Friday, June 20, 2008

Senate Mercuries



They Mingle Fun With Work and Are Full of Spirit — Their Antics Amuse More Than They Annoy the Senators — The Many Duties That Occupy the Days.

Life is one glorious mixture of work and play to a senatorial page. He can get in more fun to the square inch in his leisure moments, and he can do more hustling and quick work with his nimble feet than almost any other individual alive. It would be a benefit to society if the average district messenger boy could be taken to the capitol occasionally and given an object lesson by being shown a senatorial page doing an errand for a statesman. It would make the heart of a schoolboy burst with envy to see this same page a minute after his errand is finished enjoying himself as only a page can. As a bundle of contradictions a page is an eminent success. His equal is scarcely to be found in any other department of life, either private or public.

In the first place, the pages are selected from that age of humanity that is most devoted to the utilization of every moment of leisure as well as of every muscle in the body. Activity and ingenuity are the page's watchwords. His first rule of existence is to do whatever he has to do in the shortest possible time, so as to have all the more leisure for his many and varied modes of entertainment. As a rule, his mornings are mostly his own; and these he uses to a certain amount of good effect by diligent work in a small room in the basement of the capitol with the athletic apparatus that has there been accumulated for the use of this interesting corps of young Americans. Here diminutive sets of dumbbells, boxing gloves and Indian clubs have been stored from time to time, and some of the pages have become quite proficient in their use.

Some good hard blows are struck in this basement room, and occasionally a black eye merges into the full light of the senate chamber. As facile with their tongues, however, as with their fists, the boys always have a ready answer, and they are seldom pressed very hard as to how they came by their bruises, for it is one of the luxuries of being a page that the senators are not hard masters, but are, on the contrary, disposed to be very lenient and easy going.

As a matter of fact, the antics of the boys amuse rather than irritate them, and it is astonishing how much confusion a senator who strolls into the chamber in the morning will endure before he enters a mild reproach. The boys use this morning hour with a great deal of freedom. They are divided into watches, so to speak, each boy having certain duties to perform in the arrangement of the desks, the straightening of the chairs, the distribution of documents and the pens. A boy is placed on guard at each of the doors to the cloakrooms to prevent overcurious visitors from strolling into these forbidden precincts, and it is one of their duties generally to keep tourists from entering the rows of desks within.

As the hour of 12 o'clock approaches calm begins to reign among the pages. They cease their romping as senator after senator enters the chamber, and their surreptitious games of marbles are discontinued. A minute or so before the hour of noon the pages separate into two groups, one on each side of the chamber, and each page takes position in front of the desk before the first row of the semicircle around the vice president's chair. Each boy has his place allotted to him and assumes as nearly as possible the position of respectful silence. Of course this is only approximate with these youngsters; who are fairly boiling over with fun and frivolity. As the gilded hands of the great blue clock over the south door point to 12 there is a hush throughout the chamber, the pages straighten up into stiff and unnatural positions, the doors on the east of the vice president's seat are thrown open, and a little procession formed of the secretary of the senate, Captain Bassett, the vice president and Chaplain Milburn, led by one of the pages, enters the room.

The boys standing by the front row of desks bow their heads and remain as though petrified throughout the prayer. Once in awhile one of the more mischievous lads will disturb the solemnity of the occasion by a surreptitious poke into the side of his neighbor; but, as a rule, they are well behaved and do not chafe under the restraint of a couple of minutes. The moment the "amen" is sounded the pages scurry to their seats on the steps leading to the desks of the vice president and the clerks, being equally divided between the two sides of the house, and a few moments later they are to be found in all parts of the senate wing as they flit about on their errands for the senators.

This senator may want a book from the library, that one a document from his committee room. Another may desire the presence of his clerk in the senate chamber, or still another may simply wish to send a message to a senator on the other side. Many of the errands which these boys perform are confidential, and they never betray the trust imposed upon them.

It is only occasionally that a boy is retained from the staff of pages in some other capacity about the senate. Of course the shining example of Senator Gorman, who was a page at one time, and who afterward became postmaster of the senate after passing through successive stages, acts, of course, as a strong incentive to those lads to remain in the service as long as possible. But, as a rule, they are retired when they reach the age limit of 15 years. Places are found for some of the brighter boys as riding pages, clerks in the postoffice and in the other offices of the senate. — Washington Star.

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