"Gentlemen of the House," said Mr. Crewe, "I have listened to the gentleman from Putnam with some--amusement. He has made the statement that he and his committee are giving to the Pingsquit bill and other measures--some other measures--their undivided attention. Of this I have no doubt whatever. He neglected to define the species of attention he is giving them--I should define it as the kindly care which the warden of a penitentiary bestows upon his charges."
Mr. Crewe was interrupted here. The submerged four hundred and seventy had had time to rub their eyes and get their breath, to realize that their champion had dealt Mr. Bascom a blow to cleave his helm, and a roar of mingled laughter and exultation arose in the back seats, and there was more craning to see the glittering eyes of the Honourable Brush and the expressions of his two companions-in-arms. Mr. Speaker Doby beat the stone with his gavel, while Mr. Crewe continued to lean back calmly until the noise was over.
"Gentlemen," he went on, "I will enter at the proper time into a situation--known, I believe, to most of you--that brings about a condition of affairs by which the gentleman's committee, or the gentleman himself, with his capacious pockets, does not have to account to the House for every bill assigned to him by the Speaker. I have taken the trouble to examine a little into the gentleman's past record--he has been chairman of such committees for years past, and I find no trace that bills inimical to certain great interests have ever been reported back by him. The Pingsquit bill involves the vital principle of competition. I have read it with considerable care and believe it to be, in itself, a good measure, which deserves a fair hearing. I have had no conversation whatever with those who are said to be its promoters. If the bill is to pass, it has little enough time to get to the Senate. By the gentleman from Putnam's own statement his committee have given it its share of attention, and I believe this House is entitled to know the verdict, is entitled to accept or reject a report. I hope the motion will prevail."
He sat down amidst a storm of applause which would have turned the head of a lesser man. No such personal ovation had been seen in the House for years. How the Speaker got order; how the Honourable Brush Bascom declared that Mr. Crewe would be called upon to prove his statements; how Mr. Botcher regretted that a new member of such promise should go off at half-cock; how Mr. Ridout hinted that the new member might think he had an animus; how Mr. Terry of Lee and Mr. Widgeon of Hull denounced, in plain hill language, the Northeastern Railroads and lauded the man of prominence who had the grit to oppose them, need not be gone into. Mr. Crewe at length demanded the previous question, which was carried, and the motion was carried, too, two hundred and fifty to one hundred and fifty-two. The House adjourned.
We will spare the blushes of the hero of this occasion, who was threatened with suffocation by an inundation from the back seats. In answer to the congratulations and queries, he replied modestly that nobody else seemed to have had the sand to do it, so he did it himself. He regarded it as a matter of duty, however unpleasant and unforeseen; and if, as they said, he had been a pioneer, education and a knowledge of railroads and the world had helped him. Whereupon, adding tactfully that he desired the evening to himself to prepare for the battle of the morrow (of which he foresaw he was to bear the burden), he extricated himself from his admirers and made his way unostentatiously out of a side door into his sleigh. For the man who had kindled a fire--the blaze of which was to mark an epoch--he was exceptionally calm. Not so the only visitor whom Waters had instructions to admit that evening.
"Say, you hit it just right," cried the visitor, too exultant to take off his overcoat. "I've been down through the Pelican, and there ain't been such excitement since Snow and Giddings had the fight for United States senator in the '80's. The place is all torn up, and you can't get a room there for love or money. They tell me they've been havin' conferences steady in Number Seven since the session closed, and Hilary Vane's sent for all the Federal and State office-holders to be here in the morning and lobby. Botcher and Jane and Bascom are circulatin' like hot water, tellin' everybody that because they wouldn't saddle the State with a debt with your bills you turned sour on 'em, and that you're more of a corporation and railroad man than any of 'em. They've got their machine to working a thousand to the minute, and everybody they have a slant on is going into line. One of them fellers, a conductor, told me he had to go with 'em. But our boys ain't idle, I can tell you that. I was in the back of the gallery when you spoke up, and I shook 'em off the leash right away."
Mr. Crewe leaned back from the table and thrust his hands in his pockets and smiled. He was in one of his delightful moods.
"Take off your overcoat, Tooting," he said; "you'll find one of my best political cigars over there, in the usual place."