It is not a pleasure to record the perfidy of man, nor the lack of judgment which prevents him, in his circumscribed lights, from recognizing undoubted geniuses when he sees them. Perhaps it was jealousy on General Doby's part, and a selfish desire to occupy the centre of the stage himself, but at any rate we will pass hastily over the disagreeable portions of this narrative. Mr. Crewe settled himself with his feet extended, and with a complacency which he had rightly earned by leaving no stone unturned, to listen. He sat up a little when the Appropriations Committee, headed by the Honourable Jake Botcher, did not contain his name--but it might have been an oversight of Mr. Utters; when the Judiciary (Mr. Ridout's committee) was read it began to look like malice; committee after committee was revealed, and the name of Humphrey Crewe might not have been contained in the five hundred except as the twelfth member of forestry, until it appeared at the top of National Affairs. Here was a broad enough field, certainly,--the Trusts, the Tariff, the Gold Standard, the Foreign Possessions,--and Mr. Crewe's mind began to soar in spite of himself. Public Improvements was reached, and he straightened. Mr. Beck, a railroad lawyer from Belfast, led it. Mr. Crewe arose, as any man of spirit would, and walked with dignity up the aisle and out of the house. This deliberate attempt to crush genius would inevitably react on itself. The Honourable Hilary Vane and Mr. Flint should be informed of it at once.
"FOR BILLS MAY COME, AND BILLS MAY GO"
A man with a sense of humour once went to the capital as a member of the five hundred from his town, and he never went back again. One reason for this was that he died the following year, literally, the doctors said, from laughing too much. I know that this statement will be received incredulously, and disputed by those who claim that laughter is a good thing; the honourable gentleman died from too much of a good thing. He was overpowered by having too much to laugh at, and the undiscerning thought him a fool, and the Empire had no need of a court jester. But many of his sayings have lived, nevertheless. He wrote a poem, said to be a plagiarism, which contains the quotation at the beginning of this chapter: "For bills may come, and bills may go, but I go on forever." The first person singular is supposed to relate to the United Northeastern Railroads. It was a poor joke at best.
It is needless to say that the gentleman referred to had a back seat among the submerged four hundred and seventy,--and that he kept it. No discerning and powerful well-wishers came forward and said to him, "Friend, go up higher." He sat, doubled up, in number, and the gods gave him compensation in laughter; he disturbed the Solons around him, who were interested in what was going on in front, and trying to do their duty to their constituents by learning parliamentary procedure before the Speaker got his gold watch and shed tears over it.
The gentleman who laughed and died is forgotten, as he deserves to be, and it never occurred to anybody that he might have been a philosopher, after all. There is something irresistibly funny about predestination; about men who are striving and learning and soberly voting upon measures with which they have as little to do as guinea-pigs. There were certain wise and cynical atheists who did not attend the sessions at all except when they received mysterious hints to do so. These were chiefly from Newcastle. And there were others who played poker in the state-house cellar waiting for the Word to come to them, when they went up and voted (prudently counting their chips before they did so), and descended again. The man with a sense of humour laughed at these, too, and at the twenty blackbirds in the Senate,--but not so heartily. He laughed at their gravity, for no gravity can equal that of gentlemen who play with stacked cards.
The risible gentleman laughed at the proposed legislation, about which he made the song, and he likened it to a stream that rises hopefully in the mountains, and takes its way singing at the prospect of reaching the ocean, but presently flows into a hole in the ground to fill the forgotten caverns of the earth, and is lost to the knowledge and sight of man. The caverns he labelled respectively Appropriations, Railroad, Judiciary, and their guardians were unmistakably the Honourables Messrs. Bascom, Botcher, and Ridout. The greatest cavern of all he called "The Senate."
If you listen, you can hear the music of the stream of bills as it is rising hopefully and flowing now: "Mr. Crewe of Leith gives notice that on to-morrow or some subsequent day he will introduce a bill entitled, 'An act for the Improvement of the State Highways.' Mr. Crewe of Leith gives notice, etc. "An act for the Improvement of the Practice of Agriculture.' 'An act relating to the State Indebtedness.' 'An act to increase the State Forest Area.' 'An act to incorporate the State Economic League.' 'An act to incorporate the State Children's Charities Association.' 'An act in relation to Abandoned Farms.'" These were some of the most important, and they were duly introduced on the morrow, and gravely referred by the Speaker to various committees. As might be expected, a man whose watchword is, "thorough" immediately got a list of those committees, and lost no time in hunting up the chairmen and the various available members thereof.
As a man of spirit, also, Mr. Crewe wrote to Mr. Flint, protesting as to the manner in which he had been treated concerning committees. In the course of a week he received a kind but necessarily brief letter from the Northeastern's president to remind him that he persisted in a fallacy; as a neighbour, Mr. Flint would help him to the extent of his power, but the Northeastern Railroads could not interfere in legislative or political matters. Mr. Crewe was naturally pained by the lack of confidence of his friend; it seems useless to reiterate that he was far from being a fool, and no man could be in the capital a day during the session without being told of the existence of Number Seven, no matter how little the informant might know of what might be going on there. Mr. Crewe had been fortunate enough to see the inside of that mysterious room, and, being a sufficiently clever man to realize the importance and necessity of government by corporations, had been shocked at nothing he had seen or heard. However, had he had a glimpse of the Speaker's lists under the hopelessly crushed hat of Mr. Bascom, perhaps he might have been shocked, after all.