THE MEMBER for Toogoom became a sort of “best man” to Dad. He conducted him to the “Chair” and introduced him to Mr. Speaker as the member for Eton. The Speaker bowed profoundly to Dad, and Dad asked him how he was getting on, then signed his name, and took a seat on the cross benches, and sank deep into the costly leather cushions, and cleared his throat several times and groaned and glared composedly round the gorgeous chamber and up at the galleries. And those in the gallery stared down at Dad and grinned. And the members conversed with each other about him, and the reporters made notes of his arrival and his personal appearance, and the artists made sketches of him which no one but themselves would ever recognise. There they lolled—seventy-two picked men; seventy-two paid representatives of different opinions, of different shape and shades and size; seventy-two imposing-looking politicians! Some of them were lean and long and weary-looking; some big, bulky, and bloated; some dejected; some jolly; some poetic; some pious; some bad long hair; some had no hair; many of them wore spectacles; one an eye-glass; and one— the undersized prig of the galaxy—wore rich black eurls.
The Minister for Lands rose to introduce “A Land Settlement Bill,” and made a long speech. He said no country in the wide world was so liberal in matters of land as this country, and with eloquence and enthusiasm proceeded to reveal a new scheme for settling people on the land. There was never a Minister for Lands yet born who hadn’t a scheme for settling people somewhere or other.
Dad screwed himself round, crossed his legs, and fixed his eyes intently on that Minister. You’d think he was preparing to enjoy a sermon.
“In the first clause of the Bill,” the Minister went on, “provision is made for monetary assistance, and the principal aim of the measure is to help those who have a desire to live a country life, to settle on the land in communities——”
Just here an oldish member named O’Reilly, sitting near Dad, with a wild-looking head of flowing white hair, and a strong Irish accent, said “Hear, hear!”
Dad glared aggressively at the Hibernian.
“There’s nothing new in the village-community system,” the Minister resumed. “It’s older than the Norman Conquest.”
Then he talked glibly about “grazing farms,” and “homesteads,” and “continuous occupation by the groups,” and “undue restrictions,” and “articles of export,” and “open markets,” and many other ancient and miserable platitudes.
Dad edged along the seat an inch or two, so as not to miss any of him, and unconsciously leaned on the hoary-headed one’s tall black hat.
O’Reilly poked Dad in the ribs with a silver-headed walking-stick which he was leaning on, and nodded to the beaver.
Dad scowled disdainfully, but didn’t remove himself. O’Reilly poked him in the ribs again.
“Damn you!” Dad said, “what do you want?”
“Have y’ not iny manners? Do not you see you’re crushing me hat?”
The Speaker reproved O’Reilly. “Order!” he said stentoriously. “Order!”
Dad glared angrily at O’Reilly, then shoved the hat away, and again gave all his attention to the Minister.
O’Reilly continued to snarl audibly, and turned the whites of his eyes aggressively at Dad, and attracted the attention of members sitting behind. They laughed, and were in turn called to order by the Speaker.
“These co-operators, therefore,” the Minister said, “will have to settle their disputes among themselves, except in matters of a criminal nature; and if they resort to any contentious proceedings—that is to say, if they go to law with one another—they will cease to be members of the society. This is a bold experiment——
“An’ a fool of a one!” Dad shouted in a voice that drowned the Minister’s; and rising to his feet held up his hand.
“Order! Order!” the Speaker cried, eyeing Dad like an adder.
“Look here,” Dad shouted, pointing his finger at the Minister.
“The hon. member for Eton must desist from interrupting the——”
The rest of the Speaker’s rebuke was lost. The Chamber suddenly became boisterous. “Sit down! Sit down!” came from every corner.
Then a member, seated behind Dad, reached forward and pulled him down on the seat by the coat-tail.
Dad thought it was O’Reilly, and turned angrily on him, and shook his fist at him, and in a loud voice warned him to be careful. O’Reilly gesticulated, and showed his teeth to Dad and hissed that “he had been a mimber of the House for twenty-five years an’ more.”
Dad grunted contemptuously, and said he didn’t care if he had been a member for fifty years!
O’Reilly turned the whites of his eyes at Dad again, then ignored him.
“It provides that in cases of destitution,” continued the Minister, “certain allowances may be made to the wives and families of the men for a limited period at places away from the settlement. It would be impossible to take women and children to a settlement in its rough condition——”
“Wha-a-t?” Dad yelled, jumping up again. “What th’ devil sort o’ people do you——”
“Order! Order!” came sharp and angrily from the Speaker. “The hon. member must retract those words at once.”
“Hear, hear! Hear, hear!” from those on the Ministerial side, mingled with loud cries of “Withdraw!”
“I’ve come here” Dad shouted, waving his hands about, “to see that the honest an’ right an’——”
Cries of “Chair! Chair!” and “Sit down!” accompanied by loud laughter from the Labour party, overflowed the Chamber.
“I must ask the hon. member for Eton, once and for all,” the Speaker said angrily, “to resume his seat. “And he seemed to mean what he said.
Dad lifted his voice again, but “Chair! Chair!” and more Labour laughter, smothered him. It looked as if something serious must happen, but the member for Toogoom hurried across the floor and talked persuasively into Dad’s ear, and Dad gave way reluctantly and sat heavily down on O’Reilly’s long hat and made it flat.
Then there was disorder.
“Why th’ devil didn’t y’ look after it, then?” Dad snorted to O’Reilly, rising and releasing the battered beaver. “I haven’t eyes behin’ me.”
“You’re a clumsy elephant, that’s what ye are!” O’Reilly whined, lifting his voice and straightening the beaver.
Dad turned and fell on O’Reilly, and took him by the collar and squeezed him hard into the cushion.
There was real commotion and excitement then.
All the members stood up. Some called “Shame!” others “Disgraceful!” People in the galleries leaned over and grinned and burst buttons restraining their joy. Messengers and miscellaneous members rushed eagerly through the lobbies and into the “refreshment room,” urging absent ones to hurry and witness the fun.
“Lesh them fi’ it out,” the honourable member for Fillemupagen murmured, hanging on fondly to the rim of the bar by the dimple on his chin.
The Speaker grew pale, and exhausted himself appealing for “Order.” He might just as well have called “Butcher,” or “Baker,” or anything, for Dad was deaf to it all.
O’Reilly twisted his legs round Dad’s neck and yelled in a shrill, hideous key, and hit blindly at Dad’s whiskers with his fists. Dad straightened up and swung round, but couldn’t shake him off. A small dog with no tail, which had been lying asleep in a corner of the Under-Secretary’s gallery, woke up suddenly, and, seeing O’Reilly being swung round, rushed in and yelped vigorously at Dad. The Labour party broke into fresh bursts of hilarity. A messenger in a uniform hastened to eject the dog. The animal dodged through his legs, and barked at him. The occupants of the strangers’ gallery lost control of their emotions, and hung over the railings, and shrieked cheerfully.
“Clear the galleries!” the Speaker gasped, and created more commotion and disorder. At last several members seized Dad, and separated him from O’Reilly, and asked him to have some sense and not to be a fool. O’Reilly, bereft of collar and tie, his white hair dishevelled, stood panting and gasping for breath; then suddenly, and with agility of a circus man, he divested himself of his coat, which he tossed fiercely to the rear. It spread itself out on the table, and upset a water bottle on the Statutes, and the fluid flowed into the lap of the aged Clerk of the Assembly, who jumped up in horror. Then his vest was ripped off with one pull and flung to the winds. It fluttered through the Chamber, and settled calmly on the Speaker. O’Reilly next tugged at his shirt, and whilst “Order!” and “Shame!” echoed all round, yelled a profane sort of prelude, then struck a pugilistic attitude and sparred round Dad and those who were restraining him, and bumped the table.
The member for Fillemupagen rolled into the Chamber, and hiccoughed loudly above the din:
“Lesh ’im havesh it, Reilly—he’s ’gainsh Fe’ration.”
More loud laughter from the Labour party, and pathetic cries of “Disgraceful!” from the Conservatives.
The Chesterfield of the Assembly submerged in a high collar, rose and appealed for peace.
“I nevah in mai laife,” he said, “witnessed anything so beastly bleggardly.” Then he went outside the bar in disgust, murmuring, “Vulgah bleggards!”
Finally two or three members secured O’Reilly and conducted him to an anteroom, where they calmed and rehabilitated him. Dad sat down and glared round like an injured lion. Then the Premier, pale and trembling with indignation, rose.
“Mr. Speaker” he said, “it is with feelings of pain—with feelings of shame, Sir” (Hear, hear) “that I rise to refer to the disgraceful scene—the degrading exhibition of ruffianism—which this honourable House has just witnessed.” (The member for Bordertown, with the clean shave, shifted his “chew” from the hollow of one cheek to the other, and said “Hear, hear!”; then leisurely went on chewing some more.) “During the whole of the twenty years I have had the honour to hold a seat in this Chamber, Sir, I have never known an occasion when the honour and reputation of this House have been so insulted, so—er—dragged to the level, I might say, of the common public-house back-yard brawl. Sir.” (Loud applause and shouts of approval from the Conservatives, intermingled with “Rot!” and shouts of “What about the Derkin’s incident?” from the Labour supporters and hiccoughs and “Queshun! “from the member for Fillemupagen, and “Order!” from the Speaker. ) “The hon member for Churchland” (meaning O’Reilly) “is an old member of this House, Sir, and I’m amazed, Mr. Speaker—amazed, I say—and grieved that he should so far forget himself as to be guilty of such conduct—conduct only becoming—er—er” (“Gentlemen,” from the member for Burke, and laughter from the Labour party) a lunatic, Sir!” (O’Reilly, who had re-entered the Chamber, here jumped to his feet and vociferated wildly, but was promptly pulled on to the cushion again by two other members, where he kicked and scratched, and yelled “I’m not a lunatic!” ) . “ The honourable member for Eton” (turning and glancing in the direction of Dad) “is the youngest member of this House, and it may be well he should understand that if he comes here with no respect for himself, he might at least show some reverence and regard for the honourable position he happens to hold, and for the dignity and reputation of this Assembly.” (Wild applause from the Ministerialists, during which Dad groaned contentedly and stared about the Chamber and up at the crowded galleries.) “And,” the Premier continued severely, “I say the honourable member for Churchland and the honourable member for Eton should apologise to this House, Sir.”
Then the Chamber rang with cheers, and triumphant cries of “Apologise!” from the Government benches.
The “Chesterfield” of the Assembly, in his lofty, lordly fashion, rose to gratuitously endorse the remarks of the Premier, and more confusion followed. The Independents and Labour, members rose en masse, and bombarded him with cries of “Sit down!” “Chair!” “The member for Churchland,” and “Let them apologise.” Then the “Chesterfield” turned ferociously upon them, and, lifting his voice above theirs, shouted back:
“If you will have the mannahs to permit mai to be heard, I only wish to say that you are the maost vulgah horde of hoodlums that ever disgraced a Legislative Assemblay.” And he sat down suddenly, mopped his flushed brow with a large silk handkerchief, adjusted his gorgeous tie, and muttered “Vulgah cads!”
“I rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker! “yelled a broad-shouldered member, with a tremendous voice, across the Chamber. “Is the member for Bunya in order, Sir, in describing members on this side of the House as a horde of hoodlums disgracing——”
“Mr. Speaker,” the Premier hotly interrupted, landing on his feet in a bound, “the member for Churchland and the member for Eton have been asked to——”
“I have asked for your decision, Mr. Speaker, on a point of order!” the broad-backed member yelled. (Cheers and “Hear, hear!” from the Labour party.)
“Chair! Chair!” from different parts of the Assembly. Then the Speaker, red in the face and angry-looking, pointed his sharp-edged features at the broad-backed Labour man, who was standing erect, and wagging his head, and said:
“If the honourable member for Bunya made use of the words complained of by the honourable member for St. George, such expressions are certainly unparliamentary, and must be met with——”
The Premier jumped to his feet again, and interrupted excitedly: “I regret to have to move. Sir, that your ruling be disagreed with.” (Great disorder.) “According to May”—(more disorder and loud cries of “Chair!” “Respect the Chair!” and “Shame!” during which Dad rose and strolled out of the Chamber—so did the member for Toogoom and O’Reilly.)
“It is clearly laid down in May, Mr. Speaker, Clause 999, that——”
“Chair! Chair! Chair!”
“I must draw the attention of the honourable the Leader of the Grovernment,” the Speaker said, “to the fact that the question before——”
He was suddenly interrupted from an unexpected quarter. On his left at the bar of the Chamber fresh disorder broke out. The prig of the House rushed into the Chamber in fear and trembling, and his rich black curls standing straight up.
“Let go ov me! Let go ov me! Let go ov me!” rang out in a wild, shrill key, and Dad and O’Riley, locked in each other’s embrace, rocked and swayed about in the lobby, then with a heavy thud fell upon the carpets, their heads just inside the Chamber.
Wild confusion! Those who were not in a position to see what was going on stood up on the seats to get a view.
“Disgraceful!” the “Chesterfield” of the Assembly moaned; “a positive outrage!”
“Who’sh on top thish ’ime? “murmured the member for Fillemupagen, with his chin resting calmly on his chest.
A spectator in the gallery—one of the unwashed who spent much valueless time following the debates— craning his neck to get a view of the struggle, over-balanced himself, and fell over, clinging with both hands to the balustrading, and kicking his legs about like a frog in water just above the heads of a bunch of Government supporters.
“Help! Help! “ he shouted.
The bunch of Government supporters suddenly looked up, then took alarm, and divided and rushed across the floor.
The Speaker closed his eyes and moaned and perspired. The Chamber rang with a fresh burst of Labour laughter.
“O, my G—, help!” groaned the dangling form. All eyes were turned on it. But the long arm of the Law reached down from the gallery, and hauled the intruder back. Then it shook him, and kicked him down the stairs.
At the same moment Dad and O’Reilly suddenly disappeared from the floor. The member for Toogoom and some more dragged them away by the heels and saved the situation.
“Shocking! Shocking!” came from the Ministers, while bursts of smothered merriment continued to escape from the ranks of Labour, and for some moments the House didn’t know where it was. Then the Speaker, perspiring and looking Bonaparte after Waterloo, turned his face to the clock, and said he would “resume the Chair at seven o’clock.”