Henry John Wrixon.

Jacob Shumate; or, The people's march (Volume 1) online

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scenes, and knew as much of the make-believe of politics as
a call-boy at the theatre does of the tinsel of the stage.

As he grew up, so he also increased in intelligence and
breadth of view, and when he migrated to Excelsior he
might claim to be considered an intelligent, and even broad-
minded, specimen of the genus political manager, we will
not say wire-puller, as that term has acquired an objection-
able character that must not be imputed to Seeker Secretary.
But his ruling instinct, the main element in his composition,
as Nature had mixed it, was for manipulating men and
plotting out affairs, so as to carry his point, and especially so


as to circumvent the opponents or somebody else. He
liked to gain his point, but particularly to gain it by a little
management. It was not so agreeable to him if he got it by
open direct action. Much as he was interested in politics, he
preferred taking this interest from outside. His own private
opinion was that he would become dependent if he went
inside, with more of the name but none of the reality of power.
He would have to obey others, and be all complaisance to
them, instead of this being the case with others in regard to
him. It was thus not his ambition, at present at least, to
be a legislator himself, but only to control those who were
legislators. He used to observe that the greatest generals
had, themselves unseen, sometimes directed their battles
from behind a tree.

Personally Seeker Secretary was what might be termed
a respectable man. No evil thing could be fairly laid to his
charge ; and his dress and carriage was that of a reputable
citizen. But he had an instinctive bias against what he used
to term, with but an imperfect pronunciation of the word,
the bourgeois sort of people, and a natural leaning to the
views of the restless and unsuccessful ranks of the social
State. The mere fact that any proposal or idea startled the
bourgeois and made them open their eyes, rather recom-
mended it to Seeker Secretary. That it upset their staid ideas,
and particularly that it trenched on their supposed rights and
easements, was all in its favour with him. On the other
hand, outre proposals or shady transactions were tolerantly
regarded by him so long as they came from or compromised
those whom no one could accuse of belonging to the ' respect-
able ' people. He would not commit himself to the proposal,
nor directly defend the transaction ; but he would speak of
them with a reserve and tolerance such as a man displays in
public, with regard to mishaps in the family. All this was
only so much homage paid to what he considered the stronger
power in politics the safe side for a man to attach himself
to. It was part of his principles to regard with a jealous
eye government, subordination, discipline, repression, and the
principle of authority, whether as applied to men's ideas,
their language, or their actions. There was one cardinal
exception, however, to this tendency of his, and that was in


regard to the rule and guidance of the State Workers'
Association in all its many branches. There his tone was
quite the other way. There his chief article of faith was to
secure exact organisation and perfect obedience to the com-
mands of the central Executive. An open enemy he did not
mind, nay, might respect. But the man who would dare to
raise dissent with headquarters, in the ranks of the State
workers, he regarded as Fritz the Unique would have con-
templated one of his corporals if he threatened to mutiny ;
or John Jervis, Earl of St. Vincent, would have looked upon
one of his bo'suns if he had stepped upon the quarter-deck
and proposed that the fleet should have a spell home, instead
of prolonging the blockade of Cadiz. For your political boss,
though he cannot hang or flog men, is just as intolerant of
contradiction as was ever John Jervis or Fritz the Unique.

Seeker was at first employed in the office of the State
Workers' Association as one of the typewriters ; but he soon
attracted the notice of members of the Executive by the
shrewd and bold suggestions which he would deferentially
suggest to them in regard to the questions raised by the
correspondence ; and before long he was made chief clerk,
and in due time was chosen unanimously for the position of
General Secretary, which meant, particularly with such a man
as Seeker, manager and engineer of the whole Association.
In addition to undeniable ability, Seeker Secretary possessed
that quality invaluable for success in practical politics, of
perfect confidence in himself. The great military genius of
our time, Von Moltke, after the skilful campaign by which
he conquered Alsen and Jutland from the Danes, in writing
confidentially to his wife, expresses doubt, referring to pro-
posed military arrangements, whether he was competent to
take the chief command of a corps, as he ' had not sufficient
talent for matters of detail.' Seeker Secretary would not, in
a similar case, have felt this diffidence. He thought highly
of his own powers, and the general deference of the public
tended to strengthen his estimate of himself.

When he and our politician had shaken hands, and he
had sat down, with his countenance in repose after the
momentary animation of the meeting, Frankfort saw before
him a short, rather squat, and certainly massively-built man,


with a broad face, firm mouth, and thick nose, pointing
skywards, with over the whole personality a plausible, self-
reliant, make -myself- at -home air. The large grey eyes
looked out at you and into you when the owner addressed
you, and apparently did so trustfully, and the more critical
the topic of speech, the more confidingly they turned upon
you. But if you returned straight back this trustful look,
when eyes met, a sort of mesmeric influence or magnetic
repulsion, or some other occult power, to be felt rather than
explained, made you conscious that you were met by a
survey quite different from the unsuspecting gaze of child-
hood. The reader will have gathered that Seeker Secretary
was not a man of refined appearance ; but not the less did
he earnestly seek to adopt a manner which, if it could not
be said to be truly refined, was at least an effort in that
direction. It is curious how persistently people, and sensible
people, will strive to be other than they are, and as Nature
has designed them. The ugly man will long to be thought
a tolerably well-looking fellow, and though he has a face like
a tomato, yet he will be proud of his small foot. The weak
man wishes to be regarded as a Bismarck for firmness, the
cleric apes the venial foibles of the man of the world, the
naval officer boasts of his successes in the hunting field,
the soldier, like Wolfe, the hero of Quebec, sighs at times
for the reputation of the poet ; and Norrie Seeker's ambition,
with all his plebeian sympathies, was to be taken for a gentle-
manly man.

' I trust I am not intruding upon your leisure, or, indeed,
I should say your busy moments, for I know what elections
are and the after-consequences of elections, too,' he ob-
served, as he sat down and looked straight at our politician,
to see what he was like near at hand. So far, he had only
seen him once or twice at a distance, at some University
Extension Lectures that Frankfort had given in Miranda.

' Not at all, Mr. Seeker,' replied our politician. ' The
obligation is on my side for your coming back from Great
Gorge to meet me.'

' Fact is, to be quite candid, I am glad to learn, Mr.
Professor Frankfort, all I can about the gentlemen who are
chosen to the great position of a seat in the Parliament of


the nation ; and then, to be sure, I also hope to induce those
honourable gentlemen to look down even from their high
estate and consider the wants and plaints of the workers
the State workers of the Province. And so, Professor, you
have come through with flying colours no mishap at all ? '

' Yes, I have been very successful. My agent tells me
that Mr. Hiram Brickwood, one of the leading local men in
your Association, and his friends supported me. I am sure
that I am very much indebted to them ; the more so as,
except one conversation with the local Secretary, there was
no asking for pledges or promises or undertakings of any

' Ah ! to be sure quite right. Fact is/ said the
Secretary confidentially to our politician ' fact is, Meeks
poor Meeks, if I may be excused for so terming one who
was a Member of Parliament poor Meeks being worked
out, we accepted you as a gentleman of honour and how
much there is in honour, Mr. Frankfort ! who would not
only be as good as his word, but better. And so you have
triumphed ! though I am far from saying by our votes
only. I understand that you were generally supported. I
trust that your experiences have been agreeable nothing
that a gentleman could complain of? '

And the Secretary turned and looked at our politician
in an interrogative manner, but with a trustful air. It was
his habit to make out all he could about every election, and
particularly about every, new actor as he stepped on the
political boards. And, in truth, he wanted to know how
Frankfort, the Professor, and what some considered the
lofty style of politician, got on in the contest with the
experienced though worn-out Meeks. 'Disappointing to
have the bottom knocked out of the Reservoir that way,' he

' Many were disappointed at that ; but after the failure
of the Loan, there was no more to be said about it. Yes, my
experiences have been agreeable no mishap, I may say.
The most absurd thing that happened was only yesterday.
It's so absurd and yet it's provoking too, though it is a
small affair.'

' No, truly ; you don't say so ? No encounter, I trust,


with Miss Gazelle, or old Schoolmaster Nickerson, who,
Brickwood tells me, is the odd man out in public affairs
here ? '

' Oh no ; quite an absurd thing it makes me laugh to
think of it. A nomination to the State Service and my very
first, too, as it so happens.'

' Well, well. I suppose the old story the square peg
in the round hole, I presume?'

' No ; more absurd than that. The man, or boy, in this
case had no claim to be in at all. Out at Glooscap there, just
as I was coming away, a young fellow was brought to me
to recommend him for letter-carrier. He seemed right
enough for a small place. Quiggle knew the friends. I
signed the nomination, and afterwards, when he went for
medical examination before Surgeon Dillon, it turned out
that he could neither read nor write. You can imagine how
vexed I was ; it was too absurd. I am writing to the
Postmaster-General about it by to-day's mail.'

' Now, truly ; you don't mean that ? It certainly is the
only nomination of the kind that I ever heard of. Some-
times they do complain of Members' nominations, to be

' Of course I assumed that, like all the other boys about,
he was fairly educated. It seems that he was only lately
come out from one of the wildest Irish counties.'

{ To be sure to be sure. It never occurred to you to
ask before signing ? ' remarked Seeker Secretary.

' No, I tell you, such a thing as his not being able to
read or write never crossed my mind. If it had '

' Oh, just so just so. It shows, does it not, what odd
things may happen to one quite casually, as it were ? Now,
they accuse us of all sorts of things in regard to the State
Service ; but they can't say that we have ever defended
having letter-carriers that could not read. No, Mr.
Frankfort, we are not quite so bad as that,' the Secretary
added, in a cheerful tone. He was pleased to hear of this
nomination. He assumed at once, and correctly, that the
boy's friends had voted for Frankfort, and, absurd as the
thing was in one aspect, it was capable, with some embel-
lishment, of a more serious application, especially as against


any one who would attempt to set up any very high standard
in such matters. The more that he knew about and against
every man on the political chess-board, the better pleased
was Seeker Secretary.

' Well, well, Professor, the mention of this little episode
of yours in the ranks of the State workers brings up at once
the subject of our interview. I was desirous of seeing you, in
order to lay before you our views, our claims just, I trust,
you will find them our grievances. You know our motto :
" Our Rights, not others' Wrongs." '

' And a very good motto too, Mr. Seeker. Is there any
particular topic connected with the Service that now demands
attention ? '

' Several, Professor several. There is the rank injustice
proposed in the Bill that the Government tried to pass last
session, to regulate, as it is termed, the State Service to
regulate us into slavery. Promotion was to be by what is
termed merit, diligent conduct, and not seniority. That
would mean that the men must curry favour with the
foreman in a workshop to get his good word to the shop
manager, and his again to the head of the branch, and so
on. Encouraging servility. The automatic system is plainly
the just one. No favouritism. Every man gets his oppor-
tunity ; and opportunity, you know, Professor, makes the
man. Then all right of appeal in workaday matters, from
the official chief to the Minister, whether in Post Office, Trams
and Rails, Police, Education, practically taken away. We
should have been the veritable serfs of half-a-dozen elderly
gentlemen of more or less density to the liberal and pro-
gressive ideas of our age. In the Trams and Rails the
difficulty is partly met already by the Advisatory Council,
which assists and rather controls the Director. We want
this system to work freely, and to work in all departments
as it does in the Trams and Rails. Then, of course, there
is our scheme of classification and wages, to ensure a living
wage to the men. I am sure that we can rely upon you to
help us. You would do injustice to no man.'

' Certainly not ; but as to the Bill, I have not read it yet,
and, before pledging myself, I would like to do so, and to
consider all that is involved.'


' All that is involved ? '

1 Yes. There is the question of revenue involved in the
classification. Possibly, too, it might be found inconvenient
to practically work some of the Departments under the
conditions you refer to.'

' But I trust you would not place convenience above
justice ? '

' By no means ; yet in all walks of life there is a possi-
bility of some injustice, and we cannot positively guard
against it.'

' Permit me there, Professor, to point out to you a
distinction, which, I am sure, your clear mind will see at
once, between Government employment and private em-
ployment. If John Brown wrongfully uses his servant, that
is a private matter. Public faith, public justice is not
involved. But if Government underpays or wrongfully
dismisses one of its servants, then public faith and public
justice are concerned. Should not, then, Parliament control
the scale of wages, and should there not be an appeal to the
Minister who is responsible for the just dealing of the
people ? '

' That involves,' observed Frankfort, ' the constant appeal
to Parliament. The whole thing becomes a political affair.
Can you carry on commercial undertakings upon such
terms ? '

' My dear Professor, why not ? I should hope that an
advanced politician like yourself does not hold that commer-
cial undertakings cannot be successfully worked unless they
are unjustly worked ? We are quite ready to trust Parliament
to control our wages. As the Honourable Mr. M'Grorty
happily expressed it in the debate last session, Parliament is
the High Court which regulates the work and wages of the
State workers, just as the Courts of Arbitration do for the
wage-earners outside. You cannot go higher than the High
Court of Parliament itself, can you ? We only ask for
justice. Our rights, not others' wrongs.'

' Still, if your object is that these public undertakings
should be successfully carried on, you have to consider what
the effect of this political action will be.'

' A slight fallacy, Professor, lurks, if I may say so, in


your use of the word " successfully." If you mean success-
fully in the shopkeeper's sense, then let me observe that that
is not the object of the State. The object of the State is to
carry on the public business upon conditions that are fair to
the workers as well as to the public. There are two parties
to be considered. The shopkeeper only thinks of one.'

' Most certainly full justice should be done to the
workers. The difficulty is in arranging, politically, what
is justice indeed, their arranging for themselves, for they
are such a dominating political power. Then, you see, the
outside workers, whom you don't protect, have to pay for

( Pardon me ; we do protect them too, to some extent.
Soon we hope to secure to all the proper wage and due
security from caprice on the part of employers. We must
begin somewhere. Charity begins at home, but it need not
end there.'

' A noble object, truly. I wish we could be sure that
Nature will provide this fair and easy life for every one. At
present, as you know, the Province loses heavily by its State
workers. Only a young country like ours could stand it.'

' And whose fault is that ? If I might say so without
disrespect, the fault of the Government. Are we to pay for
that ? You would not, I presume, from what I have learned
of you, propose to repudiate or lessen the interest on the
State Bonds because the works constructed do not pay the
interest. You would not, I imagine, say to the bond-
holders, " Here, take three per cent instead of five, because
our Trams and Rails don't pay." Yet that is what you say
to the poor labourer when you offer him six shillings a day
instead of eight. The State does not repudiate its debts to
the rich, but it does to the poor. Justice is all we seek.'

' But the farmer cannot get even six shillings a day for
his men. Who is to fix the right wage and who is to pay it
is still the difficulty.'

' If the people are fit to govern the State/ said Seeker,
looking confidently at Frankfort, and speaking in an assumed
apologetic tone ' if the people are fit to govern the State, I
should presume that they are competent to determine what
is the proper wage for, at least, the State to pay its workers.


As to who will pay the wages, why, the taxpayer the
people again,' the Secretary continued. ' In fact, the people
pay themselves. Taxation, Professor, can do much in a
young country, with boundless free soil, no army, no navy,
no costly regal establishments nothing, in fact, to do with
its wealth but to distribute it to the right people. You are
a friend to government by the people, are you not, Mr.
Frankfort ? '

' Certainly, Mr. Seeker the higher the wages that can be
fairly earned, the better for us all. I would like to provide
handsomely for all workers. The difficulty your statement
suggests still is that you propose to do for a few, who are a
political power, what you cannot do for all, and at the expense
of the rest. It would be different if the State employed
everybody, and had money from somewhere to pay everybody.'

' As to that we shall see we shall see. Meanwhile, I
am concerned for the State workers, who, as you truly say,
are a political power. We have arguments, and we have
arms too, I may say. Taken altogether, we number about
one-fourth of the workers of the Province. No feeble body,
Professor, when we act as one. For example to put an
extreme case, and one a little outside politics, certainly if
they were to drive us to desperation, and to the unhappy
resource of a general strike what then ? Trams and Rails,
Post Office, Police all paralysed. The Social State qould
not get on for a day without us. To be sure, I am only
speaking confidentially to a gentleman ; personally, I would
not countenance such a thing for a moment. No more than
I do turning out Members or Governments, unless in some
very extreme case indeed.'

' But, strong as you are, you are still only a minority of
the electors, Mr. Seeker. You are not surely so numerous as
to be able to turn out Governments at your pleasure.'

' Ah ! but bear in mind the power of a united vote,
going for its bread. An unjust cry against us may at times
rouse the public, but in the even tenor of political life the
general public are a mob to our organised force. Besides,
we carry the outside workers with us. It is all the cause of
labour. But what I have said, mark me, is confidential.
Don't misunderstand me. I deprecate all extreme courses.


I never sanction them in our private meetings. In fact, I
don't even favour putting out individual Representatives
unless they positively deny us justice. No, no, Professor !
" Our rights, not others' wrongs." '

' I am glad to know that, Mr. Seeker,' said our politician,
with a grave smile. ' Else you would be rather a formidable
menace to the political world and the Government of the

' True, I cannot deny it. Yet, surely, Professor, you don't
object to our defending ourselves ? The State gives us votes.
We are entitled, I presume, to vote together. Is it reason-
able to expect poor men not to use those votes to protect
the bread of their wives and children ? Are they to refrain
and let their families be pinched perhaps starved lest it
should cost that vague entity, the State, too much ? You are
a scholar, I understand, Mr. Frankfort, versed in history. I
ask you, have aristocracies ever spared their countries'
revenues in the like case ? '

' Certainly they have not. Yet the difficulty remains all
the same now for those whose duty it is to think for that
same vague entity that you mention. Your main points,
however, I gather, are automatic promotion, the right of
appeal to the political Minister, and the general control
of the scale of wages by the political power Parliament, in

' Quite correct, Professor : these are the main points, as
you say. When the men press lesser matters,' continued
the Secretary, speaking in a deprecating tone, 'such as the
limitation of the number of apprentices, absolute fixing of
hours in all cases, free passes for holidays, and so on, I
always say to them, " Put your shoulder to the big wheels,
and the little ones will go round of themselves." And that
reminds me, may I here present you, Professor, with a copy
of the Bill that Mr. Brereton, the Premier, brought in last
session, to classify the Service, together with a few criticisms
and proposals of mine marked in the margin ? I may at
the same time hand you a copy of our Bill, the one that we
circulated among Members. It, of course, contains all the
points that I have glanced at.'

1 Thank you,' said our politician, turning over the pages.


' I was not in politics then, but, as I remember, the Govern-
ment were unable to go on with this one.'

' How could they ? You will notice at a glance that we
could not consent to such a settlement. I tried all I could
to come to an agreement, but old Mr. Brereton, you see, is
rather a positive man, he is,' said the Secretary, ' and he, in
fact, wanted his Bill, and we wanted ours, so there we were.
Nothing could be done. We thought it better to put off the
whole thing till after the general election, when we could
have the aid of new minds and new men, like yourself,
Professor. And we were right, as the event proves. I
think I can now claim a majority of Members for our Bill,
and generally for the justice of our other claims. Mr.
Brereton used to be always giving us the old advice, " Better
take half a loaf than have no bread," but now we will take
the whole loaf.'

' I see that there is a difference between the two scales
of classification of about 250,000 a year. That is a large
sum for a population of not quite three millions.'

' That is hardly correct, Professor. The initial cost, the
difference between the two minima, has to be increased even
under the Honourable Mr. Brereton's plan, before the ulti-
mate cost, the difference between the two maxima, can be
weighed. The real difference is the difference between the
maxima. It goes over a term of years. I should say,'
continued the Secretary, having quickly marked some figures
on his gilt-edged pocket-book, 'that the real extra cost
would fall short of 200,000 a year ; and that, you observe,
Professor, represents the difference between content among

Online LibraryHenry John WrixonJacob Shumate; or, The people's march (Volume 1) → online text (page 23 of 45)