Mr. Crewe's Career


A man with a sense of humour once went to the capital as a member of the five hundred from his town, and he never went back again. One reason for this was that he died the following year, literally, the doctors said, from laughing too much. I know that this statement will be received incredulously, and disputed by those who claim that laughter is a good thing; the honourable gentleman died from too much of a good thing. He was overpowered by having too much to laugh at, and the undiscerning thought him a fool, and the Empire had no need of a court jester. But many of his sayings have lived, nevertheless. He wrote a poem, said to be a plagiarism, which contains the quotation at the beginning of this chapter: "For bills may come, and bills may go, but I go on forever." The first person singular is supposed to relate to the United Northeastern Railroads. It was a poor joke at best.

It is needless to say that the gentleman referred to had a back seat among the submerged four hundred and seventy,—and that he kept it. No discerning and powerful well-wishers came forward and said to him, "Friend, go up higher." He sat, doubled up, in number, and the gods gave him compensation in laughter; he disturbed the Solons around him, who were interested in what was going on in front, and trying to do their duty to their constituents by learning parliamentary procedure before the Speaker got his gold watch and shed tears over it.

The gentleman who laughed and died is forgotten, as he deserves to be, and it never occurred to anybody that he might have been a philosopher, after all. There is something irresistibly funny about predestination; about men who are striving and learning and soberly voting upon measures with which they have as little to do as guinea-pigs. There were certain wise and cynical atheists who did not attend the sessions at all except when they received mysterious hints to do so. These were chiefly from Newcastle. And there were others who played poker in the state-house cellar waiting for the Word to come to them, when they went up and voted (prudently counting their chips before they did so), and descended again. The man with a sense of humour laughed at these, too, and at the twenty blackbirds in the Senate,—but not so heartily. He laughed at their gravity, for no gravity can equal that of gentlemen who play with stacked cards.

The risible gentleman laughed at the proposed legislation, about which he made the song, and he likened it to a stream that rises hopefully in the mountains, and takes its way singing at the prospect of reaching the ocean, but presently flows into a hole in the ground to fill the forgotten caverns of the earth, and is lost to the knowledge and sight of man. The caverns he labelled respectively Appropriations, Railroad, Judiciary, and their guardians were unmistakably the Honourables Messrs. Bascom, Botcher, and Ridout. The greatest cavern of all he called "The Senate."

If you listen, you can hear the music of the stream of bills as it is rising hopefully and flowing now: "Mr. Crewe of Leith gives notice that on to-morrow or some subsequent day he will introduce a bill entitled, 'An act for the Improvement of the State Highways.' Mr. Crewe of Leith gives notice, etc. 'An act for the Improvement of the Practice of Agriculture.' 'An act relating to the State Indebtedness.' 'An act to increase the State Forest Area.' 'An act to incorporate the State Economic League.' 'An act to incorporate the State Children's Charities Association.' 'An act in relation to Abandoned Farms.'" These were some of the most important, and they were duly introduced on the morrow, and gravely referred by the Speaker to various committees. As might be expected, a man whose watchword is, "thorough" immediately got a list of those committees, and lost no time in hunting up the chairmen and the various available members thereof.

As a man of spirit, also, Mr. Crewe wrote to Mr. Flint, protesting as to the manner in which he had been treated concerning committees. In the course of a week he received a kind but necessarily brief letter from the Northeastern's president to remind him that he persisted in a fallacy; as a neighbour, Mr. Flint would help him to the extent of his power, but the Northeastern Railroads could not interfere in legislative or political matters. Mr. Crewe was naturally pained by the lack of confidence of his friend; it seems useless to reiterate that he was far from being a fool, and no man could be in the capital a day during the session without being told of the existence of Number Seven, no matter how little the informant might know of what might be going on there. Mr. Crewe had been fortunate enough to see the inside of that mysterious room, and, being a sufficiently clever man to realize the importance and necessity of government by corporations, had been shocked at nothing he had seen or heard. However, had he had a glimpse of the Speaker's lists under the hopelessly crushed hat of Mr. Bascom, perhaps he might have been shocked, after all.

It was about this time that a touching friendship began which ought, in justice, to be briefly chronicled. It was impossible for the Honourable Brush Bascom and the Honourable Jacob Botcher to have Mr. Crewe sitting between them and not conceive a strong affection for him. The Honourable Brush, though not given to expressing his feelings, betrayed some surprise at the volumes Mr. Crewe had contributed to the stream of bills; and Mr. Botcher, in a Delphic whisper, invited Mr. Crewe to visit him in room forty-eight of the Pelican that evening. To tell the truth, Mr. Crewe returned the feeling of his companions warmly, and he had even entertained the idea of asking them both to dine with him that evening.

Number forty-eight (the Honourable Jake's) was a free-and-easy democratic resort. No three knocks and a password before you turn the key here. Almost before your knuckles hit the panel you heard Mr. Botcher's hearty voice shouting "Come in," in spite of the closed transom. The Honourable Jake, being a tee-totaller, had no bathroom, and none but his intimate friends ever looked in the third from the top bureau drawer.

The proprietor of the Pelican, who in common with the rest of humanity had fallen a victim to the rough and honest charms and hearty good fellowship of the Honourable Jake, always placed a large padded arm-chair in number forty-eight before the sessions, knowing that the Honourable Jake's constituency would be uniformly kind to him. There Mr. Botcher was wont to sit (when he was not depressing one of the tiles in the rotunda), surrounded by his friends and their tobacco smoke, discussing in his frank and manly fashion the public questions of the day.

Mr. Crewe thought it a little strange that, whenever he entered a room in the Pelican, a silence should succeed the buzz of talk which he had heard through the closed transom; but he very naturally attributed this to the constraint which ordinary men would be likely to feel in his presence. In the mouth of one presumptuous member the word "railroad" was cut in two by an agate glance from the Honourable Brush, and Mr. Crewe noted with some surprise that the Democratic leader of the House, Mr. Painter, was seated on Mr. Botcher's mattress, with an expression that was in singular contrast to the look of bold defiance which he had swept over the House that afternoon in announcing his opposition policy. The vulgar political suggestion might have crept into a more trivial mind than Mr. Crewe's that Mr. Painter was being, "put to bed," the bed being very similar to that of Procrustes. Mr. Botcher extracted himself from the nooks and crannies of his armchair.

"How are you, Crewe?" he said hospitably; "we're all friends here—eh, Painter? We don't carry our quarrels outside the swinging doors. You know Mr. Crewe—by sight, of course. Do you know these other gentlemen, Crewe? I didn't expect you so early."

The "other gentlemen" said that they were happy to make the acquaintance of their fellow-member from Leith, and seemingly with one consent began to edge towards the door.

"Don't go, boys," Mr. Bascom protested. "Let me finish that story."

Some of "the boys" seemed to regard this statement as humorous,—more humorous, indeed, than the story itself. And when it was finished they took their departure, a trifle awkwardly, led by Mr. Painter.

"They're a little mite bashful," said Mr. Botcher, apologetically.

"How many more of those bills have you got?" demanded Mr. Bascom, from the steam radiator, with characteristic directness.

"I put 'em all in this morning," said Mr. Crewe, "but I have thought since of two or three other conditions which might be benefited by legislation."

"Well," said Mr. Bascom, kindly, "if you have any more I was going to suggest that you distribute 'em round among the boys. That's the way I do, and most folks don't guess they're your bills. See?"

"What harm is there in that?" demanded Mr. Crewe. "I'm not ashamed of 'em."

"Brush was only lookin' at it from the point of view of gettin' 'em through," honest Mr. Botcher put in, in stentorian tones. "It doesn't do for a new member to be thought a hog about legislation."

Now the Honourable Jacob only meant this in the kindest manner, as we know, and to give inexperience a hint from well-intentioned experience. On the other hand, Mr. Crewe had a dignity and a position to uphold. He was a personality. People who went too far with him were apt to be rebuked by a certain glassy quality in his eye, and this now caused the Honourable Jake to draw back perceptibly.

"I see no reason why a public-spirited man should be open to such an imputation," said Mr. Crewe.

"Certainly not, certainly not," said Mr. Botcher, in stentorian tones of apology, "I was only trying to give you a little friendly advice, but I may have put it too strong. Brush and I—I may as well be plain about it, Mr. Crewe—have taken a liking to you. Couldn't help it, sir, sitting next to you as we do. We take an interest in your career, and we don't want you to make any mistakes. Ain't that about it, Brush?"

"That's about it," said Mr. Bascom.

Mr. Crewe was to big a man not to perceive and appreciate the sterling philanthropy which lay beneath the exteriors of his new friends, who scorned to flatter him.

"I understand the spirit in which your advice is given, gentlemen," he replied magnanimously, "and I appreciate it. We are all working for the same things, and we all believe that they must be brought about in the same practical way. For instance, we know as practical men that the railroad pays a large tax in this State, and that property must take a hand—a very considerable hand—in legislation. You gentlemen, as important factors in the Republican organization, are loyal to—er—that property, and perhaps for wholly desirable reasons cannot bring forward too many bills under your own names. Whereas I—"

At this point in Mr. Crewe's remarks the Honourable Jacob Botcher was seized by an appalling coughing fit which threatened to break his arm-chair, probably owing to the fact that he had swallowed something which he had in his mouth the wrong way. Mr. Bascom, assisted by Mr. Crewe, pounded him relentlessly on the back.

"I read that article in the 'Tribune' about you with great interest," said Mr. Bascom, when Mr. Botcher's coughing had subsided. "I had no idea you were so—ahem—well equipped for a political career. But what we wanted to speak to you about was this," he continued, as Mr. Crewe showed signs of breaking in, "those committee appointments you desired."

"Yes," said Mr. Crewe, with some pardonable heat, "the Speaker doesn't seem to know which side his bread's buttered on."

"What I was going to say," proceeded Mr. Bascom, "was that General Doby is a pretty good fellow. Personally, I happen to know that the general feels very badly that he couldn't give you what you wanted. He took a shine to you that night you saw him."

"Yes," Mr. Botcher agreed, for he had quite recovered, "the general felt bad—feels bad, I should say. He perceived that you were a man of ability, sir—"

"And that was just the reason," said the Honourable Brush, "that he couldn't make you more useful just now."

"There's a good deal of jealousy, my dear sir, against young members of ability," said Mr. Botcher, in his most oracular and impressive tones. "The competition amongst those—er—who have served the party is very keen for the positions you desired. I personally happen to know that the general had you on the Judiciary and Appropriations, and that some of your—er—well-wishers persuaded him to take you off for your own good."

"It wouldn't do for the party leaders to make you too prominent all at once," said Mr. Bascom. "You are bound to take an active part in what passes here. The general said, 'At all events I will give Mr. Crewe one chairmanship by which he can make a name for himself suited to his talents,' and he insisted on giving you, in spite of some remonstrances from your friends, National Affairs. The general urged, rightly, that with your broad view and knowledge of national policy, it was his duty to put you in that place whatever people might say."

Mr. Crewe listened to these explanations in some surprise; and being a rational man, had to confess that they were—more or less reasonable.

"Scarcely any bills come before that committee," he objected.

"Ah," replied Mr. Bascom, "that is true. But the chairman of that committee is generally supposed to be in line for—er—national honours. It has not always happened in the past, because the men have not proved worthy. But the opportunity is always given to that chairman to make a speech upon national affairs which is listened to with the deepest interest.

"Is that so?" said Mr. Crewe. He wanted to be of service, as we know. He was a man of ideas, and the opening sentences of the speech were already occurring to him.

"Let's go upstairs and see the general now," suggested Mr. Botcher, smiling that such a happy thought should have occurred to him.

"Why, I guess we couldn't do any better," Mr. Bascom agreed.

"Well," said Mr. Crewe, "I'm willing to hear what he's got to say, anyway."

Taking advantage of this generous concession, Mr. Botcher hastily locked the door, and led the way up the stairway to number seventy-five. After a knock or two here, the door opened a crack, disclosing, instead of General Doby's cherubic countenance, a sallow face with an exceedingly pointed nose. The owner of these features, having only Mr. Botcher in his line of vision, made what was perhaps an unguarded remark.

"Hello, Jake, the general's in number nine—Manning sent for him about half an hour ago."

It was Mr. Botcher himself who almost closed the door on the gentleman's sharp nose, and took Mr. Crewe's arm confidingly.

"We'll go up to the desk and see Doby in the morning,—he's busy," said the Honourable Jake.

"What's the matter with seeing him now?" Mr. Crewe demanded. "I know Manning. He's the division superintendent, isn't he?"

Mr. Botcher and Mr. Bascom exchanged glances.

"Why, yes—" said Mr. Bascom, "yes, he is. He's a great friend of General Doby's, and their wives are great friends."

"Intimate friends, sir," said the Honourable Jake

"Well," said Mr. Crewe, "we won't bother 'em but a moment."

It was he who led the way now, briskly, the Honourable Brush and the Honourable Jake pressing closely after him. It was Mr. Crewe who, without pausing to knock, pushed open the door of number nine, which was not quite closed; and it was Mr. Crewe who made the important discovery that the lugubrious division superintendent had a sense of humour. Mr. Manning was seated at a marble-topped table writing on a salmon-coloured card, in the act of pronouncing these words:—"For Mr. Speaker and Mrs. Speaker and all the little Speakers, to New York and return."

Mr. Speaker Doby, standing before the marble-topped table with his hands in his pockets, heard the noise behind him and turned, and a mournful expression spread over his countenance.

"Don't mind me," said Mr. Crewe, waving a hand in the direction of the salmon-coloured tickets; "I hope you have a good time, General. When do you go?"

"Why," exclaimed the Speaker, "how are you, Mr. Crewe, how are you? It's only one of Manning's little jokes."

"That's all right, General," said Mr. Crewe, "I haven't been a director in railroads for nothing. I'm not as green as he thinks. Am I, Mr. Manning?"

"It never struck me that green was your colour, Mr. Crewe," answered the division superintendent, smiling a little as he tore the tickets into bits and put them in the waste-basket.

"Well," said Mr. Crewe, "you needn't have torn 'em up on my account. I travel on the pass which the Northeastern gives me as a legislator, and I'm thinking seriously of getting Mr. Flint to send me an annual, now that I'm in politics and have to cover the State."

"We thought you were a reformer, Mr. Crewe," the Honourable Brush Bascom remarked.

"I am a practical man," said Mr. Crewe; "a railroad man, a business mark and as such I try to see things as they are."

"Well," said General Doby, who by this time had regained his usual genial air of composure, "I'm glad you said that, Mr. Crewe. As these gentlemen will tell you, if I'd had my wish I'd have had you on every important committee in the House."

"Chairman of every important committee, General," corrected the Honourable Jacob Botcher.

"Yes, chairman of 'em," assented the general, after a glance at Mr. Crewe's countenance to see how this statement fared. "But the fact is, the boys are all jealous of you—on the quiet. I suppose you suspected something of the kind."

"I should have imagined there might be some little feeling," Mr. Crewe assented modestly.

"Exactly," cried the general, "and I had to combat that feeling when I insisted upon putting you at the head of National Affairs. It does not do for a new member, whatever his prominence in the financial world, to be pushed forward too quickly. And unless I am mighty mistaken, Mr. Crewe," he added, with his hand on the new member's shoulder, "you will make yourself felt without any boosting from me."

"I did not come here to remain idle, General," answered Mr. Crewe, considerably mollified.

"Certainly not," said the general, "and I say to some of those men, 'Keep your eye on the gentleman who is Chairman of National Affairs.'"

After a little more of this desultory and pleasant talk, during which recourse was, had to the bathroom for several tall and thin glasses ranged on the shelf there, Mr. Crewe took his departure in a most equable frame of mind. And when the door was closed and locked behind him, Mr. Manning dipped his pen in the ink, once more produced from a drawer in the table the salmon-coloured tickets, and glanced again at the general with a smile.

"For Mr. Speaker and Mrs. Speaker and all the little Speakers, to New York and return."

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