Henry John Wrixon.

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

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periodically every year like the King's Speech. This habit
of responsible Government has the advantage of securing
early attention to all popular wants. But it also tends to
create fictitious wants, and to foster the love for having some-
thing new continually upon the boards. Thus whenever there
is any social depression or difficulty, people are apt to look at

VOL. I 2 H


once to some new Government proposal as the only possible
relief; whereas the true remedy may rest rather with the
people themselves, and may require some abstinence or
exertion upon their part which would perhaps be more
difficult, but would also be more effective, than any new

One reason why a long list of important measures and
reforms was proposed each year in Excelsior was that so few
of them were carried through during the session. If they
had all been given effect to, the Province would have
been in the position of a man who should seek to keep
himself in health by undergoing one or two operations, at
least, every year, besides trying a system of massage and
electric baths to stimulate his vitality and prevent any
tendency to the insidious advances of crippling rheumatism.
But the Legislature wisely refused to accept and assimilate
more than a certain proportion each year of what was
offered, and had sundry methods of its own of making what
it did not want disappear, otherwise than by actually
swallowing them. They were thus left to garnish the board
for the next time, when, if it was still so desired, they were
put under the table as before.

However, Sir Donald and his Ministry were busy pre-
paring their catalogue of measures. It was easy to fill in
the ordinary Bills, many of which figured year after year
in the Governor's speech, and which were known among the
legislators as ' hardy annuals.' The difficulty was as to what
should be the leading and striking measure of the year ; and
this was made the greater by the fact that there was nothing
then that the people of the Province were very eager about.
Still, there were several proposals, any one of which would
make a good stir in the political world, and all of which were
advanced in their character, and might therefore be properly
taken up by progressive politicians. The Ministry had held
a series of Cabinet meetings in order to consider these.

Du Tell asked Seeker his opinion privately as to the
best thing for the Government to take up.

' Why, as for urgent things, they stare you in the face,
my dear sir. There is that question of the hour Pensions
to the Aged Poor. That is bound to come. With Fame it


is often first come first served. Why should not Sir Donald
take up and get the credit for that great measure ? '

Seeker spoke this time sincerely. Not only did he
believe in helping the poor liberally, but he felt what a
decisive effect a general pension system must have upon the
interests of the State workers. If the State were to pension
every one, what should it not do for its own faithful servants ?

' Yes. A right good tip, well worth considering,' said Du
Tell, speaking in a deliberate manner, partly to himself. As the
two shook hands, about to part, Du Tell stood for a moment
apparently contemplating the broad vest of the Secretary,
really anxious to know what Mons. Froessolecque and the
Sweet-Brier would be likely to want done. At last he said :

'And our friend of the Sweet -Brier?'

' He, sir ? You know him. He is a truly advanced
man. He holds for a universal pension, so as to relieve the
poor from any stigma in taking it.'

' And the money? ' interposed Du Tell, with an inquisitive
look at the Secretary.

'Well, as he says, he makes a calculation, does Mons.
Froessolecque, that the realised wealth of Excelsior comes to
so many millions, and a tax of ten per cent upon that would
do it. For myself, I don't quite hold with my friend there.
I say, begin with the poor. Don't raise difficulties at first.
You can easily increase the number of the recipients, and
also the pension in time. You may go on, though you
cannot go back.'

Du Tell that very evening explained to Sir Donald
Seeker's views about the Pensions and the probable attitude
of the Sweet-Brier. Though it was not the leading paper
of the Metropolitan Press, it was the organ of the pugnacious
party, of the more determined wing of the Populists. In
popular Governments, the thoroughgoing people are the real
power. They may not get everything that they want at
once, but all desire to conciliate them. All stand in awe
of the aggressive forces of the Social State, and seek to
placate them and make alliances with them, which are more
or less sincere. Under the aristocratic or middle- class
system of Government extreme people are rather suppressed ;
under full Democracy they are rather exalted. A man of


very mediocre talents, who would never make a figure so
long as things went on quietly, suddenly proposes to sponge
out the National Debt. The thing is not done, but the
daring confiscator attracts general attention and becomes a
considerable man.

Ultimately, Sir Donald and the Cabinet decided that
the grand Liberal measure of the session should be a Bill
to establish a system of Pensions to the Aged Poor. It
would not be correct to say that the measure was taken up
as the result of a matured public opinion upon the subject.
It had its immediate origin in a political exigency to do
something striking. There was behind it a general wish to
provide for the aged poor, without any very close scrutiny
as to what it was wisest to do. The method of procedure
represented the change from statesmen leading people to
people leading statesmen. The Government accepted what
they thought would please the people. Later on, when the
Government proposal was announced, most public men fell
in with it. A politician who would criticise some generous
plan as too extravagant and as calculated in time to sap
habits of self-reliance and foresight, would be denounced
as one who was indifferent to the wants of the aged
poor ; or, at least, as one who set up his own opinion
about things, and claimed to be a superior sort of person.
So the proposition that the man who gave his youth
to build up a country had the right to be pensioned by
that country in old age was repeated upon all sides. It
came about rather as an expression of popular feeling than
as a result of ttie public judgment.

Accordingly, when the Governor's speech announced at
the opening of the session ' a generous measure of provision
for the aged poor,' there was a general agreement expressed
with the proposal. The particulars of the Government plan
could not be known till Sir Donald, later on, introduced
the Government Bill. In the meantime the public talked
about the subject and the Press discussed it. The Sweet-
Brier warned the Government that the pension must be
liberal in amount, and free from all suspicion of being given
as a charity. It was to be paid as a right, just as earlier
in life the worker was paid his daily wage.


In the interval before the introduction of this leading
measure private members were able to bring forward some
of their Bills. This was the great opportunity for the
display of what are vulgarly called ' Fads ' the Fad
Legislative. The author of an old Dictionary, after
observing that ' Faddle ' is corrupted from ' To Fiddle,'
declares that it is 'a low word.' Nevertheless, those who
maintain Fads, and who moreover are in a position to claim
a hearing for them, are not people to be lightly despised.
A Fad is often a half-truth. You have to be careful that,
while rejecting the Fad, you are not involved in the denial
of the half-truth. This caution particularly applies to Fads
in Parliament, and it is this that makes Faddists in the
political arena people not, as we have said, to be lightly
despised. They are indeed quite troublesome people not
to say dangerous. They are so indifferent to other people's
difficulties with regard to their Fads. They seem rather
to enjoy them. The political Faddist generally sits for
some safe constituency, which does not object to his Fad ;
possibly which returns him on account of his Fad. So he sits
secure aloft, like the gods of Epicurus, either indifferent to
the perplexities of poor political mortals or amused at them.

The chief Bill, however, brought in this session by a
private Member was one that had got beyond the ' faddy ' stage
and had emerged into the higher sphere of practical politics.
This was a Bill which had been introduced by Mr. M'Grorty,
the late Minister of Education and Public Knowledge, to
enable women to be elected to Parliament and to act as
Members of the Executive Council of the Province. Mr.
M'Grorty was a warm supporter of Woman's Rights, but
there could be no doubt that his prompt advocacy of this
measure at the present time was stimulated by the fact that
Sir Donald MacLever, the Premier, when a short time before
he was waited upon by a deputation from the Executive
of the Woman's Rights League and requested to propose
this reform as a part of the Government policy, had given
a most unsatisfactory answer. He had replied, that while
he fully admitted that women were entitled to this further
grant of their rights, yet he thought it would be better to
defer claiming it till they had acquired more experience.


In reply to the inquiries of Miss Gazelle, the Hon. Secretary
of the Brassville Branch, as to how they were to get
experience so long as they were debarred by law from
even trying to do the work, and also what experience of
politics young people of twenty-one had when they began
to exercise the right of voting, he could only reply that
the cases were not on all-fours, without being able to show
where they differed. When Miss Gazelle pressed home her
point, he became a little annoyed, and he turned upon her
both a vexed and a slightly jeering countenance as he replied,
the gray eyes twinkling at her, ' My good young lady, surely
you are young enough to wait a while.'

Miss Gazelle was certainly young enough to wait, yet
this reply gave much offence, as it seemed to make light
of the business character of the deputation. The whole
affair offered the Opposition a good opening, Mr. M'Grorty
thought, to aim at the Government a quiet blow, while at
the same time advancing Woman's cause.

Since the Suffrage had been secured, the Woman's
Rights League of Excelsior had directed its efforts to
organise and use Woman's vote so as to compel the Legis-
lature to do them justice in other respects. They held a
general meeting once a year, either in the capital or at
some important centre of the Province, at which women
delegates from all parts of the land discussed public questions
that were of interest to them. This year their attention
had been chiefly directed to the consideration of the fact
that Woman's vote could do little to improve Parliament
so long as women themselves were excluded by law from
making their influence felt there. They only asked, since now
the country had decided that they should take their part in
politics, to be allowed to do so effectively. They passed two
resolutions, declaring, firstly, that the Legislature as at present
constituted was admittedly incompetent to remedy the social
ills that oppressed their country. And secondly, that the
obvious remedy was to accept the proffered aid of one-
half of the people who were now prohibited from helping
in the social regeneration of the race.

They followed up their resolutions by a manifesto
calling upon the Parliament, such as it was, to set right


meanwhile several wrongs that women suffered under, such
as unequal marriage laws, unjust health laws, the custody
of children, women's claim to equal wages with men, and
other matters in regard to which the equality of the sexes
was impaired. But in the very front they put the claim
to sit in Parliament. And the Honourable Mr. M'Grorty
not only sympathised with their object, but saw very clearly
that, if the House could be induced to pass his Bill, it would
be a triumph over the Government after the half-hearted
utterances of the Premier. Thus the merits of the question
itself became involved in the attempt, on the one hand, to em-
barrass the Government, and then the effort of the Government
to checkmate the movement simply in their own defence.

In order to support M'Grorty's motion, the Woman's
League resolved to hold a meeting to discuss the question
the week before it was to come forward in the House, and
to give the greater weight to their debate they invited the
Honourable Mr. Brereton, the leader of the Opposition, who
was known to be unsound on the question of women sitting
in Parliament, to attend and explain his reasons for object-
ing to their exercising this right. They were so confident
in the justice of their cause that they feared no discussion.
Nay, they even enjoyed some opposition, as it added im-
portance to their proceedings, and could do no harm in a vast
gathering of sympathisers with their cause. Mr. Brereton
at once, in his easy-going way, agreed to come. He rather
fancied the idea of having a talk with his sister electors,
though he had a strong objection, or rather perhaps it should
be called dislike, to their 'sitting in Parliament. Logical or
direct speaking was not his special gift, as we know. And
as to some of the considerations that did influence him, he
felt an old-fashioned disinclination to discuss them before
all the young women whom he would have to confront at the
meeting. He was by nature, too, a sympathetic man, and
when brought face to face with a number of women, who
were convinced of their right to become Members of Parlia-
ment, and were getting vexed and angry at this right being
delayed, he felt half ashamed to vigorously denounce their
aspirations as futile.

So, truth to say, he made a poor argument of it. He


began by expressing generally his admiration for woman.
He said that he loved them all ; and he laid much stress
upon this declaration of his feelings as being thoroughly and
deeply sincere, which indeed it was. But he questioned her
aptitude for the work. It was not above her, but beneath
her. He made a clumsy reference to a beautiful Arab steed
in a dust-cart ; and then asked wanted to know, you see
if the beautiful creature really would enjoy being in the
shafts, dust and all. And when she was drawing the cart,
perhaps over a bad bit of Jordan's hard road, so to speak,
what about her foal? Also, what about the horse, who
ought to draw the dust-cart ; where did he come in ? Or,
did he come in at all ? If so, was it a case of tandem ? and
if also so, which animal came first? He repeated Shake-
speare's saying, that if two men ride on a horse, one must
ride first, but got confused in the attempt to show its
relevancy to his argument. Finally, he recalled some of his
Biblical recollections, and having made special reference to
Sarah and Martha, he sat down, repeating the expression of
his admiration for women generally.

Miss Gazelle rose amid general cheering. She presented,
with her incisive, rather hard manner, quite a contrast to
Mr. Brereton's easy-going, good-natured rhetoric. Perhaps
by design, and to show how logical and unsentimental
women could be, she was particularly self-contained in her
manner, and her tone of voice was marked by a dignified
severity. She passed by, in silent contempt, his laudatory
references to the sex, but she thanked him for coming to ex-
plain his views, such as they were, in the face of day. She
then took up his ' topics,' as she termed them, since she could
not call them arguments, with a marked display of exactness
and method in her style of dealing with them, and exposed,
not merely their unsoundness, but their sheer futility. She
excited general merriment by the manner in which she dealt
with the dust-cart topic, and expressed her wonder that
the honourable gentleman could have missed the obvious
answer that his own illustration gave as to how the animals
were to draw the cart. They were obviously to work together
side by side in the shafts, each drawing the dusty load of
public duties, exactly equal in burden, effort, sacrifice, and, she


added, sometimes stumbling or jibbing. When Mr. Brereton
interjected, ' What about the foal ? ' she aroused great
laughter by promptly replying that she need not answer
foolish questions, which she pronounced foalish questions.
She added that she was getting rather tired of these remarks
about women's duties. They had no intention of neglecting
them. Just the same old Tory objection was raised to their
voting. But where was it now ? As they all knew, com-
mittees of ladies were formed in each neighbourhood who,
at election times, took their turn with the children, while the
mothers were away on their public duties. What did a lady
do when she followed a profession ? Why, she engaged
another lady to look after the washing-up at home. Miss
Gazelle disdained any sort of peroration as being a weakness
unworthy of a business woman, and sat down abruptly when,
as she observed, she had at any rate got the dust-cart out of
the way.

The applause was loud indeed when she concluded, and
there was a general feeling that the vigorous speeches of
several ladies who followed, while useful as enlightening
public opinion, were not required to complete the discomfiture
of old Mr. Brereton. The most scathing exposure, however,
which he suffered was from Miss Grace Hetty, a young lady
who had, though she was only eighteen, just passed her first
year as ' Freshman ' at the William Borland University.
She was cutting in her sarcasms upon Mr. Brereton's round-
about rhetoric, and carried the whole audience with her
enthusiastically as she exploded, with her compact logic, his
fallacies one after the other. As to his Biblical examples,
she could barely restrain within polite grounds her scorn for
the fancy that some elderly persons, she said, had for dis-
interring old mummies, and then rattling their bones at
living people. When she sat down the applause was even
more spirited than that which had greeted Miss Gazelle.
Several old and gray-headed men listened to her speech with
rapt attention, and appeared to specially enjoy her exposure
of their co-mate in years, while they hammered upon the floor
vigorously with their sticks and umbrellas in order to show
their admiration for the speaker, and also to add the weight
of their moral support to her arguments.


The brunt of the wordy conflict was left to the young
ladies ; but towards the close of the discussion, the Honour-
able Mr. M'Grorty, who was in a front seat on the platform,
and who appeared to follow with close attention the argu-
ments of Miss Gazelle and Miss Grace Hetty, asked to be
allowed to add, as he expressed it, just a link or two to the
already complete chain of reasoning by which the cause of
woman had been sustained. He had, in fact, nothing new
to say ; nor, whatever were his convictions upon the question,
had he the personal feeling that actuated the young women,
who resented as a slight upon their sex the refusal to admit
them to a position that many useless men were welcomed to.
M'Grorty could be good-tempered about the subject, as the
wrong done to women did not come home to him in the same
way that it did to Miss Gazelle. He spoke pleasantly and
was generally admitted to have made a most happy speech.
What was most noticeable about it, though, was his tone of
deference to Mr. Brereton, which was the more striking in
contrast to the severity of Miss Grace Hetty. Perhaps it
was his disinclination to hit a man who was down, as Mr.
Brereton evidently was that evening. But, whatever the
cause, he certainly began his little speech in a subdued,
conciliatory tone, as he looked round with a bright, almost
sweet, smile at Mr. Brereton, who had sat, resting back in his
chair, smiling too, and muttering objections to the different
points that Miss Hetty made against him. M'Grorty treated
the question as one that had been settled, so far as the
argument could settle it, and only wished to express his
regret that, in this instance, the generous impulses of his old
friend were hampered by his intellectual mistakes. But he
was mild, almost respectful, in his tone. Undoubtedly that
evening the two men who spoke appeared to be more
amiable and less willing to wound any one than were the
women. They presented to the public the outward aspect,
at least, of creatures who were less fitted to face the harsh
world than were their sisters or daughters. In comparison,
they seemed to be kind-hearted, easy-going, more accessible
to consideration for others. Several of the elderly men
noticed this, and it confirmed them in their opinion of the
absolute fitness of women for public life.


Miss Gazelle and Miss Hetty enjoyed the evening
thoroughly. It was not merely that the excitement was a
relief from the monotony of indoor life, but it is pleasant to
all of us to feel victorious, and to be acclaimed as conquerors.
Miss Grace Hetty was next day the heroine of the Girls'
Club at the University the Sappho Club.

Resolutions that pledged all electors, men and women, to
support Mr. M'Grorty's Bill were passed with enthusiasm, that
honourable gentleman himself calling for three cheers in
honour of the cause at the conclusion of the proceedings. It
was resolved also to present a petition to the House of Repre-
sentatives, and this, it was decided, was to be entrusted to
the care of Mr. Harding Buck, Member for Moodyville.
Miss Gazelle considered that this would be a politic course,
as, from a conversation she had had with that gentleman, she
judged that he was, as she expressed it, ' rather wobbly on
the question.'

As the day that was fixed for the debate drew near,
there was much enthusiasm among the advocates of Woman's
Rights, and also a good deal of interest excited among the
public generally. On the appointed evening the House was
filled, and the gallery for the general public crowded.

Mr. M'Grorty, who was now to advocate the rights of
woman, was a more popular champion than Frankfort.
Plain family men often wondered at his chivalrous belief in
the power for good in public affairs of woman. For he was
not a family man himself. He appeared to prefer single
life, since it was hard to believe that he could not have found
some partner to accept him, as he was decidedly good-
looking, and had been successful in his career. He even
preserved a youthful appearance as years came upon him,
and was always especially careful about his dress. He and
the tasteful, tiny bouquet in his button -hole were among
the most polished and striking things, in the personal line,
that Parliament had to show. Among his fellow- members
he was generally known as the handsome man of the House.
Later on in this history his political character will claim
further inquiry at our hands, but for the present we meet
him as the bright champion of woman.

The Ladies' Gallery in the chamber was an open com-


partment divided by a light balustrade from the legislators'
benches not a belated cage perched away out of sight, and
almost out of hearing. It was generally well filled every
evening, but upon this occasion it was crowded. The ladies
were intelligent and attentive listeners ; but at times, as
might be expected, signs of their feelings were apparent,
friendly or hostile, as the case might be, to the various
views of the speakers.

M'Grorty was naturally an ornate and diffusive debater,
but in moving the second reading of his Bill he was at
pains to be more logical than was his wont He began by
saying that he could understand, though he did not agree
with, those who held that the political sphere was not
Woman's sphere. But the House and the country with a
splendid unanimity had scouted that view. Woman, it was
declared, should undertake political duties. Did Honourable
Members any of them mean to say that their wives and
sisters were so inferior to them that they were only fit to dis-
charge the humble function of casting perhaps a useless
vote into the ballot-box that they might join in the jostle
about the polling-booths, but not approach the sacred halls
of the Legislature ? The Premier had said that they had

Online LibraryHenry John WrixonJacob Shumate; or, The people's march (Volume 1) → online text (page 43 of 45)