Honest John Vane: Part Ii


SUCH as we have described was John Vane’s slender outfit for the labors and responsibilities of a Congressman at the time he became one.

Was it sufficient? Slowburgh, taken collectively, thought it was. He was too ignorant to be a professor in the State university, or even a teacher in one of the city schools; but it was presumed that he would answer well enough as a lawgiver for a complicated Republic containing forty millions of people. The great majority of his constituents did not suppose that their representative needed any more intelligence or moral stamina than would just enable him to find out what were the “ party measures ” and faithfully to vote for them. The few who believed that he ought to be acquainted either with finance, or political economy, or constitutional limitations, or international law, and that furthermore he should be a person of tried character and honor, — these few eccentrics had no political influence. Such were the happy-go-lucky credences at which universal suffrage had arrived in this exceptional district of Slowburgh.

But as this state of public opinion was not John Vane’s work, we must neither blame him nor praise him for it. We ought even to take a respectful and compassionate interest in him, as a good-hearted man of fair repute who was about to be severely tried by temptation, and who, even in his hour of triumph, had his pathetic hopes and fears. It is creditable to his sentimental nature that, amid all the visions of greatness which naturally flocked about him, he did not forget his love for the daughter of the boarding-house keeper, but rather remembered her the more tenderly because he had a sort of throne to share with her. When he heard that he was elected, his first desire was to seek her presence and offer himself once more. In this mind he faithfully remained ; but how should he transform it into deed ? Having been refused by her, and having departed from her mother’s house, really in humble sorrow, but seemingly in lofty dudgeon, he simply supposed that he must not call upon her.

Should he write ? Well, it is very strange to tell, but nevertheless it is solemnly true, that this Congressman elect distrusted his ability to compose a suitable epistle for the occasion. Of course he could spell correctly, and, as for business letters, he wrote a dozen or so a day, and very good ones too. A speech also he could make, for nature had given him that commonplace fluency of utterance which does so much duty in our public affairs, and he had acquired confidence in delivery by practice in caucuses, debating-clubs, and, if I do not err, in prayer-meetings, But in English composition of the elegant and delicate sort, he was entirely inexperienced. He said to himself that, if he should write a declaratory note to Miss Smiles, something common, something lacking in high breeding, might creep into it, which would be sure to disgust this genteel and highly educated young lady, and cause her, as he stated it in his anxious mind, “ to put another veto on him.” So, for several days, our statesman elect walked the streets of the city which had delighted to honor him with a prevalently humble and troubled spirit.

Accident at last favored him ; or, perhaps, it may have been a stroke of feminine providence ; for women do sometimes condescend to order their own destinies. Once again Olympia Smiles met him on the street, and most graciously allowed herself to be stopped by him, if, indeed, she did not herself do the stopping. Vane was for a moment dumb, for he remembered that he had nothing special to say to her except that he adored her, and it did not seem to him quite proper to interview her just there on that subject. Olympia came to his rescue with that quickness of mind which young ladies rarelv lose and that mercy which they sometimes have.

“ Mr. Vane, I am glad to meet you,” she smiled. It was a very cordial speech surely, but it did not at all diminish her maidenly dignity, so well did she know how to rule her manner. “ I have really longed to congratulate you on your victory,” she continued. “It gives me a great deal of pleasure.”

“ I thank you exceedingly,” stammered John, blushing with unspeakable joy and fright. “ I heard you were good enough to take my side during the campaign. I was very much obliged to you for it, I am sure.”

He showed no anger and he put on no dignity, though he seemed to hear even then her humiliating words, “It can never be.” In the matter of loving he was surely a model soul, and, so far as that goes, well worth any woman’s winning.

“ Why don’t you come and see us ?” she resumed, after a moment of natural hesitation over the entangling query. “ I had hoped that we should always remain good friends.”

She looked uncommonly attractive as she uttered this, for there was an enchantment about her beyond that of mere beauty. Her agitation not only filled her cheeks with color and her eyes with tremulous light, but drew from her whole being a mysterious influence which we might, perhaps, call a halo of enticement. She longed so earnestly to bring her discarded lover back to her feet, that he could not but be vaguely aware of the longing.

“I shall be delighted to call,” replied John Vane, so much moved that he could not devise a fine speech, but delivered himself with the simplicity of high breeding. “ Will you allow me to see you this evening ?”

“Yes,” murmured Olympia, drawing her breath with some difficulty, “ do come.”

Then, unwilling to say more for fear of exposing her feelings too clearly, she gave him a bewildering smile and went her way. Her superb figure thrilled in every vein with excitement, and she could hardly set her little bootees upon the ground steadily. Citizen John Vane had had no attractions for her ; but she could not help being drawn by the member of Congress. After the fashion of women, she instinctively admired a man who rules his fellow-men, and causes them to do him reverence. As he, like all masculine flesh, adored beauty and delicacy, so she, like all feminine flesh, worshipped strength and authority.

That evening John called, in his best suit, at his old boarding-house, and was received there with a warmth which melted the icy past out of his mind. Mrs Smiles, who had always liked him, and who had been sentimentally pained as well as financially injured by losing him from her table, called up all her social graces of bygone fashionable days to do him honor; Julia Maria, Olympia’s younger sister, only nineteen years old at the time, saluted him in her pert but alluring way as “ the delegation from Slowburgh.” Olympia herself, that experienced, though not hardened veteran of the world, robed herself in just the right mixture of cordiality and dignity. Both in a moral and in a wardrobe sense she had taken great pains to get herself up for the occasion. She was arrayed in her best garnet silk ; and we ought to add the statement that it was her only really good and fresh one, — a pathetic circumstance in view of the fact that she dearly loved gorgeous apparel, and that it suited her style of beauty. The rich and noble color of the garnet lent additional splendor to the flush on her brunette cheeks, and to the liquid sparkle of her dark eyes. There was an emerald cross (a relic of her mother’s former prosperity) on her breast; and several rings of like moving history sent out little glimmers of gentility from her fingers. The fine raiment and the authentic splendor of the jewels became her, and made her more queenly, more like a Cleopatra, than even her wont. John Vane had never before seen her so beautiful, and he was dazzled to that degree that he forgot his own political majesty, and sat before her on the edge of a chair a most humble Antony.

“ I am truly rejoiced at your success, Mr. Vane,” chanted the mother, who felt it her duty to open the way toward full cordiality. “ We shall now have an honest man to represent us,” she continued, repeating such political talk as she had fully caught the sense of while serving her boarders. “ And a man of ability, too,” she quickly added, vaguely conscious that an imputation of honesty alone is small praise. “ Knowing what you have done in life hitherto, I feel sure that you will be very useful in your new sphere.”

“Do manage, Mr. Vane, to have a gay season in Washington,” put in Julia Maria ; “and then do get me an invite to spend the winter there.”

Olympia lost a little of her air of repose, and glanced uneasily at her sister. Was it within the range of possibility that this young chit should skip into the arena and carry off the prize by dint of mere girlish forwardness and flippancy ? Mrs. Smiles also saw the peril, and, in obedience to the eye of her eldest, sweetly sent Julia Maria down stairs with a message to the cook.

“I don’t know what sort of a figger I shall cut in Congress,” observed John Vane, modestly. “ But you may be sure, Mrs. Smiles, that I shall do my honest best. I hope sincerely that I shall merit the compliments you are so polite as to pay me.”

“ O, indeed you will! ” broke in both mother and daughter, eagerly.

“And yet, I should think you would tremble at the thought of assuming such responsibilities,” continued Mrs. Smiles, gazing with real veneration at her once favored boarder, now the choice of the people. “ It must be such a terrible thing to decide on the President’s salary, and such-like important questions.”

“ O, that’s very simple !” answered the Congressman elect, pardonably anxious to show a little bit of his political lore. “ You see, the President’s salary is fixed by law, and there’s no discussion over it.”

“Yes, but you may have to vote on the law,” pursued the good lady, eager to make up some work for her hero.

“ O, as to that,” stammered Vane, who had been drawn beyond his depth, “ I dare say that may come up sometimes ! Of course, when it does, Congress attends to it.”

“ Certainly,” chimed in Mrs. Smiles, delighted that it should be so, because it enhanced her friend’s glory. “ I remember hearing Mr. Smiles, my poor husband, — this was when we were in better circumstances, Mr. Vane, — I remember hearing him say that Congress is only too powerful. He took a great interest in politics, Mr. Smiles did. It is the business of a statesman, he used to say. Often and often I ’ve heard him say it.”

By this time Olympia was glancing sidelong at her mother, as she had previously glanced at her sister. Mrs. Smiles noted the look and divined from it that she was in the girl’s way, and proceeded to remove herself.

“ Dear me ! I wonder if Julia gave my message,” she exclaimed in a simulated tone of reminiscence. “ Do excuse me for a few moments, Mr. Vane. You know a housekeeper has her affairs.”

“ Certainly, Mrs. Smiles,” bowed John, who was rejoiced to have her depart, although he also felt nervous.

As soon as the two “ young people ” were left alone, Olympia rose from the chair where she had been sitting in isolated dignity, advanced to our Congressman with an air of cordial interest, and placed herself by his side on a sofa.

“ Now tell me all about it,” she murmured with a bewildering smile. “ I have so longed to question you ! I wanted to give you some intelligent sympathy. Tell me all your plans of legislation, as far as it is proper to tell them to a woman.”

Such a gush from such a source was intoxicating to the heart, and furthermore it was inspiring to the mind. Some thousands of psychologists have already remarked that a man can always talk easily, if you will let him talk about himself and provide him with an interested and interesting listener. John Vane at once lost his embarrassment and found that this was indeed a land of free speech. He had a fluent utterance, as we have already indicated, and on this occasion he beat his best time on the platform. He told all that he knew about national politics, and some things which neither he nor any other man ever knew.

“ O, that will be noble work ! ” exclaimed Olympia, when he had fully exposed his plan for renovating and purifying the Republic by rescinding the franking privilege. “ We shall all owe you a vast debt of gratitude,” she continued, without in the least comprehending how the reform would benefit her or any other human creature. “ But do you think it possible to eradicate such an established and wide-spread abuse ?” she continued, calling it what he had called it, and thereby causing him to marvel at her discrimination.

“ Here are all these greedy people all over the country, crazy to get these big books and reports that you speak of. How do you think they will bear being deprived of them ? Of course they will become your bitter enemies. Don’t you think it would be safer, and better in the long run, to begin with some easier work, where there would not be millions to oppose you ? Of course I am dreadfully ignorant of these political matters,” she naively confessed, discovering by his face that she had made some blunder, which she certainly had as to the millions. “ You must forgive me for venturing suggestions. I ought not to try to discuss matters so much above me. But I am so eager to have you succeed from the very start ! O, so eager !” she added, rolling up her fine eyes enthusiastically.

“ O Miss Smiles ! I do heartily thank you for your interest,” gasped John Vane, barely restraining himself from falling on his majestic knees.

At this moment the impertinent cheap parlor clock struck ten. Congressman Vane started and stared at its round face with astonishment. Since Mrs. Smiles had left the room “for a few moments,” more than an hour had elapsed.

“ I must be going,” he observed, remembering an appointment, at ten precisely, with certain leading managers of politics.

“ O, it is not late ! ” pleaded Olympia. “ I have but just begun to get interested— I mean, to understand these matters.”

But the Congressman felt that it would not do to let his potent allies wait long, and, humbly pleading his appointment, he persisted in rising.

“ Do call again soon,” urged the young lady. “ I want to show you that I am still your friend, — one of your most sincere friends,” she added fervently, giving him her hand.

John Vane could not resist the temptation ; he impulsively pressed that hand to his lips. “You know how I feel! ” he gasped in apology, and then in haste made his dizzy way to the door.

“ O, how could you ! ” whispered Olympia in feigned remonstrance. But her cheek was red with pride and pleasure, and her parting glance was of a nature to fill him with hope.

A sense of justice compels us to state that this young lady was not merely a clever hypocrite, cold-heartedly planning for herself a prosperous marriage. During the two months in which John Vane had fought his election fight and won his really brilliant victory, she had not only lost all her early disdain of him, but had gradually learned to admire him, to wish to win him, and to like him. People are often loved, not merely for what they are themselves, but also for their adventitious surroundings. I myself feel that I might have a passion for a tolerably plain queen, if her Majesty should distinctly and magnificently encourage me. Just in this natural, and therefore, I suppose, rational and proper manner, Olympia “ fancied " and in a certain sense loved Mr. Vane because he was a Congressman and a celebrity.

A learned pig, or any other intellect of a second-rate order, might predict with accuracy the result of such a state of things. These two people, who so earnestly wanted each other, soon managed to have each other. But, although John Vane made an easy conquest, it was none the less an unexpected one to him, and a matter of great and keen joy. When he at last dared to say to Olympia, “ Will you be my wife ? ” and when she leaned with downcast eyes toward him and whispered, “ I will,” he was as much astonished with gladness as if he had been received bodily into heaven. Just in that moment his feelings, and we may hopefully venture to add hers also, were as admirable and enviable as the emotions of the most select and highly educated natures would average under the same circumstances, and might easily be accepted as the sure harbingers of a happy married life.

We shall see in the sequel, when Mr. and Mrs. Vane come to be exposed to the temptations of Washington, whether these seraphic visitants prophesied correctly.


IN due time John Vane took his lovely bride to the national capital, and entered upon his triple career as a social magnate, a lawgiver, and a reformer.

He was a bloomingly happy man at the period of that advent, and he could surely allege satisfactory reasons for his beatitude. He had attained eminence early in life; there were few younger Congressmen than himself. His fame as an incorruptible soul had preceded him ; and because of it he had been received by his brother legislators with a deference which spoke well for them, as if they also were honest or admired probity theoretically, or at the very least bowed to popular prejudice on the subject. He had, as he supposed, a sure entry into the hitherto unvisited region which he called high society, and by his side walked a being who seemed to him perfectly fitted to guide him among those Delectable Mountains. Finally, his wife was the object of his robust, undivided affection, and, to the best of his knowledge and belief, returned it with interest.

But, however pure and abundant may be the sources of earthly joy, some turbid stream will ever and anon rile them, bubbling up no doubt from the infernal regions. Before long Vane discovered, or rather had it borne in upon him, that Olympia was not pleased with her architectural surroundings, nor with their upholstery attributes. His apartments, it must be conceded, were not fine ; they were just that kind of tarnished, frowsy lodgings which Congressmen of moderate means grumble at, but perforce put up with ; such lodgings as one is sure to find abundantly in any city which is crowded during one half of the year and deserted during the other half. Even Vane, whose selfmade career had not left him a sybarite, was obliged to admit that the bedroom smelt unpleasantly of a neighboring stable, and that the parlor was dingy and scantily furnished.

“ O, this shabby Washington ! ” Olympia soon began to sigh. “ What mean, musty, vile rooms ! I don't see how we came to take them. I’m sure nobody but poorhouse people will visit us twice here.”

“ But, my dear petsy posy, what can be done?” gently replied John. “ They are the best we could find at the figger, and the figger is as high as my pocketbook measures. Just look at the whole thing now,” he continued, patiently recommencing an argument which he had already been driven to state more than once. “ I ’ll show you exactly how I stand. As a source of income the refrigerator business don’t count at present. I had to take in a partner to carry on the shop ; and whether there ’ll be any profits or not I can’t yet say. It won’t be safe, at least not for the first year, to estimate my receipts at anything more than my Congressional salary. What I have to live on, then, is just five thousand dollars, and no more.”

“ But that is a great deal,” interrupted Olympia, who had never had anything whatever to do with the boarding-house responsibilities, and was consequently as ignorant of the cost of living as Queen Victoria, and probably a great deal more so.

“ Well, that depends on the rate of outgo,” smiled the husband, hoping vainly to render his logic palatable by sugaring it with meekness. “Now, what are our expenses ? First, there are the two children. I wanted to make things easy for your mother, and so I put their board at twenty-four dollars per week, which, with other bills, such as clothing, schooling, doctoring, etc., will foot up to eighteen hundred a year. It’s awful, but I wanted to make it light on the old lady.” He smiled again, not noting how this reference to maternal poverty jarred on Olympia. “ Then our board and rooms here cost forty dollars a week, and won’t fall greatly below that while we are in Slowburgh, besides which you want a trip to Saratoga. So there goes another payment of two thousand and eighty dollars. That makes three thousand eight hundred and eighty, you see. All we have left for everything else — wardrobe, washing, servants, streetcars, hack-hire, and sundries — is only eleven hundred and twenty dollars. Can we fetch the twelve months round on that ? I don’t know yet. But I ’m sure, we ought to wait and see, before we branch out any wider. Just look at it, my dear petsy posy, for yourself.”

“ I hate arithmetic,” was the answer which dear petsy posy accorded to this painstaking exposition of weighty facts ; “ I always did hate it and always shall.

There are some persons so constituted that they will get furious with a thermometer for proving that a room is warm after they have pronounced it cold. Olympia, who already felt discontented with her husband for bringing her into these commonplace rooms, was little less than angry at him because his arguments in favor of retaining them were unanswerable. She did not care one straw for his reasons, except to hate them for controverting her wishes.

“ I did think that I should be allowed to live in some style while I was in Washington,” she continued to pout.

“ This kind of thing,” with a disdainful glance at her furnishings, “I suppose I can bear it, if I must ; but I do say that it is a very great disappointment to me.”

Having been married before, John Vane was not much astonished at this persistence, but he could not help being grieved by it. It did seem to him rather hard that a wife whom he had taken out of the enforced frugality of a boarding-house should be just as eager for grandeur and as hostile to saving as if she had been reared in the lap of luxury and had brought him a fortune. Furthermore, a sad doubt, which has dolorously surprised many a husband beside him, now sprang upon him for the first time. “ Is it possible,” he asked himself, “that she is not going to be satisfied with succeeding through my success, but means to make her own glory the centre of our life ?” The first Mrs. Vane, whatever her shortcomings in other respects, had been content with such an abode as he could pay for, and had taken a pride in his growing business. But here was a new style of helpmeet ; a helpmeet who apparently did not propose to live for him ; who, on the contrary, intended that he should live for her, and that without regard to balancing his bank account. She had got a Congressman ; but that almost continental fact did not satisfy her: she must have her own separate empire and glory. In short, Vane began dimly to suspect (although he did not at all know how to phrase the matter to himself) that he had married a girl ot the period, that fairest and greediest of all vampyres. Being love-bewitched, however, he did not really believe in his calamity, and much less burst forth in wrath or lamentation.

“Well, my dear, we ’ll see about it,” he said, cheering. “ We ’ll keep our eyes open for some better shanty than this, and if the dollars seem plenty we ’ll pop into it.”

This conditional promise of finer surroundings Olympia tacitly accepted as a positive agreement to provide the same, and went out that very day in search of first-class apartments, returning much annoyed at finding none vacant. To soothe her disappointment she got fifty dollars from her husband, purchased such damask curtains as could be had therefor, and so embellished her parlor. Vane winced a little ; as a business man he saw that this was a poor way to prepare for getting into better lodgings; as a business man also he hated to spend money in lending attractions to another person’s property. But he tried to persuade himself that he had got off tolerably cheap, and that his wife would learn economy and self-control in the course of time. Then, like many another Congressman who cannot rule his own expenditures, he turned his attention to reforming those of the nation.

The first thing to be done was to get in his bill for the abolition of the franking privilege. He had written it out months ago, and touched it up ever so many times since. After pulling aside those damask curtains in order to give himself some light, he took his wellscratched manuscript out of his trunk, and read it to himself aloud. As is frequently the case with persons little accustomed to composition, the sound of his own periods was agreeable to him, and the sense impressive, not to say sublime. It seemed to him that it was a good bill; that it was, all over its face and down its back, an honest man’s bill; that every respectable fellow in the House would have to vote for it. He decided to make a clean copy of it just as it was, without another syllable of useless alteration. He had just squared himself and spread out his legs and put his head on one side for this chore, and was in the very act of flourishing his right hand over the foolscap preparatory to executing a fine opening capital, when he was arrested by a ring at his door-bell. Presently in stamped his old acquaintance and most adroit wire-puller, Mr. Darius Dorman, followed by a stranger.

No miracle having of late been performed for the benefit of Dorman (who, indeed, may have been altogether beyond the pale of heavenly interferences), he was as ungraciously fashioned and as disagreeably discolored as ever. Earthly soap and water, it seemed, could not wash away that suspicious smear of charcoal and ashes which constituted his complexion, or which, perhaps, only hid its real tint. Blurred, blotched, smoke-dried, wilted, uneasy, and agile, he looked and acted, as he had always looked and acted, to mortal eyes, like either a singed monkey or a bleached goblin, who had some unquenched sparks on his hide that would not let him be quiet.

To this brownie in bad preservation the person who accompanied him offered a pleasing contrast. He was a man of near seventy, but still slender in build and of an upright carriage ; his face was long, venerably wrinkled, firm in expression, and yet unctuous with mildness and benevolence ; his hair was long, straight, thin, and of a gray which verged on the reverend gloss of pure whiteness ; his whole air was marked by a curious staidness and circumspectness which seemed to promise ascetic virtue. One would have said that here was a soul which had dwelt long on the pillar of self-sacrifice. If there was a certain sharpness amounting almost to cunning in the half-shut, faded, cold gray eyes, it might have been acquired, of course, by wary spying into the ambushes of this wicked world, and be only a proof of that serpent-like wisdom which goes properly with the harmlessness of the dove. If there was a show of grip about the close-shut mouth, as though it could hang on to an advantage like a mastiff to a bone, perhaps it might have resulted from a dogged struggle to hold fast to the right. On the whole, this gentleman’s appearance was well calculated to inspire instant and entire confidence, providing the beholder were disposed by education to put faith in exteriors of the Puritanized cast.

“ How are you, Vane ? ” exclaimed Dorman, cordially extending one of those hands which had such an air of having been rubbed in a fireplace. “ Glad to see you at last where you belong, glad to see one right man in the right place. Let me make you acquainted with the Honorable Mr. Sharp, one of the leading members from the good old Whetstone State,” he explained, referring to a well-known Commonwealth. “Of course you have heard of Mr. Simon Sharp, the great financier and practical statesman. Mr. Sharp, this is honest John Vane, the workingman’s man, the plain people’s man. By Beelzebub ! ” he added (for he had very odd fashions of swearing), “ I’m glad to bring you two gentlemen together. You both travel the honest track. You ’ll make a team.”

Mr. Vane and Mr. Sharp shook hands respectfully, and said what pleasant things they could think of. Our member noted with some surprise that his famous and puissant visitor had a singularly soft, ingratiating, obsequious, nay, even sycophantic utterance, and that his manner was not only deferential, but slightly anxious and nervous and embarrassed, as if he were a needy tradesman, eager to propitiate a difficult customer. Moreover, he was unctuously and little less than stickily profuse in compliments, pouring them forth with a liberality which reminded one of oil dripping from a castor-bean press. He repeated over and over such lubricating commonplaces as, “ I thank you truly, Mr. Vane. You are really much too kind. You do me too high an honor. This from you, my dear sir, is more than I deserve. I am delighted to have the pleasure of your acquaintance. I hope to learn statesmanship from you, sir. I trust that you will find me a zealous scholar. We have all been, as it were, waiting for you. O, thank you kindly ! ” when a seat was urged upon him. “You are really too urbane and thoughtful. I thank you heartily.”

At last, emerging with difficulty from a wilderness of bowings and scrapings, they all three got settled creakily in such unstable chairs as the dingy parlor afforded. Mr. Dorman now opened his dry, blackened, baked lips, and took the lead in the conversation.

“Just in Washington, Vane. I came on about my little job, and I thought I 'd drop in to see how you found yourself ; and as I was strolling along I met Friend Sharp.”

Here he glanced at that worthy person, who was thereby driven to nod and smile in confirmation of the tale, although the fact was that Dorman had looked him up at his residence and besought him eagerly to call on Vane.

“And it’s a lucky circumstance, I think,” continued Darius, with one of his unpleasing smiles, — a grimace which seemed to express suffering rather than joy, as though he had sat down upon an unhealed burn. “ You see, Friend Sharp is one of the oldest sailors in this ship of state, and knows all the ropes, and the way to the caboose, and everything.”

“ O Mr. Dorman ! you do me too much honor ! ” put in Mr. Sharp, with a meek, uneasy air. “I scarcely know a rope, and know nothing about the caboose. You are really too obliging. But you mean a compliment, and I thank you kindly.”

“ I must have my little joke,” winked Darius. “Well, at any rate, Friend Sharp is a man who knows how to keep out of traps and to show others how to steer clear of them. Now you, Vane, have got a great measure on your mind and conscience. It’s a great and good measure ; there’s no use in disputing it. The only question is, whether it is best to push it now, or wait awhile. Will hurrying it up do good or do harm ? Mr. Simon Sharp is just the person to tell you.”

“ Well, gentlemen,” said Vane, with an elevating sense of making a revelation, while the truth was that Sharp already knew all about his proposed bill,— “well, gentlemen, I want to abolish the franking privilege.”

The member from the old Whetstone State bowed, stretched out one of his smiles into an adulatory grin, and whispered in his greasiest voice, “Certainly, Mr. Vane, certainly ! ”

“You agree with me!” rejoiced Honest John. “ Well, I ’m glad of securing one leading voice in the House.”

“In principle,— in principle,” Mr. Sharp continued to grin ; “yes, in principle I entirely agree with you. You have suggested a measure which touches my conscience, and I need not say that I thank you kindly. You will find many sympathizers with your idea in Congress, sir. All honest, fairminded, intelligent, and patriotic members long to do away with that expensive nuisance which so corrupts our national morality and overloads our mail-bags. The trouble is that the fellows who want a re-election — ” And here the good soul shook his venerable head sadly over the character of the fellows who wanted a re-election.

“But ain’t there enough popular men and sound patriots to carry it, in spite of those chaps ? ” asked Vane, anxiously.

“You see, there are so many who want a re-election ! ” explained Mr. Sharp, gently. “In fact, almost everybody gets around to that state of mind after two years.”

“ Do you mean to say that all Congressmen think of is how to get another term?” exclaimed Honest John, rather indignant at the insinuation.

“ No, no, by no means ! ” implored the Whetstone State representative. “Pray, don’t understand me as even suggesting such a calumny. They think of many other things,” he added, remembering certain objects of general interest which he did not choose to mention ; “ but this particular measure you see — the stoppage of electioneering documents, etc. — touches every man’s chances in the end.”

“ I see it does,” grumbled our upright and brave member. “ But what has that got to do with a fellow’s duty ?”

This allusion to duty may not have seemed germane or important to Mr. Sharp; at all events he did not give himself the trouble to oil it with any commentaries.

“ Horace Greeley worked at this abuse for years,” he pursued. “ Horace was an honest politician and a very potent editor. He did his best, and he failed.”

“ And you mean to say that a man who is n’t a shaving to Horace Greeley won’t succeed any better than he did,” inferred John Vane, with a lowliness which shows that he had some sense.

“ I don’t mean to say that you are only a shaving to Mr. Greeley,” responded Mr. Sharp, politely. “ By no means, sir. On the contary, you quite remind me of Mr. Greeley,” he added, running his eyes over Vane’s cherubic face and portly figure. “ He was not so well-favored a man as you, sir; but still you remind me of him,— remind me very agreeably. Both selfmade men, also ; I say it with profound respect.” He bowed here, and indeed he kept bowing all the while, like an earthenware mandarin. “ And both honest, known to the world as such, eminent for it! ” he emphasized, with a grin which could have bit a quarter out of a mince-pie. “Ah, well, sir! so much the worse ! ” he resumed. “ An honest man can’t do away with the franking privilege. A rogue might, for he would offer something in place of it, and so, perhaps, carry his point by a sort of bargain. No, Mr. Vane ; you must really excuse me for contradicting your honorable hopes, but a gentleman of your character can't repeal the franking privilege,—at least not for years to come. That is my sorrowful, but candid belief. ”

John Vane stared at Mr. Simon Sharp with wonder and dismay. The venerable man had begun all right on this matter, and then, in the most rational and natural manner, had ended all wrong. Was this the way that people learned to reason by dint of sitting for several terms in Congress?

“ If you could only become useful, — generally useful, you understand,— you might try your bill with some chance of success,” resumed Mr. Sharp, after some moments of meditation. “ A man who is known to be useful,”— and he laid a very strong emphasis on the word, — “ such a man can propose almost anything, and carry — well, carry something.”

“ Well, how can I get to be useful ? ” inquired the zealous neophyte from Slowburgh.

“ I ’ll tell you,” smiled the veteran, at the same time hitching his chair forward confidentially, as if being useful were a sort of patent-right or other precious secret, not to be communicated to the public.


“ SPECIAL legislation is the great field for what I call Congressional usefulness,” pursued Mr. Sharp, again bringing down a violent emphasis on the word, as if he were trying to drive it into his listener’s head.

“Ah! is it?” stared John Vane. “ That’s news to me. I thought general legislation was the big thing,— reform, foreign relations, sectional questions, constitutional points, and so on; I thought those were the diggings to get a reputation out of.”

“ All exploded, my dear sir ! ” answered Mr. Sharp. “All gone out with Calhoun and Webster, or at the latest with Lincoln and Stanton. All dead issues, as dead as the war. Special legislation — or, as some people prefer to call it, finance—is the sum and substance of Congressional business in our day. It is the great field, and it pays for the working. It pays every way. Your vote helps people, and they are grateful and help you. Your vote brings something to pass, and the public sees that it does, and respects you. Work into finance, Mr. Vane,” exhorted Mr. Sharp, gently moving his hand in a spiral, as if to signify the insinuation of a corkscrew, “work slow-ly into — finance — so to call it. Take up some great national enterprise, and engineer it through. Get your name associated with a navigation scheme, or a railroad scheme, to advance commerce, you understand, or to move the crops.” And as he alluded to these noble purposes, his voice became little less than reverential. “The millions yet unborn — you understand,” here he seemed to be suggesting hints for a speech in advocacy of said scheme, — “ millions yet unborn will have reason to remember you. Capital will become your friend. And capital — ah, Mr. Vane, there’s a word ! My very blood curdles when I think of the power and majesty of capital. This land, sir, this whole gigantic Republic, with its population of forty millions, its incomparably productive and energetic industry, and its vast network of continental communications, is the servant, and I had almost said the creature, of capital. Capital guides it by its wisdom and sustains it by its beneficence. Capital is to be, and already is, its ruler. Make capital your friend. Do something for it, and secure its gratitude. Link your fortunes and your name with some gigantic financial enterprise. Then, when you have won the reputation of advancing the industrial interests of the country, and gathered around you hosts of admirers and friends, you can return to your pet measure. Now, there is my advice, — the advice of an old hand. Does n't it strike you as Worth considering ? My maxim, as you see, is slow and sure. I also have my little reform at heart, but I keep it waiting until I can get strong enough to push it, and meantime I strengthen myself by helping other people. Never mind now what that reform is,” he added, noting a gleam of inquiry in Vane’s eye; “you will hear of it some day. Let us come to the immediate and the practical. While I make my humble little project bide its time, I am busy with a scheme which combines capital and industry, a scheme of national importance and magnitude. I don’t mind mentioning it to you. It is the great Subfluvial Tunnel Road, meant to run through our country from North to South, under the Mississippi River, uniting Lake Superior with the Gulf of Mexico. It is a gigantic idea : you must admit it. Of course the business minutiæ and prospects of it are beyond me,” he conceded, with an air of innocence and simplicity which seemed to relieve him of all responsibility as to those points. “ There I have to trust to the judgment of business men. But where my information fails, Mr. Dorman here can fill the gap. Dorman, suppose you let our friend into this if he wants to come in.”

John Vane, being quite beyond his honest depth by this time, had nothing to say to the Great Subfluvial either in condemnation or praise, but merely stared in expectant silence.

“ It is the job I gave you a hint about in Slowburgh,” began Darius Dorman, turning upon his member a pair of sombre, lurid, smoky eyes, which were at once utterly unearthly and utterly worldly. “ We have just got it well under way.”

“What! stock taken?” exclaimed Vane, amazed that he had not heard of such a huge financial success.

Darius smiled, as a slave-trader might smile upon a stalwart, unsuspicious negro who should express a curiosity to see the interior of his schooner.

“The subscription is to be started by the government,” he proceeded. “ That is, the government will loan the capital necessary to build the tunnel, and then secure itself by a mortgage on the same. No particular risk, you see, to capitalists, especially as they will get the first issue of stock cheap, and won’t be called on to pay in a heavy percentage. What they don’t want to keep they can sell to the outside public,— the raft of small invest ors. Now, bankers and financiers won’t neglect such a chance as that; they will pile in as fast and as plenty as need be. With a government loan to start on, the stock is sure to be floated and the thing finished; and after that is done, why, it will go on pretty much as railroads do, — gradually increase its business, and in the end pay well, like railroads.”

Just here there was a malicious twinkle in his charcoal-pits of eyes, as though he were thinking of the numberless widows and orphans and other unprotected creatures whose little all had gone into railroads without ever bringing out a dividend. At the same time he glanced suddenly at his grimy hands and rubbed them uneasily against each other, as if he would have been glad to get them clean for once in his existence, or as if the maculations on them itched and scalded quite intolerably.

“ O, there’s nothing unusual or extra smart about the enterprise ! ” he resumed, perhaps detecting in honest John Vane’s countenance a gleam of suspicion. “It is about the way railroads in general are got up, except the one notion of a government loan to start the thing. That is new and patented. Don’t mention that for the Devil’s sake ! ” he implored, with an outburst of his characteristically eccentric profanity. “ Keep as dark as hell about the whole thing. All we want of you is to bear the job in mind, and when the House comes to the question of the loan, give us your voice and vote.”

“ It will be a grand thing for the country,” put in Mr. Sharp, seeing that Vane pondered.

“ O, magnificent!” exclaimed Dorman. “ Give us another New York at New Orleans. Double the value of land in the Mississippi Valley.”

“Unite the North and South,” continued Sharp. “ Close up the bloody chasm. Bind together the national unity in chains of cast-iron.”

“Pour the wild rice ot Green Bay upon the dinner-tables of our workingmen,” responded Dorman.

“ Bring the Menomonic Indians within easy reach of Christian missionaries,” was Sharp’s next word in this litany.

“ Providing the whole tribe has n’t already got to the happy huntinggrounds,” suggested Dorman.

The Whetstone statesman glanced at the business man, and the business man glanced at the Whetstone statesman. Apparently (only John Vane did not perceive it) the two came very near laughing in each other’s faces.

“ Besides, it will pay well, at least to first investors,” resumed Dorman.

“ Yes, I should think it might pay them well,” answered John Vane, with just a suspicion of satire in his tone.

“If you should ever care to invest, by the way,” suggested the business man, as though that were a thing which he had just thought of, and which would of course not influence his representative’s decision, “ if you should ever fancy putting something of your own in, we can promise you a sure return for it. You shall have your pick, — stock at the opening figure,—corner lots cheap around the stations, — something paying and safe, you know, something salable if you don’t want it.”

“ Well, I ’ll think of it,” nodded Vane, who had already made up his honest mind to have nothing to do with the Great Subfluvial, judging it to be a scheme for swindling the government and the general public.

“Do so,” begged Mr. Simon Sharp, his broad array of yellow teeth showing in a manner which vaguely reminded one of the phrase, “dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” The member from the old Whetstone State seemed at the moment to be as full of teeth as ever a freshly opened tomb was of skeletons. It was an error in him to make exhibition of those ravening tushes and grinders ; they neutralized abominably the expression of integrity and piety which gleamed from the Puritanic lacker of his venerable mug. “Do, Mr. Vane,” he continued, “give the project your intelligent consideration, and see if it is not worthy of your highly reputable and valuable support. And now, sir, I am compelled, very much against my wishes, to bid you a good morning. Delighted to have made your acquaintance, and to welcome you as a brother Congressman. Don’t go to the door with me, don’t ! You are altogether too urbane.

I thank you kindly.”

“Honest,able old fellow, that Sharp,” observed Dorman, as soon as the Whetstone patriot had fairly bowed and smirked himself out of the house. “Glad he happened to drop in on you while I was here.”

“See here, Darius !” broke out Vane, still Honest John Vane, proud of his noble sobriquet and resolved to hold fast to it. “ I’m not going to go for a bill merely because there’s money in it, and some of that money offers to come my way. That ain’t my style.”

“I know it isn’t,” conceded Dorman, bowing humbly to this tempest of integrity and honorable self-esteem, probably for the sake of weathering it sooner.

“ Then what do you offer me cheap stock for, and corner lots at a nominal figger, and all that sort of thing, to get me to vote your loan ? Don’t you know and don’t I know that you are trying to bribe me ? ”

“ You take your risk, don’t you ? ” argued the man of aftairs. “ I don t offer you money, but merely a business risk.”

“ What risk is there when the government is to construct the road, and to give it such a credit that the stock can’t help selling ? You might as well talk about the risk of taking United States bonds at half the market value. You can’t fool me that way, old boy. I’m a business man myself. I see as plainly as you do that the Great Subfluvial is to be built at the expense of the Treasury for the benefit of directors and officers and boss stockholders, who will take the shares at fifty, say, and sell them out at par, and then leave the whole thing on the hands of the small investors and Uncle Sam. That’s what you fellows mean to do, and want me to help you do. I don’t see it.”

“ John Vane, if you are really honest John Vane, you ’ll allow that one good turn deserves another,” insinuated Dorman.

“I know you think you put me here,” replied Vane, who already began to feel the oats on which Congressmen feed, and to attribute to his own mettle his advancement from the position of “wheel-horse” to that of “leader.” “ You did say a word in season for me at the caucus : I own it. But proposing is one thing, and getting the nomination is another, and carrying the election is a third. Could you have shoved through any other man ? Why did n’t you try it ? You saw what horse could win the race, and you bet on it. It was the name of Honest John Vane,— the man of the plain people,— the self-made man, — that’s what took the caucus and the ballot-boxes. And now you want me to throw all those claims to respect and power overboard ; want me to stop being honest and to tax the plain people uselessly ; want me to go back on myself and my best friends ; want me to follow in Bummer’s dirty trail. Suppose I should do it? Why, I should end like Bummer; I should be laid on the shelf. O, I’m not ungrateful for what you did toward the nomination ! I ’ll do anything in reason for you, old boy,— get you a collectorship or postmastership, anything that ’ll bear telling of. But I won’t help plunder the Treasury of forty millions, and the stock-buying public of twice as much more, merely to give you a hundred thousand and myself five thousand. I tell you squarely, and you may as well understand it first as last, that I wont go into your lobbying.”

“ Why, this is the way everything works here,” the lobbyist (for such he was) at last asserted in his desperation. “ Bills of this sort slide through every year. Some are upset, but who upsets them ? Fellows who have n’t been retained, or who have rival bills to push. I tell you, John Vane, that more than half your brother patriots in the Capitol do something in this line. The main work of Congress is done out of sight, like that of a mole, or by Beelzebub ! any other underground creature. Making such laws as are needed, and voting such appropriations as the departments demand, would n’t worry through a ten days’ session. The real business of you legislators is running party politics, clearing scores with your fuglemen, protecting vested interests which can pay for it, voting relief bills for a percentage on the relief, and subsidizing great schemes for a share of the subsidy. A good Congressman of the present day is the silent partner of ever job that he supports. That’s what I meant by financial legislation when I urged you to go into it. Don’t be an old-fashioned dog-in-the-manger, John Vane. Go with the crowd and humor the crowd ; let others have their fodder, and bite in yourself. Look at the rafts of patriot statesmen who drive their carriages and keep open house. Do you suppose they do it off their salaries ? Then why can’t you do it off your salary, instead of huddling into these two little rooms and travelling by horse-car ? Is it because they know how to make money go further than you do? No, sir! They take their little stock in a good bill, and then put it through. It’s the common thing in Washington, and it’s got to be the correct thing. And you can’t change it. There’s a boiler inside this boat which will make the wheels turn round, no matter who tries to hold ’em. As long as there is special legislation, there will be money to be made by it, and legislators will take their share. When a rich financier or monopolist comes to a poor M. C., and whispers to him, I want a chance to pocket a million, is the M. C. to say, Pocket it, and be sure not to give me any ? Will he, as your human nature averages, will he say it ? No, sir ! he says, Let me have a percentage ; and I assert that he ’s right. It’s the natural working of humanity, under the circumstances. The only thing I wonder at is, that Congressmen are content with so little. Most of’em ain’t bold and hearty at all. They are pusillanimously half honest. Come, Vane, I want you to do well in the world of politics, and I want you to begin by supporting the Great Subfluvial.”

“ Dorman, I have the greatest mind in the world to expose you,” was the almost heroic response of honest John.

“ I should contradict and disprove every word of your exposure,” laughed the unabashed lobbyist. “ Do you suppose Congress wants subsidy legislation ripped open and exhibited to the public ? Congress would believe you and would appoint a committee of investigation, and then would hush the matter up. Wait till you have learned your business, and then call me a liar, if you can.”

And so the interview ended, with virtue still unshaken, but vice undiscouraged. Darius Dorman was too familiar with his evil trade and with the society in which it had hitherto prospered, to despair of finally leading his representative up to the manger of corruption. He narrated the substance of the above dialogue to the Honorable Simon Sharp with spasmodic twinges of cheerless gayety which resembled the “cracked and thin laughter heard far down in Hell.”

“It is ludicrous, I must confess, Mr. Dorman,” sighed the representative of the old Whetstone State, with a sad shake of his venerable long head; “ but painfully so. I ’m afraid that your friend won’t come to much in Congress. He won’t be a practical statesman. No head for finance.”

“ Don’t give way to despondency about him, my benevolent creature,” answered Darius, shaking all over with his dolorous mirth, his very raiment, indeed, quivering and undulating with it, so that it seemed as if there might be a twitching tail inside his trousers. “ I have looked into the very bottom of John Vane’s thimbleful of soul. I know every sort and fashion of man that he will make up into, under the scissoring of diverse circumstances. John has no character of his own. He has had neither the born twist nor the education to give him one. He is a chameleon. He takes the color of the people about him. If his constituents ever find him out, they won’t call him Honest John Vane, but Weathercock John. He went straight in Slowburgh, because most folks in Slowburgh go straight. After he has been long enough in Congress he will be like the mass of Congressmen. The furnace of special legislation and the bellows of Washington opinion will melt him over. Don’t be anxious about him ; it is a mere matter of time. He is pious, I grant; but so are you, Friend Sharp ; so are lots more who live by subsidy bills. It’s of no use to be inside religion when you are also inside politics, as politics now go. Yes, it is of use ; it varnishes the politics over nicely ; it makes the special legislation look decent. John will be a great help to us, his reputation is so good. We must keep going for him, and we shall finally fetch him. When he finds that the majority take stock in bills, when he fairly realizes that he must choose between failing as a watchdog of the the Treasury and succeeding as lapdog of the lobby, he will go for the spoils solid, or at least vote a split ticket. I’ll bet on bringing him over; I’ll bet my eternal happiness on it! ” he laughed, as though the article in question were not much to risk.

“You are a very plain-spoken person, Mr. Dorman,” observed the Honorable Sharp, pulling a decorously long face. “Just a little — well, let us say eccentric, in your expressions,” he added with his obsequious smile. “ However, to come to the substance of what you tell me, I must admit that it is encouraging. You really cheer me, Mr. Dorman. I thank you kindly.”

Well, we have described the first Washingtonian temptation which stole to the side and whispered in the ear of Honest John Vane. Of course it was not the last ; the goblins of the Mammonite crew dropped in upon him from week to week and almost from day to day ; he could hardly put out his hands without feeling the pocket of a ring or corporation gaping to receive them. If he accepted an invitation to a supper, he found that it was given by some subsidy or relief bill. If a gentleman offered him a cigar, he discovered that it was scented with appropriations. If he helped a pretty woman into a streetcar, she asked him to vote for her statue or her father’s claim.

The lobby proved to be every way more imposing and potent than he had imagined it. True, some of its representatives were men whom it was easy for him to snub,— men of unwholesome skins, greasy garments, brutish manners, filthy minds, and sickening conversation ; men who so reeked and drizzled with henbane tobacco and cockatrice whiskey that a moderate drinker or smoker would recoil from them as from a cesspool; men whose stupid, shameless boastings of their briberies were enough to warn away from them all but the very elect of Satan. But there were other corruptionists whom he could not steel himself to treat rudely. There were former members of Congress whose names had been trumpeted to him by fame in his youthful days ; decayed statesmen, who were now, indeed, nothing but unfragrant corpses, breeding all manner of moral vermin and miasma, but who still had the speech of patriotism on their lips and the power to argue speciously about the “ needs of the country.” There were dashing Brummels, who seemed to him much finer gentlemen than himself, asserting a high position in society, wearing fine raiment elegantly, brilliant in conversation, gracious in manner, and stately in port. There were soldiers of the late war, bearing titles which made his civilian history appear mean, and boasting of services which seemed to crown them with a halo of patriotism.

Hardest of all for a novice in public affairs to face, there were pundits in constitutional law and Congressional precedent, whose deluges of political lore overflowed him like a river, and stranded him promptly on lone islands of silence. Then there were highly salaried and quick-witted agents of great business houses, which he, as a business man, knew, respected, and perhaps feared. Now and then, too, there was a woman, audacious and clever and stylish and handsome,— an Aspasia who was willing to promise money, and able to redeem her promises in beauty. Indeed, it sometimes seemed to John Vane that the lobby was a cleverer and more formidable assemblage than either of those two chambers which nominally gave laws to the nation. More and more distinctly, as the session went on, he realized that his honesty would have a hard fight of it, and that if he succeeded in keeping it from being borne to the ground, he would grandly deserve to wear his cherished sobriquet.

James DeForest.