SMITH, the member for our district, died one day, and we forgot all about him the next. Not that a politician is ever remembered much after he dies, but Smith had been a blind, bigoted, old Tory, and was better dead. Politicians are mostly better dead, so far as other people and their country are concerned.
One night Gray and Wilkins, and Mulrooney, and Fahey, and Charley Thompson, and Johnson, and a lot of others came to our place and asked Dad to oppose Mulligan, the “endorsed” candidate for Eton. Dad was taken by surprise. He opened his eyes and stared. He chuckled some, too; but the deputation was in earnest, and it waited for his reply.
“You’re the man we want, Rudd,” Gray said. “You know the country and the wants of the district, and what is best for the farmers, and you’d be able to make yourself heard.”
Joe and Dave, seated near the fire, turned their heads away and grinned.
“You’ve only to stand,” Mulrooney said, “and you’ll get the seat.”
Joe and Dave chuckled deprecatingly, then rose, and went on to the verandah.
Dad glared after them with ferocity in his eye.
“I don’t think he would do for it, Mr. Mulrooney,” Mother said by way of apology for Dad. Dad didn’t agree with Mother.
“Why not?” he snorted. “Why th’ devil wouldn’t I? I’d tell some of them fellows,” he went on, “what I think of them, an’ what they’ve been doing for the country—th’ robbers! Believe me!” and his eyes flashed fire.
“Well, you’ll stand, then, Mr. Rudd?” Gray said again.
Dad stared first at one, then at another, and seemed in doubt.
“It’s yer dooty, Rudd,” Thompson drawled, and Thompson didn’t care two straws whether Dad con- sented to stand, or whether he went away somewhere and drowned himself.
“We want a man,” Fahey added, “who’ll go to Brisbane an’ put the sufferances of the farmers plainly an’—an’—well before Parliament—a man who’ll talk t’ thim, an’ talk straightforredly t’ thim, an’—an’— tell thim what’s right an’—an’ what ought t’ be done. An’ there’s no one can do it better’n yeou. “
Dad stared at the floor in silence. He seemed impressed with Fahey’s argument.
“It’s yer dooty,” Thompson drawled again, filling his pipe.
Dave and Joe laughed loud, and left the verandah and went to the barn to husk corn.
At last Dad pulled himself together.
“Then I will!” he said boldly, and, rising to his feet, struck the table hard with his fist, and put the light out. “That’s my word!” he shouted in the dark. Mulrooney struck a match, and Sarah re-lit the lamp.
“And when I give my word,” Dad went on, “I alwez keep it.” And he struck the table harder than before, and put the lamp out again.
“Goodness me!” Mother moaned; “what is the man doing?”
But Mulrooney struck another match and handed it to Sarah.
Dad then went into details, and the deputation expressed its delight with him and went away.
Next morning at breakfast, Joe asked Dave whom he was going to vote for, and Dave spluttered into his cup and splashed tea about the table. Sarah, at the bottom of the board, struggled to suppress her mirth. Dad, at the head, cleared his throat and scowled. Joe looked calmly at Dad and said:
“When are y’ going to address the ’lectors?”
Dave bent his head and leaned heavily on his knife and fork and spluttered some more.
“Well,” Dad answered severely, “my committee will arrange all that, I dare say.”
Dave lifted his head and felt for something to wipe the tears from his eyes with.
Barty, seated opposite, pointed with his fork to Dave and cried:
“L-l-look at ’im!”
All of us broke into loud hilarity—all of us except Dad.
He dropped his knife and fork and shouted:
But Dave and Joe rose together and hastened to the yard.
“Th’ devil take them!” Dad growled, taking up his knife and fork again and proceeding with his breakfast, “and their confounded impudence! ‘ ‘
To our astonishment, Dad kept faith with the deputation, and prepared to contest Eton. He went with Gray and Thompson and travelled round the country and addressed the electors at the Middle Arm and Cherry Gully, and Bible Creek, and Tannymorel, and Hell-hole, and any place where there was a school or barn or shed or anything he could stand up in. And at nearly every place that Dad appeared he was received with joy and enthusiasm and made much of. Saddletop was the only place where he met with opposition, and then only from old Carey. Carey was jealous of Dad’s prosperity and popularity, and jumped up at the meeting and accused him of all kinds of villainy and called him “Judas.” But when Dad came off the platform and reached for Carey, Carey hurried out, and nothing more was heard from him until heavy lumps of blue metal began to thump and rattle on the iron roof, and punctuate Dad’s oration with long in- tervals of disorder.
“Now, isn’t he a low-down scoundrel?” Dad said to the audience, and they stood up and responded with a wild yell. They enjoyed Dad. His style and method suited them. He used plain language, and didn’t quote statistics or poetry or scripture. And they liked Dad because he wasn’t a humbug nor a sham; because he didn’t go to their houses and ask after the health of absent members of the family whom he had never seen, and wish to be remembered to them; because he didn’t compliment the wives upon having honest, hard-working, industrious husbands when he didn’t know whether they had or not; and because he didn’t hug and cuddle every baby in the electorate, and say they resembled their fathers or their mothers or someone. They respected Dad, too, because he was plain and honest, and when polling day came round they voted for him to a man, and with a big cheer put him in at the head of the poll.
We could scarcely believe it when the news came that Dad was in.
Dave said, “Well, I’m blowed!” Sarah danced about and clapped her hands and spoke of going to Brisbane; and Mother sat down and shed tears. And when Gray drove Dad home in the buggy we all gathered round and received him like a monarch. We had never honoured our parent so much before. Mother threw her arms round Dad and hugged him; Sarah took possession of his arm; Barty hung on fondly to the slack of his pants; Joe carried his top-coat; and Dave walked in the rear grinning. Dad stood it all well, too, and showed wonderful composure. You’d think he had been a member of Parliament all his days.
When he had mounted the verandah he turned, and looking at us all said:
“To-morrow I’ll have to go to Brisbane, an’ be away all the session, an’ you’ll have the place to look after y’selves.”
’Twas a welcome piece of news to us. It sent a thrill of delight through us. To everyone of us it was the happiest feature of Dad’s political triumph. We hoped the session might last for the term of Dad’s natural life.
Next day Joe drove Dad to the railway station, and he caught the train for Brisbane.
At Toogoom Dad was joined by another member of Parliament, a politician who conducted a newspaper and used its influence to belittle and vilify Dad because he was honest. He grabbed Dad by the hand and said he was delighted to see him, and congratulated him on his victory, and treated him just like a brother. Dad was astonished. Dad didn’t know much about politicians then. He knows more about them now.