CHARLES leaned forward, bringing the front legs of his chair to earth, and spread a quick smile round the perimeter of the table. “Anything else?” he asked. His smile suggested, by a slight reticence, pressing public commitments calling him outside this party back room.
Gwenyth Jones was provincial party secretary and knew Charles back to his Charlie days. She reflected without rancor that it took no more than one session in the legislature to turn an honest politician into a Profile.
“Just two items, Mr. Chairman,” Gwenyth said. “Both from the Youth Section. Both signed by, and I suspect drafted by, Andrew McNorran. Both addressed to this executive committee.”
“Couldn’t we leave . . . ?”
“Oh, let’s have them.”
“The first,” said Gwenyth, “is a protest, and I’m not sure what brought it on, but it’s a very uh— blunt protest against ‘the increasing tendency of this party to bureaucratic and autocratic dealings with its Youth Section, a complete disregard for the basic democratic rights of the Youth Clubs, and a persistent attitude of mollycoddling and Momism!’ "
“Mom . . . ?”
“Momism,” Gwenyth said.
“Move it be tabled.”
“The second,” Gwenyth went on, questioning Charles first with her eyes, “is an urgent request for: ‘First, a more realistic and bigger annual grant, and second, immediate appointment of three adult people, definitely including the provincial leader —Charles to advise, co-operate with, and lend continual aid in organizing the Youth Clubs, which hold the key to the future of our great party.’ As a rider, a specific request for a speaker preferably Charles — at an interclub youth rally scheduled for June eighteenth.”
“Move it be . . . ”
“Now just a minute,” Charles said. “Let’s deal with this, please. I’m afraid I can’t sympathize with those of you who get a little impatient with the Youth Section. Sure they make mistakes -didn’t we make a few at their age? But once in a while they do bring in a new contribution, a fresh viewpoint. We mustn’t dam up that fresh spring entering the stale waters . . . This Andrew McNorran, for instance. Isn’t he that very keen high school youngster?”
“Andrew McNorran is undoubtedly a fresh spring, and I’d hate to be the one who tries to dam him.”
“Now, now, Gwenyth. Just because he got a little sore the time he came to the office to see me for material on his high school debate, and I turned him over to you ...”
“The next day we got a five-page letter accusing our leadership of losing touch with the Common Man, and complaining that he had been ‘summarily handed over to an aged female hireling.’ ”
Charles laughed. He patted Gwenyth’s hand. “Just a brat,” he said. “Personally I got rather a kick out of Andrew.”
“May I remind the chairman,” Maggie said, “that this meeting was to end at one o’clock and it is now two-fifteen? I move that a speaker, Charles if possible, be sent to the youth rally.”
“June eighteenth?” Charles’ little black book leaped, practiced, to his hand. “I have to be in Sudbury on the eighteenth and nineteenth.”
“Then let Gwenyth go.”
On the seventeenth of June Gwenyth saw the youth rally marked on her calendar and gave it some moments’ sober thought, her face reflecting an absent, fond irritation with the hour of five-thirty. Her face was lively and apple-round and brown of skin, her eyes sharp black, and her plain smooth hair was black and grey in about equal proportions and had been like that for several years.
She knew she was rather a good speaker: originally, fifteen years ago, it had been her fine contralto voice, fruited with mild irony, which led her toward a political career. But in time she had found that her special talents lay in the expert use of a desk telephone, in prompt, decisive smoothing, rounding and proposing.
"What I shall not tell them is that the youth of today are the adults of tomorrow. Or that we piously hope they will make a better job of things than we have ...”
She thought about Andrew McNorran he hadn’t been in the office for a week—with a compassion which she tried to analyze. They seemed extremely pathetic to her, those Youth Section youngsters. It was not that she really minded their extraordinary ineptness, though she was privately persuaded that any political party which kept a Youth Section under its wing was very like a man who harbored a flock of porcupines for pets and often wondered why. It was because there seemed so little on which they could fasten their heroics. Fifteen or twenty years ago, how easy, how ready at hand, were the great issues then! Youth out of work, their talents wasted, teachers and schools in a slump, war threatening— what an epoch for youth at the hustings! But what was there now for Andrew McNorran to feel very right about?
Politics has become quite middleaged, she thought.
Slowly she put together a speech for the youth rally. . . . The party system exists in Canada as the means for a great many citizens to choose their politicians and their politics, and we must keep political parties alive and real and in close touch with basic human problems . . . The way to change and betterment lies through debate in the local political club, to the provincial party council, hence through the Press and legislation . . . On malicious impulse she included Charles’ remark about looking to the Youth Section for fresh ideas and contributions . .
She realized several weeks later that making so encouraging a speech had been like offering a match to an oil well on the point of explosion. For among those present was Andrew McNorran, a rising meteor who two months after recruitment in the Youth Section knew he was destined to add fire and luster to Canada’s political story.
Naturally Andrew did not agree with everything Gwenyth Jones said that night, and when he made the thank-you speech at the rally’s close he pointed this out to her on the principle that party officials should always be contradicted, for their own good, by rank-and-file members. It was only when he and Naida Gray walked away from the hall that he found his mind dwelling on things from Gwenyth’s speech. His mind had a peculiar habit of building vertical ladders while kicking away violently at the props beneath.
He said tolerantly, "The basic trouble with people like Gwenyth, who no doubt mean well—good-hearted people, even if hopelessly out-of-date and completely wrapped up in office routine—the basic trouble is they wouldn’t recognize a Common Man if they met one. I mean it’s got to the point where it’s all theoretical with them.”
Andrew talked very fast to get much said, and hunched along beside Naida, who was a quiet, phlegmatic, large-boned Slavic type, with a sweet, calm face. Andrew was an inch shorter than Naida; when he turned from her, her eyes were exactly on a level with the unmanageable whorl of brown hair at the crown of his head, and the end locks which pointed up instead of down. This view of Andrew was somehow more revealing than his face, which was pale and studious and dominated by dark-rimmed glasses. He walked with chin thrust forward, neck stretched, and his long, large-knuckled hands clenched in fists in his side pockets.
"What about the problems of a truck driver like Albert, for instance? What about the basic needs of actually about four-fifths of the population of this city? The vast, voiceless mass of the people, crying out for a - a spokesman.” Andrew stood, teetering, on the curb, sweeping the street’s expanse with a forceful fling of his arm.
Naida asked, "Are we going there again?”
"Going where do you mean?”
"I mean that truck drivers’ hangout, that greasy little place you keep going to.”
"Bill’s Coffee Shanty? Why that’s our favorite place. That’s where we can look at real people for a change. And we want to see how Albert’s getting along with his little waitress. Wonder if he’s taken her out by now? Probably she’s on her way to having his baby since we were there last. These real people are honest about love. That’s one major difference between them and our over-educated half of the population. With them it’s just the simple fact of sex and he wants her and she wants him, at least she was coming around that way the last time we ...”
"Oh Andy! Even truck drivers don’t work that fast, I don’t imagine.”
"No? You’re just so used to our kind of complex emotions, you can’t believe in anything basic. The emotional process I undergo when I’m out with you, now it’s a mixture of frustrated need for maternal care ...”
"Maternal !" At the wealth of skepticism in Naida’s voice Andrew grinned suddenly, very charmingly.
"Forget it,” he said. "Let’s cross here and get some coffee. Albert’s probably there.”
IT WAS like the coming together of destined stars, that night. There was Andrew McNorran, fired with zeal to battle on behalf of Man and his sore need. There was Albert, laid off for two days from his truck run, morose, in sore need.
It had come about very naturally that at eighteen Andrew McNorran, whose father was a chartered accountant and whose mother was a member of the IODE, a youth born and bred in Toronto who had begun his collection of classical records and received his first library card at the age of seven, should develop a strong penchant for truck drivers. They brought out the primitive in him. They were brawny and had a cocky independent attitude toward life, like sailors on the high seas. Also they were as a rule easy to talk to, companionable chaps who stored up a mixture of philosophy and gossip behind the wheels of their great thundering transports, and spilled it out freely when they stopped off along the run. He was especially fond of Albert, an ungrammatical character with wild red hair and innocent blue eyes. And to see Irene, the cute little black-haired waitress, snubbing, ignoring and ensnaring Albert was a rich experience for an unripe observer of human affairs.
They found Albert sitting alone, back humped, over a lonely splashed cup of coffee, at one of the small round tables where strangers usually sat. Behind the busy counter Irene banged plates angrily and pushed pie at the regular patrons.
Andrew and Naida sat down at the table with Albert.
"She won’t serve you nothing over here,” Albert said resentfully. "I got my cup of coffee at the counter and carried it over. Now she won’t even come to give me nothing else.”
"What’s she sore about?” asked Andrew.
"About me being laid off. Two days this week, maybe three days next week. So what if I promised her I’d buy this 1949 Chev? I can’t buy it without I can see the money coming in to keep up the payments. What good’s that, if you make a couple of payments and lose your car? I don’t see that,” said Albert.
"How come you’re laid off?”
"Boss hasn’t got the orders. Used to be all we could handle, we could drive Montreal and back without ever stopping except to gas up, if the law’d let you. Now—-phfft! I came back damn near empty, last time. That loses money. All the boys is taking it— the same all over.”
"But gosh,” Andrew said, "how do you explain it, Albert? I mean why should business get so bad all at once, like that?”
Albert put his spoon carefully into his cup and leaned toward Andrew, saying through shrewd compressed lips the igniting word.
"It’s politics, mac. Politics is ruining the boss. That’s the damn truth.”
And he threw himself back, for effect, against the imperfect rungs of his light chair.
"How do you figure that, mac?” Andrew tried to control the queer thrill of excitement in his voice.
Albert gave a Gargantuan shrug, twisting one shoulder high and twisting his lips.
"Like I said— politics. There’s something going on between the government and the railroads, something the railroads is now cooking up to get all the freight business down Montreal way. They got the whole government working for them. Right now some guy in Ottawa, some government big shot, he’s listening to the CPR tell him what they want in the way of big deals with all the shippers, cutting right in on our business. You ask the boss.”
Andrew pretended to be busy with sugar to cover his scurrying thought. Did he know, slightly, what Albert was talking about? There was a royal commission on something, there was an Honorable Mr. . . . what was the name? Some kind of a fish? The Canadian government was always laying down new policies about railways, freight rates for example, all that stuff; it had been going on for years.
Clearly there was skulduggery by the party in power—the party which Had Been In Power Too Long. Actually could you think of a time when there wasn’t a commission studying railroads, and no doubt all those commissioners getting expenses paid . . . Here, shockingly disclosed, was the monstrous result—the government-pampered railways a swollen monster which now actually threatened the very jobs and happiness of his friends the truck drivers.
Andrew’s inflamed imagination filled with wicked shapes: grinding wheels, honking diesels bearing down the track, and black-coated gentlemen with tight narrow lips decreeing right of way . . . Caught in the headlight’s beam the rugged but now helpless figure of Albert, and the waitress he wanted, in the basic sense of the word.
Andrew drew a long, hard breath. "I’m going to act on this,” he announced in level, resolute tones.
Naida looked across at him with interest, silently.
Albert said, politely, "Well, yeah, but of course the thing is, where you run into politics ...” He shrugged again.
"Look,” Andrew explained, eagerly and with kindness, "what the people of this country have got to realize is that politics can be either bad—or good. So the government is backing the CPR here, with all their profits—look at the big hotels, all that. What do we do? We take political action, we air this—this travesty of justice. We force the government to give ground. The party system exists in this country so that a great many people can choose their politicians and their politics.
"First,” Andrew went on, "we’ve got to arm ourselves with the facts. The rest will be easy ... I wonder if I should see your boss about this.”
"Maybe it would be a good idea,” Albert said. He wasn’t responding very well. Voiceless, of course.
Andrew said, "You may not know this, Albert, but it happens that I’ve been waiting for an issue of some magnitude to present itself, as a steppingstone in making myself known in the political field.” His face relaxed, smiling. He stirred his coffee, dreamily. "First we must arm ourselves with facts.”
Naida said, "Hurry up and finish yours. I have to get home.”
ANDREW’S fact-finding mission next afternoon led him to an interview with Joe Brisson of Brisson Long Distance Hauling and Moving, but it was not a total success. Andrew was tired. He’d lain awake a long time after taking Naida home the night before, lying flat on his back working out strategy, realizing with some panic that the big annual provincial council of the party would be held in a week’s time and before that he must get his club to pass the resolution—what resolution, exactly?—and he hadn’t finished his math assignment which was important because exams were starting next week. Perhaps the wrong time to take on anything as big as this . . . But you had to seize an issue when it came. He owed it to his future. Maybe he owed it to the generations yet unborn. He had gone to sleep on that fatalistic thought.
He had phoned Joe Brisson, explaining in his deepest voice that his party was interested in learning the facts about the current dispute between truckers and railways, and an appointment was made readily. But Joe Brisson in person, a thick-set, smooth-shaven fortyish man with two gold rings on one hand, his suit a neat business grey, had greeted him with disconcertingly blunt curiosity, accepting without expression Andrew’s words of self-introduction. It began to dawn on Andrew that Joe Brisson was not exactly a sincere type, especially when he began to talk in a high-pitched, aggrieved patter of accusation, fixing a round-eyed stare on his visitor. Andrew got the distinct impression that the only arms around Brisson’s office were not gleaming swords but possibly sawed-off shotguns.
"This is hot, boy. It’s political dynamite, if it gets in the hands of the right party. You’re looking in the right direction, kid . . . Sure they got a royal commission on these agreed charges, and we’re fighting it up there in Ottawa, don’t think we’re not . . . The shipping companies don’t like it either but what can they do? I could name plenty of big shippers would rather give us fifty percent of their hauling, but they’re not strong enough to buck the railways. Railways can afford to even lose a little to get the business here where it’s the most — they can make it up by slapping a higher rate on some other part of the country, and there’s the government making good their losses, anyway. They can’t lose.
"Since last fall they’ve moved in to play it real dirty. You want to know how? Undercutting on our biggest runs and on nothing but our kind of load too-—expensive household furniture, perishable goods, all that stuff. And what’s more they’re basing their rates on truck-sized shipments. It’s dirty and it’s deliberate—and what kind of odds have we got?
"You know how the costs compare of trucking against shipping by rail? Why you know how much our tires alone cost, fourteen of them at two to three hundred dollars each, figure that out.
And another thing is the provincial license mess we get into - you got to buy a different license every province you drive through. Discrimination, eh? I don’t know what else you can call it. Look what our men have to face on their run—all the effects of weather, maybe accidents, traffic snarls they have nothing to do with but they may get held up for hours, poor road conditions . . . We’re taking a gamble every time we start a run, that the railways know absolutely nothing about.”
Andrew tried to take notes but the pattern eluded him. He was still trying to figure out the cost of the fourteen tires when Joe got into traffic snarls. He was quite confused by Joe’s parting remark, spoken quietly into his ear as they both moved toward the street door: "It’s in the wind they’re gonna call another strike, eh? How does your party feel on that? Wonder how the country would like it if we transport companies held a gun at their heads, like that?”
Andrew said, "That sure would do it!” which was a diplomatic comment under the circumstances. He shook hands with Joe Brisson and thanked him for his help, and left with the feeling that he hadn’t made a strong impression.
By midnight that night Andrew was ghastly pale, his eyes, when he removed his glasses, hollow and glazed, his shirt damp from restless pacing up and down his room.
Naida had spoiled the first part of the evening. She had phoned to tell him she had picked up two student tickets for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet on Wednesday, and he had been shocked to think she had completely forgotten the Youth Section club meeting that night. When he reminded her, there had been a sullen silence. Then she had hung up on him. He had to phone her back twice, trying to give her a true perspective. She had been sulky. She had insisted he could do as he liked, but she was going to the ballet.
He had to try to word his resolution, the task he had set himself that night, over the cold lonely suffering of his heart. Besides, he had counted on Naida to second it.
By midnight he was down, he believed, to the essentials. Joe Brisson was unimportant in the picture; he was at most an intermediate figure. The vision must not be obscured by mere economic rivalries. It was the more basic rights of Albert and his fellow truck drivers which Andrew had set himself to uphold. By midnight he had put down on paper the text of his stern cry for justice.
Before he tossed himself wearily into bed there was one more thing he wanted to do. He picked up the late edition of the Telegram which he had bought on the way home, and thumbed quickly through to the editorial page. He scanned the letters column, and tasted his last bitter cup that night. The Telegram had not seen fit to publish his letter pleading for the sanity of nations in the face of the H-bomb threat.
As he threw the paper away he did not even glance at the front-page banner headline, which read: RAIL STRIKE LOOMS AGAIN. And underneath: "Companies Claim Revenue Drop, Unable to Meet Wage Demands. Political Leaders Silent; Refuse Comment.”
THE preliminary skirmish in Andrew’s campaign, the next regular meeting of the North End Youth Club, had him in jitters for two days. He scarcely thought of the main event beyond, for a provincial council gathering was something as yet beyond his ken, while he had learned exactly what the hazards were in his own club. Chief among them was Cliff Edwards, club president, who affected a pipe and who had permanently intimidated Andrew by asking him the first time he appeared at a club meeting, whether he accepted the Keynes theory of cyclical financing. If Cliff jumped on him with a bunch of questions . .
Andrew was in luck. That Wednesday night a violent dispute arose between a small group, mostly female, who brought in a proposal to have every meeting half social, and every other meeting all social, and a determined knot of serious thinkers who despised parlor games and insisted that meetings should be given over to educating the members in their role as young politicians. As chairman, Cliff Edwards was unable to step into this debate despite his obvious longing to support the educationists, but he did manage to mix up the several motions and amendments rather hopelessly so that the net effect was an exhausting clutter and no one was quite sure what to put his hand up for. Andrew was drawn into the conflict and contributed an amendment which substituted "occasional and specific” for the words "regular weekly” in the original motion, thus adding the final touch of confusion.
Cliff called a vote immediately after, and declared Andrew’s amendment carried, which created a nice feeling of conspiracy between them. Then the program convener interrupted to point out that even if some of the members didn’t seem to care about enjoying themselves, plans had been made for square dancing that evening, and the caller and his loudspeaker equipment were waiting impatiently in the next room, and couldn’t the business be now adjourned?
Andrew stood up quickly, catching Cliff’s eye, and got the floor to put forward in abbreviated form his policy resolution, which was accepted and passed without comment, while barn-dance music seeped in through the crack of the door.
Cliff asked, "To whom is this resolution directed, by the way?”
Andrew answered, "To the provincial council next week, and also I thought we should send copies to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Transport and the Royal Commission on Agreed Charges.”
Members were shuffling out and Cliff nodded rather absently and nabbed someone to move adjournment.
Andrew felt lighthearted with relief, and at first joined in the square dancing with gusto. Then he found he was missing Naida keenly, and he left the hall and phoned her house from a pay phone, only to be told she hadn’t got back from the ballet. He went home swimming in a sea of sweet melancholy and pondering the aloneness of the dedicated man.
After school next day he borrowed his father’s typewriter and laboriously turned out four copies of the resolution. By this time Gwenyth Jones’ office was closed, so he contented himself with mailing the Ottawa copies.
On Friday the blow fell.
"Hello, Miss Jones?” Andrew called. ”Uh, our club has a resolution here we want passed at the provincial council, so what’s the procedure? What do we do with it?”
There was a small, strangled pause. Gwenyth had had a hard day. "If that’s Andrew McNorran, you can take it out in the back yard and bury it. No, actually I’m sorry, but the fact is the closing date for resolutions to be in our hands was three weeks ago. They have to be printed and circulated. I’m very sorry, but this information was made available through the party organ two months ago . . . I’m afraid there’s not a thing you can do, Andrew. Better luck another time.”
Andrew couldn’t believe it. A numbness fell on him, a hiatus, for the public triumph of his new policy on railways was now so assured in his own mind that it seemed inevitable to him. This complete block was surely temporary.
After supper he went around to Naida’s house and listened to records for a while, and then they went out and took the subway and presently walked a few blocks to Bill’s Coffee Shanty.
Irene was behind the counter, flirting outrageously with a complete stranger who didn’t look like a truck driver. There was no sign of Albert. When they asked about him nobody recognized the name. It was heartbreaking. It was as though some malevolent force had removed him whole. It seemed to them that the Shanty had undergone a transformation. Only two or three recognizable truck drivers sat about, and they were glum and silent.
Andrew got up nerve enough to approach one. "How’s the trucking business these days?” he queried brightly.
The chap gave him a savage glower and pulled his coffee cup closer to his chest in a rather pointed gesture.
Andrew began talking to Naida, breaking the fatalistic calm of the past few hours. "I’ve got to find some way of getting my resolution through! Suddenly, sitting here, I can see how vital it is. I can’t give up the fight. There must be some constitutional means.” Naida said. "Why don’t you ask Cliff Edwards? He’s got that book on parliamentary procedure half memorized.” Andrew said. "This is probably in the other half.” But it was a move. He used the pay phone on the wall.
Cliff said, "Look, laddy, I’m just having a beer here at my diggings with a newspaper friend of mine who happens to be quite an authority on political affairs. As a matter of fact he’s covering our council Monday. Hold on a minute and I’ll get his opinion on this. Personally, of course, I think it was a pretty cheap performance by that Jones woman ...”
Andrew held on for a long time. When Cliff came back on the line he asked, "What was the resolution of yours. Andy? I mean was it a current issue, more or less? . . . Yes, well, if it’s a timely thing it might be brought in as an Emergency Resolution. Hal says they generally have two or three of those at any council he’s been at. Just a minute . . . He wants to know if you feel the senior members of the party are deliberately suppressing this, and could you have a couple of extra copies typed on Monday—if possible, released to the press in advance. They often do that. Okay, Andrew. Glad to be of help.”
HIGH ON the bank of the Ottawa River in a tall building of grey stone, up a marble corridor lined with rich portraits set in golden frames, and behind a silent green-felt-padded office door, an honorable gentleman sat musing at that hour. Singled out from his thick packet of mail was a simple sheet of stationery, remarkable because it bore no printed title or address Í across its head beautiful, stark and plain. It was typed, one could imagine, by two diligent forefingers and signed in a young scrawl. It carried a suggestion which the honorable gentleman, who had scrutinized the transportation system of the nation in minute detail for the past decade, read with a certain quiet joy. When he essayed to drop the sheet in his wastebasket he drew back his hand. He folded the letter, instead, precisely three times, and tucked it deep in an inner pocket, patting his coat.
By ten o’clock Monday morning the provincial council was officially in session in the convention hall but most delegates were still milling outside, shaking hands and conferring in shifting small groups. Speeches of welcome were being heard but Charles and other party officials hadn’t come in; they were hotly engaged at this eleventh hour behind the closed door of a small antechamber.
Gar Stanley, the veteran public relations secretary, held out a copy of the Star which he thumped hard, wagging his head balefully. But Charles was not to be moved; he pushed the paper aside.
"I tell you I intend to leave it alone,” Charles said. "What statement can I possibly make at this stage? Whose interests would I be serving by making any kind of comment—do you know how many members of the Railway Brotherhoods I have just in my own constituency? If they’re called out on strike—and that’s how it looks —I can’t go on record opposing legal strike action! I happen to know the government’s working night and day to avert a strike, and for once they’ve got my sympathy. I can’t go along with the idea of turning it into a political issue . . . What did the Star say about some incipient uprising by the younger element? Where did they get hold of that?”
"Something about a resolution on the rail strike that a young party member wanted to get on the agenda and was prevented from getting on. Something about a clash expected on the floor of the council this morning.”
Gwenyth turned cold. "Oh no! It couldn’t be ...” Her voice wavered. She looked at the men, stricken. "Pardon me,” she murmured in a small voice, fleeing toward the doors of the convention hall.
She entered near the front, and sidled through to her place at the end of the long head table on the dais . . . .She was too late for any preventive action. All the delegates at all the small tables in the room were pivoting their heads from one microphone to another—from the small microphone on the table before the chairman, which was issuing puzzled directives, to the left-side floor microphone which was giving out amateur squeaks and squawks, while behind it a thin-shouldered, white-faced youth tried with a brave and sickly smile to get the hang of it. Gwenyth knew she was too late. Andrew McNorran had the floor. The council was in session. And over at the press table waited a full complement of reporters, friends and foes.
Sitting close behind Andrew, Naida Gray and Cliff Edwards were whispering advice, and advice came too in raised voices across the room; "Get closer to it!” "Raise it a little higher!” "Speak into the mike!”
"I have a . . .” Aw-wk ! "I have a . . .”
"Stand closer to the mike.”
"I have a resolution here, Mr. Chairman.”
"That’s better!” Everybody smiled, relieved.
"You have a resolution to bring before this council? I’m sorry, you’re entirely out of order. The resolutions committee ...”
"Mr. Chairman, this is an emergency resolution, and it was passed at our club meeting last week.”
"Even so, I’m afraid it’s too late. You can’t bring in a new resolution from the floor ...”
Cliff reached over to the mike, leaning in front of Andrew: "May we ask why not, Mr. Chairman?”
The delegates were curious, pleased at this early diversion, smiling.
"The reason is, as you must know very well, that whatever resolution you have in mind is at this moment your own private opinion, but as soon as it. is spoken into that microphone, on the floor of this gathering, it is no longer private . . . We have perfectly fair and democratic procedures with regard to . . .
Andrew said, "Well, Mr. Chairman, this resolution may be my private opinion but since our club has already sent it to the Prime Minister of Canada and the Minister of Transport and the Royal Commission on Agreed Charges it is certainly already public in a sense ...”
There was a moment of shock across the room, and then a gurgle of delighted laughter. At the press table, heads were bent.
"Great guns, they already have it!” Gwenyth gasped. Charles was in the doorway; she signaled to him wildly. She half rose, then sat again as a gentleman with snow-white hair, a benign face and a clerical collar, cut in at the right-side microphone.
"Mr. Chairman, I wonder if there might not be times when the rules, excellent as they are, can be waived? I’m in favor of hearing what this young man has to say.”
A happy patter of applause. The chairman made a short gesture. The chairman was gesturing to Andrew. He gulped like a swimmer taking air. He heard his voice beginning shrill, high-pitched, and turned it into shouting, booming out his declaration:
"Ladies and gentlemen,
"The railway system of this country is at this very moment engaged in a very critical struggle with far-reaching results beyond the capacity of those in charge to even understand,
"Simple, honest laborers and also their loved ones are at this moment imperiled by the toils and machinations of this railway octopus and the government which coddles it,
"Therefore be it resolved:
"That the general public now demand that the government cease using the public taxes for any purpose smacking of favoritism to the railways, and decline to have any more dealings with them, at least until such time as a more moderate and less vicious policy is adopted by the said railways,
"And further that the present system of unfair freight rates be now scrapped.”
A soft moan came from Gwenyth’s lips. She saw Charles move with dignity and speed to the press table, and bend down, with deprecating gestures. From various other tables voices rose indignantly, protesting, their former mood of indulgence gone.
"Mr. Chairman, this is out of order! He shouldn’t be allowed ...” "Mr. Chairman, let’s get back to the agenda of this meeting ...”
On the scratch pad before her Gwenyth wrote in black, jabbing script: 'Next Exec, meeting appoint advisors Youth Sec.”
A party vice-president took the chairman’s mike to move "deletion from the official record of this regretable and ridiculous ...”
CLIFF EDWARDS had vanished, Naida looked uncertain, and Andrew slowly drew back from the mike. He looked uneasily around, and when he caught a brusque gesture of dismissal from the angry chairman he turned meekly toward the door. What had happened? What had gone wrong? He squeezed blindly past tables and was part way down the corridor when he heard Gwenyth Jones calling.
"Andrew! Andrew McNorran! Wait a minute!”
When she caught up to him she cried, out of breath, "Whatever made you do a thing like that? Don’t you have any idea what it would cost this party to come out in favor of a striking railway union?”
"Railway union?” Andrew repeated dully. "Why I didn’t say anything about ...”
They stared at each other, equally incredulous.
"But if that resolution wasn’t supposed to support the railway men, just what were you talking about?”
The look on Andrew’s face was a mixture of whipped despair and bitter injury. Squaring his shoulders with a last touching effect of pride he told her, I was speaking on behalf of a Common Man.”
And he walked away.
Thanks to Charles’ careful and prompt persuasion of the press, the whole thing blew over almost at once. There was a certain honorable gentleman in Ottawa who still occasionally mystified his colleagues by muttering i the midst of grave negotiations, "I am coddling an octopus.” The provincial party headquarters was blessedly free of visits from Andrew McNorran, and Gwenyth had time to get her temper cool and give compassion once again its head. After two weeks had passed without word from Andrew, he got in touch with Naida Gray and had a long chat with her, and a day or two later called Andrew at his home. Andrew recognized the voice and made a face at the phone.
Andrew? It’s Gwenyth Jones, at the party office. Haven’t heard from you once the council . . . Andrew, I thought you'd like to know this. Naida told me about Albert and she and I did a little sleuthing, starting at Joe Brisson’s office, and we ran into Albert down there. You’ll be pleased to hear he’s very happy now, working steady and getting in a lot of overtime and he and Irene are engaged. He said he wanted particularly to tell you that you were right about politics—there are good and bad kinds; it seems he’s now got a job with the government on the St. Lawrence Seaway! I thought that was rather funny, Andrew, or doesn’t it strike you . . . ?”
Andrew said, on a note of weary irony, "I guess I haven’t got your sense of humor, Miss Jones.”
After a minute Gwenyth went on, brightly, "Oh, another thing, I noticed your letter to the Telegram a week or so ago, on the hydrogen bomb. I thought you put it very well, Andrew.”
"I’m glad you liked it,” Andrew said. "Of course they cut out about half of it and completely destroyed my point.”
There was a very long pause then. "Andrew, I’m sorry you still sound so—disinterested. Really, you mustn’t lose heart over one mistake.”
Andrew relented. "Well, if you think the party still needs me around . . . As a matter of fact, I've been tied up with exams but I’m getting interested in a rather important social problem ... I realize the freight rates business was a way over my head but this is different, more in line with the Youth Section.”
"That’s very sensible of you, Andrew,” Gwenyth said.
"Yeah, it’s on education. You see there’s a fellow who’s just come into grade thirteen at the end of the term and he’s from Three Rivers, and you’d hardly believe it, his English is terrible! Now I feel that in the interests of national unity our party could go on record favoring compulsory instruction in English in the primary grades in Quebec ...” ★