Honest John Vane: Part V
WHAT were the prospects of Weathercock John in the face of that terrible scrutiny of political character, a new election ?
He had now served two years in the honorable Congress of the United States, after such a fashion that, could he have had his deserts, he would have served ten more in jail. But — as the mountain brigands of Greece and the municipal highwaymen of New York can both testify — it is not the custom of some communities to execute justice upon criminals, so long as injustice is procurable for love or money. Moreover, our ignominious member had thus far been able to keep that cardinal eleventh commandment, “ Thou shalt not be found out.” He was still worshipped by the simple and lowly masses of his district as Honest John Vane ; and, furthermore, he had store of that golden oil which is one of the best of all lubricators for the wheels of political fortune.
Thus, instead of going to the treadmill and becoming an object of reverential pity to sentimental philanthropists, he went into a canvass for reelection at the head of a faithful flock of baaing adherents, who did not see how he had led them through the brambles of needless taxation, and who were so bewitched with the instinct of following a bellwether that, had they discovered all of Vane’s ignorance and rascality, they would not have deserted him. Not that he bought the popular suffrage with money, or could do it. Thanks be to the remaining mercy of Heaven, few freemen as yet sell their votes in Slowburgh. Having no feculent system of special legislation to rot them with its drippings, they are for the most part of sounder morals than the adventurers who contrive to represent them. But there were wirepullers to be conciliated, oratorical forums to be hired, posters and ballots to be printed, vote-distributers to be paid. Vane’s tithes from his relief and subsidy bills covered these expenses nicely, and to the entire satisfaction of an enlightened and moral constituency, fond of economy in national legislation, and boastful of the honesty which a republic is supposed to generate.
Of course he found the franking privilege as useful as if he had never denounced it. He was almost grateful in these campaigning days for the congressional insignificance which had disenabled him from reforming that abuse. A so-called secretary, whom he had left in Washington with several thousand “ franks,” sold one half of those autographs as his own perquisite, and deluged Vane’s field of labor with the other half. Every mechanic in Slowburgh got a report on agriculture, and every farmer got a report on manufactures. The speeches which the so-called secretary had written, and which our member had obtained leave to print in the Congressional Globe without preliminary delivery, fell in such abundant showers throughout the district that it was a wonder they had not been foretold in the almanac. The Washingtonian assistant, by the way, must have been a fellow of some ability ; he managed this system of political irrigation not only with vigor, but with judgment. For example, among all the public documents with which he fructified Slowburgh, there was not a single copy of the Report on the Corruption of Members of Congress. It was judicious, certainly; for had we been brought to remember the infamy of Matteson. we might not have been so happy in voting for Vane.
There was, indeed, one ugly week, when it seemed as if the torches of our nocturnal processions burned blue, and we almost feared to look at our candidate lest we should see signs of unworthiness in his face. Certain lobbyists, who had not been able to get what they thought their allowance of eggs out of the Hen Persuader, set afloat vindictive stories to the effect that that wonderful financial machine was nothing but a contrivance to corrupt Congressmen into voting favors to the Great Subfluvial, and that its retaining fees had been pocketed by some of the most famous champions of our party, such as Christian, Greatheart, and Honest John Vane.
These charges were picked up and used for ammunition by a brazen opposition which was as deep in the mud as we were in the mire. Every shot spread consternation through our array. There was danger lest we should set up the Gaulish war-cry of Nous sommes trahis, and either flinch from the polls or vote a split ticket. Even the political priesthood of wirepullers, who stood about Vane as the Scotch Presbyterian elders encompassed Leslie, began to doubt whether it would not be well to make another nomination. But in the end this select and tried synagogue (of Satan ?) decided to stick to their candidate and to patch up the rents in his ephod. They began by denying flatly that he owned any Hen Persuader stock, or any other property connected with the Great Subfluvial. Next they set a committee over him to prevent him from avowing such ownership. This committee guarded him all day and put him to bed at night ; it went before him like a cloud and behind him like a darkness, keeping him constantly shrouded in non-committalism ; it held interviewing reporters at a distance, or whispered evasive answers to their questions. Never was a Grand Lama or a Roi Fainéant more completely secluded. Only a deaf-mute, with all his fingers amputated, could be laid under such a conversational embargo. This inspired discretion had its reward ; various providences arrived to favor it. Good and true men perceived that the whole air was full of “ campaign lies,” and naturally inferred that this story about the Hen Persuader briberies was one of them. Moreover, it was soon “nailed to the counter” by positive and public letters of denial from Christian, Greatheart, and other implicated seraphim. Of course, such men would not prevaricate, we argued, and considered the charges entirely refuted.. And now we justified Weathercock John ; we imputed his silence to the conscious rectitude of a worthy soul ; we said that he had done rightly in treating slander with unresponsive scorn. Thus reassured, we went in a solid phalanx to the polls, and triumphantly sent our special legislator back to Congress.
Nobody was better pleased with the victory than Darius Dorman. It was, by the way, somewhat of a satire upon our human joy that such a “burnteyed nigger ” of the pit, such a mere field-hand in the earthly plantation of Lucifer, should have shared it. The moment he heard the result he looked up Vane and congratulated him in forms and liturgies of profanity not often heard above ground.
“ It is a triumph of the good cause,” he continued, with so sarcastic a grin that our heavy-witted member thought him either impertinent or crazy ; “and, by the infernal hoofs and horns, the good cause needed it. If we had been beaten, the Great Subfluvial would have been smashed to make way for some other national enterprise. As it is, I think we can keep things whitewashed. and perhaps head off an investigation altogether.”
“An investigation ! ” exclaimed Vane, his genial smile falling agape with dismay. “ Do you think there will be an investigation ?”
“ You may bet what soul you have on it,” declared the lobbyist. “Just as sure as the party believes those charges to be false, it will demand an overhauling of them, of course, to confound the opposition.”
Our Congressman saw the point, and seemed to feel it in his marrow. “If they look this thing up,” he gasped, “ what’s to become of me ? ”
“ I don’t know and I don’t care,” responded Dorman, with a frank brutality which made Vane resolve not to quarrel with him ; “ what I want to know is, what ’s to become of me ? Here I have all my results and my materials of labor in those two companies. If the Hen Persuader is called on to refund to the Subfluvial, or if the Subfluvial is foreclosed on by the government, I am a poor devil for certain. Well, we are in the same boat ; we must pull together. If you won’t expose my fashion of doing business, I won’t expose your share in the profits of it.”
Vane answered in his non-committal fashion ; he said nothing, and he did not even look at his guide and ruler in sin ; but he gently nodded his assent.
“ I always meant to pay you for that stock,” he continued, for he was very anxious now to make friends with this Mammon of unrighteousness. “ I ’ll settle with you for it some day, Darius ; I ’m a little short now. This election, you know.”
“ O, yes, I know,” Dorman grinned epileptically. “ It has cost us both a good bit of money. Well, take your time about it ; pay me when it comes handy. I can trust your honesty, John, under the circumstances.”
The Congressman turned away, full of an inward wrath, but placid, meek, and sleek on the surface, for his tallowy nature did not come easily to an open boil. He was angry at the lobbyist for his sarcasm ; he perfectly hated him for that avarice and hardness which would not give a receipt for payment on those shares, without the money ; but he must not and would not quarrel with him, so brotherly is the communion of Satan !
For once Dorman was correct in a prophecy. The recollection of the “Great Subfluvial slanders" rankled in the soul of an honest and truth-loving nation. After the election had
been carried and the country duly saved from its quadrennial crisis, it seemed just and necessary to put calumny to open shame, and thus rob it of influence in the future. Virtuous constituencies and a press which at least spoke the words of virtue clamored for an investigation which should vindicate the innocence of Christian, Greatheart, and Company, and put their lying accusers in the pillory. “ We want justice done you,” cheerfully shouted a believing party to its demigods, streaming piteously with the rotten eggs of the Hen Persuader. It was in vain that these revered fetishes whispered to their confidants that justice was precisely what they were afraid of, and interceded with such divinities as they believed in to save them from their friends. In vain did a sadly wise Congress endeavor to amuse and pacify the country by throwing overboard that precious tub of abuses, the franking privilege. In vain did Weathercock John set his daily organ to celebrating and imputing to himself a reform which he had so long promised and which he now so unwillingly conceded. The popular whale took no notice of a plaything which at any other time might have diverted it for years, and continued to thrash the political ocean into foam with its rushings and plungings after investigations.
Amid this commotion John Vane rowed about in his cockle-shell of a character with all the agility that terror can give. He was so accustomed to value himself on being honest that the thought of being publicly condemned as dishonest was almost as dreadful to him as it would have been to an upright soul. So oppressive was his wretchedness that he craved not only help but also sympathy, that favorite consolation of the sorrowful feeble. He was in the spiritual state of certain weak-minded murderers, who cannot sleep of nights until they have told some friend the particulars of their crime. So entirely had the backbone been taken out of him that he could not hold himself erect in the presence of his wife, but wilted upon her slight shoulder for support. It was an abject confession of decrepitude ; for he had learned to consider her as totally lacking in practical sense, and there were impatient moments when he thought of her as merely a lively dunce. But now he must have pity, though it came from a peacock.
“ I’m afraid there ’s trouble a brewing for us,” he said, one evening, shaking that perplexed head of his which had been the admiration of his constituents, and which certainly looked large enough to hold all the problems of state.
“ What ’s the matter now ? ” asked Olympia. She did not think of trouble to the nation, nor of trouble to her husband. The only idea which occurred to her was that perhaps there was a scarcity of money, and she might be called on to give up the honors of housekeeping and put on the disgusting humility of lodgings. It was also a little disagreeable to her, this way that John sometimes got into of coming to her with his grievances, and trying to ease his own mind by burdening hers. It was hardly more pleasant than having a dog make a bed for himself on the skirts of one’s lilac silk. She possessed in large measure that unsympathy, alleged by some writers to amount to hostility, which certainly does exist to some extent between the sexes. Her world was very different from her husband’s world, and she did not much care to have him take an interest in hers, nor did she want at all to worry about his. That the two spheres had any intimate connection she could rarely perceive, except the masculine one ceased to radiate gold upon the feminine one.
“ Well, the matter is this stupid outcry for investigations,” sighed John, loosening the cravat about his somewhat pulpy throat, as if fearful lest it should make a hangman’s circle there.
“What investigations? Who is to be investigated ? ” demanded Olympia, who was as ignorant of the whole matter as if she were an inhabitant of some celestial world where investigations were not needed, or of some infernal one where they were of no use.
“ Well, it’s a secret,” the special legislator continued to drawl, talking about his misdeed unwillingly, but unable to stop talking about it. “ However, I suppose it ’ll all be out before long. I thought I might as well prepare your mind for it,” he concluded, feebly hoping that she would say something to prepare his mind,
“ Well, what is it ? ” asked the wife, distinctly foreseeing trouble for herself, and becoming therefore deeply interested.
“ O, I thought I told you,” answered John, whose scared conscience had been babbling at such a rate that it seemed to him as if he had made audible confession of his whole iniquity. “ Well, it ’s something about this Great Subfluvial Tunnel under the Mississippi, from the Lakes to New Orleans,— great national enterprise, you know. You see, it was a pretty heavy thing for Simon Sharp and the other boss stockholders to carry, and they had to get some additional assistance from Congress, and to do that they gave some of the members stock,— or rather sold it to them,” he added, doubting whether he could trust even his wife with all the truth. “ Well, some of the newspapers are charging that this is bribery and corruption, and are bawling for an investigation and making a row generally, as though it was anything new, by George ! ”
“ Haveyou got any of the stock?” inquired Olympia. She saw that the subject was a sore one to her husband, but she was not much in the habit of sparing his feelings, and so was able to come promptly and squarely to the point.
“ Not much,” replied John, loosening his cravat once more. “Only a thousand.”
“ That is n’t much,” said the wife, rather scorning him for not having received more. “ Why don’t you sell it and get it off your hands ? ”
Vane made no answer. Of course, selling the stock would not hide the fact that he had owned it, nor shield him from ugly questions as to how he came to be possessed of it. but it seemed useless to try to explain this to Olympia, women were so irretrievably dark-minded in business matters.
“ Does it pay anything ? ” she asked, merely guessing from his silence that the property was profitable, and that therefore he did not wish to part with it.
“ About fifteen hundred a year,” confessed the husband, with a sheepish air ; “ or maybe two thousand.”
“Two thousand!” exclaimed the modern Portia, who, as a legislator, was even more “self-taught” than her husband, and consequently more unscrupulous. “ Why, you must n’t think of selling it.”
The statesman gazed at his privy counsellor in despair. She could not grasp the situation, and he might have known that she could not. To appeal to such a woman for advice and consolation in great trouble was much as if a drowning man should trust to a raft made of millinery.
“ It ’s all very well to talk that way, as though it was as easy as A B C,” he answered, quite out of patience with the straw which he had clutched at to so little purpose. “ But supposing this costs me my seat ? Supposing I get expelled for it? Then you’ll understand, I reckon, that it’s of some consequence, and not so very handy to manage.”
Olympia perceived that dulness was imputed unto her, and she felt very angry at the injustice. She knew that she was not dull; nobody ever hinted such an idea but her husband ; other men complimented her for her cleverness, her social powers, etc.
“ Then what did you get yourself in such a scrape for?” she retorted sharply. “ You need n’t blame me for it ; I did n’t do it.”
“ Yes, you did,” insisted John, and with much truth. “ I got into this very scrape to raise money for your housekeeping and receptions and carriages and all those other confounded ruinous things that you could have got along just as well without. And, by George, the whole fol-de-rol nonsense has got to stop !” he exclaimed, his long-continued excitement over the threatened investigation bursting up in an explosion of domestic wrath. “We don’t keep house this session. And we don’t stay here at the Arlington, neither. We go back to a boarding-house ; and we go to parties afoot, too. The omnibus ain’t running this session,” he added, with a bitterly jocose allusion to “ omnibus bills,” and their profitable loads of special enactments. “ Shoeleather will have to do our travelling. It’s all the turn-out that I can pay for.”
Of course there was a scene. Of course Olympia did not surrender her woman’s right to luxury without a tearful and little less than hysterical struggle. But John Vane, rendered pitiless by terror concerning his political future, was for once master over his own household. He made arrangements that very day for leaving his fine rooms in the Arlington and going into lodgings. At first sight, his economy seems unnecessarily hard, in view of the fact that he still had several thousand dollars left out of the illegal gleanings of the last session, and thus was a richer man than when he first came to Washington. But this money had gone into the purchase of a new patent in refrigerators, and he could not realize on it without sacrificing a very promising business chance. Moreover, he saw that in the present public excitement about “jobbing ” legislation, he must forego its emoluments for a time, and thus diminish his income. Finally, it seemed to be absolutely necessary to put on the guise of poverty, if he cared to preserve his repute for honesty. All these things he explained to Olympia, in a discreetly vague way, remembering the while that she might be just goose enough to go and cackle it abroad, but anxious, nevertheless, to make her contented with him.
“ You see, we have been going it rather strong on style,” he added. “Ten thousand dollars a year is a pretty tall figure for four persons, two of ’em children. I suppose we got into that way because other people set the example,” he concluded, not wishing to be hard on his wife.
“ If we could only have the rooms on the first floor. I could stand it — for a while,” was the response of the insatiable Olympia, a pathetic tear fringing her long and really lovely eyelashes. “ They are only fifteen dollars a month more, and then we would have a nice parlor, or at least a decent one.”
“ That means dinners, I s’pose,” grinned Vane, testily. “ Big dinners and little receptions.”
“ Do you want to shut me out of the world altogether ? ” was the desperate cry of this persecuted wife.
“ Now look here ; I would do it, — I would if I could,” groaned the weak monster of a husband. “If I had a thousand dollars of capital loose, I ’d spend it that way, or any way to please you.”
“ Why don’t you borrow ? ” was the suggestion of a helpmeet whose ideas of a loan did not extend so far as the repayment. “ I ’m sure I have gentlemen friends who would be willing to lend you something.”
Although she said “friends,” she was thinking of Senator Ironman, and her husband easily divined it. Should he be angry at the suggestion and reject it with self-respectful scorn ? Well, he was not so sensitive as he had been when he came to Washington ; somehow or other he did not care so much about the look of things and the name of things ; on the whole, he could not feel indignation, or at least none to speak of. Indeed, his disintegration of moral sentiments had gone farther than that stage of indifference which simply allows things to take their own course. After meditating for some time over his wife’s advice to borrow of her friends, he decided to follow it.
“It would be better to let Ironman lend me the money than to run the chance of his lending it to her,” he reasoned. “ And then I can tell him that I am hard up, and give him a hint to let other people know it. By George, it’s a queer position for an old business man to be in,” he added, with a mixture of chagrin and amusement; “I never thought once that I should come to want to be considered bankrupt.”
WHEN the Honorable Mr. Vane was shown into Senator Ironman’s library, his usually pink face wore that pallor which anxieties will bring, especially when they are accompanied by discontent with one’s self.
The equally pink, though bony and narrow visage of the senator also lost some of its natural color as he advanced to welcome his visitor. It was, by Jove, very queer, he thought, that Vane should drop in at that time of day, just after a fellow’s breakfast, as though he were an intimate friend. The two men, we must understand, were not fundamentally fond of each other, as is often the case with two men who admire the same lady.
“ I don’t altogether fancy Vane,” the senator had confessed to his familiars. “Now Mrs. Vane is a magnificent creature, thoroughly well bred and well educated,— that is, enough so for society, you understand,— a wholesouled, splendid, dazzling woman, and — and as jolly as possible. She’s a woman that shows well in a dance or anywhere. By Jove, she’s a stunner, that woman is. I don’t know another lady in Washington that could wear crimson roses in her hair without looking faded. She becomes a bouquet superbly, and, by Jove, I love to give them to her,— she shows one off so ! But Vane is another sort of animal altogether. He is rather — rather — in fact, rather dull,” judged the great man, Hitting on the right word at last. “ And just a little low, too,” he added. “ Don’t always speak the best grammar. One of your heavy, self-taught men,” he explained, forgetting that his own father had begun life as an hostler. “ Low man on the whole; in some points very low — and dull.”
So you perceive he did not admire his visitor, not as much as Slowburgh would have expected. But there were other causes for the Dundreary perplexity which now winked from his pale eyes and crisped his limited forehead. He had noted Vane’s unusual ghastliness, and the circumstance alarmed him. What had the man got on his low and dull mind ? Was he going to say anything disagreeable about the Ironman bouquets and carriage-drives and other marks of esteem accorded to Mrs. Vane? The senator was so eager and hurried in his expressions of amity and welcome that he fairly stuttered.
“Mr. Ironman, I just dropped in to talk about this Great Subfluvial row,” commenced our member in a slightly paralytic voice, for he was at least as much agitated as his host.
“ O, — O, indeed ! ” answered the relieved dignitary of the upper house. “ Sit down, sit down,” he went on, smiling as cheerily as if the subject were an entirely delightful one. “ Had your breakfast ? Just as lieve order you up something as not. Say a devilled kidney now. Well, take a glass of sauterne then, or a cigar,” he urged, forgetting that John was a teetotaler and a non-smoker.
“ I don’t use either, thank you,” said Vane, holding on to what habits of virtue he had left, though he wanted a glass of wine sadly. “ Well, — about this affair, now : do you think there 'll be an investigation ? ”
“ Yes, O yes ; such a row about it, you know ; can’t help coming to one ; bad for those fellows that are in it,” prattled the senator, either forgetting that the bulk of his own fortune had come out of the lobby, or remembering with satisfaction that it had been harvested years ago.
“ With closed doors, I s’pose,” hoped Dishonest John.
“ Don’t know about that, by Jove ! ” and Ironman shook his statesmanlike head, “ You see we don’t want them open ; but now and then we have to give in to the newspaper fellows; there’s such a row about it, you know ! I ’m afraid some fellows have got to go overboard,” he added, much consoled by the thought that the fellows in question would be out of his way. “ You see, when a man is found out, it’s bad for him.”
“ Well, ” sighed Vane, after a long silence, “ I may have to quit Washington, then.’
The senator opened his eyes. So Honest John Vane was “ in it,” was he ? It was curious, by Jove ; and he wondered he had n’t thought of it before, and then wondered how it was that all those honest fellows ended so badly. But these ideas were almost immediately chased out of the confined boundaries of his mind by the reflection that, if Vane left Washington, his wife would go too.
“By Jove, that’s bad,” he broke out. “By Jove, that won’t do. We can’t spare you and Mrs. Vane. My wife won’t know what to do,” he explained, “if she loses Mrs. Vane.”
The heart of Mrs. Vane’s husband grew a little lighter under these acknowledgments of her importance to the Ironmans.
“ Look here! something might he done, you know,” continued the senator, thinking harder than he had been accustomed to think since he left school. “ I ’ll run around, myself, among the House fellows, by Jove ! I ’ll ask ’em if something can’t be done.”
In another instant he had an inspiration. “ Look here ! Put you on the investigating committee ! You need n’t investigate your own case, you know. That’s it ; I ’ll try to get you put on the investigating committee. It’ll help you with the people, — clear up your record ; don't you see ? And then, if the doors can be kept shut, why, you do that, you know. Just the very idea ! ” he concluded, quite happy over his unexpected attack of shrewdness.
“ I ’m afraid” confessed John Vane, still retaining a little grain of conscience, and rendered timorous by it, “ it’s a leetle too bold for me, — with this stock on my hands.”
“ I don’t see why that should hinder,” stared the experienced senator. “ Of course you bought the stock (it’s the inside stock, is n’t it ?) without knowing that it was hitched on to the Great Subfluvial.”
“ But I have n’t paid for it,” sighed Vane. “ That’s the awkward part of the business. And that is partly what I dropped in to see you about,” he concluded, his face turning crimson with shame.
“ How much ?” asked Ironman instantly. He understood that a loan was wanted, and he was willing to make a moderate one ; in fact, glad to do it.
“ A thousand par,” explained our fallen great man.
“ O, that’s nothing!” laughed the millionnaire, highly amused that Vane should have sold his honesty for so little. “ Let me lend you enough to cover it. How much will you have ? Say fifteen hundred, now. Here,” he continued to laugh, as he went to his safe for the money to hide a bribe, “ this trap is always open to a friend. I’ve had too many good dinners and pleasant evenings at your house not to call you by that name.”
“ I hope you ’ll call often,” mumbled John Vane in a stifled voice, as he pocketed the greenbacks. “ We shall always be delighted to see you.”
He felt driven to utter these commonplaces, but he could not return thanks for the loan. He had a bitter feeling or suspicion that he was not under obligations to Ironman, and he was so far from being grateful to him that he positively hated him. It was a satisfaction to him, after he had got into the street, to look back at the house menacingly, and mutter, “ You won’t see your funds again in one while, old fellow, if you ever do,”
This speech of his, by the way, is one of the circumstances of his life from which we can most accurately take his measure in regard to delicacy of feeling and sensitiveness to dishonor.
His next business was to burry to Dorman’s office, and announce that he had come to settle for “ that stock.”
“ What’s the damage ? ” he asked, not at all alluding to the damage which his soul had received.
“ How much do you propose to pay ? ” replied the lobbyist, his smoky eyes giving forth sparks of commingled satire and greed.
“ Why, par, of course,” said John Vane, a little alarmed. “ That’s the figure we talked of when I took it.”
Dorman skipped about the room and rubbed himself violently, much like a man who discovers that he has a hornet inside his clothes.
“ it’s been worth three hundred all the while,” he exclaimed. “ I could have sold it for three hundred the day you got it.”
Now Vane could not pay three hundred, nor two hundred, without great inconvenience. Moreover, he was a bargainer born ; a bargainer, too, by life-long habit, and valued himself on it. He was as proud of his instinctive, functional, and inevitable dexterity in a dicker as a crab is said to be of walking sideways. So, although he was afraid of Dorman, he resolved to show what he called the spirit of a man, and to resist this low attempt at extortion.
“ Look here, Darius, that won’t go down,” he remonstrated. “The stock may have been worth three hundred once, but it ain’t worth it now. People don’t want it any more than they want shares in a broken bank with stockholders liable. I ’ll bet a cookey ” (John Vane was not a sporting man, and did not mean to bet anything), — “ I ’ll beta cookey that you can’t sell my share, nor anybody’s share, for a hundred. But I ’ll give that for it, because I agreed to and like to stand by my word,” he concluded nobly.
“ O, very well, anything you like ! ” grumbled the corruptionist, who saw that he must relinquish his plan for getting back a part of the price which he had paid for a soul.
“ And I want a receipt dated back to day of transfer,” continued Vane.
“Of course you do,” grinned Dorman. “ You want it very much indeed. Well, if we give you one, what can you do for us ? ”
“ O, well, I don’t know,” drawled John, who by this time had caught that easy jog-trot of manner which was his bargaining gait. “You ’ll need a good deal done for you before the thing is over,” he added, picking up the morning Chronicle and pretending to read it. “If I was in the right place,” he continued, after a little, “of course I could help you more or less. ” After a further perusal of the Chronicle, he resumed, “ By the way, I met Ironman just now, and he gave me an idea which might work well for you, providing it would work at all.”
“ Nice fellow, Ironman,” smirked Dorman. He guessed immediately that Vane had been drawing on the rich senator for money to pay for the stock ; and he wanted to stop him from making use of that resource, for he wanted him poor and in his own power. “ Eccentric person in some respects,” he went on; “but genial, generous fellow.”
Either because there was offence in these remarks, or because this black little creature’s breath had some pungent quality, Vane suddenly turned away his head and had a slight spasm of coughing, like a man who has caught a whiff from a lucifer match.
“ Yes,” he assented presently, looking rather glum. “ Well, what was I saying ? O, I know (and by the way, this is between us), he suggested putting me on the committee of investigation! ”
Dorman laughed so violently that Vane could not help joining him. The peachblow face of the Congressman turned crimson, and the sombre visage of the lobbyist turned almost black, so apoplectic was their merriment. There was also a sound of other hilarity, not so distinct and therefore all the more singular, about the office. There were faint but audible chuckles in the walls, along the lofty ceiling, and under the floor.
“ What is that ? ” asked Vane, looking about him with a merely earthly and rather stolid suspicion of eavesdroppers.
“ O, nothing that need interrupt us ! ” smiled Dorman. “ This used to be a dwelling-house, and had the name of being haunted. Curious noises about it, you observe ; perhaps from subterranean passages to the devil knows where, perhaps nothing but echoes. Well, John, I like your plan. Here is your receipt for payment, dated back to day of transfer. Give me one thousand, — no interest from you. We are friends, John, forever,” he concluded, with a peculiar accent on the last word.
“ I hope so,” answered Vane mechanically. “ O, by the way, where is Sharp ? I want to see him about this.”
“Yes, you ’d better see him,” said Dorman, who was counting his bills, ail miser again. “ You ’ll find him at home.”
Mr. Jabez Sharp, the member from the old Whetstone State, was. it must be understood, the real head of the Great Subfluvial corporation, and also of that interior manifestation of it which we have called the Hen Persuader. As Vane hurried toward this honorable’s house, he met that eminent and venerated, but just now grievously slandered statesman, Mr. Greatheart. The two could not pass each other without a moment’s discourse. By the way, there was a vast deal of mysterious, muttered conversation going on just now among Congressmen. They had a subject in common, a subject of terrifying interest to only too many of them, the subject of this approaching, unavoidable investigation. You could scarcely turn a corner without discovering a couple of broad-backed, thicknecked, and big-headed gentlemen leaning solemnly toward each other and engaged in such cautious, inaudible communion that it seemed as if they were speaking only through their staring eyes, or by means of some twitching of their noses. The number of these duos, the noiseless gravity with which they were conducted, the usually swollen configuration of the performers in them, and the stupefied astonishment which was depicted in their faces, all reminded one of those numerous, solemn meetings of toads which may be seen after a shower.
Mr. Greatheart was not physically such a man as you might have expected from his heroic name. There was not a line about him, either in the way of muscle or expression, which could suggest descent from that stalwart knight who guided Christiana through the Dark Valley. He was short and squab in build, with a spacious, clean-shaved, shining face, huge red wattles of cheeks hanging down over his jaws, and a meek, non-combatant, semi-clerical mien. A bacchanalian cardinal, who should lately have turned Quaker, but lacked time to get the Burgundy out of his complexion, might wear a similar physiognomy. There was conscience in this visage, but there was also spiritual pride and animal propensity, and perhaps other evidences of a nature not yet made perfect. Good people who believed in him knew him as a man whose public career was famed for spotless, and whose private life had been smirched here and there by innuendo.
Just now the Honorable Greatheart was evidently in low spirits, not to say in a bewildering funk. Recalling our batrachian .simile, we might describe him as a toad who looked as if he had eaten too many ants and got the dyspepsia. In real truth he was ready to call on mushrooms to hide him, and on molehills to cover him. His condition was a sorry one, much sorrier than John Vane’s. He had pocketed Hen Persuader stock, and then had publicly and positively denied the fact, either to save his own reputation from the charge of bribery, or to lighten the party ship over the breakers of the election. Now there was to be an investigation, and the ownership of this malodorous property would be traced to him, and he would be convicted of lying. Is it any wonder that under such circumstances a reputed saint should have somewhat the air of a reptile ?
“ Glad to see you, Vane,” he murmured, shaking our member’s hand fervently, for he was a cordial man when in adversity. “ What do you judge to be the prospects about an investigation ? ”
“ Sure to come on, I hear,” answered John, who was much cheered by the results of his interviews with Ironman and Dorman, and remembered that he might yet sit in judgment on Greatheart.
“ So I understand,” sighed that stumbled worthy, his wattles drooping still lower and taking a yellowish tint. “ Ah well ! we may suffer severely for this error. I conceive now, Mr. Vane, that it was an error. Yes, it was a really terrible mistake,” he went on conceding, for he was in that mood of confession which gripes unaccustomed misdoers under the threatenings of punishment. “ A blunder is sometimes worse than a crime,—that is, worse in its consequences. And circumstances are such in Washington that the best-intentioned of us are occasionally beguiled into very sad blunders.”
“ In spite of everything that we can do,” eagerly affirmed Vane, classing himself of course among the “ best-intentioned.”
“Very few men are really fit for Congress,” pursued Mr. Greatheart, in a certain preaching tone which was natural to him, he having once been a clergyman. “ I sometimes feel that I myself ought never to have come here. I had neither the pecuniary means nor the stoical character to grapple with the protean life of Washington. It is too full of exigencies and temptations for any human nature which is not quite extraordinary. The legislative system alone is enough to kill us. As long as these subsidy bills and relief bills are allowed, no man ought to run for Congress who is not a Crœsus or a Cato. A poor fellow will get into debt, and then the lobby offers to help him out, and it is very hard to refuse. The whole arrangement is terribly severe on men of small means.”
‘‘just so,” feelingly assented Vane, who heard his own decline and fall narrated, and was moved to compassion by the tale. “It’s too bad on us. Either the whole system of special legislation ought to be done away with, or else we ought to be allowed a regular percentage on the appropriations we vote, and the thing made business-like.”
“ That — that is a bold idea,” smiled Greatheart, apparently not disapproving it “Are you thinking of proposing it ?”
“ O, no!” exclaimed John, drawing back bodily in the earnestness of his negation. “ I suppose it would cost a fellow his re-election.”
“I suppose it would, unless he represented a very stanch district,” said Greatheart. “ I don’t know but one man who would dare advocate such a plan. I think—if you have no objection — that I ’ll mention it to General Boum.”
And so these two penitents, who were ready to resume thievery as soon as they could get free from their crosses, bade each other a sad good morning and parted.
Next John found Mr. Sharp, and was received by him with razor-strop smoothness, as that well-oiled gentleman received everybody who could vote on his schemes.
“ Do take a seat, Mr. Vane, — take a seat without ceremony,” he begged, meanwhile softly handling his visitor by the arms, much as though they were glass ones. “ Let me offer you this easy-chair. You honor me by accepting it. I thank you kindly.”
Vane had an instinctive desire to look at the sleeves of his overcoat. It always seemed to him, after Mr. Sharp had fingered him, as if he must be greasy.
“ I am exceedingly glad to see you here,” continued the Whetstone representative, gazing as genially as he could at our member through his cold, vitreous eyes. “ I had begun to fear that I was under such a cloud of misrepresentation and obloquy that my old friends would not come to call on me. This great enterprise, which I have had the honor to foster a little, according to my poor measure of financial ability, has been terribly abused and maligned. A national enterprise, too ! a thing not only beneficial, but absolutely necessary to the country ! The noblest scheme ever indorsed by the wisdom of Congress! What do people mean ? What does the press mean ? What is this investigation for? I am completely bewildered.”
“ It’s giving the stock to Congressmen that has made the row,” answered Vane, who judged that they might as well come to the point at once.
“ O, that is it ? ” grinned Mr. Sharp, with an air of getting light in the midst of really discouraging darkness. “ I am glad you have explained it to me. I should have expected it from a man of your clearness of vision. I thank you kindly. Well—as to that matter — why, that is simple. I put the stock where it would do the most good to a good thing.”
“Just so,” nodded Vane, meanwhile thinking what nonsense it was for Sharp to be talking gammon to him, “But you see— Well, never mind about that now ; we may as well get to business. There is sure to be an investigation.”
“ Exactly,” answered the Whetstone member, sloughing off his coating of “ soft sawder,” and coming out as hard and bright as a new silver dollar.
“And I have a smart chance of being put on the House committee,” continued John.
Mr. Sharp opened the dark-lantern of his Puritanic visage, and let out a smile which contained all the guile of all the pedlers that ever sold wooden nutmegs.
“ Mr. Vane,” said he, “are your arrangements about that stock of yours completed to your entire satisfaction ?”
“ I have paid Dorman for it and got a receipt that will do me.”
“ Mr. Vane, do let me hand that money back,” pursued Sharp, fumbling in his desk and producing a package of bills. “ It was a trifling mark of private amity and sincere esteem. I never meant it should be paid for. Dorman is an able business man, but has n’t an idea beyond trading. I insist, Mr. Vane, on your taking back your money.”
“Well — from that point of view — since you will have it so,” smiled Dishonest John, pocketing the bills.
“ Want any more of the stock ? ” inquired Sharp, with a cunning twinkle in his half-shut eyes, as if he saw a way to recover his thousand dollars.
“No!” answered Vane, not less promptly and positively than if he had been offered a ladleful of pitch from the infernal caldron.
“My dear sir, we are at your service,” bowed the financier. “Anything that we can do for you, call on us. Of course you will have all our influence towards putting you on that committee. Must you go ? So obliged for this call! Let me open the door for you. Thank you kindly.”
THANKS to the labors of solemn Mr. Sharp and of worldly Mr. Ironman, our member soon had a fair prospect of getting on the investigating committee, supposing always that there should be such a nuisance.
But the nearer he came to this post of responsibility and honor, the more it looked to him as though it might turn out a whipping-post, at which he would stand with exposed shoulders and bleeding cuticle. If he as a judge should be able to close the court-room doors, and keep out not only spectators but also the witnesses in the case, all might go famously well, at least from the Satanic point of view. But if, while pretending to examine into the little games of others, the same kind of cards should be found up his own sleeves, he would be ruined beyond hope of re-election. The sad state of a boy whose pockets are full of fire-crackers in a state of crackling and scorching ignition would be but a feeble image of such a disaster. In these days he vacillated as rapidly and disagreeably as if he were astride some monstrous shuttlecock, or were being seesawed by all the giants of fairy-tale land. His pulpy pink face wore an air of abiding perplexity which rivalled that of his Dundrearyish friend Ironman. At times it seemed as if its large, watery features would decompose entirely with irresolution, and come to resemble an image of strawberry ice which has been exposed to too high a temperature.
Meantime the spectre of investigation advanced, and its pointing finger renewed his sense of guilt. The approach of punishment always enlightens a sinner marvellously as to the heinous nature of his sin. Even the Devil, when visited by the hand of sickness, perceived that he had Jed an evil life, and hungered to withdraw from a world of temptation and thirsted to take holy orders. Just so John Vane now discovered plainly once more that he had been pocketing bribes and swindling the public treasury, and that these were very wrong actions. If he had never truly had a conscience before, but had regulated his conduct by the consciences of others, he at last possessed one of his own. Indeed, it appeared to him a very large one because it was sore, precisely as a man’s nose seems large to him, while yet tender from a fisticuff. From one point of view he was an honester John Vane than he had ever been, inasmuch as terror and remorse made him intelligently honest with himself.
Before he could decide to accept a position on the committee, he must be sure that Sharp & Co. would conceal his ownership of their stock, and he called on Dorman to obtain a positive promise to that effect. It is wonderful, by the way, how rogues in distress will trust each other’s word, even when each knows by experience that the other is a confirmed liar.
“Look here, Darius, the more I stir up this business, the worse it looks to me,” he groaned from the summit of a state of mind which almost raised him to the moral altitude of a penitent thief.
Dorman responded by groaning over his end of the burden, which naturally seemed to him much heavier than Vane’s; each of these invalids, like the majority of commonplace sick people, wanted to talk of his own malady and symptoms. Still, there was a sort of fellow-feeling between them, such as even small-pox patients have for each other. Dorman no longer purposed financial vengeance upon Vane for getting his stock at par and paying no commission. Nor was Vane sensibly embittered against Dorman, although the latter had made a large fortune out of the Subfluvial, while he himself had only pocketed a beggarly thousand or two.
“It’s the cursed unfairness of the thing that yerks me,” the lobbyist complained. “ Now is n’t it too bad that the public should want to haul our job over the hottest kind of coals, when ever so many other jobs just like it ain’t spoken of? ”
We must remark here, what the reader has doubtless already noticed, that there was something disappointing in this creature’s conversation. While his person and demeanor reminded one of the supernatural castaways of the lake of fire, his discourse was insignificantly human and even smacked of a very low down sort of humanity.
“And here I am in it, for almost nothing,” sighed Vane, returning instinctively to his own case. “ What sort of a story are you going to tell, Darius, if they put you on the stand ?” he presently inquired.
“ O, I would say anything that would do the most good,” grimaced the lobbyist. “But Sharp means to let out a few facts ; that is, if they crowd him. You see, Sharp unluckily has a character to nurse. I dare say, too, he thinks he can stop questions by showing that he means to answer them,” added Dorman, who always imputed the lowest motives.
Thoroughly scared by this information, Vane resolved to keep off the committee. He went home in the dumps, wished he had never gone into politics, and meditated resigning his seat. Perhaps he would have taken this wholesome step, but he was moved first to consult Olympia about it, and she flatly refused to resign.
“ I won’t agree to it, — no, never ! ” she exclaimed, rustling in all her silks with indignation. “ Why, I have just fairly got into the best society, and there are all the receptions to come, and the inauguration ball ! and the winter is going to be so gay ! ”
“O — well,” stared John, who had not thought to look at this side of the medal ; “but we must stick to boarding, if we do stay,” he capitulated on conditions. “I tell you, the winter ain’t going to be gay in Congress, and there won’t be much money lying around loose, and we must skimp.”
Before many days he found cause to pluck up his courage a little. He learned that Slowburgh considered him innocent of evil, meaning, of course, that half of Slowburgh which had voted for him. The committee of a certain association sent him an invitation to lecture before it, and promised that “ the appearance of his honest face on their platform would be the signal of frantic applause.” Furthermore, certain newspapers remarked that, although John Vane was suspected of owning Hen Persuader stock, he had at least not denied such ownership, and Commented upon the fact as an unusual exhibition of uprightness and manliness — in a Congressman. These things revived his confidence so much that his mind was able to work. He saw his game clear before him ; he must get in a “ long suit ” of frankness. There was a little trick, which, if skilfully and luckily played, would give him such a repute for veracity and for just intentions that all the caverns of the Great Subfluvial could not swallow it. What this happy thought was we shall learn presently.
Meantime the excitement of the men outside politics increased. That vast, industrious, decent American public, which wirepullers usually regard as having no more intelligence or moral principle than one of the forces of nature, showed unmistakably that it possessed much political virtue and some political sense. The discovery that the so-called slanders against its favorites were, in all probability, verities, only made it more determined that those slanders should be investigated. The steady tempest of its righteous indignation scattered good seed through Congress, and produced on that upland of statesmanship a promising nubbin or two of conscience. An investigation was ordered, at first under hermetically sealed conditions, but the popular storm soon blew the doors open.
The rest we mainly know ; the whole alien world of monarchies, empires, and despotisms knows it ; the capacity of republicanism for honest government is everywhere being judged by it. In every civilized land on this planet, thoughtful souls are seeking to divine, by the light of these dolorous revelations, whether it is possible for a democracy to save itself from the corrupting tyranny of capital. Within our own borders sadder spirits are asking which is the most alluring spectacle, — a free America falling into squandering and bribery, or a monarchical Prussia ruled by economy and honesty.
We know how it fared with Christian and Faithful and Hopeful and Greatheart and other venerated statesmen who had turned more or less into the ways of Achan and Ananias. Anxious to clear themselves of an ugly charge, and trusting that the chief manipulator of the Hen Persuader would be willing to bear their sins in return for their services, they had flatly denied having taken any golden eggs out of his abstracting machine. But this disclaimer left Mr. Simon Sharp under the imputation of putting said eggs into his own pocket, and so plundering his partners in the enterprise of making the national hen lay on indefinitely. Being a man of exact arithmetical instincts, and of inveterate, ingrained business habits, he revolted from such an unfair allotment of the dividends of dishonor, and insisted that every one should take his own share and no more. To the astonishment of everybody, he told a story as straight and searching as a ploughman’s furrow ; and we will venture to say that no American was proud of the unexpected skeletons which it turned up. There was a time when every fair political reputation reminded us of the Arabian oil-jars, each one of which held a robber ; when it seemed as if we should have to concede that our legislative temple was but a den of thieves, sadly given to lying. It was a new and perversely reversed and altogether bedevilled rendering of the Pilgrim’s Progress into American politics ; it was much as if Bunyan had at the last pitched his Christian and Hopeful into the little lurid hole which led from the gate of Zion to the pit. Nothing could well be more subverting and confounding and debilitating to the moral sense, unless it might be to see silver Demas and filthy Muckrake welcomed by shining ones into the Holy City.
And something similar to this last marvel was not wanting. Weathercock John carried out his plan for getting up a new and revised edition of his character as Honest John Vane. He let Sharp and Ironman go on working for him, declaring that he was the most upright creature on this footstool, and recommending him as fit to investigate the very claims of saints to their crowns. But when his name was read as a member of the committee, he rose and requested to be excused from serving.
“ My reason is simply this,” he said, calmly turning his honest face and dignified abdomen towards every quarter of the house ; “ I own stock — to the amount of one thousand dollars — in the corporation in question. I will offer no explanations here and now as to my motives in taking it, because those motives will doubtless be demanded of me by the committee of investigation. I shall be happy to appear before it, but I cannot conscientiously be a member of it. I trust that the House, and you, Mr. Speaker, will excuse me.”
The Honorable Sharp looked icicles from his arm-chair, and Dorman looked coals of fire from his rear corner. But as our member sat down there was a general murmur of perfunctory applause, and by next morning he was newspapered all over as “Honest John Vane.”
Still, he was not out of danger. As the rain of fire and brimstone into the Congressional Sodom continued, and especially when the blazing flashes of investigation began to light on his own combustible garments, he was in a state of mind to flee into the mountains and dwell in a cave. When he appeared before the committee, he did not look much like one of those just men whose mere presence can save a wicked city. Moreover, Sharp and Dorman testified against him to the full extent of their naughty knowledge. Nevertheless, Vane came out of his furnace without much of a singeing. He exhibited Dorman’s receipt of payment for the stock, and triumphantly remarked that “ the document spoke for itself.” As for the thousand dollars which Sharp had refunded to him, he said that he had always regarded it as a loan, and stood ready to repay it. As for the singular profitableness of the investment, — well, he had expected that it would bring him in something handsome ; it was his habit as a business man to invest for a profit.
He tried to raise a smite here, turning his genial visage from one to another of the committee, with an almost pathetic effort at humor. But the sad synagogue of investigators did not smile back ; it had been engaged that morning in digging graves for some of the fairest reputations in politics ; for once a body of Congressional Yoricks could not appreciate a poor joke.
“ What we mainly wish to know,” hummed and hawed the worried chairman, “ is whether you were aware, at the time of purchase, that the Hen Persuader was a branch of the Great Subfluvial corporation.”
Weathercock John was in dire trouble: if he said “ Yes,” his character and career were ruined ; if he said “ No,” he was a perjurer. It cost him many seconds of penal meditation to hit upon that happy dodge known as the non mi ricordo.
“ Gentlemen, I will frankly confess that I did not inquire so closely as I perhaps should have done into that point,” he answered, remembering distinctly that he had not inquired into it at all, but had been told all about it by Dorman. “ I did, however, know that the two companies were acting under different and independent charters. It seemed fair to infer that investing in one was not the same thing as investing in the other.”
It was done. Congressman Vane had found his own way out of his entanglements. The committee-men were ready to rise and salute his escape with benevolent cheers. How in the name of political human nature could they want to find guilty their brother lawgiver, brother worker in the party traces, and, perhaps, brother sinner in special legislation ? They bowed him away from their operating table with a look which said plainly, We rejoice that we shall not be obliged to amputate your able and honored head, Mr. Vane.
Only a few people remarked on the shallowness of this show of innocence. Here was stock sold at par which was worth three hundred, which on the day after purchase paid a dividend of sixty per cent, and, only a few weeks later, forty more. How could a legislator and business man doubt that it was a swindle ? How could he fail to divine that Mr. Sharp’s Hen Persuader was but an adjunct of Mr. Sharp’s Great Subfluvial ?
But the public, — the great, softhearted American public, — that public which has compassion on every species of scoundrel, — which tries murderers under jury restrictions warranted to save four fifths of them, — which cannot see one condemned to death without pleading with tears for his noxious life, — that forgiving milkand-water public was as mild in its judgment as the committee. It magnified our dishonorable member for not lying, and exalted his name for not committing perjury. What a pity, said this lamblike public which was so bent on getting itself fleeced to the skin, — what a pity that our other shepherds could not have used the shears with a steadier hand and avoided snipping off their own fingers ! In contrast to these unlucky and somewhat ridiculous bunglers, what a straightforward, workmanlike, admirable creature was “ Honest John Vane! ”
And so he escaped all exposure that could injure him in the eyes of a community of humanitarians, and all punishment that could hurt a man whose conscience lay solely in the opinions of others. Even the Subfluvial people did not follow him up vindictively ; they admired him so much for his ability in sneaking that they could not hate him ; moreover, they considered that he might still be useful. Not long after Vane’s escape from the committee, he held with Dorman one of those friendly colloquies which rogues are capable of when it no longer pays to quarrel.
“ What a horrid scrape Christian and Greatheart have got themselves into ! ” observed John, with cheerful self-complacency. “Why couldn’t those fellows have told a straight story ? ”
“ Half-honesty is cursed poor policy,” smirked the lobbyist. “ After all. those chaps are the cleanest-handed of the whole gang. They wanted to make an actual investment, — something that would show like a fair business transaction.—just to ease their consciences. The real sharpers took greenbacks and kept their names off paper. Do you suppose that the committee is raking up the Subfluvial to the bottom ? Why, our very first move, the mere getting our charter through, cost us half a million. We have paid out hundreds of thousands to men against whom we have n't a particle of proof beyond our own verbal statements.”
“ Exactly,” nodded Vane, who had long since heard as much. “ Well, do you mean to swear in these things ? ”
“Of course we don’t,” Dorman chuckled. “ We know enough not to kill the goose that lays our golden eggs.”
“ So much the worse for the Greatheart lot,” inferred Weathercock John. “They will have to go out, I suppose.”
“ Don’t you believe it,” scoffed the lobbyist. “ I can tell you exactly how this thing is sure to come out. There will be a one-legged report, — somebody giving bribes, but none of the takers guilty of being bribed, — like a gambling case in which only one of the players is a gambler. Then, if the public excitement keeps up, a couple or so will be picked out as scapegoats, to bear off the sins of the congregation. This report will be so manifestly unfair that it can’t help rousing opposition. As soon as it appears a debate will be arranged. All the old war-horses will gallop up and down among charges, counter-charges, precedents, and points of law, raising such a dust that the public won’t be able to see what is going on. When the dust clears away, it will be found that nobody is expelled. The two scapegoats will be almost expelled, but not quite. It will be like the pig going through the crooked hollow log and always coming out on his own side of the fence. Then the wirepullers at home will take a hand in the job. All the convicted chaps will have receptions got up for them in their districts, and be whitewashed all over with resolutions expressing unshaken confidence. You won’t have any reception, John. You are not far gone enough to need such vigorous treatment. Your case is lobby varioloid, instead of lobby small-pox.”
Vane felt somewhat offended at this plain speaking, for it is a curious fact that he had not lost his self-esteem ; but, looking at matters in his habitual profit-and-loss way, he decided that wrath would bring him in nothing.
“Take care of yourself, Dorman,” he said, with a tranquil good-nature which did him dishonor. “ If I owned a million of your style of property, I should n’t feel rich. There ’ll be suits against your inside corporation.”
“ I ’m out of it,” replied the lobbyist, flashes of cunning dancing about his sooty eyes, as sparks run over the back of a foul fireplace. “ I have failed.”
For the life of him, and notwithstanding the long-faced decorum which sham honesty requires, John Vane could not help laughing. The fact that a financier should declare himself bankrupt the moment he saw himself in danger of being called on to refund his swindlings did not strike our self-taught legislator as a very disgusting exhibition of rascality, but as a very amusing bit of cleverness.
“But you’re going to hang round here, I hope,” he added, unwilling to lose a trickster who had been helpful, and might be so again.
“No, I am going back” said Dorman, in a tone which would have been significant of forebodings and horrors to any soul less carnal than a sparerib. His face, too, was strange ; it had an unusually seared, cindered, and smokestained look ; one would have said that the cuticle was drying up with inward heat. If that scorched envelope had cracked open, and the creature within had bounced forth in some different hide, or in a raw - head - andbloody - bones state of nudity, there would have been no great cause of wonderment. But Congressman Vane saw nothing remarkable ; he simply inquired, with calm, oleaginous interest, “ Going back where ? ”
“Where I came from,” grimaced Dorman, and disappeared abruptly, either by stepping briskly around a corner, or by slipping under a flagstone.
Not in the least disturbed by this singular circumstance, and, indeed, altogether failing to perceive anything noteworthy in it, Weathercock John marched on majestically to the Capitol, and commenced his day’s work of statesmanship.
Well, there he is still, a lawgiver to this tax-burdened people, and ex-officio a director of its finances. As soon as he has recovered from his present slight scare, he will resume his labor (the only legislative labor which he knows much about) of enacting the national revenue into the safes of huge corporations and into the hats of individual mendicants, for the sake of a small percentage thereof to himself. Can nothing be done to stop him, or at least to shackle and limit him, in his damaging industry ? Can we not wrest from him and from his brother knaves or dunces this fearfully abused privilege of voting the public money for other objects than the carrying on of the departments of the government? Can we not, for instance, give the President a right of absolute veto, not to be outflanked by any majority of needy or unscrupulous or ignorant lawgivers, over all subsidy and relief enactments ? Can we not even withdraw altogether from Congress the power of aiding corporations and schemers out of an income which is contributed by all for the equal benefit of all ? Can we not also provide that, if a man has a claim for injuries to property against the United States, he shall prosecute that claim only in the courts ?
Such men as John Vane will inevitably find their way in numbers to the desks of the Capitol. Better and wiser men than he will be corrupted by a lobby which has thoroughly learned the easy trick of paying a hundred thousand out of every stolen million. Nothing in the future is more certain than that, if this huge “speciallegislation ” machine for bribery is not broken up, our Congress will surely and quickly become, what some sad souls claim that it already is, a den of thieves.
J. W. DeForest.