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Mr. Crewe's Career   By: (1871-1947)

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By Winston Churchill



I may as well begin this story with Mr. Hilary Vane, more frequently addressed as the Honourable Hilary Vane, although it was the gentleman's proud boast that he had never held an office in his life. He belonged to the Vanes of Camden Street, a beautiful village in the hills near Ripton, and was, in common with some other great men who had made a noise in New York and the nation, a graduate of Camden Wentworth Academy. But Mr. Vane, when he was at home, lived on a wide, maple shaded street in the city of Ripton, cared for by an elderly housekeeper who had more edges than a new fangled mowing machine. The house was a porticoed one which had belonged to the Austens for a hundred years or more, for Hilary Vane had married, towards middle age, Miss Sarah Austen. In two years he was a widower, and he never tried it again; he had the Austens' house, and that many edged woman, Euphrasia Cotton, the Austens' housekeeper.

The house was of wood, and was painted white as regularly as leap year. From the street front to the vegetable garden in the extreme rear it was exceedingly long, and perhaps for propriety's sake Hilary Vane lived at one end of it and Euphrasia at the other. Hilary was sixty five, Euphrasia seventy, which is not old for frugal people, though it is just as well to add that there had never been a breath of scandal about either of them, in Ripton or elsewhere. For the Honourable Hilary's modest needs one room sufficed, and the front parlour had not been used since poor Sarah Austen's demise, thirty years before this story opens.

In those thirty years, by a sane and steady growth, Hilary Vane had achieved his present eminent position in the State. He was trustee for I know not how many people and institutions, a deacon in the first church, a lawyer of such ability that he sometimes was accorded the courtesy title of "Judge." His only vice if it could be called such was in occasionally placing a piece, the size of a pea, of a particular kind of plug tobacco under his tongue, and this was not known to many people. Euphrasia could not be called a wasteful person, and Hilary had accumulated no small portion of this world's goods, and placed them as propriety demanded, where they were not visible to the naked eye: and be it added in his favour that he gave as secretly, to institutions and hospitals the finances and methods of which were known to him.

As concrete evidence of the Honourable Hilary Vane's importance, when he travelled he had only to withdraw from his hip pocket a book in which many coloured cards were neatly inserted, an open sesame which permitted him to sit without payment even in those wheeled palaces of luxury known as Pullman cars. Within the limits of the State he did not even have to open the book, but merely say, with a twinkle of his eyes to the conductor, "Good morning, John," and John would reply with a bow and a genial and usually witty remark, and point him out to a nobody who sat in the back of the car. So far had Mr. Hilary Vane's talents carried him.

The beginning of this eminence dated back to the days before the Empire, when there were many little principalities of railroads fighting among themselves. For we are come to a changed America. There was a time, in the days of the sixth Edward of England, when the great landowners found it more profitable to consolidate the farms, seize the common lands, and acquire riches hitherto undreamed of. Hence the rising of tailor Ket and others, and the leveling of fences and barriers, and the eating of many sheep. It may have been that Mr. Vane had come across this passage in English history, but he drew no parallels. His first position of trust had been as counsel for that principality known in the old days as the Central Railroad, of which a certain Mr. Duncan had been president, and Hilary Vane had fought the Central's battles with such telling effect that when it was merged into the one Imperial Railroad, its stockholders to the admiration of financiers were guaranteed ten per cent... Continue reading book >>

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