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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMr. Crewe's Career - Book 2 - Chapter 20. Mr. Crewe: An Appreciation
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Mr. Crewe's Career - Book 2 - Chapter 20. Mr. Crewe: An Appreciation Post by :nexus Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :May 2012 Read :2804

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Mr. Crewe's Career - Book 2 - Chapter 20. Mr. Crewe: An Appreciation

BOOK II
CHAPTER XX. MR. CREWE: AN APPRECIATION (1)

It is given to some rare mortals--with whom fame precedes grey hairs or baldness to read, while still on the rising tide of their efforts, that portion of their lives which has already been inscribed on the scroll of history--or something like it. Mr. Crewe in kilts at five; and (prophetic picture!) with a train of cars which--so the family tradition runs--was afterwards demolished; Mr. Crewe at fourteen, in delicate health; this picture was taken abroad, with a long-suffering tutor who could speak feelingly, if he would, of embryo geniuses. Even at this early period Humphrey Crewe's thirst for knowledge was insatiable: he cared little, the biography tells us, for galleries and churches and ruins, but his comments upon foreign methods of doing business were astonishingly precocious. He recommended to amazed clerks in provincial banks the use of cheques, ridiculed to speechless station-masters the side-entrance railway carriage with its want of room, and the size of the goods trucks. He is said to have been the first to suggest that soda-water fountains might be run at a large profit in London.

In college, in addition to keeping up his classical courses, he found time to make an exhaustive study of the railroads of the United States, embodying these ideas in a pamphlet published shortly after graduation. This pamphlet is now, unfortunately, very rare, but the anonymous biographer managed to get one and quote from it. If Mr. Crewe's suggestions had been carried out, seventy-five per cent of the railroad accidents might have been eliminated. Thorough was his watchword even then. And even at that period he foresaw, with the prophecy of genius, the days of single-track congestion.

His efforts to improve Leith and the State in general, to ameliorate the condition of his neighbours, were fittingly and delicately dwelt upon. A desire to take upon himself the burden of citizenship led--as we know--to further self-denial. He felt called upon to go to the Legislature--and this is what he saw:--(Mr. Crewe is quoted here at length in an admirable, concise, and hair-raising statement given in an interview to his biographer. But we have been with him, and know what he saw. It is, for lack of space, reluctantly omitted.)

And now we are to take up where the biography left off; to relate, in a chapter if possible, one of the most remarkable campaigns in the history of this country. A certain reformer of whose acquaintance the honest chronicler boasts (a reformer who got elected!) found, on his first visit to the headquarters he had hired--two citizens under the influence of liquor and a little girl with a skip rope. Such are the beginnings that try men's souls.

The window of every independent shopkeeper in Ripton contained a large-sized picture of the Leith statesman, his determined chin slightly thrust down into the Gladstone collar. Underneath were the words, "I will put an end to graft and railroad rule. I am a Candidate of the People. Opening rally of the People's Campaign at the Opera House, at 8 P.M., July 10th. The Hon. Humphrey Crewe, of Leith, will tell the citizens of Ripton how their State is governed."

"Father," said Victoria, as she read this announcement (three columns wide, in the Ripton Record) as they sat at breakfast together, "do you mind my going? I can get Hastings Weare to take me."

"Not at all," said Mr. Flint, who had returned from New York in a better frame of mind. "I should like a trustworthy account of that meeting. Only," he added, "I should advise you to go early, Victoria, in order to get a seat."

"You don't object to my listening to criticism of you?"

"Not by Humphrey Crewe," laughed Mr. Flint.

Early suppers instead of dinners were the rule at Leith on the evening of the historic day, and the candidate himself, in his red Leviathan, was not inconsiderably annoyed, on the way to Ripton, by innumerable carryalls and traps filled with brightly gowned recruits of that organization of Mrs. Pomfret's which Beatrice Chillingham had nicknamed "The Ladies' Auxiliary.". In vain Mr. Crewe tooted his horn: the sound of it was drowned by the gay talk and laughter in the carryalls, and shrieks ensued when the Leviathan cut by with only six inches to spare, and the candidate turned and addressed the drivers in language more forceful than polite, and told the ladies they acted as if they were going to a Punch-and-Judy show.

"Poor dear Humphrey!" said, Mrs. Pomfret, "is so much in earnest. I wouldn't give a snap for a man without a temper."

"Poor dear Humphrey" said Beatrice Chillingham, in an undertone to her neighbour, "is exceedingly rude and ungrateful. That's what I think."

The occupants of one vehicle heard the horn, and sought the top of a grassy mound to let the Leviathan go by. And the Leviathan, with characteristic contrariness, stopped.

"Hello," said Mr. Crewe, with a pull at his cap. "I intended to be on the lookout for you."

"That is very thoughtful, Humphrey, considering how many things you have to be on the lookout for this evening," Victoria replied.

"That's all right," was Mr. Crewe's gracious reply. "I knew you'd be sufficiently broad-minded to come, and I hope you won't take offence at certain remarks I think it my duty to make."

"Don't let my presence affect you," she answered, smiling; "I have come prepared for anything."

"I'll tell Tooting to give you a good seat," he called back, as he started onward.

Hastings Weare looked up at her, with laughter-brimming eyes.

"Victoria, you're a wonder!" he remarked. "Say, do you remember that tall fellow we met at Humphrey's party, Austen Vane?"

"Yes."

"I saw him on the street in Ripton the other day, and he came right up and spoke to me. He hadn't forgotten my name. Now, he'd be my notion of a candidate. He makes you feel as if your presence in the world meant something to him."

"I think he does feel that way," replied Victoria.

"I don't blame him if he feels that way about you," said Hastings, who made love openly.

"Hastings," she answered, "when you get a little older, you will learn to confine yourself to your own opinions."

"When I do," he retorted audaciously, "they never make you blush like that."

"It's probably because you have never learned to be original," she replied. But Hastings had been set to thinking.

Mrs. Pomfret, with her foresight and her talent for management, had given the Ladies' Auxiliary notice that they were not to go farther forward than the twelfth row. She herself, with some especially favoured ones, occupied a box, which was the nearest thing to being on the stage. One unforeseen result of Mrs. Pomfret's arrangement was that the first eleven rows were vacant, with the exception of one old man and five or six schoolboys. Such is the courage of humanity in general! On the arrival of the candidate, instead of a surging crowd lining the sidewalk, he found only a fringe of the curious, whose usual post of observation was the railroad station, standing silently on the curb. Within, Mr. Tooting's duties as an usher had not been onerous. He met Mr. Crewe in the vestibule, and drew him into the private office.

"The railroad's fixed 'em," said the manager, indignantly, but sotto voce; "I've found that out. Hilary Vane had the word passed around town that if they came, somethin' would fall on 'em. The Tredways and all the people who own factories served notice on their men that if they paid any attention to this meeting they'd lose their job. But say, the people are watchin' you, just the same."

"How many people are in there?" Mr. Crewe demanded.

"Twenty-seven, when I came out," said Mr. Tooting, with commendable accuracy. "But it wants fifteen minutes to eight."

"And who," asked Mr. Crewe, "is to introduce me?"

An expression of indignation spread over Mr. Tooting's face.

"There ain't a man in Ripton's got sand enough!" he exclaimed. "Sol Gridley was a-goin' to, but he went to New York on the noon train. I guess it's a pleasure trip," Mr. Tooting hinted darkly.

"Why," said Mr. Crewe, "he's the fellow--"

"Exactly," Mr. Tooting replied, "and he did get a lot of 'em, travelling about. But Sol has got to work on the quiet, you understand. He feels he can't come out right away."

"And how about Amos Ricketts? Where's he?"

"Amos," said Mr. Tooting, regretfully, "was taken very sudden about five o'clock. One of his spells come on, and he sent me word to the Ripton House. He had his speech all made up, and it was a good one, too. He was going to tell folks pretty straight how the railroad beat him for mayor."

Mr. Crewe made a gesture of disgust.

"I'll introduce myself," he said. "They all know me, anyhow."

"Say," said Mr. Tooting, laying a hand on his candidate's arm. "You couldn't do any better. I've bin for that all along."

"Hold on," said Mr. Crewe, listening, "a lot of people are coming in now."

What Mr. Crewe had heard, however, was the arrival of the Ladies' Auxiliary,--five and thirty strong, from Leith. But stay! Who are these coming? More ladies--ladies in groups of two and three and five! ladies of Ripton whose husbands, for some unexplained reason, have stayed at home; and Mr. Tooting, as he watched them with mingled feelings, became a woman's suffragist on the spot. He dived into the private office once more, where he found Mr. Crewe seated with his legs crossed, calmly reading a last winter's playbill. (Note for a more complete biography.)

"Well, Tooting," he said, "I thought they'd begin to come."

"They're mostly women," Mr. Tooting informed him.

"Women!"

"Hold on!" said Mr. Tooting, who had the true showman's instinct. "Can't you see that folks are curious? They're afraid to come 'emselves, and they're sendin' their wives and daughters. If you get the women tonight, they'll go home and club the men into line."

Eight strokes boomed out from the tower of the neighbouring town hall, and an expectant flutter spread over the audience,--a flatter which disseminated faint odours of sachet and other mysterious substances in which feminine apparel is said to the laid away. The stage was empty, save for a table which held a pitcher of water and a glass.

"It's a pretty good imitation of a matinee," Hastings Weare remarked. "I wonder whom the front seats are reserved for. Say, Victoria, there's your friend Mr. Vane in the corner. He's looking over here."

"He has a perfect right to look where he chooses," said Victoria. She wondered whether he would come over and sit next to her if she turned around, and decided instantly that he wouldn't. Presently, when she thought Hastings was off his guard, she did turn, to meet, as she expected, Austen's glance fixed upon her. Their greeting was the signal of two people with a mutual understanding. He did not rise, and although she acknowledged to herself a feeling of disappointment, she gave him credit for a nice comprehension of the situation. Beside him was his friend Tom Gaylord, who presented to her a very puzzled face. And then, if there had been a band, it would have been time to play "See, the Conquering Hero Comes!"

Why wasn't there a band? No such mistake, Mr. Tooting vowed, should be made at the next rally.

It was Mrs. Pomfret who led the applause from her box as the candidate walked modestly up the side aisle and presently appeared, alone, on the stage. The flutter of excitement was renewed, and this time it might almost be called a flutter of apprehension. But we who have heard Mr. Crewe speak are in no alarm for our candidate. He takes a glass of iced water; he arranges, with the utmost sangfroid, his notes on the desk and adjusts the reading light. Then he steps forward and surveys the scattered groups.

"Ladies--" a titter ran through the audience,--a titter which started somewhere in the near neighbourhood of Mr. Hastings Weare--and rose instantly to several hysterical peals of feminine laughter. Mrs. Pomfret, outraged, sweeps the frivolous offenders with her lorgnette; Mr. Crewe, with his arm resting, on the reading-desk, merely raises the palm of his hand to a perpendicular reproof,--"and gentlemen." At this point the audience is thoroughly cowed. "Ladies and gentlemen and fellow citizens. I thank you for the honour you have done me in coming here to listen to the opening speech of my campaign to-night. It is a campaign for decency and good government, and I know that the common people of the State--of whom I have the honour to be one--demand these things. I cannot say as much for the so-called prominent citizens," said Mr. Crewe, glancing about him; "not one of your prominent citizens in Ripton would venture to offend the powers that be by consenting to introduce me to-night, or dared come into this theatre and take seats within thirty feet of this platform." Here Mr. Crewe let his eyes rest significantly on the eleven empty rows, while his hearers squirmed in terrified silence at this audacity. Even the Ripton women knew that this was high treason beneath the walls of the citadel, and many of them glanced furtively at the strangely composed daughter of Augustus P. Flint.

"I will show you that I can stand on my own feet," Mr. Crewe continued. "I will introduce myself. I am Humphrey Crewe of Leith, and I claim to have added something to the welfare and prosperity of this State, and I intend to add more before I have finished."

At this point, as might have been expected, spontaneous applause broke forth, originating in the right-hand stage box. Here was a daring defiance indeed, a courage of such a high order that it completely carried away the ladies and drew reluctant plaudits from the male element. "Give it to 'em, Humphrey!" said one of those who happened to be sitting next to Miss Flint, and who received a very severe pinch in the arm in consequence.

"I thank the gentleman," answered Mr. Crewe, "and I propose to--(Handclapping and sachet.) I propose to show that you spend something like two hundred thousand dollars a year to elect legislators and send 'em to the capital, when the real government of your State is in a room in the Pelican Hotel known as the Railroad Room, and the real governor is a citizen of your town, the Honourable Hilary Vane, who sits there and acts for his master, Mr. Augustus P. Flint of New York. And I propose to prove to you that, before the Honourable Adam B. Hunt appeared as that which has come to be known as the 'regular' candidate, Mr. Flint sent for him to go to New York and exacted certain promises from him. Not that it was necessary, but the Northeastern Railroads never take any chances. (Laughter.) The Honourable Adam B. Hunt is what they call a 'safe' man, meaning by that a man who will do what Mr. Flint wants him to do. While I am not 'safe' because I have dared to defy them in your name, and will do what the people want me to do. (Clapping and cheers from a gentleman in the darkness, afterwards identified as Mr. Tooting.) Now, my friends, are you going to continue to allow a citizen of New York to nominate your governors, and do you intend, tamely, to give the Honourable Adam B. Hunt your votes?"

"They ain't got any votes," said a voice--not that of Mr. Hastings Weare, for it came from the depths of the gallery.

"'The hand that rocks the cradle sways the world,'" answered Mr. Crewe, and there was no doubt about the sincerity of the applause this time.

"The campaign of the Honourable Humphrey Crewe of Leith," said the State Tribune next day, "was inaugurated at the Opera House in Ripton last night before an enthusiastic audience consisting of Mr. Austen Vane, Mr. Thomas Gaylord, Jr., Mr. Hamilton Tooting, two reporters, and seventy-four ladies, who cheered the speaker to the echo. About half of these ladies were summer residents of Leith in charge of the well-known social leader, Mrs. Patterson Pomfret,--an organized league which, it is understood, will follow the candidate about the State in the English fashion, kissing the babies and teaching the mothers hygienic cooking and how to ondule the hair."

After speaking for an hour and a half, the Honourable Humphrey Crewe declared that he would be glad to meet any of the audience who wished to shake his hand, and it was Mrs. Pomfret who reached him first.

"Don't be discouraged, Humphrey,--you are magnificent," she whispered.

"Discouraged!" echoed Mr. Crewe. "You can't kill an idea, and we'll see who's right and who's wrong before I get through with 'em."

"What a noble spirit!" Mrs. Pomfret exclaimed aside to Mrs. Chillingham. Then she added, in a louder tone, "Ladies, if you will kindly tell me your names, I shall be happy to introduce you to the candidate. Well, Victoria, I didn't expect to see you here."

"Why not?" said Victoria. "Humphrey, accept my congratulations."

"Did you like it?" asked Mr. Crewe. "I thought it was a pretty good speech myself. There's nothing like telling the truth, you know. And, by the way, I hope to see you in a day or two, before I start for Kingston. Telephone me when you come down to Leith."

The congratulations bestowed on the candidate by the daughter of the president of the Northeastern Railroads quite took the breath out of the spectators who witnessed the incident, and gave rise to the wildest conjectures. And the admiration of Mr. Hastings Weare was unbounded.

"You've got the most magnificent nerve I ever saw, Victoria," he exclaimed, as they made their way towards the door.

"You forget Humphrey," she replied.

Hastings looked at her and chuckled. In fact, he chuckled all the way home. In the vestibule they met Mr. Austen Vane and Mr. Thomas Gaylord, the latter coming forward with a certain palpable embarrassment. All through the evening Tom had been trying to account for her presence at the meeting, until Austen had begged him to keep his speculations to himself. "She can't be engaged to him!" Mr. Gaylord had exclaimed more than once, under his breath. "Why not?" Austen had answered; "there's a good deal about him to admire." "Because she's got more sense," said Tom doggedly. Hence he was at a loss for words when she greeted him.

"Well, Mr. Gaylord," she said, "you see no bones were broken, after all. But I appreciated your precaution in sending the buggy behind me, although it wasn't necessary.

"I felt somewhat responsible," replied Tom, and words failed him. "Here's Austen Vane," he added, indicating by a nod of the head the obvious presence of that gentleman. "You'll excuse me. There's a man here I want to see."

"What's the matter with Mr. Gaylord?" Victoria asked. "He seems so--queer."

They were standing apart, alone, Hastings Weare having gone to the stables for the runabout.

"Mr. Gaylord imagines he doesn't get along with the opposite sex," Austen replied, with just a shade of constraint.

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Victoria; "we got along perfectly the other day when he rescued me from the bushes. What's the matter with him?"

Austen laughed, and their eyes met.

"I think he is rather surprised to see you here," he said.

"And you?" returned Victoria. "Aren't you equally out of place?"

He did not care to go into an explanation of Tom's suspicion in regard to Mr. Crewe.

"My curiosity was too much for me," he replied, smiling.

"So was mine," she replied, and suddenly demanded: "What did you think of Humphrey's speech?"

Their eyes met. And despite the attempted seriousness of her tone they joined in an irresistible and spontaneous laughter. They were again on that plane of mutual understanding and intimacy for which neither could account.

"I have no criticism to make of Mr. Crewe as an orator, at least," he said.

Then she grew serious again, and regarded him steadfastly.

"And--what he said?" she asked.

Austen wondered again at the courage she had displayed. All he had been able to think of in the theatre, while listening to Mr. Crewe's words of denunciation of the Northeastern Railroads, had been of the effect they might have on Victoria's feelings, and from time to time he had glanced anxiously at her profile. And now, looking into her face, questioning, trustful--he could not even attempt to evade. He was silent.

"I shouldn't have asked you that," she said. "One reason I came was because--because I wanted to hear the worst. You were too considerate to tell me--all."

He looked mutely into her eyes, and a great desire arose in him to be able to carry her away from it all. Many times within the past year, when the troubles and complications of his life had weighed upon him, his thoughts had turned to, that Western country, limited only by the bright horizons where the sun rose and set. If he could only take her there, or into his own hills, where no man might follow them! It was a primeval longing, and, being a woman and the object of it, she saw its essential meaning in his face. For a brief moment they stood as completely alone as on the crest of Sawanec.

"Good night," she said, in a low voice.

He did not trust himself to speak at once, but went down the steps with her to the curb, where Hastings Weare was waiting in the runabout.

"I was just telling Miss Flint," said that young gentleman, "that you would have been my candidate."

Austen's face relaxed.

"Thank you, Mr. Weare," he said simply; and to Victoria, "Good night."

At the corner, when she turned, she saw him still standing on the edge of the sidewalk, his tall figure thrown into bold relief by the light which flooded from the entrance. The account of the Ripton meeting, substantially as it appeared in the State Tribune, was by a singular coincidence copied at once into sixty-odd weekly newspapers, and must have caused endless merriment throughout the State. Congressman Fairplay's prophecy of "negligible" was an exaggeration, and one gentleman who had rashly predicted that Mr. Crewe would get twenty delegates out of a thousand hid himself for shame. On the whole, the "monumental farce" forecast seemed best to fit the situation. A conference was held at Leith between the candidate, Mr. Tooting, and the Honourable Timothy Watling of Newcastle, who was preparing the nominating speech, although the convention was more than two months distant. Mr. Watling was skilled in rounded periods of oratory and in other things political; and both he and Mr. Tooting reiterated their opinion that there was no particle of doubt about Mr. Crewe's nomination.

"But we'll have to fight fire with fire," Mr. Tooting declared. It was probably an accident that he happened to kick, at this instant, Mr. Watling under cover of the table. Mr. Watling was an old and valued friend.

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Crewe, "I haven't the slightest doubt of my nomination, either. I do not hesitate to say, however, that the expenses of this campaign, at this early stage, seem to me out of all proportion. Let me see what you have there."

The Honourable Timothy Wading had produced a typewritten list containing some eighty towns and wards, each followed by a name and the number of the delegates therefrom--and figures.

"They'd all be enthusiastic Crewe men--if they could be seen by the right party," declared Mr. Tooting.

Mr. Crewe ran his eye over the list.

"Whom would you suggest to see 'em?" he asked coldly.

"There's only one party I know of that has much influence over 'em," Mr. Tooting replied, with a genial but deferential indication of his friend.

At this point Mr. Crewe's secretary left the room on an errand, and the three statesmen went into executive session. In politics, as in charity, it is a good rule not to let one's right hand know what the left hand doeth. Half an hour later the three emerged into the sunlight, Mr. Tooting and Mr. Watling smoking large cigars.

"You've got a great lay-out here, Mr. Crewe," Mr. Watling remarked. "It must have stood you in a little money, eh? Yes, I'll get mileage books, and you'll hear from me every day or two."

And now we are come to the infinitely difficult task of relating in a whirlwind manner the story of a whirlwind campaign--a campaign that was to make the oldest resident sit up and take notice. In the space of four short weeks a miracle had begun to show itself. First, there was the Kingston meeting, with the candidate, his thumb in his watch-pocket, seated in an open carriage beside Mr. Hamilton Tooting,--a carriage draped with a sheet on which was painted "Down with Railroad Ring Rule."

The carriage was preceded by the Kingston Brass Band, producing throbbing martial melodies, and followed (we are not going to believe the State Tribune any longer) by a jostling' and cheering crowd. The band halts before the G.A.R. Hall; the candidate alights, with a bow of acknowledgment, and goes to the private office until the musicians are seated in front of the platform, when he enters to renewed cheering and the tune of "See, the Conquering Hero Comes!"

An honest historian must admit that there were two accounts of this meeting. Both agree that Mr. Crewe introduced himself, and poured a withering sarcasm on the heads of Kingston's prominent citizens. One account, which the ill-natured declared to be in Mr. Tooting's style, and which appeared (in slightly larger type than that of the other columns) in the Kingston and local papers, stated that the hall was crowded to suffocation, and that the candidate was "accorded an ovation which lasted for fully five minutes."

Mr. Crewe's speech was printed--in this slightly larger type. Woe to the Honourable Adam B. Hunt, who had gone to New York to see whether he could be governor! Why didn't he come out on the platform? Because he couldn't. "Safe" candidates couldn't talk. His subservient and fawning reports on accidents while chairman of the Railroad Commission were ruthlessly quoted (amid cheers and laughter). What kind of railroad service was Kingston getting compared to what it should have? Compared, indeed, to what it had twenty years ago? An informal reception was held afterwards.

More meetings followed, at the rate of four a week, in county after county. At the end of fifteen days a selectman (whose name will go down in history) voluntarily mounted the platform and introduced the Honourable Humphrey Crewe to the audience; not, to be sure, as the saviour of the State; and from that day onward Mr. Crewe did not lack for a sponsor. On the other hand, the sponsors became more pronounced, and at Harwich (a free-thinking district) a whole board of selectmen and five prominent citizens sat gravely beside the candidate in the town hall.

(1) Paul Pardriff, Ripton. Sent post free, on application, to voters and others.

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