NEXT day. An air of prosperity pervaded the Lands Department. Several large estates had been repurchased by the Government at boom-or-burst prices, and every draftsman on the premises had his head buried in a map or a plan or something; electric bells were ringing; messengers rushed up and down the narrow, dingy corridors of the decayed, old rookery, while clerks, with high collars and nicely-parted hair, and laden with bundles of papers bandaged with red tape, hurried from the door of one room to another.
A pale, poorly-dressed, careworn, anxious-looking woman, of middle age, with an infant in her arms and two toddlers clinging to her skirts, entered the building; and asked a messenger if Mr. Brewer was engaged, Mr Brewer was her husband. The messenger said “he’d see,” and hurried to the other end of the building. In a while the husband, a thoughtful, capable, ill-paid servant, came into the corridor.
“Have you heard yet?” the wife asked, a half-hopeful, half-anxious expression mounting her face.
The man glanced cautiously up and down the corridor, then over his shoulder, to satisfy himself no one was listening, then lowered his voice and said:
“I’ve just been in with the Under-Secretary——”
“Yes, yes!” the wife broke in eagerly, expectantly.
“And he’s recommended me for the billet——”
“Oh, I’m so glad, Tom. Do you think——”
“Sh!” the husband whispered, glancing round again. “Musn’t speak so loud.”
“I am glad, though. How much will it be—a forty pounds rise?”
“Forty-five? £135 a year.”
“Of course, I haven’t got it yet,” the husband added, with just a suspicion of uncertainty in his voice.
“But you will, though, Tom, when the Under-Secretary has recommended it?”
“I think so, but you mustn’t speak about it yet awhile.”
The wife assured him she wouldn’t, and, with hopes of promotion and prosperity in her heart, turned cheerfully away with the mites and left the building.
At two o’clock Dad was at the Lands Office. He told a messenger that he was a member of Parliament, and was hurriedly shown into the Minister’s room. The Minister rose and shook him by the hand and said: “Sit down till I finish signing some papers.” Dad dropped heavily into a costly chair lined with leather, and stared up at a row of life-sized pictures hanging on the wall—photographs of ex-Ministers encased in expensive frames, paid for out of public money.
“Well, now, let me see,” the Minister mused, putting down his pen, “you were saying something about a clerkship?”
“A rabbit inspector,” Dad said, correcting him.
“Ah, yes, yes. . . . there is such a vacancy, I remember now.”
Then, after reflecting:
“Is this man you speak of a trustworthy fellow?”
“He’s me son-in-law,” Dad said sternly, “Sandy. You know he married Kate.”
The Minister didn’t ask for further information. He nodded and grinned, and told Dad it would “be all right.”
They talked for a while about land, and selectors, and wheat, and things the Minister didn’t know anything about. Then the Minister assured Dad again that “it would be all right,” and Dad fervently shook hands with him and came out.
When Dad had gone the Minister rang for the Under-Secretary, and discussed the vacancy with him. The Under-Secretary mentioned the name of Mr. Brewer.
“Brewer?” the Minister said. “Is he someone in the Department?”
“For twenty-two years,” the Under-Secretary answered “He’s only receiving £90 a year, and he’s an excellent officer, and I would like to see him get the position. This is his application.”
He placed the document before the Minister.
“I have the honour to most respectfully apply for the position of rabbit inspector for the district of Mingoolooloo, rendered vacant by the death of Mr. James Smith. I would ask to be permitted to state that I have now been in the service for twenty-two years, and for the last ten years have not received an increase of salary; and would further ask for special consideration on the ground that I have a wife and family of eight children to support, and regret to admit that I find it a hard struggle indeed to provide them with even the bare necessities of life out of the small salary of £90 per annum. Trusting the Honourable the Minister will be pleased to favourably consider my claim to promotion,
“I have the honour to be, &c., “THOMAS BREWER.”
“Is he a good man, this?” the Minister asked, looking up at the Under-Secretary.
“A splendid ojB&cer, Mr. Carter. A really good all-round man.”
The Minister reflected.
“H’m,” he said. “H’m.”
Then after a silence:
“Well, I’m afraid we can’t give it to him this time, but we’ll put him down for five pounds on the Estimates, next year.”
Then he minuted the papers: “Sandy Taylor to be appointed at a salary of £180.”
“Mr. Brewer, the Under-Secretary would like to see you,” said a messenger.
Poor Brewer! He fouled the copying-press, and fell over the tall stool in his excitement and eagerness to obey the summons and learn of his promotion. He felt he had “got the billet,” and his heart palpitated and his eyes shone as he entered the Under-Secretary’s room. The latter looked up.
“Well, Brewer,” he said, with a ring of genuine sorrow in his voice, “I did all I could for you, but—— “ He seemed to think it wasn’t necessary to say more.
Poor Brewer! His hopes and his heart and every internal part of him dropped. He turned pale. He stared stupidly. He felt ill.
“I’m sorry,” the Under-Secretary said, “very sorry, but” And Brewer, broken-hearted, turned and went back to his £90 a year. And he didn’t utter one word of reproach or profanity; he didn’t even curse any of the scheming, unprincipled politicians who pretend to run the country in an honest way.
The House was in Committee. The Lands Office Estimates were under discussion, and numerous awkward and ugly questions were being asked the Minister. One inquisitive member of the Opposition wished to laiow how it was that an influential justice of the peace in the Minister’s own electorate became the proprietor of a Government reserve. Another, who had discovered some thing suspicious in connection with sales of land, desired to be informed why the Department had paid away several thousand pounds of borrowed money to a certain gentleman as commission for merely “introducing a purchaser” who was already in negotiation with the Department over the property in question. For several hours the Minister defended himself and his Department by indulging in recriminations and piling abuse and banter upon the heads of those whose duty it was to ask for the information. Finally he sat down with a triumphant smile on his face. But his opponents hadn’t finished with him, not by a long way. The member for Cross Roads rose, flashing a bunch of loose papers in his hand, and in deep, sonorous tones said:
“Mr. Chairman, I have a matter of importance to bring before this Committee—a matter which, I feel sure, when all the facts are fully stated, will make the Honourable the Minister for Lands tremble in his official shoes, if it doesn’t actually cause him to hang his head in shame——”
“That is only your impertinent opinion,” interrupted the Minister.
“And I think it will also be the opinion of every member of this Committee before I have finished,” retorted the member for Cross Roads.
Then, after an impressive pause:
“On the honourable gentleman’s estimate it will be seen, Mr. Chairman, that a rabbit inspector is provided for at an increased salary of £180.” (Here Dad turned suddenly in his seat and gaped wonderingly at the member for Cross Roads. ) “The honourable member for Eton, I see, is already keenly interested. Now, Mr. Chairman, this rabbit inspector’s name, I am told, is Taylor; and he happens to be the son-in-law of a member of this House.” (Cries of “Name!”) “Well, then, it’s the member for Eton.” (Cries of “ Oh, oh!” and laughter. ) “And, if my information is correct, the appointment was given to this gentleman upon a promise made by the member I have named to support the Dry Creek-Currajong Railway Bill, which was introduced to this Chamber by the Honourable the Minister for Lands——”
“An infamous falsehood!” shouted the Minister, which was followed by uproar, and “Order, order!” from the chair.
“I said I might—or perhaps I would!” Dad roared. (Sensation and yells of “Oh! Ah! We’re getting at the truth now!” from Labour members. )
“Yes; we’re getting at the truth now,” the member for Cross Roads continued, “and for this half-promise, then—this perhaps-I-might sort of promise, Mr. Chairman—the honourable gentleman appointed the son-in-law of the member for Eton, who is not in the service, over the head of an unfortunate servant who had been in his Department for no less than twenty-two years—whose salary was only £90, and who had a family of eight children and a sick wife to support on this miserable pittance; and, worse than all, made the appointment in direct antagonism to the entreaties and supplications of his Under-Secretary; and despite the fact that this son-in-law, in his written application for the post, which I now hold in my hand” (waving the document) “admitted he had never seen a rabbit in his life.” (Disorder.) “If this, Mr. Chairman, is not a clear ease of bribery and corruption, as well as Ministerial heartlessness, then there never was one” (renewed disorder), “and I leave the Minister to clear himself of this dirty business as he may think fit.” (General confusion, mingled with cheers and cries of “Shame!”)
The Minister bounced to his feet.
“Mr. Chairman,” he yelled, “this is not the first time nor the fifth that the honourable member for Cross Roads has attempted to bring a charge of corruption against me and blacken my good name, and each time he has sought to do it in a most vile and dastardly manner. I deny the charge in toto, and challenge him to bring evidence to prove the truth of his statements.” (Ministerial cheers.) “The appointment of this rabbit inspector was made strictly upon its merits. I went carefully into the matter, and I have no hesitation in saying before this Committee that the man selected was the best fitted for the post.” (More Ministerial cheers.) “And I claim the right, Mr. Chairman, to administer the affairs of the Department over which I have the honour to preside according to my lights and learning and without consulting the honourable member, and without the least fear of what he might think or have to say.” (Tremendous Ministerial cheers.) “And I say further that no promise, or hint of a promise, to vote for the bill mentioned was ever made by the member for Eton to me, nor did any conversation ever take place between us in regard to it. The whole thing is a wicked fabrication, and I do not know what the honourable member for Eton alluded to when he interjected that he promised ‘he might or that perhaps he would.’”
“It wasn’t to you I said it; it was to this man over here!” Dad blurted out, pointing with his thick middle finger to the Government Whip. (Fresh sensation, and more cries of “Oh! Oh!”)
“Who? Me?” the Whip retorted, feigning surprise. “It’s a deliberate lie!——”
“Order, order!” from the chair. “The honourable member must withdraw.”
The Whip withdrew his words, and smiled at Dad. Then Dad stood up, and amidst much confusion made a clean breast of what transpired in the refreshment room, but reminded them that he did not vote for the bill.
“And, Sir!” he roared with much force and dramatic effect, “I say here that I did ask the Minister for a billet for my son-in-law, Sandy, and I thought I had a right to, but I didn’t know till now that I was doing a poor man with a family and a sick wife out of his rights; and if what that member says is true” (pointing to the member for Cross Roads), “then I can tell him that in twenty-four hours that billet will not be held by my son-in-law.” (Loud cheers.) “I never did a man harm in my life, Sir, and I’m not going to commence now.” (Great applause, during which the Minister for Lands left the Chamber.)
And Dad was as good as his word. In three days Sandy had resigned, and a fortnight later the appointment of Thomas Brewer as a rabbit inspector appeared in the “Government Gazette.”