left the revelation of the
canker to the last. Ripton knew it was there, Camden Street knew it, and Mr.
Vane's acquaintances throughout the State; but nobody ever spoke of it.
Euphrasia shed over it the only tears she had known since Sarah Austen died, and
some of these blotted the only letters she wrote. Hilary Vane did not shed
tears, but his friends suspected that his heart-strings were torn, and pitied
him. Hilary Vane fiercely resented pity, and that was why they did not speak of
it. This trouble of his was the common point on which he and Euphrasia touched,
and they touched only to quarrel. Let us out with it—Hilary Vane had a wild son,
whose name was Austen.
Euphrasia knew that in his secret soul Mr. Vane attributed this wildness, and
what he was pleased to designate as profligacy, to the Austen blood. And
Euphrasia resented it bitterly. Sarah Austen had been a young, elfish thing when
he married her,—a dryad, the elderly and learned Mrs. Tredway had called her. Mr
Vane had understood her about as well as he would have understood Mary, Queen of
Scots, if he had been married to that lady. Sarah Austen had a wild, shy beauty,
startled, alert eyes like an animal, and rebellious black hair that curled about
her ears and gave her a faun-like appearance. With a pipe and the costume of
Rosalind she would have been perfect. She had had a habit of running off for the
day into the hills with her son, and the conventions of Ripton had been to her
as so many defunct blue laws. During her brief married life there had been
periods of defiance from her lasting a week, when she would not speak to Hilary
or look at him, and these periods would be followed by violent spells of weeping
in Euphrasia's arms, when the house was no place for Hilary. He possessed by
matrimony and intricate mechanism of which his really admirable brain could not
grasp the first principles; he felt for her a real if uncomfortable affection,
but when she died he heaved a sigh of relief, at which he was immediately
Austen he understood little better, but his affection for the child may be
likened to the force of a great river rushing through a narrow gorge, and he
vied with Euphrasia in spoiling him. Neither knew what they were doing, and the
spoiling process was interspersed with occasional and (to Austen) unmeaning
intervals of severe discipline. The boy loved the streets and the woods and his
fellow-beings; his punishments were a series of afternoons in the house, during
one of which he wrecked the bedroom where he was confined, and was soundly
whaled with an old slipper that broke under the process. Euphrasia kept the
slipper, and once showed it to Hilary during a quarrel they had when the boy was
grown up and gone and the house was silent, and Hilary had turned away, choking,
and left the room. Such was his cross.
To make it worse, the boy had love his father. Nay, still loved him. As a
little fellow, after a scolding for some wayward prank, he would throw himself
into Hilary's arms and cling to him, and would never know how near he came to
unmanning him. As Austen grew up, they saw the world in different colours: blue
to Hilary was red to Austen, and white, black; essentials to one were
non-essentials to the other; boys and girls, men and women, abhorred by one were
boon companions to the other.
Austen made fun of the minister, and was compelled to go church twice on
Sundays and to prayer-meeting on Wednesdays. Then he went to Camden Street, to
live with his grandparents in the old Vane house and attend Camden Wentworth
Academy. His letters, such as they were, were inimitable if crude, but contained
not the kind of humour Hilary Vane knew. Camden Wentworth, principal and
teachers, was painted to the life; and the lad could hardly wait for vacation
time to see his father, only to begin quarreling with him again.
I pass over escapades in Ripton that shocked one half of the population and
convulsed the other half. Austen went to the college which his father had
attended,—a college of splendid American traditions,—and his career there might
well have puzzled a father of far greater tolerance and catholicity. Hilary Vane
was a trustee, and journeyed more than once to talk the matter over with the
president, who had been his classmate there.
"I love that boy, Hilary," the president had said at length, when pressed for
a frank opinion,—"there isn't a soul in the place, I believe, that
doesn't,—undergraduates and faculty,—but he has given me more anxious thought
than any scholar I have ever had."
"Trouble," corrected Mr. Vane, sententiously.
"Well, yes, trouble," answered the president, smiling, "but upon my soul, I
think it is all animal spirits."
"A euphemism for the devil," said Hilary, grimly; "he is the animal part of
us, I have been brought up to believe."
The president was a wise man, and took another tack.
"He has a really remarkable mind, when he chooses to use it. Every once in a
while he takes your breath away—but he has to become interested. A few weeks ago
Hays came to me direct from his lecture room to tell me about a discussion of
Austen's in constitutional law. Hays, you know, is not easily enthused, but he
declares your son has as fine a legal brain as he has come across in his
experience. But since then, I am bound to admit," added the president, sadly,
"Austen seems not to have looked at a lesson."
"'Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel,'" replied Hilary.
"He'll sober down," said the president, stretching his conviction a little,
"he has two great handicaps: he learns too easily, and he is too popular." The
president looked out of his study window across the common, surrounded by the
great elms which had been planted when Indian lads played among the stumps and
the red flag of England had flown from the tall pine staff. The green was
covered now with students of a conquering race, skylarking to and fro as they
looked on at a desultory baseball game. "I verily believe," said the president,
"at a word from your son, most of them would put on their coats and follow him
on any mad expedition that came into his mind."
Hilary Vane groaned more than once in the train back to Ripton. It meant
nothing to him to be the father of the most popular man in college.
"The mad expedition" came at length in the shape of a fight with the
townspeople, in which Austen, of course, was the ringleader. If he had inherited
his mother's eccentricities, he had height and physique from the Vanes, and one
result was a week in bed for the son of the local plumber and a damage suit
against the Honourable Hilary. Another result was that Austen and a Tom Gaylord
came back to Ripton on a long suspension, which, rumour said, would have been
expulsion if Hilary were not a trustee. Tom Gaylord was proud of suspension in
such company. More of him later. He was the son of old Tom Gaylord, who owned
more lumber than any man in the State, and whom Hilary Vane believed to be the
receptacle of all the vices.
Eventually Austen went back and graduated—not summa cum laude, honesty
compels me to add. Then came the inevitable discussion, and to please his father
he went to the Harvard Law School for two years. At the end of that time,
instead of returning to Ripton, a letter had come from him with the postmark of
a Western State, where he had fled with a classmate who owned ranch. Evidently
the worldly consideration to be derived from conformity counted little with
Austen Vane. Money was a medium only—not an end. He was in the saddle all day,
with nothing but the horizon to limit him; he loved his father, and did not
doubt his father's love for him, and he loved Euphrasia. He could support
himself, but he must see life. The succeeding years brought letters and quaint,
useless presents to both the occupants of the lonely house,—Navajo blankets and
Indian jeweler and basket-work,—and Austen little knew how carefully these were
packed away and surreptitiously gazed at from time to time. But to Hilary the
Western career was a disgrace, and such meagre reports of it as came from other
sources than Austen tended only to confirm him in this opinion.
It was commonly said of Mr. Paul Pardriff that not a newspaper fell from the
press that he did not have a knowledge of its contents. Certain it was that Mr.
Pardriff made a specialty of many kinds of knowledge, political and otherwise,
and, the information he could give—if he chose—about State and national affairs
was of a recondite and cynical nature that made one wish to forget about the
American flag. Mr. Pardriff was under forty, and with these gifts many innocent
citizens of Ripton naturally wondered why the columns of his newspaper, the
Ripton Record, did not more closely resemble the spiciness of his talk in the
office of Gales' Hotel. The columns contained, instead, such efforts as essays
on a national flower and the abnormal size of the hats of certain great men,
notably Andrew Jackson; yes, and the gold standard; and in times of political
stress they were devoted to a somewhat fulsome praise of regular and orthodox
Republican candidates,—and praise of any one was not in character with the
editor. Ill-natured people said that the matter in his paper might possibly be
accounted for by the gratitude of the candidates, and the fact that Mr. Pardriff
and his wife and his maid-servant and his hired man travelled on pink mileage
books, which could only be had for love—not money. On the other hand, reputable
witnesses had had it often from Mr. Pardriff that he was a reformer, and not at
all in sympathy with certain practices which undoubtedly existed.
Some years before—to be exact, the year Austen Vane left the law school—Mr.
Pardriff had proposed to exchange the Ripton Record with the editor of the
Pepper County Plainsman in afar Western State. The exchange was effected, and
Mr. Pardriff glanced over the Plainsman regularly once a week, though I doubt
whether the Western editor ever read the Record after the first copy. One day in
June Mr. Pardriff was seated in his sanctum above Merrill's drug store when his
keen green eyes fell upon the following:—"The Plainsman considers it safe to say
that the sympathy of the people of Pepper County at large is with Mr. Austen
Vane, whose personal difficulty with Jim Blodgett resulted so disastrously for
Mr. Blodgett. The latter gentleman has long made himself obnoxious to local
ranch owners by his persistent disregard of property lines and property, and it
will be recalled that he is at present in hot water with the energetic Secretary
of the Interior for fencing government lands. Vane, who was recently made
manager of Ready Money Ranch, is one of the most popular young men in the
county. He was unwillingly assisted over the State line by his friends. Although
he has never been a citizen of the State, the Plainsman trusts that he may soon
be back and become one of us. At last report Mr. Blodgett was resting easily."
This article obtained circulation in Ripton, although it was not copied into
the Record out of deference to the feelings of the Honourable Hilary Vane. In
addition to the personal regard Mr. Pardriff professed to have for the
Honourable Hilary, it maybe well to remember that Austen's father was, among
other, things, chairman of the State Committee. Mr. Tredway (largest railroad
stockholder in Ripton) pursed his lips that were already pursed. Tom Gaylord
roared with laughter. Two or three days later the Honourable Hilary, still in
blissful ignorance, received a letter that agitated him sorely.
"DEAR FATHER: I hope you don't object to receiving a little visit from a
prodigal, wayward son. To tell the truth, I have found it convenient to leave
the Ready Money Ranch for a while, although Bob Tyner is good enough to say I
may have the place when I come back. You know I often think of you and Phrasie
back in Ripton, and I long to see the dear old town again. Expect me when you
"Your aff. son,