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   Chapter 3 A FALLING-OUT IN HIGH PLACES

Mr. Crewe's Career -- Volume 3 By Winston Churchill Characters: 16472

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


Although one of the most exciting political battles ever fought is fast coming to its climax, and a now jubilant Mr. Crewe is contesting every foot of ground in the State with the determination and pertinacity which make him a marked man; although the convention wherein his fate will be decided is now but a few days distant, and everything has been done to secure a victory which mortal man can do, let us follow Hilary Vane to Fairview. Not that Hilary has been idle. The "Book of Arguments" is exhausted, and the chiefs and the captains have been to Ripton, and received their final orders, but more than one has gone back to his fief with the vision of a changed Hilary who has puzzled them. Rumours have been in the air that the harmony between the Source of Power and the Distribution of Power is not as complete as it once was. Certainly, Hilary Vane is not the man he was-although this must not even be whispered. Senator Whitredge had told-but never mind that. In the old days an order was an order; there were no rebels then. In the old days there was no wavering and rescinding, and if the chief counsel told you, with brevity, to do a thing, you went and did it straightway, with the knowledge that it was the best thing to do. Hilary Vane had aged suddenly, and it occurred for the first time to many that, in this utilitarian world, old blood must be superseded by young blood.

Two days before the convention, immediately after taking dinner at the Ripton House with Mr. Nat Billings, Hilary Vane, in response to a summons, drove up to Fairview. One driving behind him would have observed that the Honourable Hilary's horse took his own gaits, and that the reins, most of the time, drooped listlessly on his quarters. A September stillness was in the air, a September purple clothed the distant hills, but to Hilary the glories of the day were as things non-existent. Even the groom at Fairview, who took his horse, glanced back at him with a peculiar expression as he stood for a moment on the steps with a hesitancy the man had never before remarked.

In the meantime Mr. Flint, with a pile of letters in a special basket on the edge of his desk, was awaiting his counsel; the president of the Northeastern was pacing his room, as was his wont when his activities were for a moment curbed, or when he had something on his mind; and every few moments he would glance towards his mantel at the clock which was set to railroad time. In past days he had never known Hilary Vane to be a moment late to an appointment. The door was open, and five and twenty minutes had passed the hour before he saw the lawyer in the doorway. Mr. Flint was a man of such preoccupation of mind that he was not likely to be struck by any change there might have been in his counsel's appearance.

"It's half-past three," he said.

Hilary entered, and sat down beside the window.

"You mean that I'm late," he replied.

"I've got some engineers coming here in less than an hour," said Mr.

Flint.

"I'll be gone in less than an hour," said Hilary.

"Well," said Mr. Flint, "let's get down to hardtack. I've got to be frank with you, Vane, and tell you plainly that this political business is all at sixes and sevens."

"It isn't necessary to tell me that," said Hilary.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I know it."

"To put it mildly," the president of the Northeastern continued, "it's the worst mixed-up campaign I ever knew. Here we are with the convention only two days off, and we don't know where we stand, how many delegates we've got, or whether this upstart at Leith is going to be nominated over our heads. Here's Adam Hunt with his back up, declaring he's a reformer, and all his section of the State behind him. Now if that could have been handled otherwise-"

"Who told Hunt to go in?" Hilary inquired.

"Things were different then," said Mr. Flint, vigorously. "Hunt had been promised the governorship for a long time, and when Ridout became out of the question-"

"Why did Ridout become out of the question?" asked Hilary.

Mr. Flint made a gesture of impatience.

"On account of that foolishness in the Legislature, of course."

"That foolishness in the Legislature, as you call it, represented a sentiment all over the State," said Hilary. "And if I'd been you, I wouldn't have let Hunt in this year. But you didn't ask my opinion. You asked me when you begged me to get Adam out, and I predicted that he wouldn't get out."

Mr. Flint took a turn up and down the room.

"I'm sorry I didn't send for him to go to New York," he said. "Well, anyway, the campaign's been muddled, that's certain,-whoever muddled it." And the president looked at his counsel as though he, at least, had no doubts on this point. But Hilary appeared unaware of the implication, and made no reply.

"I can't find out what Bascom and Botcher are doing," Mr. Flint went on;

"I don't get any reports-they haven't been here. Perhaps you know.

They've had trip passes enough to move the whole population of Putnam

County. Fairplay says they're gettin' delegates for Adam Hunt instead of

Giles Henderson. And Whitredge says that Jake Botcher is talking reform."

"I guess Botcher and Bascom know their business," said Mr. Vane. If Mr.

Flint had been a less concentrated man, he might have observed that the

Honourable Hilary had not cut a piece of Honey Dew this afternoon.

"What is their business?" asked Mr. Flint-a little irrelevantly for him.

"What you and I taught 'em," said Mr. Vane.

Mr. Flint considered this a moment, and decided to let it pass. He looked at the Honourable Hilary more closely, however.

"What's the matter with you, Vane? You're not sick, are you?"

"No."

Mr. Flint took another turn.

"Now the question is, what are we going to do? If you've got any plan, I want to hear it."

Mr. Vane was silent.

"Suppose Crewe goes into the convention with enough delegates to lock it up, so that none of the three has a majority?"

"I guess he'll do that," said Mr. Vane. He fumbled in his pocket, and drew out a typewritten list. It must be explained that the caucuses, or primaries, had been held in the various towns of the State at odd dates, and that the delegates pledged for the different candidates had been published in the newspapers from time to time-although very much in accordance with the desires of their individual newspapers. Mr. Crewe's delegates necessarily had been announced by what is known as political advertising. Mr. Flint took the Honourable Hilary's list, ran his eye over it, and whistled.

"You mean he claims three hundred and fifty out of the thousand."

"No," said Hilary, "he claims six hundred. He'll have three hundred and fifty."

In spite of the 'Book of Arguments,' Mr. Crewe was to have three hundred! It was incredible, preposterous. Mr. Flint looked at his counsel once more, and wondered whether he could be mentally failing.

"Fairplay only gives him two hundred."

"Fairplay only gave him ten, in the beginning," said Hilary.

"You come here two days before the convention and tell me Crewe has three hundred and fifty!" Mr. Flint exclaimed, as though Hilary Vane were personally responsible for Mr. Crewe's delegates. A very different tone from that of other times, when conventions were mere ratifications of Imperial decrees. "Do you realize what it means if we lose control? Thousands and thousands of dollars in improvements-rolling stock, better service, new bridges, and eliminations of grade crossings. And they'll raise our tax rate to the average, which means thousands more. A new railroad commission that we can't talk to, and lower dividends-lower dividends, do you understand? That means trouble with the directors, the stockholders, and calls for explanations. And what explanations can I make which can be printed in a public report?"

"You were always pretty good at 'em, Flint," said Hilary.

This remark, as was perhaps natural, did not improve the temper of the president of the Northeastern.

"If you think I like this political business any better than you do, you're mightily mistaken," he replied. "And now I want to hear what plan you've got for the convention.

Suppose there's a deadlock, as you say there will be, how are you going to handle it? Can you get a deal through between Giles Henderson and Adam Hunt? With all my other work, I've had to go into this myself. Hunt hasn't got a chance. Bascom and Botcher are egging him on and making him believe he has. When Hunt gets into the convention and begins to fall off, you've got to talk to him, Vane. And his delegates have all got to be seen at the Pelican the night before and understand that they're to swing to Henderson after two ballots. You've got to keep your hand on the throttle in the convention, you understand. And I don't need to impress upon you how grave are the consequences if this man Crewe gets in, with public sentiment behind him and a reactionary Lower House. You've got to keep your hand on the throttle."

"That's part of my business, isn't it?" Hilary asked, without turning his head.

Mr. Flint did not answer, but his eye rested again on his counsel's face.

"I'm that kind of a lawyer," Hilary continued, apparently more to himself than to his companion. "You pay me for that sort of thing more than for the work I do in the courts. Isn't that so, Flint?"

Mr. Flint was baffled. Two qualities which were very dear to him he designated as sane and safe, and he had hitherto regarded his counsel as the sanest and safest of men. This remark made him wonder seriously whether the lawyer's mind were not giving away; and if so, to whom was he to turn at this eleventh hour? No man in the State knew the ins and outs of conventions as did Hilary Vane; and, in the rare times when there had been crises, he had sat quietly in the little room off the platform as at the keyboard of an organ, and the delegates had responded to his touch. Hilary Vane had named the presidents of conventions, and the committees, and by pulling out stops could get such resolutions as he wished-or as Mr. Flint wished. But now?

Suddenly a suspicion invaded Mr. Flint's train of thought; he repeated Hilary's words over to himself. "I'm that kind of a lawyer," and another individuality arose before the president of the Northeastern. Instincts are curious things. On the day, some years before, when Austen Vane had brought his pass into this very room and laid it down on his desk, Mr. Flint had recognized a man with whom he would have to deal,-a stronger man than Hilary. Since then he had seen Austen's hand in various disturbing matters, and now it was as if he heard Austen speaking. "I'm that kind of a lawyer." Not Hilary Vane, but Hilary Vane's son was responsible for Hilary Vane's condition-this recognition came to Mr. Flint in a flash. Austen had somehow accomplished the incredible feat of making Hilary Vane ashamed-and when such men as Hilary are ashamed, their usefulness is over. Mr. Flint had seen the thing happen with a certain kind of financiers, one day aggressive, combative, and the next broken, querulous men. Let a man cease to believe in what he is doing, and he loses force.

The president of the Northeastern used a locomotive as long as possible, but when it ceased to be able to haul a train up-grade, he sent it to the scrap-heap. Mr. Flint was far from being a bad man, but he worshipped power, and his motto was the survival of the fittest. He did not yet feel pity for Hilary-for he was angry. Only contempt,-contempt that one who had been a power should come to this. To draw a somewhat far-fetched parallel, a Captain Kidd or a Caesar Borgia with a conscience would never have been heard of. Mr. Flint did not call it a conscience-he had a harder name for it. He had to send Hilary, thus vitiated, into the Convention to conduct the most important battle since the founding of the Empire, and Austen Vane was responsible.

Mr. Flint had to control himself. In spite of his feelings, he saw that he must do so. And yet he could not resist saying: "I get a good many rumours here. They tell me that there may be another candidate in the field-a dark horse."

"Who?" asked Hilary.

"There was a meeting in the room of a man named Redbrook during the

Legislature to push this candidate," said Mr. Flint, eyeing his counsel

significantly, "and now young Gaylord has been going quietly around the

State in his interest."

Suddenly the listless figure of Hilary Vane straightened, and the old look which had commanded the respect and obedience of men returned to his eye.

"You mean my son?" he demanded.

"Yes," said Mr. Flint; "they tell me that when the time comes, your, son will be a candidate on a platform opposed to our interests."

"Then," said Hilary, "they tell you a damned lie."

Hilary Vane had not sworn for a quarter of a century, and yet it is to be doubted if he ever spoke more nobly. He put his hands on the arms of his chair and lifted himself to his feet, where he stood for a moment, a tell figure to be remembered. Mr. Flint remembered it for many years. Hilary Vane's long coat was open, and seemed in itself to express this strange and new-found vigour in its flowing lines; his head was thrown back, and a look on his face which Mr. Flint had never seen there. He drew from an inner pocket a long envelope, and his hand trembled, though with seeming eagerness, as he held it out to Mr. Flint.

"Here!" he said.

"What's this?" asked Mr. Flint. He evinced no desire to take it, but

Hilary pressed it on him.

"My resignation as counsel for your road."

The president of the Northeastern, bewildered by this sudden transformation, stared at the envelope.

"What? Now-to-day?" he said.

"No," answered Hilary; "read it. You'll see it takes effect the day after the State convention. I'm not much use any more you've done your best to bring that home to me, and you'll need a new man to do-the kind of work I've been doing for you for twenty-five years. But you can't get a new man in a day, and I said I'd stay with you, and I keep my word. I'll go to the convention; I'll do my best for you, as I always have. But I don't like it, and after that I'm through. After that I become a lawyer-lawyer, do you understand?"

"A lawyer?" Mr. Flint repeated.

"Yes, a lawyer. Ever since last June, when I came up here, I've realized what I was. A Brush Bascom, with a better education and more brains, but a Brush Bascom-with the brains prostituted. While things were going along smoothly I didn't know-you never attempted to talk to me this way before. Do you remember how you took hold of me that day, and begged me to stay? I do, and I stayed. Why? Because I was a friend of yours. Association with you for twenty-five years had got under my skin, and I thought it had got under yours." Hilary let his hand fall. "To-day you've given me a notion of what friendship is. You've given me a chance to estimate myself on a new basis, and I'm much obliged to you for that. I haven't got many years left, but I'm glad to have found out what my life has been worth before I die."

He buttoned up his coat slowly, glaring at Mr. Flint the while with a courage and a defiance that were superb. And he had picked up his hat before Mr. Flint found his tongue.

"You don't mean that, Vane," he cried. "My God, think what you've said!"

Hilary pointed at the desk with a shaking finger.

"If that were a scaffold, and a rope were around my neck, I'd say it over again. And I thank God I've had a chance to say it to you." He paused, cleared his throat, and continued in a voice that all at once had become unemotional and natural. "I've three tin boxes of the private papers you wanted. I didn't think of 'em to-day, but I'll bring 'em up to you myself on Thursday."

Mr. Flint reflected afterwards that what made him helpless must have been the sudden change in Hilary's manner to the commonplace. The president of the Northeastern stood where he was, holding the envelope in his hand, apparently without the power to move or speak. He watched the tall form of his chief counsel go through the doorway, and something told him that that exit was coincident with the end of an era.

The end of an era of fraud, of self-deception, of conditions that violated every sacred principle of free government which men had shed blood to obtain.

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