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Travelling with a Reformer
by [?]

Last spring I went out to Chicago to see the Fair, and although I did not see it my trip was not wholly lost–there were compensations. In New York I was introduced to a Major in the regular army who said he was going to the Fair, and we agreed to go together. I had to go to Boston first, but that did not interfere; he said he would go along and put in the time. He was a handsome man and built like a gladiator. But his ways were gentle, and his speech was soft and persuasive. He was companionable, but exceedingly reposeful. Yes, and wholly destitute of the sense of humour. He was full of interest in everything that went on around him, but his serenity was indestructible; nothing disturbed him, nothing excited him.

But before the day was done I found that deep down in him somewhere he had a passion, quiet as he was–a passion for reforming petty public abuses. He stood for citizenship–it was his hobby. His idea was that every citizen of the republic ought to consider himself an unofficial policeman, and keep unsalaried watch and ward over the laws and their execution. He thought that the only effective way of preserving and protecting public rights was for each citizen to do his share in preventing or punishing such infringements of them as came under his personal notice.

It was a good scheme, but I thought it would keep a body in trouble all the time; it seemed to me that one would be always trying to get offending little officials discharged, and perhaps getting laughed at for all reward. But he said no, I had the wrong idea: that there was no occasion to get anybody discharged; that in fact you mustn’t get anybody discharged; that that would itself be a failure; no, one must reform the man–reform him and make him useful where he was.

‘Must one report the offender and then beg his superior not to discharge him, but reprimand him and keep him?’

‘No, that is not the idea; you don’t report him at all, for then you risk his bread and butter. You can act as if you are going to report him– when nothing else will answer. But that’s an extreme case. That is a sort of force, and force is bad. Diplomacy is the effective thing. Now if a man has tact–if a man will exercise diplomacy–‘

For two minutes we had been standing at a telegraph wicket, and during all this time the Major had been trying to get the attention of one of the young operators, but they were all busy skylarking. The Major spoke now, and asked one of them to take his telegram. He got for reply:

‘I reckon you can wait a minute, can’t you?’ And the skylarking went on.

The Major said yes, he was not in a hurry. Then he wrote another telegram:

‘President Western Union Tel. Co.:

‘Come and dine with me this evening. I can tell you how business is conducted in one of your branches.’

Presently the young fellow who had spoken so pertly a little before reached out and took the telegram, and when he read it he lost colour and began to apologise and explain. He said he would lose his place if this deadly telegram was sent, and he might never get another. If he could be let off this time he would give no cause of complaint again. The compromise was accepted.

As we walked away, the Major said:

‘Now, you see, that was diplomacy–and you see how it worked. It wouldn’t do any good to bluster, the way people are always doing. That boy can always give you as good as you send, and you’ll come out defeated and ashamed of yourself pretty nearly always. But you see he stands no chance against diplomacy. Gentle words and diplomacy–those are the tools to work with.’