That day, and for many days thereafter, Mr. Crewe spent some time--as was entirely proper--among the back seats, making the acquaintance of his humbler fellow members of the submerged four hundred and seventy. He had too long neglected this, so he told them, but his mind had been on high matters. During many of his mature years he had pondered as to how the welfare of community and State could be improved, and the result of that thought was embodied in the bills of which they had doubtless received copies. If not, down went their names in a leather-bound memorandum, and they got copies in the next mails.
The delight of some of the simple rustic members at this unbending of a great man may be imagined. To tell the truth, they had looked with little favour upon the intimacy which had sprung up between him and those tyrannical potentates, Messrs. Botcher and Bascom, and many who had the courage of their convictions expressed then very frankly. Messrs. Botcher and Bascom were, when all was said, mere train despatchers of the Northeastern, who might some day bring on a wreck the like of which the State had never seen. Mr. Crewe was in a receptive mood; indeed his nature, like Nebuchadnezzar's, seemed to have experienced some indefinable and vital change. Was this the Mr. Crewe the humble rural members had pictured to themselves? Was this the Mr. Crewe who, at the beginning of the session, had told them roundly it was their duty to vote for his bills?
Mr. Crewe was surprised, he said, to hear so much sentiment against the Northeastern Railroads. Yes, he was a friend of Mr. Flint's--they were neighbours in the country. But if these charges had any foundation whatever, they ought to be looked into--they ought to be taken up. A sovereign people should not be governed by a railroad. Mr. Crewe was a business man, but first of all he was a citizen; as a business man he did not intend to talk vaguely, but to investigate thoroughly. And then, if charges should be made, he would make them specifically, and as a citizen contend for the right.
It is difficult to restrain one's pen in dealing with a hero, but it is not too much to say that Mr. Crewe impressed many of the country members favourably. How, indeed, could he help doing so? His language was moderate, his poise that of a man of affairs, and there was a look in his eye and a determination in his manner that boded ill for the Northeastern if he should, after weighing the facts, decide that they ought to be flagellated. His friendship with Mr. Flint and the suspicion that he might be inclined to fancy Mr. Flint's daughter would not influence him in the least; of that many of his hearers were sure. Not a few of them were invited to dinner at the Duncan house, and shown the library and the conservatory.
"Walk right in," said Mr. Crewe. "You can't hurt the flowers unless you bump against the pots, and if you walk straight you can't do that. I brought the plants down from my own hothouse in Leith. Those are French geraniums--very hard to get. They're double, you see, and don't look like the scrawny things you see in this country. Yes (with a good- natured smile), I guess they do cost something. I'll ask my secretary what I paid for that plant. Is that dinner, Waters? Come right in, gentlemen, we won't wait for ceremony."
Whereupon the delegation would file into the dining room in solemn silence behind the imperturbable Waters, with dubious glances at Mr. Waters' imperturbable understudy in green and buff and silver buttons. Honest red hands, used to milking at five o'clock in the morning, and hands not so red that measured dry goods over rural counters for insistent female customers fingered in some dismay what seemed an inexplicable array of table furniture.
"It don't make any difference which fork you take," said the good-natured owner of this palace of luxury, "only I shouldn't advise you to use one for the soup you wouldn't get much of it--what? Yes, this house suits me very well. It was built by old man Duncan, you know, and his daughter married an Italian nobleman and lives in a castle. The State ought to buy the house for a governor's mansion. It's a disgrace that our governor should have to live in the Pelican Hotel, and especially in a room next to that of the chief counsel of the Northeastern, with only a curtain and a couple of folding doors between."
"That's right," declared an up-state member, the governor hadn't ought to live next to Vane. But as to gettin' him a house like this--kind of royal, ain't it? Couldn't do justice to it on fifteen hundred a year, could he? Costs you a little mite more to live in it, don't it?"