Henry John Wrixon.

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

. (page 36 of 45)
Online LibraryHenry John WrixonJacob Shumate; or, The people's march (Volume 1) → online text (page 36 of 45)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

thank Heaven ! not my conscience -keeper where is your
conscience ? I believe it is seared by long official injustice.
Don't we know that these Bungletap Waterworks are so
named, on the ancient principle Incus a non lucendo,


because there is no water in them. Look me in the face
now and say if these hapless and soiled miners from Bungle-
tap don't speak truly when they declare that the only tap in
the district is in its name. They ask for water and you
give them the stones of empty channels, and then, by the
superior powers, ye want to charge them for the stones.'

' But, sir,' Lavender would reply, ' you must really allow
me to point out that, though these works are partly a failure,
they were the design of the District Board, for which they
asked and got the Government money. The Government
only ask for their own.'

' Well, and aren't we a Liberal Government ? Any old
screw can ask for his own. Why, even Blanksby, your own
engineer, tells you that they don't get as much water as
would moisten the invisible leg of a flea.'

Perhaps it would be a question of taking security for
future payments and waiving present claims.

' My noble Secretary and coadjutor,' he would say, ' these
poor lack-alls of Tumble Derry offer to you to levy at
once a charge of one-sixth of a penny per thousand gallons
thirsty souls, they must have water and to put the rest
to a suspense account, sinking fund attached, irrevocable,
inexorable, inflexible yearly payments in futuro ; sealed
bond, wax and parchment to suit.'

Here a stern expression swept over the kind face of the
Minister as he looked down upon the Tumble Derry new
conditions that lay before him on the table, and contem-
plated the heroic undertakings to pay in the future into
the suspense account and sinking fund. Then he would
continue :

' It may not be much, but 'tis their all. Have you the
heart to refuse them ? '

In all phases of official dealing where money was con-
cerned there was the same liberal view of the difficulties that
so often attend the payment of debts, and Lavender had a
series of new experiences. Perhaps he would object to
making an advance for further works to some locality that
was not paying the interest on its present loan. To this
official parsimony the large -souled minister would make
answer :


' True for you, Lavender what you say is true. But
you do not hearken to the plea of these sunburnt sons of the
land of Obo. They plead here is their humble petition :
" The new works must be undertaken in order to make the
old ones useful, and so produce enough to pay the interest
upon the whole." Where is your rebutter plea in answer to
that ? Where even your plea in abatement ? These Oboites
say : " Now we can pay you nothing. Have patience (and
make a small further advance), and we will pay you all."
And yet you will not, but want to catch them by the throat,
saying, " Pay me that thou owest." No, no, Lavender,'
continued the statesman, varying his imagery, ' let us on
this occasion throw a sprat to catch a salmon. As we are
now we will get neither sprat nor salmon. We don't even
get a bite,' and he would look up through his glasses in a
helpless manner at the Secretary.

Upon one occasion Lavender rather lost patience, and
exclaimed, ' Well, really, sir, I must say that as matters are
going now we find all the districts come crying to the State
like so many babies the first pinch they get ! '

To which his imperturbable chief made answer, ' And,
my dear coadjutor, how can you find it in your heart to scold
them ? Are we not a maternal and paternal Government too ?
No, you deny the infant its first and most imprescriptible
right to turn confidingly to the mother's breast. Lavender,'
the Minister would continue, looking up through the spec-
tacles on his Secretary, who could not help smiling with all
his vexation ' Lavender, let us be sweet Lavender this time.
I am afraid that the official heart tends to become a hard
one. Too true the sentiment of the poet, a man may smile
and smile again, and yet have a hard heart.'

Things would have come to a serious pass were it not
that, when these generous arrangements came within the
purview of Sir Donald as Treasurer, they entered a medium
that was quite devoid of the sympathetic tone of the Water
Bureau. Though even he was more liberal than Mr.
Brereton, still his veto made many vague promises of the
Minister of none effect, and the optimistic proposals of Mr.
Slater Scully were subjected to a damaging scrutiny. But
the tenor of his joyous official career was not marred


thereby; and even the deputations continued to like coming
and being filled with fair promises and kindly hopes. So
Slater Scully continued to the end to be a most popular

As for Walter Crane, he fully realised the popularity of
his new chief, and endorsed the favourable public opinion
about him. He even felt a reflected lustre on himself as
he ushered in expected suppliants to the jovial presence,
and afterwards conducted them downstairs rejoicing. He
enjoyed all this, and really admired the Minister's generous
vays. At the same time, in the recesses of Grubb Lane, he
vould be slightly critical, and when his nephew asked him
\rhat the new boss was like, he replied :

' An", to tell ye the truth, he's a real fine gentleman ;
and he speaks so nice and tender-like, and cockers them all
up with promises. An' it's he who would pay everybody's
debts, if he could, and his own too, to be sure. But between
you and me and the bank, when it comes to getting the
cheque, I would rather have it signed by some one else.'

It may be well here briefly to trace out what happened
about the proposed reform of the Rangers. Sir Donald
found that his victory over Brereton and the agency by
which he had won it left two matters upon his hands that
he must deal with one the reorganisation of the Rangers,
the other the satisfaction of the demands of Seeker Secretary
for the workers. He was too clear-headed a man not to
know that the Rangers must be ' tackled before long,' as he
expressed it. Further troubles took place on the Border,
and the public began to say that something must be done.
When the public say this in earnest, public men are apt to
go and do it. That a thing is the right thing to do is, after
all, a great fact in politics. Then, as to the concessions to
the workers which Seeker demanded, Sir Donald did not
trouble himself about the abstract reasons in their favour.
What he did know was that it would be practical wisdom to
make such concessions as would secure a compromise with
Seeker. He determined to deal with both difficulties in the one
Bill ; and next session, when the excitement of the previous
year had subsided, he brought in ' a Bill intituled an Act
to amend the State Workers' Regulation Act, and to provide


compensation in certain cases and for other purposes.' This
Bill with regard to the civil side of the army of State
workers conceded several of the demands that Seeker had
made, and in particular provided compensation in the shape
of retiring allowances in case of accident or ill-health, and
also in certain other events. In Part II. of the Bill, which
dealt with the Border Rangers, these principles were a little
extended, as was natural considering the dangerous nature
6f the occupation, and those who were wounded or disabled
by sickness or otherwise, and also those who had reached a
certain age, had ' allowances ' secured to them, which practi-
cally became pensions. Slater Scully always called it * The
People's Compensation Bill.'

Seeker was satisfied that he had got as much as he
could at present secure, and he influenced Mons. Froessolecqu2
and the Sweet-Brier by assuring him that the principle of the
Bill necessarily led to a generous system of old age pensions
for all the wage-earners. Parliament had got tired of the
subject, and wanted it settled some way. Some of Brereton's
supporters urged him to denounce the whole thing as being
his proposals thinly disguised. But he declined to commit
infanticide, as he said, upon his own child. If he did such
a thing it would be upon some one else's. So the Bill
passed quietly, and the Border Rangers and Seeker were
settled for the present.

The only point about which some Members who were
always giving trouble raised any question was the expense.
In fact, they asked what it cost to pay for the increases and
concessions on the civil side, which had nothing to do with
the reform of the Rangers. Old Mr. Brandreth said it
would come to over ; 100,000 a year, and was going on in
his slow way to object to this expenditure, when Mr. David
Stoker called out, ' Well, what if it does ? ' He was discon-
certed at this, and could only reply, as he generally did to
such interruptions, ' Why that is what I want to know.'
On this Mr. Stoker called out, ' Whatever it is, is it not all
wages spent among ourselves ? It all comes back to us,
don't it?'

The cheers that broke forth from the Populist Members
in support of this view prevented Mr. Brandreth from


collecting his thoughts, so as to pursue the thread of his
argument, and he sat down after a few discursive remarks
about its not being their own money that they were spend-
ing. He was observed to be moving about restlessly in his
seat when he had sat down, the fact being that an answer
to Stoker's interjection had just struck him. It came too
late for the debate ; but afterwards he went into the smoking
room, and finding there Stoker and Caffery and several
Populist Members, with all of whom he was personally
friendly, he challenged them again upon the point, in the
hope of recovering the position which he had lost owing to
David Stoker's interjection.

' After all, there is nothing in David's notion,' he said,
1 about the money being spent in the country. I see the
answer to that, though it did not strike me at the time.'

1 Pitch it out, then, old friend, if you have it about you,'
David Stoker exclaimed in an encouraging manner.

'Why, you might as well say that ; 100,000 a year
would be well spent in wages to men to dig trenches in the
sand at low tide which would be rilled again each day as
the tide came in, because it was wages, and would come
back to us. At least that is how it strikes me.'

They all laughed at Brandreth's argument and his still
bewildered air ; but when he left to go into the House again,
Stoker remarked to the others that he did think him an
honest old fellow, and that he really believed what he said.
In the event everything ended satisfactorily. There was, of
course, the Bill to be paid by that impersonal friendless
entity, the Public.

This episode of the Rangers and their pensions, com-
monplace incident though it was in everyday politics, seemed
to our politician, looking back upon it, to present some
topics that were worthy of thinking over.

The weapon used by Sir Donald to fight this battle, the
popular hatred of pensions, was an instance of the force
of inherited feeling. The abuses of the English system of
pensions in the past, and especially the fact that it was
worked in the interest of the aristocracy, have created, by
the process of continuous experience, in English peoples,
wherever situated over the globe, an instinctive popular


prejudice against all official pensions. Jacob Shumate had
the sympathies of the little crowd in Glooscap in his favour
when he denounced the pension of 1 a week to Sandy
M'Givern, and Sir Donald in his wider sphere was able to
win with it too. That the adverse feeling was one inherited
from the experience of aristocratic abuses was shown by the
fact that pensions for the mere poor were the most popular
and advanced thing that any man could propose. There
was obviously no sense in the cry against pensions as
pensions. Apart from the prejudice, it was simply a ques-
tion of what was the best business arrangement to make in
order to get efficient service.

But though the cry did its work at the time, the common-
sense of the community prevailed in the end. The incident
in this aspect represents the true hope of the popular dis-
pensation under which we live. It would be too much to
expect that men would not make mistakes. We look to
the general intelligence in due time correcting them, pur-
suant to that divine law that ordains the steady general
onflow of human progress, though not without occasional
eddies backward. And this general intelligence depends
upon and is mainly directed by experience. In Excelsior
the continued disturbances on the Border largely contributed
to the result.

And here was to be observed a weak point in our
popular system. Experience teaches. But who is to
enforce upon a people its teaching? In the main they are
left to find out its lessons for themselves. True, it is the
duty of public men to proclaim the truth, if need be, in
reproof of popular mistakes. But who among public men
is ready to undertake this useful work useful to others,
but not safe or profitable for himself? When it was found
necessary in Excelsior to put the Rangers on a sound basis,
it was all done quietly. Those who were behind the scenes
knew that the people had made a mistake, and that the
mistake was being reversed. But the thing was never
pressed home to the people.

In China there is a Board of Magistrates, said to be
independent, who are entitled to criticise even the doings of
the Emperor. Some years ago this Board made a remon-


strance to His Majesty on the wasteful cost of some cele-
brations that had been held in his honour while, as they
urged, whole provinces were suffering from famine. But the
Emperor rebuked them for their boldness, and handed them
over for punishment to the proper authorities. Their heads
were cut off. And if it is unbecoming in subordinates to
lecture an Emperor, who is entitled to lecture a people ?
So they go unchastened by rebuke. What if there had been
in Excelsior some daring politician to speak plainly to the
public? He would have said, 'My fellow-countrymen of
this province, you did a foolish thing in causing the first
Rangers Bill to be rejected. Many of you were in-
different about your political duties, and did nothing,
while several of you were simply humbugged by the
cry about aristocratic pensions. You now see the results
of your mistake. Like wise men, take a note of this,
and don't be so easily misled another time ! ' The daring
politician would share the fate, in another form, of the
censorious Board of China. Thus it is that, though
peoples learn from experience, they do so only in an
imperfect way, and are slow to withdraw their confidence
from men who have misled them, if they continue to please
them for the present. The lessons from political experience
are like those from Nature felt, not proclaimed ; silent,
though pitiless.

The power of the Press in our time was also brought
home to our politician. It was become a part of the repre-
sentative system, and was even more powerful than the
political side, as it represented general public opinion and
not alone the voice of the ballot-box. It partook too of the
weaknesses of the system to which it belonged ; but it had
the merit of being open to all and of voicing the wants and
ideas of all. No man can be wronged by power in secret
and unheard, if there is a free press ; and if the press itself
wrongs a man, it does so openly, and it too is to be judged
by the opinion of all. When it abuses its high prerogative,
people come to know of it, and in time wrong works its own

But the most impressive fact which the inner history of
this movement taught was the political power of the State


workers. The social consequences that follow from the
State having a large number of its citizens in its industrial
employment have been considered by thoughtful writers,
but not the political consequences. The more Democracies
enlarge the scope of State employment, the more dominant
becomes the Industrial Praetorian Corps. They are united ;
they are free from the distraction of the social struggle, for
the State provides for them ; they have devoted leaders,
and are able to concentrate the energy that others have to
expend on getting a living, upon securing what they judge
is fair from their employer the State. Governments come
and go, but they remain a permanent body. Their claims
are the more irresistible politically, because in addition to
their direct power, theirs are claims by the worker and the
wage-earner upon the capitalist. Nor can we blame them for
looking after their own interests. When the Socialist ideal
of the State employing all is realised, where would Govern-
ment be under Democracy ? All would be struggling for
themselves, and there would be no strong centre of authority
to regulate the rival claimants for the State bounty. Ad-
vanced Socialists realise this, and decline to admit that the
Government under Socialism will be Democratic. Their
ideal of the future is a benevolent despotism, so long as it
is the despotism of the man in the street.

Our politician had a personal lesson, too, on the circum-
spection that public conduct demands. The only thing that
he could be blamed for in nominating Terence M'Glumpy
was the natural oversight of not personally ascertaining that
he was able to read and write. But who would have thought
it necessary in such a country as Excelsor to make the in-
quiry ? Yet, for want of it, what a plausible ground of attack
was given to the Sweet-Brier ! One should learn, he con-
cluded, not to take to heart railing accusations in public
affairs ; but still more carefully should he study to avoid
even the appearance of deserving them.

Finally, the difficult question was raised, how far a
politician is entitled, or required, to insist upon his own
opinion on public questions. How much weight ought a
practical man to give to that peremptory question of Sir
Donald's :


' Can't you see that the people are in no humour for
pensions ? '

That politician regarded this as conclusive. Even Solon
did not claim to give the best laws to the Athenians, but
only the best that they could bear. This is a difficult and
many-sided problem, which admits of a wide range of solu-
tions from that of the conscious political rogue who is busy
hunting after the spoils, to that of the man possessed by a
high ambition to be useful in his day. The people's will
certainly must prevail, but should not the people have the
benefit of the truthful expression of the opinions of their
public men before they decide ? If so, should men be
banished from political life for saying truly what they think?
Is it a sound system that compels men not alone to refrain
from giving true advice to the people, but further, to them-
selves give the weight of their apparent personal belief in
whatever may be, from time to time, to the fore, as the
successful thing ? There is a screw loose in all this, thought
our politician.

But the merry time of Christmas was now approaching,
and a truce was proclaimed to politics and its perplexities.
This time was as welcome amidst the sunshine of the new land
as it is among the snows of the old ; and it was especially
pleasing to Frankfort, as he proposed to relax himself after
the perplexities of the session and the labours of the lecture-
room, by going for a holiday to The Blocks, as Mrs.
Lamborn had proposed. He had no doubt of a kindly
reception from all his friends at Brassville, though it was
undeniable that his Parliamentary career so far had some-
what disappointed several of his well-wishers in the con-
stituency. Mr. Lamborn could not understand what he
meant by differing from his party and backing up Brereton,
who had been so niggardly about the rabbits ; while Mrs.
Lamborn, though she never touched mere politics, was dis-
appointed that he did not, as she had suggested in her letter,
make a long speech to turn the other man out. She had
an inward feeling that he was getting no nearer to the
peerage. Hedger, the lawyer, considered that he had shown
himself to be impracticable ; but Neal Nickerson, the school-
master, argued that he was quite right to contradict his


friends if they were wrong. Barney Clegg, of the Brown
Jug, maintained that his action in favouring pensions showed
that he was no friend to the people, the more particularly so
as his own name had not yet appeared in any new roll of
justices. Karl Brumm, though hating pensions much, yet
had such an innate sense of the need of military discipline,
that in the end he excused our politician, while at the
same time he smiled in a superior way at all such feeble
attempts at soldiering. But, on the other hand, Jacob
Shumate gave up our politician as past praying for, being
now clearly identified with pensions and the wrongful
financial institutions of modern society. He was thus quite
convinced that, so far from seeking to induce the Minister
to disallow Sandy M'Givern's pension, he had actually
advised him the other way ; and as he sat in his cottage in
Glooscap brooding over the matter of an evening, when the
children were in bed and he was alone, he recalled several
small circumstances that, now when he looked back upon
them, quite bore out this conclusion. To his dying day he
retained a firm belief, founded on his own reason as to what
was likely, that Frankfort had seen the Minister, and by
some legal quibble induced him to put a wrong construction
on those sections of the Act relating to the power to disallow
the wrongful expenditure of corporate funds. M'Glumpy
senior was rather hurt upon reading the statement of our
politician that he had withdrawn his nomination of Terence
upon such a trifling ground as that the boy had not com-
pleted his education. But on reflection he came to the
conclusion that this must only be a Parliamentary way of
putting things, as, in fact, nothing had come of this with-
drawal, and the lad had been established as the official letter-
carrier of Glooscap. He had begun learning to read, and
meanwhile the neighbours got their letters pretty much as they
did before, and he cleaned up the place for his aunt and went
with special letters where he was sent. None of the neigh-
bours were so ill-natured as to object. So the public were
satisfied. On the whole, Mr. M'Glumpy enjoyed the in-
cident in all its phases, took any adverse comments of the
Press with the equanimity of an old politician, and regarded
with interest the discussion in Parliament about it as tending


generally to the importance of the clan M'Glumpy, of which
he was the chief.

Several of our politician's constituents supported him ;
and Woodall, the bookseller, used to argue with some of the
dissatisfied ones, when they came for the city papers, and
point-blank say that even Harry there, his blundering shop-
boy, could see that the Pensions cry was merely a political
blind. Miss Gazelle and Seth Pride were sadly put out
about the Pensions, but overlooked all in consideration of
Frankfort's noble stand for the emancipation of woman.
Besides, though the late Premier had fallen away on the
Pensions, were they to forget that it was he who had
brought in the Emancipating Bill ? Also a few inde-
pendent electors, without going into the merits of the
question, defended the Member on the ground that there
was no doubt that he had done what he believed to be the
right thing. Among these last must be classed Eilly
Lamborn, her only contribution to the animated discussions
that took place upon the subject at The Blocks being the
remark that she did not see why a man should not say what
he thought, even though he was in Parliament.

' My dear young lady,' remonstrated Hedger, the
lawyer, ' a man goes there to say what other people

However, they were all glad to see him, especially Mr.
and Mrs. Fairlie and the cousins, who were often at The
Blocks, though Mr. Fairlie, while he personally agreed with
his nephew's views, was beginning to fear that they would
not pay in a business aspect. But pleasure ruled the hour.
Picnics, dinner-parties, dances, concerts made days and
nights fly by. As for politics, and Frankfort's supposed
desertion of his party, they could not be wholly avoided in
conversation, nor was it possible to escape some natural
joking about the unique M'Glumpy appointment. Neal
Nickerson repeated, more than once, an offer to teach young

Online LibraryHenry John WrixonJacob Shumate; or, The people's march (Volume 1) → online text (page 36 of 45)