Henry John Wrixon.

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

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both the University and the country. That's my answer to
Jortin, sir.' Frankfort spoke decisively. He added, in order
to turn the conversation, and looking away from the President
to his photograph, ' The only great question that I hear of
coming up at Brassville, where I think of going, is the
Reservoir, and certainly I don't know much about it.'

1 It's a d d job ! ' exclaimed the President, with a
promptitude and warmth quite unusual with him ' a
political job.'

In fact, he had been surprised into this expression of his
opinion by the sudden and unexpected way in which the
subject had been, unintentionally as far as Frankfort was
concerned, sprung upon him.

' Indeed a job ? ' exclaimed our Professor, and as he
looked round at the President from the portrait, he saw that all
the hard lines of the face in the photograph were indeed in
the original. The usual quiet, almost complacent air was
for the moment gone.

' Yes, sir, a job only a big one.'

' It should really be at Leadville, then ? ' innocently pur-
sued our would-be politician.

By this time the President had recovered from the tem-
porary shake to his equanimity. He had confidence in
Frankfort's honesty and intelligence, and felt it would be
unwise for him to enter into details ; so he only replied by
repeating ' Leadville ? ' in an inquiring tone, and looking down
to the shining polished table with a half-suppressed laugh.

' Where should it be, then ? '

' If ye're to go into Parliament ye'll have to look into the
matter yourself. Ye'll hear enough about it,' remarked Mr.

Frankfort began to feel that he was realising the per-
plexities of the political career rather early in the race, and


was disinclined to pursue the matter further with the Presi-
dent ; as it was already plain to him that there were several
conflicting interests woven round this Reservoir, and he felt
that he could not tell where or how far they might reach.
As he did not take up the conversation, the President
went on :

' Yes, yes, Mr. Professor, we needn't trouble ourselves
now about these details. If the Overseers will consent, and
you do stand for Brassville, you'll have to look it all up. In
or out of Parliament, I'm sure that you'll prove the truth of
that line about the honest man being the noblest work of
God. The Secretary will let you know the decision of the
Overseers directly. You've not much time to lose if you are

As a fact, the recollection of the Reservoir question made
him anxious that the Professor should replace Meeks at
Brassville. He felt deeply the value of an honest man,
on the right side.

Frankfort, when he had any difficulty to cogitate over,
generally found that a quiet walk afforded a good oppor-
tunity for reflection ; so he resolved to walk back to his
lodgings, in order that he might think over the questions
that seemed to be looming up about him. From what he
knew of the President, he had little doubt that he intended
to advise the Overseers to give the required consent, and this
advice he knew would determine the matter. But then if he
did stand, what about this Reservoir for which he was to go
'hammer and tongs,' but which, according to the President,
a highly practical man, was a mere job of the politicians.
He certainly would not like to commence his political career
with a big job. Far be that from thy servant. He had
heard that a quarter of a million sterling was to be devoted,
from the coming Loan of five millions, to the Reservoir in that
part of the country. From what he had gathered at Brass-
ville, he understood that the question of site lay between that
town and Leadville, and plainly enough he could at once see
that it was a vital question for them, which should secure
the expenditure of that large sum and all the attendant
advantages of the Reservoir. But now he learnt, from
certainly a most competent authority, that it would be a job


that is, a dishonest use of public money to have it at
either Brassville or Leadville ; so that in fact, if the country's
interests were considered, it should be quite away somewhere
else. If what he concluded from the President's words and
manner was the correct view, why then this ' hammer and
tongs ' business was nothing but a misappropriation of public
money only the thing was to be done on a large scale.
Still, he did not know but that the President himself might
be prejudiced.

His way lay past the office of the Miranda News Letter,
so he called in to have a talk with the editor, his friend,
Arthur Hartpole. This gentleman and his paper belonged
to that higher and larger class of editors and newspapers
who maintain the usefulness and reputation of the institution
of the Press. His first idea in starting the News Letter was
to make it merely what its title indicated, a budget of news ;
giving the public full information upon all topics, but leaving
them to form their opinions for themselves, having no leading
article columns at all, and not attaching the paper to any
political party. He used to maintain that the first and great
function of a newspaper was to tell all news truly, and that
the more impartial an attitude it could maintain between
contending factions, the more it was fitted to efficiently per-
form that function. He soon found, however, that men
desired guidance, indeed needed it. Putting facts before
people in their present state of advancement without com-
ment and explanation was like giving the dish of food
without the spoon. The real point was to have the spoon
of sterling metal, and clean. The News Letter accordingly
took its stand as an exponent of intelligent and common-
sense politics ; and the editorial department, under Hart-
pole's direction, was distinguished both for its ability and its
sound and also its high tone. He fought vigorously, but it
was with the sword of the warrior, not the poisoned dagger
of the assassin. He never perverted or suppressed facts when
they made against his side, nor pursued private enmities
under the guise of maintaining public principles. If truth
was an obligation upon one man speaking to another, how
much more was it so, he considered, when a man spoke to
thousands, perhaps millions, of his fellow -men? When he


condemned the conduct of a public man, he did not do so in
such unmeasured terms as to induce the feeling in thoughtful
observers that it was overdone ; and he maintained that
in this way his censures, when he did censure, were all the
more formidable, as the public knew that they were neither
vindictive nor reckless. ' If I blackguard decent men, what
have I left for the rogues ? ' he used to say. The News
Letter had a good circulation, and a fair measure of support
from the general public ; but it was the special organ of the
more thoughtful people in all ranks, while the editor was the
personal friend of most of the ' best people ' in Excelsior, in
the true sense of that much misused expression. He and
Frankfort had been especially intimate, and they used often
to enjoy a Saturday afternoon the editor's afternoon in
talking over subjects either of a literary or a political character.
So in this perplexity that was threatening him Frankfort
felt that it would be rather a relief to talk over matters with
his friend. It so happened that the editor was in his office.

' How do you do, Professor how do you do ? Salve,
salve, sit down. I hope,' he continued, ' that the learned
halls and academic shades are blooming ? don't mind
criticising the metaphor. All's right, I hope ? ' he added,
as he looked at him again and thought that certainly his
friend seemed to be graver than usual.

'First-rate I am, but I am thinking of taking a rather
serious step in fact the plunge into '

' Into matrimony ! ' exclaimed the editor. ' Why, I
thought that you'd said and vowed by all the '

1 Not that not that,' interrupted our Professor, ' not
so bad as that, I mean, not quite so serious. I am thinking
of standing for Parliament at the general election for

' Well, that's serious enough too,' said the editor ' serious
enough for you. But you are just the sort of man we want
to get in. If it suits you, it will suit us.'

1 The political career is certainly a noble career,' Frank-
fort went on. ' It ought, at least, to be the noblest of all, as
we've often said in our talks together about the prospects of
the political art in our age.'

' Well, my friend, make it so.'


' So I will so I mean to ; but the fact is that at the
very start I find myself stuck up, bothered, crossed by fate,
to speak in tragic tones, by a humbugging, provoking sort
of thing, and yet what's not properly connected with politics
at all.'

4 Ah well,' answered the editor, feeling that he could
easily surmise the trouble, ' that's just it. Of course, if Borland
and the Overseers make any difficulty, above all, if they
attempt to impose any '

' Oh, that's not it,' promptly interposed Frankfort ' Old
Borland seems to be agreeable, and really fair enough about
it, and you know he's the Board.'

'Well then, what's the matter?'

' It's a confounded Reservoir,' replied Frankfort, speaking
in a deliberate tone, as he looked down and studied the well-
worn patches and the traces of many footsteps on the
editorial carpet. ' I'm not a man for strong language, but I
do feel so vexed with this thing, coming straight up athwart
me as the great determining issue on the very threshold of
my political career.'

Hartpole knew that his friend at times had an impulsive,
enthusiastic way about him, and he was desirous of smooth-
ing over any little difficulty that he, in his political inexperi-
ence, might be disposed to magnify into a positive obstacle,
so he said :

' A Reservoir ? Well, what's the matter with the Reser-
voir ? '

' Why, one of my best friends tells me that it's the
essential thing for me to go for, "hammer and tongs," as he
says. It's the only thing he does mention not a word
about principles, beliefs, public interest only this Reservoir.'

' Well, go for it, then,' calmly said the editor.

' But another really practical man tells me it's a nefarious
job and it's a quarter-million job, too.'

' As to that,' replied the editor, a little stuck up himself
now, but speaking with a jocular air, ' you see, it's our
system. The constituencies drain away at Mother State, and
the Representative is the suction-tube.'

' And it's a bad system,' replied Frankfort. ' Here I've
been studying political subjects for years, and fitting myself


to deal intelligently with them. Now that I think of stand-
ing, from all I hear, the one sole question with the con-
stituency is this Reservoir and it's said to be a job.'

' I don't say that the system is good ; it may be faulty,
like this world of ours. I have always tried to combat its
excesses in the Nezvs Letter. But you'll never get on with
any institutions unless you settle first how much bad in them
you are prepared to accept.' The editor spoke this way, as
he was afraid of Frankfort spoiling his chances by some
high-flown ideas of inexperience. He added, ' Besides, my
friend, in your indignation about this Reservoir, you've not
yet answered my question : What's the matter with it ?
What is wrong about it ? There is to be a big Loan for
water -works ; they are needed for the country, and why
should not your place get its Reservoir as well as the rest ?
Don't you now make the mistake of being too straight,
whatever you do. Do you know all the facts ? '

' No, I can't say that I do,' answered Frankfort, feeling
the force of what Hartpole said. ' That's one reason why I
looked in to see you. The practical man I spoke of as
so positively saying it was a confounded job has certainly
put me rather out of conceit with it.'

' Perhaps your practical man wants it somewhere for

' To be sure, that might be so,' our Professor reflected

' And you owe a duty to your constituents,' continued

' But not to get them public money by misrepresentation
that they ought not to get. If elected, I am trustee for
the whole country.'

1 My dear sir,' said the editor, interrupting, ' we're at one
on that point. I only don't want you to run away with an
idea that in this case may be a mere prejudice. I repeat,
how do you know that this Reservoir is wrong ? '

' Well, I looked in as I thought that you might tell me
something about it. It's been before the public before, I think.'

' Yes, I remember something about it but only indis-
tinctly,' said Hartpole. ' There are such a number of these
things ; and every district that does not get what it wants


out of each new Loan says that the others getting anything
is a job and, of course, a big one. But you can make out
all about it. Nothing easier. You know Lavender ? '

' Secretary to the Water and Irrigation Bureau ? Of
course I do, I've seen a good deal of him. I first met him
when he used to come up to the University arranging with
Borland about the Students' Field parties.'

1 Go up then and have a talk with him. He'll show you
maps, plans, papers the whole thing, and ten to one he'll
get old Blanksby, C.E., the Chief Engineer, to say something
to you ; that is to say, as much as he'll say to any one,'
Hartpole added with a laugh. 'And, as you know, though
he don't say much, what he does say is worth listening to.
He knows what he is talking about, and every one can't
say that.'

' That's just what I will do. I would like to have a talk
with Lavender, and to hear old Blanksby, too, as much as I
can get out of him. He certainly does not waste his words.
I remember,' continued Frankfort, ' when he came up about
the syphon for the Elizabeth Dorland Lake in our Gardens.
Mrs. Dorland tried to engage him in conversation, but
it was not a success. His only reply to her questions
was to ejaculate some figures, and if she wanted further
information, to point to the levels in his plans. But
he made it a complete job the President swears by

' Does he swear by the President ? ' asked Hartpole.

As time pressed, Frankfort wrote a note in the editor's
room to Herbert Lavender, Secretary to the Water and Irriga-
tion Bureau, asking him when it would be convenient to see
him. A friendly letter came the next morning:from Lavender,
naming three o'clock that afternoon. The Secretary and he
were no strangers to one another, and Lavender had liked
what he had seen of the University Professor. Also, he
wished to stand well with the University people, as he partly
affected the character of a scientific man himself, and was,
in fact, possessed of much cursory information upon sundry
science topics of the day, such as the particulars of the
photographs at the last solar eclipse, further reports about
the irrigation lines in Mars, or some recent and wholly


unexpected information concerning the rival claims of Le
Verrier and Adams to the discovery of Neptune. But these
intellectual relaxations he never allowed to interfere with the
most prompt and business-like discharge of his official and
semi-political duties. He was a fair type of the class of
non-political permanent heads of Departments, upon whose
intelligence and honesty so much of the practical success of
popular Government depends.

The exigencies of political life necessarily throw all sorts
of men into all sorts of positions. Most of them mean to do
what is best for their master, the people ; but very often they
do not know how to do it. Nothing requires more intelli-
gence and trained skill than to carry on the complex and
often difficult affairs of daily administration effectually ; yet
the political head of the Financial Department, or of a vast
Public Works administration, while he must be a successful
politician, need be, and often is, nothing more. He may be
head of the Treasury, though he has never given a thought
to the principles that underlie sound financial administration ;
nay, though he does not even know enough to be aware
that there are such principles. He may be called upon to
govern a Railway system that represents the value of millions,
without being aware of the difference between one gauge and
another, or one safety-brake and another. He may have to
direct the Water Supply of a community without having
ever heard of the different methods of irrigation, or without
being able to tell a hydrant from a syphon if he sees them.
Calling a man a Finance Minister, or a Railway Com-
missioner, does not make him wiser upon those subjects
than he was before, and the days of inspiration are over. If
there were not, then, permanent heads to the various Depart-
ments of both ability and integrity, the community would
soon have to pay the ample bill that ignorant dealing with
special subjects entails. It will place popular rule at a
disadvantage if the standard of permanent heads comes to be
lowered ; for much of the practical success of Government
depends upon these unnoticed pillars of the State.

Lavender was, as we have said, a fair representative of
this important class, being intelligent, honest, acquainted
with the facts in all matters in his Department, thoroughly


loyal to whatever party was in power, and, while always
unreservedly advising his Chief in private, supporting in
public whatever he did, and, not less important, ever keeping
his own and the Minister's counsel.

The first person to greet Frankfort, as he walked up the
long flight of steps leading to the Irrigation Bureau, was
Crane, the head porter, commonly known as Wally Crane.
It may seem to the reader to be a matter of no consequence
who the head porter was ; but this is a mistake. Wally
Crane was an important factor in the Irrigation Bureau of
Excelsior. His appearance, manner, tone of voice, pro-
nunciation of the language, and especially his deeply-
deferential bow, cap (and that a small one) in hand, were
all Irish of the Irish. Yet he never was in Ireland in his
life. He was born in New Orleans, certainly of Irish
parents, but who had long been settled there. He came to
Excelsior when a young man, and naturally appeared as a
policeman in a few months. His great diligence, joined to
his complaisant manner, secured his advance in the public
service, and in due time he was transferred to the Irrigation
Bureau, and, after long years of faithful duty, became the
head porter. In this position he managed to enlarge the
importance and raise the value of the comparatively humble
duties of his position very considerably. He was a widower,
so he was always about the offices ; disappearing at times
up a steep ladder into some attic, where he was understood
to eat and sleep. At whatever hour, early or late, the
Minister or Lavender came to the office, there he was ; just
as if he could not breathe for long anywhere else except
there or at the Parliament House. For when Parliament
was sitting Wally used to leave the office to the care of the
second porter and assiduously haunt the Lobbies, or creep
into the Gallery (if something exciting was going forward in
the House), ever ready to attend his Chief, or to hold Mr.
Lavender's bag for him when he went into the Minister's
room to give the Minister some necessary information. If
the House sat all night, it did not in the least matter to Mr.
Crane. He carried about him enough to sustain life, in the
shape of slices of bread and butter done up in brown paper,
and a small flask of something fluid ; and as the gray dawn


would be breaking upon the exhausted legislators, Wally
Crane could be seen, by those who knew where to look for
him, comfortably curled up in a corner, apparently asleep ;
but alert to the least call from the Minister or to any pre-
monitory symptoms that the House was about to rise.

He knew every member personally, but most defer-
entially ; and could give a capital opinion as to the prospects
of re-election of each, but never gave it to any one except to
his own Minister for the time being, in confidence, or to Mr.
Lavender ; or to a select Sunday party of bachelors at his
nephew Michael Crane's cottage, in Grubb Lane, down the
city. He was quite familiar with all the plots, projects,
intrigues, cabals, manoeuvres, stratagems, negotiations, machi-
nations, scandals, gossip, and rumours whatsoever that were
going forward in the political world ; but kept the most pro-
found silence concerning them except to Mr. Lavender, and
to the Minister when the great man encouraged him to
speak, or to the party in Grubb Lane. He was invaluable
in the matter of receiving deputations : whether in giving
Lavender an idea of their importance from a cursory view
in the waiting-room, or reporting to him whether they would
be likely to insist upon seeing the Minister, or could be put
off by an interview with him, Lavender ; or in himself
soothing their ruffled feelings in case of delay ; or in explain-
ing away the Minister's absence, when he would fail to keep
an appointment ; at the same time confidentially explaining
to the disappointed deputationists that they would gain their
object much better by seeing the Secretary, who, he would
assure them, had the whole thing not merely at his finger
ends, but in his hands. Whenever any one called on either
Minister or Secretary upon business that was not specified,
Walter Crane left no stone unturned to ascertain what they
had called about, and generally succeeded in doing so ;
except in strictly confidential matters, when he sketched out
of his own consciousness the cause, and very often did so

The key-note to Crane's character was his absolute
loyalty to the Irrigation Bureau and all that concerned it.
He worshipped each new Minister as he arose ; and as for
the Secretary, his devotion to him was unchanging. His



honesty was clear as the noonday. He would have died
upon the floor ere he would have allowed an invader to carry
off even an old pen from its precincts.

Lavender had told him to be on the look-out for Pro-
fessor Frankfort, and though the Professor had on previous
occasions called once or twice to see the Secretary, yet the
special appointment for this visit, the coming election, and
some rumours that Crane had seen in the papers, led him to
attach especial interest to it.

' And how's yer Honour's health ? ' he asked as Frankfort
came up, at the same time removing the small cap which he
wore right at the back of his head (just as if he felt that he
was not entitled to have a head-covering of a full, upstanding
description), bowing low down, and looking quite pleased to
see the visitor. ' An' who will yer Honour be seeing ? '

' I want to see Mr. Lavender, please.'

' It's not His Excellency the Minister ye'd be after see-
ing ? ' queried Mr. Crane. He always styled the Minister
' His Excellency,' truly ex necessitate rei ; for, as he was
bound by his nature to address the Secretary and Members
of Parliament as ' yer Honour,' and since there must be
some distinction between such an exalted personage as the
Minister and ordinary mortals, he had to devise some appro-
priate title for the former. He had asked his last question
because he had some idea that Frankfort might be coming
to see if he could get the Government support at the General
Election, in which case he would, of course, want to see the
Minister, not the Secretary.

' No, I only want to see Mr. Lavender. I think he
expects me/

' An' it's welcome yer Honour would be to either, surely,
surely,' he said gently to himself. ' If yer Honour would
just 'cuse me going before ye, I'll show ye straight into his
room.' He was disappointed at the answer, as it seemed to
show that, after all, he had only called about some ordinary
business matter ; so he resolved, for the sake of the quieting
of doubts, to do a little necessary dusting in the Secretary's
office, after he had ushered in the Professor. Lavender was
quite accustomed to these special fits of zeal in favour of the
furniture on the part of the head porter, and in fact rather


encouraged them, as sometimes he found the presence of
such a keen observer of things useful.

Frankfort soon satisfied Mr. Crane's curiosity, as he had
no desire to keep his business secret.

' How are you, Professor ? Glad to see you. Nothing
wrong with the syphon at the Elizabeth Borland Lake, I

Online LibraryHenry John WrixonJacob Shumate; or, The people's march (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 45)