Henry John Wrixon.

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

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he sat down upon about the last chair in the back row.
Birnie Farrar had mentioned to Bunker that he suspected
Jacob intended to come, but with what object or for what
purpose he could not find out. He had kept to himself on
the journey up, and he slipped in now, coming not with the
men of Glooscap, but apparently on his own account. Mr.
Theodore Bunker greeted the new-comers, and commenced
calling their names over to the Minister. When he had
gone through all down to where Jacob was, experienced as
he was in such matters, he felt quite uncertain what to do.
He knew Jacob of old, and that he was a dangerous man.
He had no right to appear with a deputation certainly not


to speak at one unless he belonged to it. Still, it would
not be wise to cause trouble till the question was raised by
Jacob Shumate trying to speak, if he did mean to make the
attempt. One of the most obvious rules of life for the
sensible politician is to make as few enemies of any sort as
possible. So he only blandly remarked, ' Ah, Mr. Shumate,
you here ? '

' So it would seem, Mr. Bunker,' replied the shoemaker,
as he inclined forward in his chair with a half-bow towards
the popular Member. His soured but self-reliant look
seemed to proclaim openly

' Yes, I have a grievance, and I am able to look after it
without your assistance.

Mr. Bunker glanced at the perturbed countenance for a
moment or two with an aspect of mild inquiry, and in his
most conciliatory manner, in order to pave the way for any
explanation. But none was forthcoming, so he then turned to
the Minister and explained shortly the object of the Deputa-
tion. The districts represented were overrun with rabbits.
Ruin threatened the farmer and the grazier. Their demands,
the Minister would see, were not extravagent. Their request
was that he would put a sum on the Estimates to purchase
for general use the well-known Brand's Patent for poisoning
wheat to destroy rabbits. The ' people ' would be prepared to
pay half the cost of laying down the stuff, the Government
paying the other half ; for which sharing of expense between
Government and ' the people ' in public improvements there
were several precedents in the affairs of the Province. Mr.
Bunker laid stress upon his pronunciation of ' people,' to
show that it was a distinctly popular thing that he was
proposing. Unless this was done there was no use in the
people holding their land. As Government tenants, it was
impossible that they could continue to pay their rents, and
the districts affected would become depopulated, and the
State rails and trams would have nothing to carry. Rents
were in arrear in several localities at present. He begged to
call upon the Honourable Mr. Lamborn.

Mr. Lamborn was, as the reader may imagine, a very
respectable-looking man indeed, a weighty and solid-looking
man. His voice was deep, also grave in tone, and he had a


natural, plain-speaking way of expressing himself, as if he
felt that no human being could question the fairness of what
he was saying ; and he would, from time to time, look round
the room to see if any man could contradict him.

He said that what Mr. Bunker had stated was quite true.
Unless something was done, ruin stared most of them in the
face. No crop was safe unless it was wire-netted ; and as
for grass, it cost a small fortune to keep on poisoning the
land. They only asked the Government to bear a hand.
They were willing to bear a hand themselves, too.

Here Mr. Blinks, the Secretary for Lands, whispered
something to the Minister, and Slater Scully thereupon

' You must excuse me, gentlemen, as this great question
is rather new to me. But a little bird has whispered to me
that the Government already supply the wire netting on long
terms of repayment, and free from the noxious and burden-
some imposition of interest.'

Mr. Lamborn admitted that that was so. But who put
up and paid for the posts and rails ? Were the people ex-
pected to do everything ? He went on to say in his emphatic
manner that, by right, the Government should do much more
than was asked, since the rabbits were chiefly bred upon the
Crown lands and then came on to them. But yet they were
willing to pay half-cost of laying the poison if the Govern-
ment bought the Patent. He then looked around him, and
came to a natural peroration inspired by his deep feeling
upon the subject. If they were to be saved, the Government
must come to the rescue promptly. Delay meant death to
the small farmers. He appealed to the Minister as a man
and as a father not to spread desolation over a lot of homes
and, he might add, happy homes.

Slater Scully looked up through the large spectacles in
some amazement at the mere idea that he could do such a
thing, and was beginning a deprecating reply, ' Touch me

not so near ' when Mr. David Blow, who represented

the cattle interest of Glooscap, interposed with a brief but
emphatic expression of his views. These, upon this occasion,
were much the same as those which he held in reference to
the proposal that the parents should devote a Saturday


afternoon to making the fence around the State school. And
he fell naturally into the same form of expression which the
reader may remember he used with reference to that sugges-
tion. He declared that it was not the square thing by a
long way for the Government to put them on short commons
about this rabbit business.

Some of the other gentlemen enlarged upon the serious
nature of the evil and the reasonable nature of their demands ;
and Mr. Birnie Farrar gave full statistics as to the extent and
great value of the lands that were in danger. On this Mr.
Blinks again whispered to the Minister, and Slater Scully
remarked with solemnity

' Would it be possible, my respected friends, that the
Municipal Boards of this most valuable district could be
induced to give something in order to supplement the short
commons that have been so feelingly alluded to ? '

To this Mr. Hedger, as the lawyer of the deputation,
briefly replied that the Acts of Parliament under which they
acted did not allow of any such application of their funds.

' Would, then, the landowners agree to raise the interest
on the purchase-money of the Patent for a term of years ? '
inquired the Minister, prompted thereto by the frugal-minded
and assiduous Blinks.

Mr. David Blow felt that this would be impossible,
owing to the simple fact that the smaller landowners had
nothing to give. There seemed to be nothing for it, then,
but the accustomed resort to the State chest for the money.
The Minister was beginning to weave a conciliatory answer
to the Deputation :

' Mr. Bunker and gentlemen, I must say dispassionately
that I feel satisfied within my own convictions that I can
report to my honourable colleague who presides over this
Department, and who, I hope, will soon be here again in the
full bloom of recovered health, that you have made a most
striking indeed, I must say, most moving case for the
Government '

When he had got thus far, Jacob Shumate, who had been
pushing his way up to the front, interposed, and, with a
deep bow, began :

' Honourable Minister '


Directly he had risen from his seat at the end of the
room, Birnie Farrar had whispered to Bunker to object to
any intervention from one who was not included in the
Deputation that was nominated by the districts concerned.
He did not know what Jacob Shumate was going to say ;
but he had an instinctive feeling, based upon prolonged ex-
perience, that it must be something unpleasant, and might be
something dangerous. Mr. Bunker, as having the conduct of
the proceedings, felt bound to interpose here, so he observed
in a bland tone :

' Really, Mr. Shumate, I am afraid we cannot have this.
The Honourable the Minister is only entitled to hear upon
this occasion those who were duly designated by the people
to interview him.'

He added with a smile, in his most amiable manner,
leaning over towards the shoemaker and speaking in a lower
tone :

'You know, Jacob, you can arrange for another deputa-
tion on your own account, if you like.'

' I am much obliged to you, Mr. Bunker, for your kind
offer. I must admit too that your constitutional views are
quite correct.'

Jacob Shumate spoke, having his head sarcastically in-
clined upon one side, and this time with an expression of
pleasure on his face. He continued :

' I am quite aware that I have to be nominated by the
people to entitle me to address the Honourable the Minister
upon this occasion. And I beg respectfully to state that I
am so nominated. Persons who own land do not constitute
the whole of the population about Glooscap whatever they
may do in other localities.'

Here Mr. Blinks again whispered to the Minister, and
Slater Scully addressed the shoemaker in an affable manner.
He was quite interested, not to say amused, at this unex-
pected apparition.

' My good friend, may I ask whom you represent ? For
whom do you stand and who stands behind you ? '

' And where is his authority ? ' interjected Birnie Farrar.

' In reply to the Honourable the Minister, I would
respectfully state that I represent the struggling rabbit-


trappers of Glooscap and the district, making together several
hundred souls, many of their bodies being, I regret to
say, ill fed and scantily clad. As to the inquisition of the
respected Town Clerk as to where my authority is, I beg
to hand in my nomination by the people. It is not, I must
admit, on parchment, and there was no wax convenient in
their humble homes for sealing it ; still, as they are all human
beings who sign it, and indeed citizens, I hope that the Town
Clerk will not hold the objection to be fatal.'

And Jacob slowly, and with great deliberation, unfolded
and spread out upon the table a very soiled sheet of foolscap,
upon which was written his appointment to represent the
undersigned on the Rabbit Deputation before the Minister.
The undersigned for the most part wrote their signatures in
a finished style of handwriting. A few signed in the clumsy,
blurred manner that marked the old days of imperfect edu-
cation. The shoemaker with bended head glanced round
the circle of civic magnates and men of broad acres with an
evident sense of triumph, as he presented his credentials,
while the magnates and broad acre men looked on with
a heavy, puzzled air, as if not knowing how to meet this
unexpected attack in the rear. Mr. Birnie Farrar wanted
Mr. Theodore Bunker to object that Shumate should have
got an appointment for a separate day for his side of the
question. But some new and rather disturbing lights were
breaking in upon the prudent mind of the Member for
Leadville. As he glanced over the names, he recognised
some of those who were electors within his own district.
Then the cause of the trappers was obviously the cause
of the poor man. They had no land at all. They only
caught the rabbits on other people's land and Crown lands.
But each of them had as good a vote as Mr. Lamborn
himself. He thought it would be better to hear Jacob
Shumate, and whispered to Birnie Farrar that it was
safest to do so ' under protest, you know,' he added, to
placate that gentleman. The Town Clerk, by no means
appeased, was turning to enforce his objection and speaking
eagerly into the Member's ear, when the Minister cut short
further discussion upon the subject by exclaiming

' Well, well, Mr. Shumate, high authority enjoins us to


give each man thine ear, but to reserve thy judgment. So
pray unbosom your soul as to these hapless and multitudi-
nous rodents, dire enemy, it seems, in your district to man
and beast, and known to science, my learned friend here,
Mr. Blinks, informs me, as the Lepus cunicuhts.'

And, undisturbed by Blinks's look of astonishment at
this unexpected and hitherto to him unknown information
about the scientific name of the rabbit, Slater Scully glared
about in a pleased manner as he lay back in his chair to
listen while Shumate would unfold his tale. He enjoyed
the prospect of hearing something unexpected on the subject.
Mr. David Blow, however, who had been regarding the shoe-
maker's interruption in a dazed manner, began to realise that
there was danger in it. His thoughts, though slow to ignite,
upon due attrition did burn up within him. Looking round
straight at Jacob, with all the weight of the man who
represented the cattle interest, he exclaimed, taking up the
thread from Bunker's objection, which was as far as he
had got :

' Yes, yes, Mr. Shumate, what do you want ? You ain't
inconvenienced by our poisoning, are you ? You aren't on for
cobbling up odd lots of objections to our clearing our lands
of varmint, are you ? ' And then he indulged in what was
for him something without precedent, a stroke of sarcasm at
the shoemaker :

' We don't ask you to eat our poison, do we ? Though
I don't let on that it nor anything else would quiet you.'

Jacob Shumate, glowing with satisfaction and rising to
the occasion, began his reply in a subdued and polite tone.

' In response to what the Honourable the Minister and also
the honourable representative of the cattle interest here have
asked, I beg leave to observe, most respectfully, that neither
I nor the poor fellows whom I represent have the slightest
objection to Mr. David Blow and other princely proprietors
clearing their vast estates of whatever they may please.
That is a matter entirely for their own consideration.'

' Then what are you getting on and riled about, Mr.
Shumate ? ' pursued Mr. Blow.

' If the honourable representative of the cattle interest
will permit me, I have not stated, as far as I am aware, that


we were riled about anything. The only possible repugnance
we feel perhaps the Honourable the Minister will pardon us
for it is to having the money taken out of our pockets in
order to take the bread out of our mouths.'

Jacob then glanced round with bent head at Mr. David
Blow, who kept looking at him in a helpless manner, much
as one of his oxen would survey some intruding stranger who
was approaching him. Following up his thrust, he added :

' We have no desire, certainly, to eat Mr. Blow's poison.
In fact, what we do hope is that we may be allowed to eat
our crust without it. We only ask,' he continued, with a
resigned air, ' to be allowed still to make a living even a
precarious one by trapping rabbits.'

' Where are we now where are we now ? ' exclaimed
Slater Scully, looking round the company in a half-contem-
plative and a half-pleased manner. He was rather enjoying
this unexpected display of conflicting human motives. To see
several unhappy creatures dangling and twisting from the
gallows in a confused manner was said to have a special
fascination for Beau Selwyn. The twistings and strugglings
of men in wordy conflict had a similar stimulating effect
on Slater Scully. It was to him one of the chief alleviations
of the long hours of boredom in the House of Representa-
tives. So he repeated as he looked round :

' Where are we now ? Stands Glooscap where it did ? '

Theodore Bunker felt that the situation was getting
serious. He, as the general in command of the Deputation,
must take immediate steps to meet this unexpected danger.
So, in order to get time to arrange some compromise, if
possible, while Shumate was speaking, he expressed to the
Minister the willingness, and even the desire, of his party
that Mr. Shumate should state his claim fully, and Slater
Scully waved the shoemaker to proceed.

This invitation to speak was precisely what Shumate
desired. To make a set speech at any time was a pleasure
to him, and if he had a grievance to talk about he was
quite happy before a Minister of the Crown, too, it
was delightful. Slater Scully relished the keen thrusts
of the shoemaker, and, as a popular Minister, desired
to show all deference to the advocate of the poor man.


Jacob had carefully prepared himself for the opportunity,
and he had put a plausible case for the trappers. No
question, he said, arose as to people clearing their own lands
of rabbits as much as they pleased. If it was expensive to
do this, owing to the vast extent of any one's land, all he
could say was that he tendered the landowners his deep
sympathy. (Dark glance at Lamborn and Le Fanu.) The
proposal before the Minister was to take his money for the
purpose. The rabbit-trappers, poverty-stricken though they
were, still did contribute to the State Revenue ; though, to
be sure, to persons whose path of life was paved with gold,
the amount of their contributions might be regarded as
beneath notice. Still, they were felt by them. Out of the
State Revenue, thus partly made up of their own money, the
great landowners were to be paid for clearing their estates of
rabbits ; and at the same time the industry that those he
represented lived by was to be destroyed, and with it a cheap
and useful food for the poor. The traps, the nets, the imple-
ments that they used in their work were all taxed heavily at
the Customs.

Further, to suit the private owners, the Crown lands, now
mostly consisting of barren hills, were also to be poisoned, and
thus rendered unsafe and useless for the purposes of the
trappers. If the rabbits did eat some of the grass of the large
estates, he would like to see a short sum worked out of the
proportion which this loss bore to the gain by the unearned in-
crement of the land. If the Honourable the Minister listened
to this application, the very least he could do would be to
compensate the persons whom he represented for destroying
their means of living. He would not at present dwell upon
the compensation that would be due to the poor of the Pro-
vince generally for depriving them of a cheap and whole-
some food. As everything was done in Excelsior in the
name of the poor man, this would be a good opportunity, he
respectfully submitted, for the Government to show how
deeply it sympathised with him.

Jacob Shumate, as he concluded, looked round the dis-
concerted circle with exultation in his countenance, the
display of which, however, he suppressed as well as he


Slater Scully enjoyed having the two sides of the
question agitated before him, but while he saw both views
he grasped neither, and he was now perplexed as the time
approached that he was to decide between them. His
natural wish was to satisfy all parties, and he had the Minister's
feeling against making enemies among a considerable class
of voters. Personally, he did not like the idea of depriving
the poor trappers of their means of gaining a livelihood.

He was a good deal relieved, then, when Theodore
Bunker, who was himself moved by very similar considera-
tions, threw out a suggestion, merely for consideration, as he
said, that the Patent should be bought by the Government,
and that a Government contribution, at present undefined,
should be made to meet the cost of laying the poison on
lands that had been alienated from the Crown ; but that the
State lands should be left free for the operations of the
trapper, that all his implements should be admitted free
of duty at the Customs, and that a Government bonus should
be paid upon the export of frozen rabbits, so as to keep up
the price. This was accepted all round as a fair solution of
the difficulty. Jacob Shumate was so elated at the general
success of his intervention that he could not concentrate his
attention so as to criticise it closely. He still felt in a
vague manner that sufficient weight had not been given to
the fact that the rabbits only consumed a small part of the
unearned increment of the rich man's land. But did the
great public who was to pay the bill of both parties to this
settlement object? Apparently not. At least, in the
person of its representative, Slater Scully, it appeared to
be pleased. The Minister dismissed both sides with his

' Farewell, gentlemen,' he exclaimed. ' The right thing
has been accomplished. Even-handed justice has been
done justice to the individual and justice to the country.
The only unhappy parties to the settlement are those
hapless little rodents, the Lepus cuniculus of my friend here,
that both of ye will now be slaughtering by a grand and
unprecedented combination of poison and traps.'

And so the Deputation withdrew, and at a jovial lunch
at the Tramway Arms the members congratulated each


other upon their success, and upon the generous, public-
spirited views of the Minister. All except Jacob Shumate,
who went off on his own account, to join some Populist
friends at the People's Coffee Palace, where, after par-
taking of tea and biscuits, he spent the time till the after-
noon train in criticising the proceedings at the Deputa-
tion, and expatiating generally on the grievances of the

Walter Crane had been an attentive listener to the dis-
cussion at the Deputation. He sat on his stool at the end
of the room in his usual meek attitude, but making keen
mental notes of what was going on. The experience he
gained in this way was one of the most valuable elements of
his political education. Next Sunday, at the festive board
at his nephew's cottage in Grubb Lane, he gave at leisure
the full details of the proceedings of the Deputation, and its
happy termination for all parties.

' Very powerful orator that Mr. Shumate shoemaker or
no shoemaker. My word, I can tell ye,' he said, throwing
himself back in a free-and-easy manner, and nodding in a
significant way to the company ' my word, I can tell ye, he
tossed some of those big land bosses like one of their own
bulls would. He did, I tell ye. Sarve them right. Not like
real landed gentry : trying on to take away the poor man's
food and his living too ! '

' Well, if they take away his food, it follows up straight
enough they take his living, I suppose,' said Ben Mule, the
argumentative cabman.

' Ye needn't be driving ahead so fast, Ben,' said Crane,
with some dignity. ' Them rabbits are food to the poor
man as eats them and they are living for the work they
make for the trapper who catches them. D'ye see now ? '

' I can see no call to interfere with them rabbits,' said
the nephew ; ' they are sweet enough to eat and handy to
cook. You can think them chicken if you shut your

' Ye see, it's this yer way,' said Ben Mule. ' They are
too cheap and common like for the 'stocracy. If they were
a crown each, my word, wouldn't the big ones take on to
them ! And there it is, the big 'uns have their way all


along the road. Talk of the people in Excelsior, where are
you ? If you talk of the big 'uns, you are on the spot,
right enough.'

' Ay, so I suppose, Wally,' said Mick, ' you had a lot
of the big 'uns there, going on about the rabbits and their
feelings for the farmer and the poor man ? '

'To be sure. A great many fine gentlemen there, and
grand estates they have for certain,' replied Crane. 'Mr.
Shumate waited a bit behind and told me. Mr. Le Fanu
and Mr. Lamborn, and all the rest, very fine gentlemen in-
deed. But why don't they think of the poor man trying to
live, let alone paying for his bit of land to Guv'ment ? '

' I'll tell ye when they'll be well quit of the rabbits,' said
Ben Mule, looking up as if a new light had struck him.

' When's that, young feller ? ' asked Mick.

'When they go where the land won't go after them nor
the rabbits neither,' answered the cabman.

'Well, and the boss promised to pay both on 'em, did
he ? ' inquired the nephew.

1 He did that, Mick,' replied the uncle, taking a long
drink of tea. When he had finished, he added, with a
significant nod to his relation

' But not out of his own pocket, me boy.'

The recess was now drawing to its close, and politicians
were busy speculating what would be the leading proposal of
the Government for the legislation of the new session. For
every Government is expected under the English system to
announce each new political year a long and, if possible,
striking array of fresh measures. It is a political rather than
a social need. A healthy community, like a healthy man,
often wants to be let alone. Legislative measures are, like
medicines, needed in the case of any ailment in the body
politic, also to provide for the changes caused by social
growth. But the real need for changes does not come round

Online LibraryHenry John WrixonJacob Shumate; or, The people's march (Volume 1) → online text (page 42 of 45)