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.
It was about this time that a touching friendship began which ought, in justice, to be briefly chronicled. It was impossible for the Honourable Brush Bascom and the Honourable Jacob Botcher to have Mr. Crewe sitting between them and not conceive a strong affection for him. The Honourable Brush, though not given to expressing his feelings, betrayed some surprise at the volumes Mr. Crewe had contributed to the stream of bills; and Mr. Botcher, in a Delphic whisper, invited Mr. Crewe to visit him in room forty-eight of the Pelican that evening. To tell the truth, Mr. Crewe returned the feeling of his companions warmly, and he had even entertained the idea of asking them both to dine with him that evening.
Number forty-eight (the Honourable Jake's) was a free-and-easy democratic resort. No three knocks and a password before you turn the key here. Almost before your knuckles hit the panel you heard Mr. Botcher's hearty voice shouting "Come in," in spite of the closed transom. The Honourable Jake, being a tee-totaller, had no bathroom, and none but his intimate friends ever looked in the third from the top bureau drawer.
The proprietor of the Pelican, who in common with the rest of humanity had fallen a victim to the rough and honest charms and hearty good fellowship of the Honourable Jake, always placed a large padded arm-chair in number forty-eight before the sessions, knowing that the Honourable Jake's constituency would be uniformly kind to him. There Mr. Botcher was wont to sit (when he was not depressing one of the tiles in the rotunda), surrounded by his friends and their tobacco smoke, discussing in his frank and manly fashion the public questions of the day.
Mr. Crewe thought it a little strange that, whenever he entered a room in the Pelican, a silence should succeed the buzz of talk which he had heard through the closed transom; but he very naturally attributed this to the constraint which ordinary men would be likely to feel in his presence. In the mouth of one presumptuous member the word "railroad" was cut in two by an agate glance from the Honourable Brush, and Mr. Crewe noted with some surprise that the Democratic leader of the House, Mr. Painter, was seated on Mr. Botcher's mattress, with an expression that was in singular contrast to the look of bold defiance which he had swept over the House that afternoon in announcing his opposition policy. The vulgar political suggestion might have crept into a more trivial mind than Mr. Crewe's that Mr. Painter was being, "put to bed," the bed being very similar to that of Procrustes. Mr. Botcher extracted himself from the nooks and crannies of his armchair.