CHAPTER EIGHT: The Great Fight for Clean Government
“As to the government of this city,” said Mr. Newberry, leaning back in a leather armchair at the Mausoleum Club and lighting a second cigar, “it’s rotten, that’s all.”
“Absolutely rotten,” assented Mr. Dick Overend, ringing the bell for a second whiskey and soda.
“Corrupt,” said Mr. Newberry, between two puffs of his cigar.
“Full of graft,” said Mr. Overend, flicking his ashes into the grate.
“Crooked aldermen,” said Mr. Newberry.
“A bum city solicitor,” said Mr. Overend, “and an infernal grafter for treasurer.”
“Yes,” assented Mr. Newberry, and then, leaning forwards in his chair and looking carefully about the corridors of the club, he spoke behind his hand and said, “And the mayor’s the biggest grafter of the lot. And what’s more,” he added, sinking his voice to a whisper, “the time has come to speak out about it fearlessly.”
Mr. Overend nodded. “It’s a tyranny,” he said.
“Worse than Russia,” rejoined Mr. Newberry.
* * * * *
They had been sitting in a quiet corner of the club–it was on a Sunday evening–and had fallen into talking, first of all, of the present rottenness of the federal politics of the United States–not argumentatively or with any heat, but with the reflective sadness that steals over an elderly man when he sits in the leather armchair of a comfortable club smoking a good cigar and musing on the decadence of the present day. The rottenness of the federal government didn’t anger them. It merely grieved them.
They could remember–both of them–how different everything was when they were young men just entering on life. When Mr. Newberry and Mr. Dick Overend were young, men went into congress from pure patriotism; there was no such thing as graft or crookedness, as they both admitted, in those days; and as for the United States Senate–here their voices were almost hushed in awe–why, when they were young, the United States Senate–
But no, neither of them could find a phrase big enough for their meaning.
They merely repeated “as for the United States Senate–” and then shook their heads and took long drinks of whiskey and soda.
Then, naturally, speaking of the rottenness of the federal government had led them to talk of the rottenness of the state legislature. How different from the state legislatures that they remembered as young men! Not merely different in the matter of graft, but different, so Mr. Newberry said, in the calibre of the men. He recalled how he had been taken as a boy of twelve by his father to hear a debate. He would never forget it. Giants! he said, that was what they were. In fact, the thing was more like a Witenagemot than a legislature. He said he distinctly recalled a man, whose name he didn’t recollect, speaking on a question he didn’t just remember what, either for or against he just couldn’t recall which; it thrilled him. He would never forget it. It stayed in his memory as if it were yesterday.
But as for the present legislature–here Mr. Dick Overend sadly nodded assent in advance to what he knew was coming–as for the present legislature–well–Mr. Newberry had had, he said, occasion to visit the state capital a week before in connection with a railway bill that he was trying to–that is, that he was anxious to–in short in connection with a railway bill, and when he looked about him at the men in the legislature–positively he felt ashamed; he could put it no other way than that–ashamed.
After which, from speaking of the crookedness of the state government Mr. Newberry and Mr. Dick Overend were led to talk of the crookedness of the city government! And they both agreed, as above, that things were worse than in Russia. What secretly irritated them both most was that they had lived and done business under this infernal corruption for thirty or forty years and hadn’t noticed it. They had been too busy.
The fact was that their conversation reflected not so much their own original ideas as a general wave of feeling that was passing over the whole community.
There had come a moment–quite suddenly it seemed–when it occurred to everybody at the same time that the whole government of the city was rotten. The word is a strong one. But it is the one that was used. Look at the aldermen, they said–rotten! Look at the city solicitor, rotten! And as for the mayor himself–phew!
The thing came like a wave. Everybody felt it at once. People wondered how any sane, intelligent community could tolerate the presence of a set of corrupt scoundrels like the twenty aldermen of the city. Their names, it was said, were simply a byword throughout the United States for rank criminal corruption. This was said so widely that everybody started hunting through the daily papers to try to find out who in blazes were aldermen, anyhow. Twenty names are hard to remember, and as a matter of fact, at the moment when this wave of feeling struck the city, nobody knew or cared who were aldermen, anyway.
To tell the truth, the aldermen had been much the same persons for about fifteen or twenty years. Some were in the produce business, others were butchers, two were grocers, and all of them wore blue checkered waistcoats and red ties and got up at seven in the morning to attend the vegetable and other markets. Nobody had ever really thought about them–that is to say, nobody on Plutoria Avenue. Sometimes one saw a picture in the paper and wondered for a moment who the person was; but on looking more closely and noticing what was written under it, one said, “Oh, I see, an alderman,” and turned to something else.
“Whose funeral is that?” a man would sometimes ask on Plutoria Avenue. “Oh just one of the city aldermen,” a passerby would answer hurriedly. “Oh I see, I beg your pardon, I thought it might be somebody important.”
At which both laughed.
* * * * *
It was not just clear how and where this movement of indignation had started. People said that it was part of a new wave of public morality that was sweeping over the entire United States. Certainly it was being remarked in almost every section of the country. Chicago newspapers were attributing its origin to the new vigour and the fresh ideals of the middle west. In Boston it was said to be due to a revival of the grand old New England spirit. In Philadelphia they called it the spirit of William Penn. In the south it was said to be the reassertion of southern chivalry making itself felt against the greed and selfishness of the north, while in the north they recognized it at once as a protest against the sluggishness and ignorance of the south. In the west they spoke of it as a revolt against the spirit of the east and in the east they called it a reaction against the lawlessness of the west. But everywhere they hailed it as a new sign of the glorious unity of the country.
If therefore Mr. Newberry and Mr. Overend were found to be discussing the corrupt state of their city they only shared in the national sentiments of the moment. In fact in the same city hundreds of other citizens, as disinterested as themselves, were waking up to the realization of what was going on. As soon as people began to look into the condition of things in the city they were horrified at what they found. It was discovered, for example, that Alderman Schwefeldampf was an undertaker! Think of it! In a city with a hundred and fifty deaths a week, and sometimes even better, an undertaker sat on the council! A city that was about to expropriate land and to spend four hundred thousand dollars for a new cemetery, had an undertaker on the expropriation committee itself! And worse than that! Alderman Undercutt was a butcher! In a city that consumed a thousand tons of meat every week! And Alderman O’Hooligan–it leaked out–was an Irishman! Imagine it! An Irishman sitting on the police committee of the council in a city where thirty-eight and a half out of every hundred policemen were Irish, either by birth or parentage! The thing was monstrous.
So when Mr. Newberry said “It’s worse than Russia!” he meant it, every word.
* * * * *
Now just as Mr. Newberry and Mr. Dick Overend were finishing their discussion, the huge bulky form of Mayor McGrath came ponderously past them as they sat. He looked at them sideways out of his eyes–he had eyes like plums in a mottled face–and, being a born politician, he knew by the very look of them that they were talking of something that they had no business to be talking about. But,–being a politician–he merely said, “Good evening, gentlemen,” without a sign of disturbance.
“Good evening, Mr. Mayor,” said Mr. Newberry, rubbing his hands feebly together and speaking in an ingratiating tone. There is no more pitiable spectacle than an honest man caught in the act of speaking boldly and fearlessly of the evil-doer.
“Good evening, Mr. Mayor,” echoed Mr. Dick Overend, also rubbing his hands; “warm evening, is it not?”
The mayor gave no other answer than that deep guttural grunt which is technically known in municipal interviews as refusing to commit oneself.
“Did he hear?” whispered Mr. Newberry as the mayor passed out of the club.
“I don’t care if he did,” whispered Mr. Dick Overend.
Half an hour later Mayor McGrath entered the premises of the Thomas Jefferson Club, which was situated in the rear end of a saloon and pool room far down in the town.
“Boys,” he said to Alderman O’Hooligan and Alderman Gorfinkel, who were playing freeze-out poker in a corner behind the pool tables, “you want to let the boys know to keep pretty dark and go easy. There’s a lot of talk I don’t like about the elections going round the town. Let the boys know that just for a while the darker they keep the better.”
Whereupon the word was passed from the Thomas Jefferson Club to the George Washington Club and thence to the Eureka Club (coloured), and to the Kossuth Club (Hungarian), and to various other centres of civic patriotism in the lower parts of the city. And forthwith such a darkness began to spread over them that not even honest Diogenes with his lantern could have penetrated their doings.
“If them stiffs wants to make trouble,” said the president of the George Washington Club to Mayor McGrath a day or two later, “they won’t never know what they’ve bumped up against.”
“Well,” said the heavy mayor, speaking slowly and cautiously and eyeing his henchman with quiet scrutiny, “you want to go pretty easy now, I tell you.”
The look which the mayor directed at his satellite was much the same glance that Morgan the buccaneer might have given to one of his lieutenants before throwing him overboard.
* * * * *
Meantime the wave of civic enthusiasm as reflected in the conversations of Plutoria Avenue grew stronger with every day.
“The thing is a scandal,” said Mr. Lucullus Fyshe. “Why, these fellows down at the city hall are simply a pack of rogues. I had occasion to do some business there the other day (it was connected with the assessment of our soda factories) and do you know, I actually found that these fellows take money!”
“I say!” said Mr. Peter Spillikins, to whom he spoke, “I say! You don’t say!”
“It’s a fact,” repeated Mr. Fyshe. “They take money. I took the assistant treasurer aside and I said, ‘I want such and such done,’ and I slipped a fifty dollar bill into his hand. And the fellow took it, took it like a shot.”
“He took it!” gasped Mr. Spillikins.
“He did,” said Mr. Fyshe. “There ought to be a criminal law for that sort of thing.”
“I say!” exclaimed Mr. Spillikins, “they ought to go to jail for a thing like that.”
“And the infernal insolence of them,” Mr. Fyshe continued. “I went down the next day to see the deputy assistant (about a thing connected with the same matter), told him what I wanted and passed a fifty dollar bill across the counter and the fellow fairly threw it back at me, in a perfect rage. He refused it!”
“Refused it,” gasped Mr. Spillikins, “I say!”
Conversations such as this filled up the leisure and divided the business time of all the best people in the city.
In the general gloomy outlook, however, one bright spot was observable. The “wave” had evidently come just at the opportune moment. For not only were civic elections pending but just at this juncture four or five questions of supreme importance would be settled by the incoming council. There was, for instance, the question of the expropriation of the Traction Company (a matter involving many millions); there was the decision as to the renewal of the franchise of the Citizens’ Light Company–a vital question; there was also the four hundred thousand dollar purchase of land for the new addition to the cemetery, a matter that must be settled. And it was felt, especially on Plutoria Avenue, to be a splendid thing that the city was waking up, in the moral sense, at the very time when these things were under discussion. All the shareholders of the Traction Company and the Citizens’ Light–and they included the very best, the most high-minded, people in the city–felt that what was needed now was a great moral effort, to enable them to lift the city up and carry it with them, or, if not all of it, at any rate as much of it as they could.
“It’s a splendid movement!” said Mr. Fyshe (he was a leading shareholder and director of the Citizens’ Light), “what a splendid thing to think that we shan’t have to deal for our new franchise with a set of corrupt rapscallions like these present aldermen. Do you know, Furlong, that when we approached them first with a proposition for a renewal for a hundred and fifty years they held us up! Said it was too long! Imagine that! A hundred and fifty years (only a century and a half) too long for the franchise! They expect us to install all our poles, string our wires, set up our transformers in their streets and then perhaps at the end of a hundred years find ourselves compelled to sell out at a beggarly valuation. Of course we knew what they wanted. They meant us to hand them over fifty dollars each to stuff into their rascally pockets.”
“Outrageous!” said Mr. Furlong.
“And the same thing with the cemetery land deal,” went on Mr. Lucullus Fyshe. “Do you realize that, if the movement hadn’t come along and checked them, those scoundrels would have given that rogue Schwefeldampf four hundred thousand dollars for his fifty acres! Just think of it!”
“I don’t know,” said Mr. Furlong with a thoughtful look upon his face, “that four hundred thousand dollars is an excessive price, in and of itself, for that amount of land.”
“Certainly not,” said Mr. Fyshe, very quietly and decidedly, looking at Mr. Furlong in a searching way as he spoke. “It is _not_ a high price. It seems to me, speaking purely as an outsider, a very fair, reasonable price for fifty acres of suburban land, if it were the right land. If, for example, it were a case of making an offer for that very fine stretch of land, about twenty acres, is it not, which I believe your Corporation owns on the _other_ side of the cemetery, I should say four hundred thousand is a most modest price.”
Mr. Furlong nodded his head reflectively.
“You had thought, had you not, of offering it to the city?” said Mr. Fyshe.
“We did,” said Mr. Furlong, “at a more or less nominal sum–four hundred thousand or whatever it might be. We felt that for such a purpose, almost sacred as it were, one would want as little bargaining as possible.”
“Oh, none at all,” assented Mr. Fyshe.
“Our feeling was,” went on Mr. Furlong, “that if the city wanted our land for the cemetery extension, it might have it at its own figure–four hundred thousand, half a million, in fact at absolutely any price, from four hundred thousand up, that they cared to put on it. We didn’t regard it as a commercial transaction at all. Our reward lay merely in the fact of selling it to them.”
“Exactly,” said Mr. Fyshe, “and of course your land was more desirable from every point of view. Schwefeldampf’s ground is encumbered with a growth of cypress and evergreens and weeping willows which make it quite unsuitable for an up-to-date cemetery; whereas yours, as I remember it, is bright and open–a loose sandy soil with no trees and very little grass to overcome.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Furlong. “We thought, too, that our ground, having the tanneries and the chemical factory along the farther side of it, was an ideal place for–” he paused, seeking a mode of expressing his thought.
“For the dead,” said Mr. Fyshe, with becoming reverence. And after this conversation Mr. Fyshe and Mr. Furlong senior understood one another absolutely in regard to the new movement.
It was astonishing in fact how rapidly the light spread.
“Is Rasselyer-Brown with us?” asked someone of Mr. Fyshe a few days later.
“Heart and soul,” answered Mr. Fyshe. “He’s very bitter over the way these rascals have been plundering the city on its coal supply. He says that the city has been buying coal wholesale at the pit mouth at three fifty–utterly worthless stuff, he tells me. He has heard it said that everyone of these scoundrels has been paid from twenty-five to fifty dollars a winter to connive at it.”
“Dear me,” said the listener.
“Abominable, is it not?” said Mr. Fyshe. “But as I said to Rasselyer-Brown, what can one do if the citizens themselves take no interest in these things. ‘Take your own case,’ I said to him, ‘how is it that you, a coal man, are not helping the city in this matter? Why don’t you supply the city?’ He shook his head, ‘I wouldn’t do it at three-fifty,’ he said. ‘No,’ I answered, ‘but will you at five?’ He looked at me for a moment and then he said, ‘Fyshe, I’ll do it; at five, or at anything over that they like to name. If we get a new council in they may name their own figure.’ ‘Good,’ I said. ‘I hope all the other businessmen will be animated with the same spirit.'”
* * * * *
Thus it was that the light broke and spread and illuminated in all directions. People began to realize the needs of the city as they never had before. Mr. Boulder, who owned, among other things, a stone quarry and an asphalt company, felt that the paving of the streets was a disgrace. Mr. Skinyer, of Skinyer and Beatem, shook his head and said that the whole legal department of the city needed reorganization; it needed, he said, new blood. But he added always in a despairing tone, how could one expect to run a department with the head of it drawing only six thousand dollars; the thing was impossible. If, he argued, they could superannuate the present chief solicitor and get a man, a _good_ man (Mr. Skinyer laid emphasis on this) at, say, fifteen thousand there might be some hope.
“Of course,” said Mr. Skinyer to Mr. Newberry in discussing the topic, “one would need to give him a proper staff of assistants so as to take off his hands all the _routine_ work–the mere appearance in court, the preparation of briefs, the office consultation, the tax revision and the purely legal work. In that case he would have his hands free to devote himself entirely to those things, which–in fact to turn his attention in whatever direction he might feel it was advisable to turn it.”
* * * * *
Within a week or two the public movement had found definite expression and embodied itself in the Clean Government Association. This was organized by a group of leading and disinterested citizens who held their first meeting in the largest upstairs room of the Mausoleum Club. Mr. Lucullus Fyshe, Mr. Boulder, and others keenly interested in obtaining simply justice for the stockholders of the Traction and the Citizens’ Light were prominent from the start. Mr. Rasselyer-Brown, Mr. Furlong senior and others were there, not from special interest in the light or traction questions, but, as they said themselves, from pure civic spirit. Dr. Boomer was there to represent the university with three of his most presentable professors, cultivated men who were able to sit in a first-class club and drink whiskey and soda and talk as well as any businessman present. Mr. Skinyer, Mr. Beatem and others represented the bar. Dr. McTeague, blinking in the blue tobacco smoke, was there to stand for the church. There were all-round enthusiasts as well, such as Mr. Newberry and the Overend brothers and Mr. Peter Spillikins.
“Isn’t it fine,” whispered Mr. Spillikins to Mr. Newberry, “to see a set of men like these all going into a thing like this, not thinking of their own interests a bit?”
* * * * *
Mr. Fyshe, as chairman, addressed the meeting. He told them they were there to initiate a great free voluntary movement of the people. It had been thought wise, he said, to hold it with closed doors and to keep it out of the newspapers. This would guarantee the league against the old underhand control by a clique that had hitherto disgraced every part of the administration of the city. He wanted, he said, to see everything done henceforth in broad daylight: and for this purpose he had summoned them there at night to discuss ways and means of action. After they were once fully assured of exactly what they wanted to do and how they meant to do it, the league he said, would invite the fullest and freest advice from all classes in the city. There were none he said, amid great applause, that were so lowly that they would not be invited–once the platform of the league was settled–to advise and co-operate. All might help, even the poorest. Subscription lists would be prepared which would allow any sum at all, from one to five dollars, to be given to the treasurer. The league was to be democratic or nothing. The poorest might contribute as little as one dollar: even the richest would not be allowed to give more than five. Moreover he gave notice that he intended to propose that no actual official of the league should be allowed under its by-laws to give anything. He himself–if they did him the honour to make him president as he had heard it hinted was their intention–would be the first to bow to this rule. He would efface himself. He would obliterate himself, content in the interests of all, to give nothing. He was able to announce similar pledges from his friends, Mr. Boulder, Mr. Furlong, Dr. Boomer, and a number of others.
Quite a storm of applause greeted these remarks by Mr. Fyshe, who flushed with pride as he heard it.
“Now, gentlemen,” he went on, “this meeting is open for discussion. Remember it is quite informal, anyone may speak. I as chairman make no claim to control or monopolize the discussion. Let everyone understand–”
“Well then, Mr. Chairman,” began Mr. Dick Overend.
“One minute, Mr. Overend,” said Mr. Fyshe. “I want everyone to understand that he may speak as–”
“May I say then–” began Mr. Newberry.
“Pardon me, Mr. Newberry,” said Mr. Fyshe, “I was wishing first to explain that not only may _all_ participate but that we _invite_–”
“In that case–” began Mr. Newberry.
“Before you speak,” interrupted Mr. Fyshe, “let me add one word. We must make our discussion as brief and to the point as possible. I have a great number of things which I wish to say to the meeting and it might be well if all of you would speak as briefly and as little as possible. Has anybody anything to say?”
“Well,” said Mr. Newberry, “what about organization and officers?”
“We have thought of it,” said Mr. Fyshe. “We were anxious above all things to avoid the objectionable and corrupt methods of a ‘slate’ and a prepared list of officers which has disgraced every part of our city politics until the present time. Mr. Boulder, Mr. Furlong and Mr. Skinyer and myself have therefore prepared a short list of offices and officers which we wish to submit to your fullest, freest consideration. It runs thus: Hon. President Mr. L. Fyshe, Hon. Vice-president, Mr. A. Boulder, Hon. Secretary Mr. Furlong, Hon. Treasurer Mr. O. Skinyer, et cetera–I needn’t read it all. You’ll see it posted in the hall later. Is that carried? Carried! Very good,” said Mr. Fyshe.
There was a moment’s pause while Mr. Furlong and Mr. Skinyer moved into seats beside Mr. Fyshe and while Mr. Furlong drew from his pocket and arranged the bundle of minutes of the meeting which he had brought with him. As he himself said he was too neat and methodical a writer to trust to jotting them down on the spot.
“Don’t you think,” said Mr. Newberry, “I speak as a practical man, that we ought to do something to get the newspapers with us?”
“Most important,” assented several members.
“What do you think, Dr. Boomer?” asked Mr. Fyshe of the university president, “will the newspapers be with us?”
Dr. Boomer shook his head doubtfully. “It’s an important matter,” he said. “There is no doubt that we need, more than anything, the support of a clean, wholesome unbiassed press that can’t be bribed and is not subject to money influence. I think on the whole our best plan would be to buy up one of the city newspapers.”
“Might it not be better simply to buy up the editorial staff?” said Mr. Dick Overend.
“We might do that,” admitted Dr. Boomer. “There is no doubt that the corruption of the press is one of the worst factors that we have to oppose. But whether we can best fight it by buying the paper itself or buying the staff is hard to say.”
“Suppose we leave it to a committee with full power to act,” said Mr. Fyshe. “Let us direct them to take whatever steps may in their opinion be best calculated to elevate the tone of the press, the treasurer being authorized to second them in every way. I for one am heartily sick of old underhand connection between city politics and the city papers. If we can do anything to alter and elevate it, it will be a fine work, gentlemen, well worth whatever it costs us.”
* * * * *
Thus after an hour or two of such discussion the Clean Government League found itself organized and equipped with a treasury and a programme and a platform. The latter was very simple. As Mr. Fyshe and Mr. Boulder said there was no need to drag in specific questions or try to define the action to be taken towards this or that particular detail, such as the hundred-and-fifty-year franchise, beforehand. The platform was simply expressed as Honesty, Purity, Integrity. This, as Mr. Fyshe said, made a straight, flat, clean issue between the league and all who opposed it.
This first meeting was, of course, confidential. But all that it did was presently done over again, with wonderful freshness and spontaneity at a large public meeting open to all citizens. There was a splendid impromptu air about everything. For instance when somebody away back in the hall said, “I move that Mr. Lucullus Fyshe be president of the league,” Mr. Fyshe lifted his hand in unavailing protest as if this were the newest idea he had ever heard in his life.
After all of which the Clean Government League set itself to fight the cohorts of darkness. It was not just known where these were. But it was understood that they were there all right, somewhere. In the platform speeches of the epoch they figured as working underground, working in the dark, working behind the scenes, and so forth. But the strange thing was that nobody could state with any exactitude just who or what it was that the league was fighting. It stood for “honesty, purity, and integrity.” That was all you could say about it.
Take, for example, the case of the press. At the inception of the league it has been supposed that such was the venality and corruption of the city newspapers that it would be necessary to buy one of them. But the word “clean government” had been no sooner uttered than it turned out that every one of the papers in the city was in favour of it: in fact had been working for it for years.
They vied with one another now in giving publicity to the idea. The _Plutorian Times_ printed a dotted coupon on the corner of its front sheet with the words, “Are you in favour of Clean Government? If so, send us ten cents with this coupon and your name and address.” The _Plutorian Citizen and Home Advocate_, went even further. It printed a coupon which said, “Are you out for a clean city? If so send us twenty-five cents to this office. We pledge ourselves to use it.”
The newspapers did more than this. They printed from day to day such pictures as the portrait of Mr. Fyshe with the legend below, “Mr. Lucullus Fyshe, who says that government ought to be by the people, from the people, for the people and to the people”; and the next day another labelled. “Mr. P. Spillikins, who says that all men are born free and equal”; and the next day a picture with the words, “Tract of ground offered for cemetery by Mr. Furlong, showing rear of tanneries, with head of Mr. Furlong inserted.”
It was, of course, plain enough that certain of the aldermen of the old council were to be reckoned as part of the cohort of darkness. That at least was clear. “We want no more men in control of the stamp of Alderman Gorfinkel and Alderman Schwefeldampf,” so said practically every paper in the city. “The public sense revolts at these men. They are vultures who have feasted too long on the prostrate corpses of our citizens.” And so on. The only trouble was to discover who or what had ever supported Alderman Gorfinkel and Alderman Schwefeldampf. The very organizations that might have seemed to be behind them were evidently more eager for clean government than the league itself.
“The Thomas Jefferson Club Out for Clean Government,” so ran the newspaper headings of one day; and of the next, “Will help to clean up City Government. Eureka Club (Coloured) endorses the League; Is done with Darkness”; and the day after that, “Sons of Hungary Share in Good Work: Kossuth Club will vote with the League.”
So strong, indeed, was the feeling against the iniquitous aldermen that the public demand arose to be done with a council of aldermen altogether and to substitute government by a Board. The newspapers contained editorials on the topic each day and it was understood that one of the first efforts of the league would be directed towards getting the necessary sanction of the legislature in this direction. To help to enlighten the public on what such government meant Professor Proaser of the university (he was one of the three already referred to) gave a public lecture on the growth of Council Government. He traced it from the Amphictionic Council of Greece as far down as the Oligarchical Council of Venice; it was thought that had the evening been longer he would have traced it clean down to modern times.
But most amazing of all was the announcement that was presently made, and endorsed by Mr. Lucullus Fyshe in an interview, that Mayor McGrath himself would favour clean government, and would become the official nominee of the league itself. This certainly was strange. But it would perhaps have been less mystifying to the public at large, had they been able to listen to certain of the intimate conversations of Mr. Fyshe and Mr. Boulder.
“You say then,” said Mr. Boulder, “to let McGrath’s name stand.”
“We can’t do without him,” said Mr. Fyshe, “he has seven of the wards in the hollow of his hand. If we take his offer he absolutely pledges us every one of them.”
“Can you rely on his word?” said Mr. Boulder.
“I think he means to play fair with us,” answered Mr. Fyshe. “I put it to him as a matter of honour, between man and man, a week ago. Since then, I have had him carefully dictaphoned and I’m convinced he’s playing straight.”
“How far will he go with us?” said Mr. Boulder.
“He is willing to throw overboard Gorfinkel, Schwefeldampf and Undercutt. He says he must find a place for O’Hooligan. The Irish, he says, don’t care for clean government; they want Irish Government.”
“I see,” said Mr. Boulder very thoughtfully, “and in regard to the renewal of the franchise and the expropriation, tell me just exactly what his conditions are.”
But Mr. Fyshe’s answer to this was said so discreetly and in such a low voice, that not even the birds listening in the elm trees outside the Mausoleum Club could hear it.
No wonder, then, that if even the birds failed to know everything about the Clean Government League, there were many things which such good people as Mr. Newberry and Mr. Peter Spillikins never heard at all and never guessed.
* * * * *
Each week and every day brought fresh triumphs to the onward march of the movement.
“Yes, gentlemen,” said Mr. Fyshe to the assembled committee of the Clean Government League a few days later, “I am glad to be able to report our first victory. Mr. Boulder and I have visited the state capital and we are able to tell you definitely that the legislature will consent to change our form of government so as to replace our council by a Board.”
“Hear, hear!” cried all the committee men together.
“We saw the governor,” said Mr. Fyshe. “Indeed he was good enough to lunch with us at the Pocahontas Club. He tells us that what we are doing is being done in every city and town of the state. He says that the days of the old-fashioned city council are numbered. They are setting up boards everywhere.”
“Excellent!” said Mr. Newberry.
“The governor assures us that what we want will be done. The chairman of the Democratic State Committee (he was good enough to dine with us at the Buchanan Club) has given us the same assurance. So also does the chairman of the Republican State Committee, who was kind enough to be our guest in a box at the Lincoln Theatre. It is most gratifying,” concluded Mr. Fyshe, “to feel that the legislature will give us such a hearty, such a thoroughly American support.”
“You are sure of this, are you?” questioned Mr. Newberry. “You have actually seen the members of the legislature?”
“It was not necessary,” said Mr. Fyshe. “The governor and the different chairmen have them so well fixed–that is to say, they have such confidence in the governor and their political organizers that they will all be prepared to give us what I have described as thoroughly American support.”
“You are quite sure,” persisted Mr. Newberry, “about the governor and the others you mentioned?”
Mr. Fyshe paused a moment and then he said very quietly, “We are quite sure,” and he exchanged a look with Mr. Boulder that meant volumes to those who would read it.
* * * * *
“I hope you didn’t mind my questioning you in that fashion,” said Mr. Newberry, as he and Mr. Fyshe strolled home from the club. “The truth is I didn’t feel sure in my own mind just what was meant by a ‘Board,’ and ‘getting them to give us government by a Board.’ I know I’m speaking like an ignoramus. I’ve really not paid as much attention in the past to civic politics as I ought to have. But what is the difference between a council and a board?”
“The difference between a council and a board?” repeated Mr. Fyshe.
“Yes,” said Mr. Newberry, “the difference between a council and a board.”
“Or call it,” said Mr. Fyshe reflectively, “the difference between a board and a council.”
“Precisely,” said Mr Newberry.
“It’s not altogether easy to explain,” said Mr. Fyshe. “One chief difference is that in the case of a board, sometimes called a Commission, the salary is higher. You see the salary of an alderman or councillor in most cities is generally not more than fifteen hundred or two thousand dollars. The salary of a member of a board or commission is at least ten thousand. That gives you at once a very different class of men. As long as you only pay fifteen hundred you get your council filled up with men who will do any kind of crooked work for fifteen hundred dollars; as soon as you pay ten thousand you get men with larger ideas.”
“I see,” said Mr. Newberry.
“If you have a fifteen hundred dollar man,” Mr. Fyshe went on, “you can bribe him at any time with a fifty-dollar bill. On the other hand your ten-thousand-dollar man has a wider outlook. If you offer him fifty dollars for his vote on the board, he’d probably laugh at you.”
“Ah, yes,” said Mr. Newberry, “I see the idea. A fifteen-hundred-dollar salary is so low that it will tempt a lot of men into office merely for what they can get out of it.”
“That’s it exactly,” answered Mr. Fyshe.
* * * * *
From all sides support came to the new league. The women of the city–there were fifty thousand of them on the municipal voters list–were not behind the men. Though not officials of the league they rallied to its cause.
“Mr. Fyshe,” said Mrs. Buncomhearst, who called at the office of the president of the league with offers of support, “tell me what we can do. I represent fifty thousand women voters of this city–”
(This was a favourite phrase of Mrs. Buncomhearst’s, though it had never been made quite clear how or why she represented them.)
“We want to help, we women. You know we’ve any amount of initiative, if you’ll only tell us what to do. You know, Mr. Fyshe, we’ve just as good executive ability as you men, if you’ll just tell us what to do. Couldn’t we hold a meeting of our own, all our own, to help the league along?”
“An excellent idea,” said Mr. Fyshe.
“And could you not get three or four men to come and address it so as to stir us up?” asked Mrs. Buncomhearst anxiously.
“Oh, certainly,” said Mr. Fyshe.
So it was known after this that the women were working side by side with the men. The tea rooms of the Grand Palaver and the other hotels were filled with them every day, busy for the cause. One of them even invented a perfectly charming election scarf to be worn as a sort of badge to show one’s allegiance; and its great merit was that it was so fashioned that it would go with anything.
“Yes,” said Mr. Fyshe to his committee, “one of the finest signs of our movement is that the women of the city are with us. Whatever we may think, gentlemen, of the question of woman’s rights in general–and I think we know what we _do_ think–there is no doubt that the influence of women makes for purity in civic politics. I am glad to inform the committee that Mrs. Buncomhearst and her friends have organized all the working women of the city who have votes. They tell me that they have been able to do this at a cost as low as five dollars per woman. Some of the women–foreigners of the lower classes whose sense of political morality is as yet imperfectly developed–have been organized at a cost as low as one dollar per vote. But of course with our native American women, with a higher standard of education and morality, we can hardly expect to do it as low as that.”
* * * * *
Nor were the women the only element of support added to the league.
“Gentlemen,” reported Dr. Boomer, the president of the university, at the next committee meeting, “I am glad to say that the spirit which animates us has spread to the students of the university. They have organized, entirely by themselves and on their own account, a Students’ Fair Play League which has commenced its activities. I understand that they have already ducked Alderman Gorfinkel in a pond near the university. I believe they are looking for Alderman Schwefeldampf tonight. I understand they propose to throw him into the reservoir. The leaders of them–a splendid set of young fellows–have given me a pledge that they will do nothing to bring discredit on the university.”
“I think I heard them on the street last night,” said Mr. Newberry.
“I believe they had a procession,” said the president.
“Yes, I heard them; they were shouting ‘Rah! rah! rah! Clean Government! Clean Government! Rah! rah!’ It was really inspiring to hear them.”
“Yes,” said the president, “they are banded together to put down all the hoodlumism and disturbance on the street that has hitherto disgraced our municipal elections. Last night, as a demonstration, they upset two streetcars and a milk wagon.”
“I heard that two of them were arrested,” said Mr. Dick Overend.
“Only by an error,” said the president. “There was a mistake. It was not known that they were students. The two who were arrested were smashing the windows of the car, after it was upset, with their hockey sticks. A squad of police mistook them for rioters. As soon as they were taken to the police station, the mistake was cleared up at once. The chief-of-police telephoned an apology to the university. I believe the league is out again tonight looking for Alderman Schwefeldampf. But the leaders assure me there will be no breach of the peace whatever. As I say, I think their idea is to throw him into the reservoir.”
In the face of such efforts as these, opposition itself melted rapidly away. The _Plutorian Times_ was soon able to announce that various undesirable candidates were abandoning the field. “Alderman Gorfinkel,” it said, “who, it will be recalled, was thrown into a pond last week by the students of the college, was still confined to his bed when interviewed by our representative. Mr. Gorfinkel stated that he should not offer himself as a candidate in the approaching election. He was, he said, weary of civic honours. He had had enough. He felt it incumbent on him to step out and make way for others who deserved their turn as well as himself: in future he proposed to confine his whole attention to his Misfit Semi-Ready Establishment which he was happy to state was offering as nobby a line of early fall suiting as was ever seen at the price.”
* * * * *
There is no need to recount here in detail the glorious triumph of the election day itself. It will always be remembered as the purest, cleanest election ever held in the precincts of the city. The citizens’ organization turned out in overwhelming force to guarantee that it should be so. Bands of Dr. Boomer’s students, armed with baseball bats, surrounded the polls to guarantee fair play. Any man wishing to cast an unclean vote was driven from the booth: all those attempting to introduce any element of brute force or rowdyism into the election were cracked over the head. In the lower part of the town scores of willing workers, recruited often from the humblest classes, kept order with pickaxes. In every part of the city motor cars, supplied by all the leading businessmen, lawyers, and doctors of the city, acted as patrols to see that no unfair use should be made of other vehicles in carrying voters to the polls.
It was a foregone victory from the first–overwhelming and complete. The cohorts of darkness were so completely routed that it was practically impossible to find them. As it fell dusk the streets were filled with roaring and surging crowds celebrating the great victory for clean government, while in front of every newspaper office huge lantern pictures of _Mayor McGrath the Champion of Pure Government_, and _O. Skinyer, the People’s Solicitor_, and the other nominees of the league, called forth cheer after cheer of frenzied enthusiasm.
* * * * *
They held that night in celebration a great reception at the Mausoleum Club on Plutoria Avenue, given at its own suggestion by the city. The city, indeed, insisted on it.
Nor was there ever witnessed even in that home of art and refinement a scene of greater charm. In the spacious corridor of the club a Hungarian band wafted Viennese music from Tyrolese flutes through the rubber trees. There was champagne bubbling at a score of sideboards where noiseless waiters poured it into goblets as broad and flat as floating water-lily leaves. And through it all moved the shepherds and shepherdesses of that beautiful Arcadia–the shepherds in their Tuxedo jackets, with vast white shirt-fronts broad as the map of Africa, with spotless white waistcoats girdling their equators, wearing heavy gold watch-chains and little patent shoes blacker than sin itself–and the shepherdesses in foaming billows of silks of every colour of the kaleidoscope, their hair bound with glittering headbands or coiled with white feathers, the very symbol of municipal purity. One would search in vain the pages of pastoral literature to find the equal of it.
And as they talked, the good news spread from group to group that it was already known that the new franchise of the Citizens’ Light was to be made for two centuries so as to give the company a fair chance to see what it could do. At the word of it, the grave faces of manly bondholders flushed with pride, and the soft eyes of listening shareholders laughed back in joy. For they had no doubt or fear, now that clean government had come. They knew what the company could do.
Thus all night long, outside of the club, the soft note of the motor horns arriving and departing wakened the sleeping leaves of the elm trees with their message of good tidings. And all night long, within its lighted corridors, the bubbling champagne whispered to the listening rubber trees of the new salvation of the city. So the night waxed and waned till the slow day broke, dimming with its cheap prosaic glare the shaded beauty of the artificial light, and the people of the city–the best of them–drove home to their well-earned sleep; and the others–in the lower parts of the city–rose to their daily toil.