THE GILDED AGE
A Tale of Today
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
This book was not written for private circulation among friends; it was not written to cheer and instruct a diseased relative of the author's; it was not thrown off during intervals of wearing labor to amuse an idle hour. It was not written for any of these reasons, and therefore it is submitted without the usual apologies.
It will be seen that it deals with an entirely ideal state of society; and the chief embarrassment of the writers in this realm of the imagination has been the want of illustrative examples. In a State where there is no fever of speculation, no inflamed desire for sudden wealth, where the poor are all simple-minded and contented, and the rich are all honest and generous, where society is in a condition of primitive purity and politics is the occupation of only the capable and the patriotic, there are necessarily no materials for such a history as we have constructed out of an ideal commonwealth.
No apology is needed for following the learned custom of placing attractive scraps of literature at the heads of our chapters. It has been truly observed by Wagner that such headings, with their vague suggestions of the matter which is to follow them, pleasantly inflame the reader's interest without wholly satisfying his curiosity, and we will hope that it may be found to be so in the present case.
Our quotations are set in a vast number of tongues; this is done for the reason that very few foreign nations among whom the book will circulate can read in any language but their own; whereas we do not write for a particular class or sect or nation, but to take in the whole world.
We do not object to criticism; and we do not expect that the critic will read the book before writing a notice of it: We do not even expect the reviewer of the book will say that he has not read it. No, we have no anticipations of anything unusual in this age of criticism. But if the Jupiter, Who passes his opinion on the novel, ever happens to peruse it in some weary moment of his subsequent life, we hope that he will not be the victim of a remorse bitter but too late.
One word more. This is--what it pretends to be a joint production, in the conception of the story, the exposition of the characters, and in its literal composition. There is scarcely a chapter that does not bear the marks of the two writers of the book. S. L. C.
C. D. W.
[Etext Editor's Note: The following chapters were written by Mark Twain:
1-11, 24, 25, 27, 28, 30, 32-34, 36, 37, 42, 43, 45, 51-53, 57, 59-62;
and portions of 35, 49, and 56. See Twain's letter to Dr. John Brown Feb. 28, 1874 D.W.]
June 18--. Squire Hawkins sat upon the pyramid of large blocks, called the "stile," in front of his house, contemplating the morning.
The locality was Obedstown,
The Squire's house was a double log cabin, in a state of decay; two or three gaunt hounds lay asleep about the threshold, and lifted their heads sadly whenever Mrs. Hawkins or the children stepped in and out over their bodies. Rubbish was scattered about the grassless yard; a bench stood near the door with a tin wash basin on it and a pail of water and a gourd; a cat had begun to drink from the pail, but the exertion was overtaxing her energies, and she had stopped to rest. There was an ash-hopper by the fence, and an iron pot, for soft-soap-boiling, near it.
This dwelling constituted one-fifteenth of Obedstown; the other fourteen houses were scattered about among the tall pine trees and among the corn-fields in such a way that a man might stand in the midst of the city and not know but that he was in the country if he only depended on his eyes for information.
"Squire" Hawkins got his title from being postmaster of Obedstown--not that the title properly belonged to the office, but because in those regions the chief citizens always must have titles of some sort, and so the usual courtesy had been extended to Hawkins. The mail was monthly, and sometimes amounted to as much as three or four letters at a single delivery. Even a rush like this did not fill up the postmaster's whole month, though, and therefore he "kept store" in the intervals.
The Squire was contemplating the morning. It was balmy and tranquil, the vagrant breezes were laden with the odor of flowers, the murmur of bees was in the air, there was everywhere that suggestion of repose that summer woodlands bring to the senses, and the vague, pleasurable melancholy that such a time and such surroundings inspire.
These neighbors stood a few moments looking at the mail carrier reflectively while he talked; but fatigue soon began to show itself, and one after another they climbed up and occupied the top rail of the fence, hump-shouldered and grave, like a company of buzzards assembled for supper and listening for the death-rattle. Old Damrell said:
"Tha hain't no news 'bout the jedge, hit ain't likely?"
"Cain't tell for sartin; some thinks he's gwyne to be 'long toreckly, and some thinks 'e hain't. Russ Mosely he tote ole Hanks he mought git to Obeds tomorrer or nex' day he reckoned."
"Well, I wisht I knowed. I got a 'prime sow and pigs in the, cote-house, and I hain't got no place for to put 'em. If the jedge is a gwyne to hold cote, I got to roust 'em out, I reckon. But tomorrer'll do, I 'spect."
The speaker bunched his thick lips together like the stem-end of a tomato and shot a bumble-bee dead that had lit on a weed seven feet away. One after another the several chewers expressed a charge of tobacco juice and delivered it at the deceased with steady, aim and faultless accuracy.
"What's a stirrin', down 'bout the Forks?" continued Old Damrell.
"Well, I dunno, skasely. Ole, Drake Higgins he's ben down to
"I dono. Hit's what he calls it. 'Ole Mam Higgins, she tole me. She say she wasn't gwyne to hang out in no sich a dern hole like a hog. Says it's mud, or some sich kind o' nastiness that sticks on n' covers up everything. Plarsterin', Si calls it."
This marvel was discussed at considerable length; and almost with animation. But presently there was a dog-fight over in the neighborhood of the blacksmith shop, and the visitors slid off their perch like so many turtles and strode to the battle-field with an interest bordering on eagerness. The Squire remained, and read his letter. Then he sighed, and sat long in meditation. At intervals he said:
At last he said:
"I believe I'll do it.--A man will just rot, here. My house my yard, everything around me, in fact, shows' that I am becoming one of these cattle--and I used to be thrifty in other times."
He was not more than thirty-five, but he had a worn look that made him seem older. He left the stile, entered that part of his house which was the store, traded a quart of thick molasses for a coonskin and a cake of beeswax, to an old dame in linsey-woolsey, put his letter away, an went into the kitchen. His wife was there, constructing some dried apple pies; a slovenly urchin of ten was dreaming over a rude weather-vane of his own contriving; his small sister, close upon four years of age, was sopping corn-bread in some gravy left in the bottom of a frying-pan and trying hard not to sop over a finger-mark that divided the pan through the middle--for the other side belonged to the brother, whose musings made him forget his stomach for the moment; a negro woman was busy cooking, at a vast fire-place. Shiftlessness and poverty reigned in the place.
"Anywhere that suits you, suits me, Si. And the children can't be any worse off in
Motioning his wife to a private conference in their own
room, Hawkins said: "No, they'll be better off. I've looked out for them, Nancy," and
his face lighted. "Do you see these
papers? Well, they are evidence that I
have taken up Seventy-five Thousand Acres of Land in this county --think what
an enormous fortune it will be some day!
"For goodness sake, Si----"
"Well you may open your eyes and stare! But it's so.
You and I may not see the day, but they'll see it. Mind I tell you; they'll see it.
"Even you and I will see the day that steamboats will come
up that little Turkey river to within twenty miles of this land of ours--and in
high water they'll come right to it! And
this is not all, Nancy--it isn't even half!
There's a bigger wonder--the railroad!
These worms here have never even heard of it--and when they do they'll
not believe in it. But it's another fact.
Coaches that fly over the ground twenty miles an hour--heavens and
earth, think of that,
"You are a great, good, noble soul, Si Hawkins, and I
am an honored woman to be the wife of such a man"--and the tears stood in
her eyes when she said it. "We will
"Spoken like yourself, my child! But we'll not starve,
He flew out of the room.
A shadow blurred the sunlight in
"I was afraid of it--was afraid of it. Trying to make our fortune in
And he did:
"Widow Hopkins kept me--I haven't any patience with
such tedious people. Now listen,
price but sell out for whatever you can get, and come along, or you
might be too late. Throw away your traps, if necessary, and come
empty-handed. You'll never regret it. It's the grandest country
--the loveliest land--the purest atmosphere--I can't describe it; no
pen can do it justice. And it's filling up, every day--people
coming from everywhere. I've got the biggest scheme on earth--and
I'll take you in; I'll take in every friend I've got that's ever
stood by me, for there's enough for all, and to spare. Mum's the
word--don't whisper--keep yourself to yourself. You'll see! Come!
--rush!--hurry!--don't wait for anything!'
"It's the same old boy, Nancy, jest the same old boy--ain't he?"
"Yes, I think there's a little of the old sound about his voice yet. I suppose you--you'll still go, Si?"
"Go! Well, I should think so, Nancy. It's all a chance, of course, and, chances haven't been kind to us, I'll admit--but whatever comes, old wife, they're provided for. Thank God for that!"
"Amen," came low and earnestly.
And with an activity and a suddenness that bewildered Obedstown and almost took its breath away, the Hawkinses hurried through with their arrangements in four short months and flitted out into the great mysterious blank that lay beyond the Knobs of Tennessee.
Toward the close of the third day's journey the wayfarers were just beginning to think of camping, when they came upon a log cabin in the woods. Hawkins drew rein and entered the yard. A boy about ten years old was sitting in the cabin door with his face bowed in his hands. Hawkins approached, expecting his footfall to attract attention, but it did not. He halted a moment, and then said:
"Come, come, little chap, you mustn't be going to sleep before sundown"
With a tired expression the small face came up out of the hands,--a face down which tears were flowing.
"Ah, I'm sorry I spoke so, my boy. Tell me--is anything the matter?"
The boy signified with a scarcely perceptible gesture that the trouble was in the, house, and made room for Hawkins to pass. Then he put his face in his hands again and rocked himself about as one suffering a grief that is too deep to find help in moan or groan or outcry. Hawkins stepped within. It was a poverty stricken place. Six or eight middle-aged country people of both sexes were grouped about an object in the middle of the room; they were noiselessly busy and they talked in whispers when they spoke. Hawkins uncovered and approached. A coffin stood upon two backless chairs. These neighbors had just finished disposing the body of a woman in it--a woman with a careworn, gentle face that had more the look of sleep about it than of death. An old lady motioned, toward the door and said to Hawkins in a whisper:
"His mother, po' thing. Died of the fever, last night. Tha warn't no sich thing as saving of her. But it's better for her--better for her. Husband and the other two children died in the spring, and she hain't ever hilt up her head sence. She jest went around broken-hearted like, and never took no intrust in anything but Clay--that's the boy thar. She jest worshiped Clay--and Clay he worshiped her. They didn't 'pear to live at all, only when they was together, looking at each other, loving one another. She's ben sick three weeks; and if you believe me that child has worked, and kep' the run of the med'cin, and the times of giving it, and sot up nights and nussed her, and tried to keep up her sperits, the same as a grown-up person. And last night when she kep' a sinking and sinking, and turned away her head and didn't know him no mo', it was fitten to make a body's heart break to see him climb onto the bed and lay his cheek agin hern and call her so pitiful and she not answer. But bymeby she roused up, like, and looked around wild, and then she see him, and she made a great cry and snatched him to her breast and hilt him close and kissed him over and over agin; but it took the last po' strength she had, and so her eyelids begin to close down, and her arms sort o' drooped away and then we see she was gone, po' creetur. And Clay, he--Oh, the po' motherless thing--I cain't talk abort it--I cain't bear to talk about it."
Clay had disappeared from the door; but he came in, now, and the neighbors reverently fell apart and made way for him. He leaned upon the open coffin and let his tears course silently. Then he put out his small hand and smoothed the hair and stroked the dead face lovingly. After a bit he brought his other hand up from behind him and laid three or four fresh wild flowers upon the breast, bent over and kissed the unresponsive lips time and time again, and then turned away and went out of the house without looking at any of the company. The old lady said to Hawkins:
"She always loved that kind o' flowers. He fetched 'em for her every morning, and she always kissed him. They was from away north somers--she kep' school when she fust come. Goodness knows what's to become o' that po' boy. No father, no mother, no kin folks of no kind. Nobody to go to, nobody that k'yers for him--and all of us is so put to it for to get along and families so large."
Hawkins understood. All, eyes were turned inquiringly upon him. He said:
"Friends, I am not very well provided for, myself, but still I would not turn my back on a homeless orphan. If he will go with me I will give him a home, and loving regard--I will do for him as I would have another do for a child of my own in misfortune."
One after another the people stepped forward and wrung the stranger's hand with cordial good will, and their eyes looked all that their hands could not express or their lips speak.
"Said like a true man," said one.
"You was a stranger to me a minute ago, but you ain't now," said another.
"It's bread cast upon the waters--it'll return after many days," said the old lady whom we have heard speak before.
"You got to camp in my house as long as you hang out here," said one. "If tha hain't room for you and yourn my tribe'll turn out and camp in the hay loft."
A few minutes afterward, while the preparations for the funeral were being concluded, Mr. Hawkins arrived at his wagon leading his little waif by the hand, and told his wife all that had happened, and asked her if he had done right in giving to her and to himself this new care? She said:
"If you've done wrong, Si Hawkins, it's a wrong that will shine brighter at the judgment day than the rights that many' a man has done before you. And there isn't any compliment you can pay me equal to doing a thing like this and finishing it up, just taking it for granted that I'll be willing to it. Willing? Come to me; you poor motherless boy, and let me take your grief and help you carry it."
When the child awoke in the morning, it was as if from a troubled dream. But slowly the confusion in his mind took form, and he remembered his great loss; the beloved form in the coffin; his talk with a generous stranger who offered him a home; the funeral, where the stranger's wife held him by the hand at the grave, and cried with him and comforted him; and he remembered how this, new mother tucked him in his bed in the neighboring farm house, and coaxed him to talk about his troubles, and then heard him say his prayers and kissed him good night, and left him with the soreness in his heart almost healed and his bruised spirit at rest.
And now the new mother came again, and helped him to dress, and combed his hair, and drew his mind away by degrees from the dismal yesterday, by telling him about the wonderful journey he was going to take and the strange things he was going to see. And after breakfast they two went alone to the grave, and his heart went out to his new friend and his untaught eloquence poured the praises of his buried idol into her ears without let or hindrance. Together they planted roses by the headboard and strewed wild flowers upon the grave; and then together they went away, hand in hand, and left the dead to the long sleep that heals all heart-aches and ends all sorrows.
Whatever the lagging dragging journey may have been to the rest of the emigrants, it was a wonder and delight to the children, a world of enchantment; and they believed it to be peopled with the mysterious dwarfs and giants and goblins that figured in the tales the negro slaves were in the habit of telling them nightly by the shuddering light of the kitchen fire.
At the end of nearly a week of travel, the party went into
camp near a shabby village which was caving, house by house, into the hungry
"Uncle Dan'l"(colored,) aged 40; his wife, "aunt Jinny," aged 30, "Young Miss" Emily Hawkins, "Young Mars" Washington Hawkins and "Young Mars" Clay, the new member of the family, ranged themselves on a log, after supper, and contemplated the marvelous river and discussed it. The moon rose and sailed aloft through a maze of shredded cloud-wreaths; the sombre river just perceptibly brightened under the veiled light; a deep silence pervaded the air and was emphasized, at intervals, rather than broken, by the hooting of an owl, the baying of a dog, or the muffled crash of a raving bank in the distance.
The little company assembled on the log were all children (at least in simplicity and broad and comprehensive ignorance,) and the remarks they made about the river were in keeping with the character; and so awed were they by the grandeur and the solemnity of the scene before then, and by their belief that the air was filled with invisible spirits and that the faint zephyrs were caused by their passing wings, that all their talk took to itself a tinge of the supernatural, and their voices were subdued to a low and reverent tone. Suddenly Uncle Dan'l exclaimed:
"Chil'en, dah's sum fin a comin!"
All crowded close together and every heart beat faster.
Uncle Dan'l pointed down the river with his bony finger.
A deep coughing sound troubled the stillness, way toward a wooded cape that jetted into the stream a mile distant. All in an instant a fierce eye of fire shot out froth behind the cape and sent a long brilliant pathway quivering athwart the dusky water. The coughing grew louder and louder, the glaring eye grew larger and still larger, glared wilder and still wilder. A huge shape developed itself out of the gloom, and from its tall duplicate horns dense volumes of smoke, starred and spangled with sparks, poured out and went tumbling away into the farther darkness. Nearer and nearer the thing came, till its long sides began to glow with spots of light which mirrored themselves in the river and attended the monster like a torchlight procession.
"What is it! Oh, what is it, Uncle Dan'l!"
With deep solemnity the answer came:
"It's de Almighty! Git down on yo' knees!"
It was not necessary to say it twice. They were all kneeling, in a moment. And then while the mysterious coughing rose stronger and stronger and the threatening glare reached farther and wider, the negro's voice lifted up its supplications:
"O Lord', we's ben mighty wicked, an' we knows dat we 'zerve to go to de bad place, but good Lord, deah Lord, we ain't ready yit, we ain't ready --let dese po' chilen hab one mo' chance, jes' one mo' chance. Take de ole niggah if you's, got to hab somebody.--Good Lord, good deah Lord, we don't know whah you's a gwyne to, we don't know who you's got yo' eye on, but we knows by de way you's a comin', we knows by de way you's a tiltin' along in yo' charyot o' fiah dat some po' sinner's a gwyne to ketch it. But good Lord, dose chilen don't b'long heah, dey's f'm Obedstown whah dey don't know nuffin, an' you knows, yo' own sef, dat dey ain't 'sponsible. An' deah Lord, good Lord, it ain't like yo' mercy, it ain't like yo' pity, it ain't like yo' long-sufferin' lovin' kindness for to take dis kind o' 'vantage o' sick little chil'en as dose is when dey's so many ornery grown folks chuck full o' cussedness dat wants roastin' down dah. Oh, Lord, spah de little chil'en, don't tar de little chil'en away f'm dey frens, jes' let 'em off jes' dis once, and take it out'n de ole niggah. HEAH I IS, LORD, HEAH I IS! De ole niggah's ready, Lord, de ole----"
The flaming and churning steamer was right abreast the party, and not twenty steps away. The awful thunder of a mud-valve suddenly burst forth, drowning the prayer, and as suddenly Uncle Dan'l snatched a child under each arm and scoured into the woods with the rest of the pack at his heels. And then, ashamed of himself, he halted in the deep darkness and shouted, (but rather feebly:)
"Heah I is, Lord, heah I is!"
There was a moment of throbbing suspense, and then, to the surprise and the comfort of the party, it was plain that the august presence had gone by, for its dreadful noises were receding. Uncle Dan'l headed a cautious reconnaissance in the direction of the log. Sure enough "the Lord" was just turning a point a short distance up the river, and while they looked the lights winked out and the coughing diminished by degrees and presently ceased altogether.
"H'wsh! Well now
dey's some folks says dey ain't no 'ficiency in prah. Dis
"Uncle Dan'l, do you reckon it was the prayer that saved us?" said Clay.
"Does I reckon? Don't I know it! Whah was yo' eyes? Warn't de Lord jes' a cumin' chow! chow! CHOW! an' a goin' on turrible--an' do de Lord carry on dat way 'dout dey's sumfin don't suit him? An' warn't he a lookin' right at dis gang heah, an' warn't he jes' a reachin' for 'em? An' d'you spec' he gwyne to let 'em off 'dout somebody ast him to do it? No indeedy!"
"Do you reckon he saw, us, Uncle Dan'l?
"De law sakes,
"Did you feel scared, Uncle Dan'l?"
"No sah! When a man is 'gaged in prah, he ain't fraid o' nuffin--dey can't nuffin tetch him."
"Well what did you run for?"
"Well, I--I--mars Clay, when a man is under de influence ob de sperit, he do-no, what he's 'bout--no sah; dat man do-no what he's 'bout. You mout take an' tah de head off'n dat man an' he wouldn't scasely fine it out. Date's de Hebrew chil'en dat went frough de fiah; dey was burnt considable--ob coase dey was; but dey didn't know nuffin 'bout it--heal right up agin; if dey'd ben gals dey'd missed dey long haah, (hair,) maybe, but dey wouldn't felt de burn."
"I don't know but what they were girls. I think they were."
"Now mars Clay, you knows bettern dat. Sometimes a body can't tell whedder you's a sayin' what you means or whedder you's a sayin' what you don't mean, 'case you says 'em bofe de same way."
"But how should I know whether they were boys or girls?"
"Goodness sakes, mars Clay, don't de Good Book say? 'Sides, don't it call 'em de HE-brew chil'en? If dey was gals wouldn't dey be de SHE-brew chil'en? Some people dat kin read don't 'pear to take no notice when dey do read."
"Well, Uncle Dan'l, I think that-----My! here comes another one up the river! There can't be two!"
"We gone dis time--we done gone dis time, sho'! Dey ain't two, mars Clay--days de same one. De Lord kin 'pear eberywhah in a second. Goodness, how do fiah and de smoke do belch up! Dat mean business, honey. He comin' now like he fo'got sumfin. Come 'long, chil'en, time you's gwyne to roos'. Go 'long wid you--ole Uncle Daniel gwyne out in de woods to rastle in prah--de ole nigger gwyne to do what he kin to sabe you agin"
He did go to the woods and pray; but he went so far that he doubted, himself, if the Lord heard him when He went by.
--Seventhly, Before his Voyage, He should make his peace
with God, satisfie his Creditors if he be in debt; Pray earnestly to God to
prosper him in his Voyage, and to keep him from danger, and, if he be 'sui
juris' he should make his last will, and wisely order all his affairs, since
many that go far abroad, return not home.
(This good and Christian Counsel is given by Martinus Zeilerus in his
Apodemical Canons before his Itinerary of Spain and
Early in the morning Squire Hawkins took passage in a small steamboat, with his family and his two slaves, and presently the bell rang, the stage-plank; was hauled in, and the vessel proceeded up the river. The children and the slaves were not much more at ease after finding out that this monster was a creature of human contrivance than they were the night before when they thought it the Lord of heaven and earth. They started, in fright, every time the gauge-cocks sent out an angry hiss, and they quaked from head to foot when the mud-valves thundered. The shivering of the boat under the beating of the wheels was sheer misery to them.
But of course familiarity with these things soon took away their terrors, and then the voyage at once became a glorious adventure, a royal progress through the very heart and home of romance, a realization of their rosiest wonder-dreams. They sat by the hour in the shade of the pilot house on the hurricane deck and looked out over the curving expanses of the river sparkling in the sunlight. Sometimes the boat fought the mid-stream current, with a verdant world on either hand, and remote from both; sometimes she closed in under a point, where the dead water and the helping eddies were, and shaved the bank so closely that the decks were swept by the jungle of over-hanging willows and littered with a spoil of leaves; departing from these "points" she regularly crossed the river every five miles, avoiding the "bight" of the great binds and thus escaping the strong current; sometimes she went out and skirted a high "bluff" sand-bar in the middle of the stream, and occasionally followed it up a little too far and touched upon the shoal water at its head--and then the intelligent craft refused to run herself aground, but "smelt" the bar, and straightway the foamy streak that streamed away from her bows vanished, a great foamless wave rolled forward and passed her under way, and in this instant she leaned far over on her side, shied from the bar and fled square away from the danger like a frightened thing--and the pilot was lucky if he managed to "straighten her up" before she drove her nose into the opposite bank; sometimes she approached a solid wall of tall trees as if she meant to break through it, but all of a sudden a little crack would open just enough to admit her, and away she would go plowing through the "chute" with just barely room enough between the island on one side and the main land on the other; in this sluggish water she seemed to go like a racehorse; now and then small log cabins appeared in little clearings, with the never-failing frowsy women and girls in soiled and faded linsey-woolsey leaning in the doors or against woodpiles and rail fences, gazing sleepily at the passing show; sometimes she found shoal water, going out at the head of those "chutes" or crossing the river, and then a deck-hand stood on the bow and hove the lead, while the boat slowed down and moved cautiously; sometimes she stopped a moment at a landing and took on some freight or a passenger while a crowd of slouchy white men and negroes stood on the bank and looked sleepily on with their hands in their pantaloons pockets,--of course--for they never took them out except to stretch, and when they did this they squirmed about and reached their fists up into the air and lifted themselves on tip-toe in an ecstasy of enjoyment.
When the sun went down it turned all the broad river to a national banner laid in gleaming bars of gold and purple and crimson; and in time these glories faded out in the twilight and left the fairy archipelagoes reflecting their fringing foliage in the steely mirror of the stream.
At night the boat forged on through the deep solitudes of the river, hardly ever discovering a light to testify to a human presence--mile after mile and league after league the vast bends were guarded by unbroken walls of forest that had never been disturbed by the voice or the foot-fall of man or felt the edge of his sacrilegious axe.
An hour after supper the moon came up, and Clay and
Washington ascended to the hurricane deck to revel again in their new realm of
enchantment. They ran races up and down the deck; climbed about the bell; made
friends with the passenger-dogs chained under the lifeboat; tried to make
friends with a passenger-bear fastened to the verge-staff but were not
encouraged; "skinned the cat" on the hog-chains; in a word, exhausted
the amusement-possibilities of the deck.
Then they looked wistfully up at the pilot house, and finally, little by
little, Clay ventured up there, followed diffidently by
They sat them down on a high bench and looked miles ahead and saw the wooded capes fold back and reveal the bends beyond; and they looked miles to the rear and saw the silvery highway diminish its breadth by degrees and close itself together in the distance. Presently the pilot said:
"By George, yonder comes the Amaranth!"
A spark appeared, close to the water, several miles down the river. The pilot took his glass and looked at it steadily for a moment, and said, chiefly to himself:
"It can't be the Blue Wing. She couldn't pick us up this way. It's the Amaranth, sure!"
He bent over a speaking tube and said:
"Who's on watch down there?"
A hollow, unhuman voice rumbled up through the tube in answer:
"I am. Second engineer."
"Good! You want to stir your stumps, now, Harry--the Amaranth's just turned the point--and she's just a--humping herself, too!"
The pilot took hold of a rope that stretched out forward, jerked it twice, and two mellow strokes of the big bell responded. A voice out on the deck shouted:
"Stand by, down there, with that labboard lead!"
"No, I don't want the lead," said the pilot, "I want you. Roust out the old man--tell him the Amaranth's coming. And go and call Jim--tell him."
The "old man" was the captain--he is always called so, on steamboats and ships; "Jim" was the other pilot. Within two minutes both of these men were flying up the pilothouse stairway, three steps at a jump. Jim was in his shirt sleeves,--with his coat and vest on his arm. He said:
"I was just turning in. Where's the glass"
He took it and looked:
"Don't appear to be any night-hawk on the jack-staff--it's the Amaranth, dead sure!"
The captain took a good long look, and only said:
George Davis, the pilot on watch, shouted to the night-watchman on deck:
"How's she loaded?"
"Two inches by the head, sir."
"'T ain't enough!"
The captain shouted, now:
"Call the mate. Tell him to call all hands and get a lot of that sugar forrard--put her ten inches by the head. Lively, now!"
A riot of shouting and trampling floated up from below, presently, and the uneasy steering of the boat soon showed that she was getting "down by the head."
The three men in the pilot house began to talk in short, sharp sentences, low and earnestly. As their excitement rose, their voices went down. As fast as one of them put down the spy-glass another took it up--but always with a studied air of calmness. Each time the verdict was:
"She's a gaining!"
The captain spoke through the tube:
"What steam are You carrying?"
"A hundred and forty-two, sir! But she's getting hotter and hotter all the time."
The boat was straining and groaning and quivering like a monster in pain. Both pilots were at work now, one on each side of the wheel, with their coats and vests off, their bosoms and collars wide open and the perspiration flowing down heir faces. They were holding the boat so close to the shore that the willows swept the guards almost from stem to stern.
"Stand by!" whispered George.
"All ready!" said Jim, under his breath.
"Let her come!"
The boat sprang away, from the bank like a deer, and darted in a long diagonal toward the other shore. She closed in again and thrashed her fierce way along the willows as before. The captain put down the glass:
"Lord how she walks up on us! I do hate to be beat!"
"Jim," said George, looking straight ahead, watching the slightest yawing of the boat and promptly meeting it with the wheel, "how'll it do to try Murderer's Chute?"
"Well, it's--it's taking chances. How was the cottonwood stump on the false
point below Boardman's
"Water just touching the roots."
"Well it's pretty close work. That gives six feet scant in the head of Murderer's Chute. We can just barely rub through if we hit it exactly right. But it's worth trying. She don't dare tackle it!"--meaning the Amaranth.
In another instant the Boreas plunged into what seemed a crooked creek, and the Amaranth's approaching lights were shut out in a moment. Not a whisper was uttered, now, but the three men stared ahead into the shadows and two of them spun the wheel back and forth with anxious watchfulness while the steamer tore along. The chute seemed to come to an end every fifty yards, but always opened out in time. Now the head of it was at hand. George tapped the big bell three times, two leadsmen sprang to their posts, and in a moment their weird cries rose on the night air and were caught up and repeated by two men on the upper deck:
Davis pulled a couple of ropes--there was a jingling of small bells far below, the boat's speed slackened, and the pent steam began to whistle and the gauge-cocks to scream:
"By the mark twain!"
"Eight and a half!"
Another jingling of little bells and the wheels ceased turning altogether. The whistling of the steam was something frightful now--it almost drowned all other noises.
"Stand by to meet her!"
George had the wheel hard down and was standing on a spoke.
The, boat hesitated seemed to hold her breath, as did the captain and pilots--and then she began to fall away to starboard and every eye lighted:
"Now then!--meet her! meet her! Snatch her!"
The wheel flew to port so fast that the spokes blended into a spider-web --the swing of the boat subsided--she steadied herself----
"Sev--six and a half!"
"Six feet! Six f----"
Bang! She hit the bottom! George shouted through the tube:
"Spread her wide open! Whale it at her!"
Pow-wow-chow! The escape-pipes belched snowy pillars of steam aloft, the boat ground and surged and trembled--and slid over into----
"Tap! tap! tap!" (to signify "Lay in the leads")
And away she went, flying up the willow shore, with the
whole silver sea of the
No Amaranth in sight!
"Ha-ha, boys, we took a couple of tricks that time!" said the captain.
And just at that moment a red glare appeared in the head of the chute and the Amaranth came springing after them!
"Well, I swear!"
"Jim, what is the meaning of that?"
"I'll tell you what's the meaning of it. That hail we had at Napoleon was Wash
Hastings, wanting to come to
"That's it! I
thought it wasn't any slouch that was running that middle bar in Hog-eye
"I wish I'd a stopped for him, that's all."
The Amaranth was within three hundred yards of the Boreas, and still gaining. The "old man" spoke through the tube:
"What is she-carrying now?"
"A hundred and sixty-five, sir!"
"How's your wood?"
"Pine all out-cypress half gone-eating up cotton-wood like pie!"
"Break into that rosin on the main deck-pile it in, the boat can pay for it!"
Soon the boat was plunging and quivering and screaming more madly than ever. But the Amaranth's head was almost abreast the Boreas's stern:
"How's your steam, now, Harry?"
"Hundred and eighty-two, sir!"
"Break up the casks of bacon in the forrard hold! Pile it in! Levy on that turpentine in the fantail-drench every stick of wood with it!"
The boat was a moving earthquake by this time:
"How is she now?"
"A hundred and ninety-six and still a-swelling!--water, below the middle gauge-cocks!--carrying every pound she can stand!--nigger roosting on the safety-valve!"
"Good! How's your draft?"
"Bully! Every time a nigger heaves a stick of wood into the furnace he goes out the chimney, with it!"
The Amaranth drew steadily up till her jack-staff breasted the Boreas's wheel-house--climbed along inch by inch till her chimneys breasted it
--crept along, further and further, till the boats were wheel to wheel
--and then they, closed up with a heavy jolt and locked together tight
and fast in the middle of the big river under the flooding moonlight! A roar and a hurrah went up from the crowded decks of both steamers--all hands rushed to the guards to look and shout and gesticulate--the weight careened the vessels over toward each other--officers flew hither and thither cursing and storming, trying to drive the people amidships--both captains were leaning over their railings shaking their fists, swearing and threatening--black volumes of smoke rolled up and canopied the scene,--delivering a rain of sparks upon the vessels--two pistol shots rang out, and both captains dodged unhurt and the packed masses of passengers surged back and fell apart while the shrieks of women and children soared above the intolerable din----
And then there was a booming roar, a thundering crash, and the riddled Amaranth dropped loose from her hold and drifted helplessly away!
Instantly the fire-doors of the Boreas were thrown open and the men began dashing buckets of water into the furnaces--for it would have been death and destruction to stop the engines with such a head of steam on.
As soon as possible the Boreas dropped down to the floating wreck and took off the dead, the wounded and the unhurt--at least all that could be got at, for the whole forward half of the boat was a shapeless ruin, with the great chimneys lying crossed on top of it, and underneath were a dozen victims imprisoned alive and wailing for help. While men with axes worked with might and main to free these poor fellows, the Boreas's boats went about, picking up stragglers from the river.
And now a new horror presented itself. The wreck took fire from the dismantled furnaces! Never did men work with a heartier will than did those stalwart braves with the axes. But it was of no use. The fire ate its way steadily, despising the bucket brigade that fought it. It scorched the clothes, it singed the hair of the axemen--it drove them back, foot by foot-inch by inch--they wavered, struck a final blow in the teeth of the enemy, and surrendered. And as they fell back they heard prisoned voices saying:
"Don't leave us! Don't desert us! Don't, don't do it!"
And one poor fellow said:
"I am Henry Worley, striker of the Amaranth! My mother lives in
The Boreas stood away out of danger, and the ruined steamer went drifting down the stream an island of wreathing and climbing flame that vomited clouds of smoke from time to time, and glared more fiercely and sent its luminous tongues higher and higher after each emission. A shriek at intervals told of a captive that had met his doom. The wreck lodged upon a sandbar, and when the Boreas turned the next point on her upward journey it was still burning with scarcely abated fury.
When the boys came down into the main saloon of the Boreas, they saw a pitiful sight and heard a world of pitiful sounds. Eleven poor creatures lay dead and forty more lay moaning, or pleading or screaming, while a score of Good Samaritans moved among them doing what they could to relieve their sufferings; bathing their chinless faces and bodies with linseed oil and lime water and covering the places with bulging masses of raw cotton that gave to every face and form a dreadful and unhuman aspect.
A little wee French midshipman of fourteen lay fearfully injured, but never uttered a sound till a physician of Memphis was about to dress his hurts. Then he said:
"Can I get well? You need not be afraid to tell me."
"No--I--I am afraid you can not."
"Then do not waste your time with me--help those that can get well."
"Help those that can get well! It is, not for me to be a girl. I carry the blood of eleven generations of soldiers in my veins!"
The physician--himself a man who had seen service in the navy in his time--touched his hat to this little hero, and passed on.
The head engineer of the Amaranth, a grand specimen of physical manhood, struggled to his feet a ghastly spectacle and strode toward his brother, the second engineer, who was unhurt. He said:
"You were on watch. You were boss. You would not listen to me when I begged you to reduce your steam. Take that!--take it to my wife and tell her it comes from me by the hand of my murderer! Take it--and take my curse with it to blister your heart a hundred years--and may you live so long!"
And he tore a ring from his finger, stripping flesh and skin with it, threw it down and fell dead!
But these things must not be dwelt upon. The Boreas landed her dreadful cargo at the next large town and delivered it over to a multitude of eager hands and warm southern hearts--a cargo amounting by this time to 39 wounded persons and 22 dead bodies. And with these she delivered a list of 96 missing persons that had drowned or otherwise perished at the scene of the disaster.
A jury of inquest was impaneled, and after due deliberation and inquiry they returned the inevitable American verdict which has been so familiar to our ears all the days of our lives--"NOBODY TO BLAME."
**[The incidents of the explosion are not invented. They happened just as they are told.--The Authors.]
Il veut faire secher de la neige au four et la vendre pour du sel blanc.
When the Boreas backed away from the land to continue her voyage up the river, the Hawkinses were richer by twenty-four hours of experience in the contemplation of human suffering and in learning through honest hard work how to relieve it. And they were richer in another way also. In the early turmoil an hour after the explosion, a little black-eyed girl of five years, frightened and crying bitterly, was struggling through the throng in the Boreas' saloon calling her mother and father, but no one answered. Something in the face of Mr. Hawkins attracted her and she came and looked up at him; was satisfied, and took refuge with him. He petted her, listened to her troubles, and said he would find her friends for her. Then he put her in a state-room with his children and told them to be kind to her (the adults of his party were all busy with the wounded) and straightway began his search.
It was fruitless. But
all day he and his wife made inquiries, and hoped against hope. All that they could learn was that the child
and her parents came on board at
As the hours dragged on the child lost heart, and cried so piteously for her mother that it seemed to the Hawkinses that the moanings and the wailings of the mutilated men and women in the saloon did not so strain at their heart-strings as the sufferings of this little desolate creature. They tried hard to comfort her; and in trying, learned to love her; they could not help it, seeing how she clung, to them and put her arms about their necks and found-no solace but in their kind eyes and comforting words: There was a question in both their hearts--a question that rose up and asserted itself with more and more pertinacity as the hours wore on--but both hesitated to give it voice--both kept silence --and--waited. But a time came at last when the matter would bear delay no longer. The boat had landed, and the dead and the wounded were being conveyed to the shore. The tired child was asleep in the arms of Mrs. Hawkins. Mr. Hawkins came into their presence and stood without speaking. His eyes met his wife's; then both looked at the child--and as they looked it stirred in its sleep and nestled closer; an expression of contentment and peace settled upon its face that touched the mother-heart; and when the eyes of husband and wife met again, the question was asked and answered.
When the Boreas had journeyed some four hundred miles from
the time the Hawkinses joined her, a long rank of steamboats was sighted,
packed side by side at a wharf like sardines, in a box, and above and beyond
them rose the domes and steeples and general architectural confusion of a
city--a city with an imposing umbrella of black smoke spread over it. This was
"They're worth all the trouble they are,
"Yes, and more, Si."
"I believe you! You wouldn't sell one of them at a good round figure?"
"Not for all the money in the bank, Si."
"My own sentiments every time. It is true we are not rich--but still you are not sorry---you haven't any misgivings about the additions?"
"No. God will provide"
"Amen. And so you wouldn't even part with Clay? Or Laura!"
"Not for anything in the world. I love them just the same as I love my own: They pet me and spoil me even more than the others do, I think. I reckon we'll get along, Si."
"Oh yes, it will all come out right, old mother. I wouldn't be afraid to adopt a thousand
children if I wanted to, for there's that
The children had stopped playing, for the moment, and drawn near to listen. Hawkins said:
"Washington, my boy, what will you do when you get to be one of the richest men in the world?"
"I don't know, father. Sometimes I think I'll have a balloon and go up in the air; and sometimes I think I'll have ever so many books; and sometimes I think I'll have ever so many weathercocks and water-wheels; or have a machine like that one you and Colonel Sellers bought; and sometimes I think I'll have--well, somehow I don't know--somehow I ain't certain; maybe I'll get a steamboat first."
"The same old chap!--always just a little bit divided about things.--And what will you do when you get to be one of the richest men in the world, Clay?"
"I don't know, sir. My mother--my other mother that's gone away--she always told me to work along and not be much expecting to get rich, and then I wouldn't be disappointed if I didn't get rich. And so I reckon it's better for me to wait till I get rich, and then by that time maybe I'll know what I'll want--but I don't now, sir."
"Careful old head!--Governor Henry Clay Hawkins!--that's what you'll be, Clay, one of these days. Wise old head! weighty old head! Go on, now, and play--all of you. It's a prime lot, Nancy; as the Obedstown folk say about their hogs."
A smaller steamboat received the Hawkinses and their fortunes, and bore them a hundred and thirty miles still higher up the Mississippi, and landed them at a little tumble-down village on the Missouri shore in the twilight of a mellow October day.
The next morning they harnessed up their team and for two days they wended slowly into the interior through almost roadless and uninhabited forest solitudes. And when for the last time they pitched their tents, metaphorically speaking, it was at the goal of their hopes, their new home.
By the muddy roadside stood a new log cabin, one story high--the store; clustered in the neighborhood were ten or twelve more cabins, some new, some old.
In the sad light of the departing day the place looked homeless enough. Two or three coatless young men sat in front of the store on a dry-goods box, and whittled it with their knives, kicked it with their vast boots, and shot tobacco-juice at various marks. Several ragged negroes leaned comfortably against the posts of the awning and contemplated the arrival of the wayfarers with lazy curiosity. All these people presently managed to drag themselves to the vicinity of the Hawkins' wagon, and there they took up permanent positions, hands in pockets and resting on one leg; and thus anchored they proceeded to look and enjoy. Vagrant dogs came wagging around and making inquiries of Hawkins's dog, which were not satisfactory and they made war on him in concert. This would have interested the citizens but it was too many on one to amount to anything as a fight, and so they commanded the peace and the foreign dog coiled his tail and took sanctuary under the wagon. Slatternly negro girls and women slouched along with pails deftly balanced on their heads, and joined the group and stared. Little half dressed white boys, and little negro boys with nothing whatever on but tow-linen shirts with a fine southern exposure, came from various directions and stood with their hands locked together behind them and aided in the inspection. The rest of the population were laying down their employments and getting ready to come, when a man burst through the assemblage and seized the new-comers by the hands in a frenzy of welcome, and exclaimed--indeed almost shouted:
"Well who could have believed it! Now is it you sure enough--turn around! hold up your heads! I want to look at you good! Well, well, well, it does seem most too good to be true, I declare! Lord, I'm so glad to see you! Does a body's whole soul good to look at you! Shake hands again! Keep on shaking hands! Goodness gracious alive. What will my wife say?--Oh yes indeed, it's so!--married only last week--lovely, perfectly lovely creature, the noblest woman that ever--you'll like her, Nancy! Like her? Lord bless me you'll love her--you'll dote on her
--you'll be twins! Well, well, well, let me look at you again! Same old
--why bless my life it was only jest this very morning that my wife says,
'Colonel'--she will call me Colonel spite of everything I can do--she says 'Colonel, something tells me somebody's coming!' and sure enough here you are, the last people on earth a body could have expected. Why she'll think she's a prophetess--and hanged if I don't think so too --and you know there ain't any, country but what a prophet's an honor to, as the proverb says. Lord bless me and here's the children, too! Washington, Emily, don't you know me? Come, give us a kiss. Won't I fix you, though!--ponies, cows, dogs, everything you can think of that'll delight a child's heart-and--Why how's this? Little strangers? Well you won't be any strangers here, I can tell you. Bless your souls we'll make you think you never was at home before--'deed and 'deed we will, I can tell you! Come, now, bundle right along with me. You can't glorify any hearth stone but mine in this camp, you know--can't eat anybody's bread but mine--can't do anything but just make yourselves perfectly at home and comfortable, and spread yourselves out and rest! You hear me! Here--Jim, Tom, Pete, Jake, fly around! Take that team to my place--put the wagon in my lot--put the horses under the shed, and get out hay and oats and fill them up! Ain't any hay and oats? Well get some--have it charged to me--come, spin around, now! Now, Hawkins, the procession's ready; mark time, by the left flank, forward-march!"
And the Colonel took the lead, with Laura astride his neck, and the newly-inspired and very grateful immigrants picked up their tired limbs with quite a spring in them and dropped into his wake.
Presently they were ranged about an old-time fire-place whose blazing logs sent out rather an unnecessary amount of heat, but that was no matter-supper was needed, and to have it, it had to be cooked. This apartment was the family bedroom, parlor, library and kitchen, all in one. The matronly little wife of the Colonel moved hither and thither and in and out with her pots and pans in her hands', happiness in her heart and a world of admiration of her husband in her eyes. And when at last she had spread the cloth and loaded it with hot corn bread, fried chickens, bacon, buttermilk, coffee, and all manner of country luxuries, Col. Sellers modified his harangue and for a moment throttled it down to the orthodox pitch for a blessing, and then instantly burst forth again as from a parenthesis and clattered on with might and main till every stomach in the party was laden with all it could carry. And when the new-comers ascended the ladder to their comfortable feather beds on the second floor--to wit the garret--Mrs. Hawkins was obliged to say:
"Hang the fellow, I do believe he has gone wilder than ever, but still a body can't help liking him if they would--and what is more, they don't ever want to try when they see his eyes and hear him talk."
Within a week or two the Hawkinses were comfortably domiciled in a new log house, and were beginning to feel at home. The children were put to school; at least it was what passed for a school in those days: a place where tender young humanity devoted itself for eight or ten hours a day to learning incomprehensible rubbish by heart out of books and reciting it by rote, like parrots; so that a finished education consisted simply of a permanent headache and the ability to read without stopping to spell the words or take breath. Hawkins bought out the village store for a song and proceeded to reap the profits, which amounted to but little more than another song.
The wonderful speculation hinted at by Col. Sellers in his letter turned out to be the raising of mules for the Southern market; and really it promised very well. The young stock cost but a trifle, the rearing but another trifle, and so Hawkins was easily persuaded to embark his slender means in the enterprise and turn over the keep and care of the animals to Sellers and Uncle Dan'l.
All went well: Business prospered little by little. Hawkins even built a new house, made it two
full stories high and put a lightning rod on it. People came two or three miles
to look at it. But they knew that the
rod attracted the lightning, and so they gave the place a wide berth in a
storm, for they were familiar with marksmanship and doubted if the lightning
could hit that small stick at a distance of a mile and a half oftener than once
in a hundred and fifty times. Hawkins
fitted out his house with "store" furniture from
Hawkins took a weekly Philadelphia newspaper and a semi-weekly St. Louis journal--almost the only papers that came to the village, though Godey's Lady's Book found a good market there and was regarded as the perfection of polite literature by some of the ablest critics in the place. Perhaps it is only fair to explain that we are writing of a by gone age--some twenty or thirty years ago. In the two newspapers referred to lay the secret of Hawkins's growing prosperity. They kept him informed of the condition of the crops south and east, and thus he knew which articles were likely to be in demand and which articles were likely to be unsalable, weeks and even months in advance of the simple folk about him. As the months went by he came to be regarded as a wonderfully lucky man. It did not occur to the citizens that brains were at the bottom of his luck.
His title of "Squire" came into vogue again, but
only for a season; for, as his wealth and popularity augmented, that title, by
imperceptible stages, grew up into "Judge;" indeed' it bade fair to
swell into "General" bye and bye.
All strangers of consequence who visited the village gravitated to the
Hawkins had learned to like the people of his section very much. They were uncouth and not cultivated, and not particularly industrious; but they were honest and straightforward, and their virtuous ways commanded respect. Their patriotism was strong, their pride in the flag was of the old fashioned pattern, their love of country amounted to idolatry. Whoever dragged the national honor in the dirt won their deathless hatred. They still cursed Benedict Arnold as if he were a personal friend who had broken faith--but a week gone by.
We skip ten years and this history finds certain changes to record.
Judge Hawkins and Col. Sellers have made and lost two or three moderate fortunes in the meantime and are now pinched by poverty. Sellers has two pairs of twins and four extras. In Hawkins's family are six children of his own and two adopted ones. From time to time, as fortune smiled, the elder children got the benefit of it, spending the lucky seasons at excellent schools in St. Louis and the unlucky ones at home in the chafing discomfort of straightened circumstances.
Neither the Hawkins children nor the world that knew them
ever supposed that one of the girls was of alien blood and parentage: Such
difference as existed between Laura and Emily is not uncommon in a family. The girls had grown up as sisters, and they
were both too young at the time of the fearful accident on the
And yet any one who had known the secret of Laura's birth and had seen her during these passing years, say at the happy age of twelve or thirteen, would have fancied that he knew the reason why she was more winsome than her school companion.
Philosophers dispute whether it is the promise of what she will be in the careless school-girl, that makes her attractive, the undeveloped maidenhood, or the mere natural, careless sweetness of childhood. If Laura at twelve was beginning to be a beauty, the thought of it had never entered her head. No, indeed. Her mind wad filled with more important thoughts. To her simple school-girl dress she was beginning to add those mysterious little adornments of ribbon-knots and ear-rings, which were the subject of earnest consultations with her grown friends.
When she tripped down the street on a summer's day with her dainty hands propped into the ribbon-broidered pockets of her apron, and elbows consequently more or less akimbo with her wide Leghorn hat flapping down and hiding her face one moment and blowing straight up against her fore head the next and making its revealment of fresh young beauty; with all her pretty girlish airs and graces in full play, and that sweet ignorance of care and that atmosphere of innocence and purity all about her that belong to her gracious time of life, indeed she was a vision to warm the coldest heart and bless and cheer the saddest.
Willful, generous, forgiving, imperious, affectionate, improvident, bewitching, in short--was Laura at this period. Could she have remained there, this history would not need to be written. But Laura had grown to be almost a woman in these few years, to the end of which we have now come--years which had seen Judge Hawkins pass through so many trials.
When the judge's first bankruptcy came upon him, a homely
human angel intruded upon him with an offer of $1,500 for the
But now he was down again, and deeper in the mire than ever. He paced the floor all day, he scarcely slept at night. He blushed even to acknowledge it to himself, but treason was in his mind--he was meditating, at last, the sale of the land. Mrs. Hawkins stepped into the room. He had not spoken a word, but he felt as guilty as if she had caught him in some shameful act. She said:
"Si, I do not know what we are going to do. The children are not fit to be seen, their clothes are in such a state. But there's something more serious still.--There is scarcely a bite in the house to eat"
"Johnson indeed! You took that man's part when he hadn't a friend in the world, and you built him up and made him rich. And here's the result of it: He lives in our fine house, and we live in his miserable log cabin. He has hinted to our children that he would rather they wouldn't come about his yard to play with his children,--which I can bear, and bear easy enough, for they're not a sort we want to associate with much--but what I can't bear with any quietness at all, is his telling Franky our bill was running pretty high this morning when I sent him for some meal --and that was all he said, too--didn't give him the meal--turned off and went to talking with the Hargrave girls about some stuff they wanted to cheapen."
"And so it is, I warrant you. I've kept still, Si, as long as ever I could. Things have been getting worse and worse, and worse and worse, every single day; I don't go out of the house, I feel so down; but you had trouble enough, and I wouldn't say a word--and I wouldn't say a word now, only things have got so bad that I don't know what to do, nor where to turn." And she gave way and put her face in her hands and cried.
"Poor child, don't grieve so. I never thought that of Johnson. I am clear at my wit's end. I don't know what in the world to do. Now if somebody would come along and offer
$3,000--Uh, if somebody only would come along and offer $3,000 for that
"You'd sell it, S!" said Mrs. Hawkins excitedly.
Mrs. Hawkins was out of the room in a moment. Within a minute she was back again with a business-looking stranger, whom she seated, and then she took her leave again. Hawkins said to himself, "How can a man ever lose faith? When the blackest hour comes, Providence always comes with it--ah, this is the very timeliest help that ever poor harried devil had; if this blessed man offers but a thousand I'll embrace him like a brother!"
The stranger said:
"I am aware that you own
Hawkins's heart bounded within him. His whole frame was racked and wrenched with fettered hurrahs. His first impulse was to shout "Done! and God bless the iron company, too!"
But a something flitted through his mind, and his opened lips uttered nothing. The enthusiasm faded away from his eyes, and the look of a man who is thinking took its place. Presently, in a hesitating, undecided way, he said:
"Well, I--it don't seem quite enough. That--that is a very valuable property--very valuable. It's brim full of iron-ore, sir--brim full of it! And copper, coal,--everything--everything you can think of! Now, I'll tell you what I'll, do. I'll reserve everything except the iron, and I'll sell them the iron property for $15,000 cash, I to go in with them and own an undivided interest of one-half the concern--or the stock, as you may say. I'm out of business, and I'd just as soon help run the thing as not. Now how does that strike you?"
"Well, I am only an agent of these people, who are friends of mine, and I am not even paid for my services. To tell you the truth, I have tried to persuade them not to go into the thing; and I have come square out with their offer, without throwing out any feelers--and I did it in the hope that you would refuse. A man pretty much always refuses another man's first offer, no matter what it is. But I have performed my duty, and will take pleasure in telling them what you say."
He was about to rise. Hawkins said,
"Wait a bit."
Hawkins thought again. And the substance of his thought was: "This is a deep man; this is a very deep man; I don't like his candor; your ostentatiously candid business man's a deep fox--always a deep fox; this man's that iron company himself--that's what he is; he wants that property, too; I am not so blind but I can see that; he don't want the company to go into this thing--O, that's very good; yes, that's very good indeed--stuff! he'll be back here tomorrow, sure, and take my offer; take it? I'll risk anything he is suffering to take it now; here--I must mind what I'm about. What has started this sudden excitement about iron? I wonder what is in the wind? just as sure as I'm alive this moment, there's something tremendous stirring in iron speculation" [here Hawkins got up and began to pace the floor with excited eyes and with gesturing hands]--"something enormous going on in iron, without the shadow of a doubt, and here I sit mousing in the dark and never knowing anything about it; great heaven, what an escape I've made! this underhanded mercenary creature might have taken me up--and ruined me! but I have escaped, and I warrant me I'll not put my foot into--"
He stopped and turned toward the stranger; saying:
"I have made you a proposition, you have not accepted it, and I desire that you will consider that I have made none. At the same time my conscience will not allow me to--. Please alter the figures I named to thirty thousand dollars, if you will, and let the proposition go to the company--I will stick to it if it breaks my heart!" The stranger looked amused, and there was a pretty well defined touch of surprise in his expression, too, but Hawkins never noticed it. Indeed he scarcely noticed anything or knew what he was about. The man left; Hawkins flung himself into a chair; thought a few moments, then glanced around, looked frightened, sprang to the door----
"Too late--too late! He's gone! Fool that I am! always a fool! Thirty thousand--ass that I am! Oh, why didn't I say fifty thousand!"
He plunged his hands into his hair and leaned his elbows on his knees, and fell to rocking himself back and forth in anguish. Mrs. Hawkins sprang in, beaming:
"Oh, con-found the con-founded--con-found it,
"Done what Si for mercy's sake!"
"Done everything! Ruined everything!"
"Tell me, tell me, tell me! Don't keep a body in such suspense. Didn't he buy, after all? Didn't he make an offer?"
Offer? He offered $10,000 for our land, and----"
"Thank the good providence from the very bottom of my heart of hearts! What sort of ruin do you call that, Si!"
Mrs. Hawkins looked up white and despairing:
"You threw away this chance, you let this man go, and we in this awful trouble? You don't mean it, you can't mean it!"
"Throw it away? Catch me at it! Why woman, do you suppose that man don't know what he is about? Bless you, he'll be back fast enough to-morrow."
"Never, never, never. He never will comeback. I don't know what is to become of us. I don't know what in the world is to become of us."
A shade of uneasiness came into Hawkins's face. He said:
"Why, Nancy, you--you can't believe what you are saying."
"Believe it, indeed? I know it, Si. And I know that we haven't a cent in the world, and we've sent ten thousand dollars a-begging."
The next instant he left the house on a run. But the man was no longer in the town. Nobody knew where he belonged or whither he
had gone. Hawkins came slowly back, watching wistfully but hopelessly for the
stranger, and lowering his price steadily with his sinking heart. And when his foot finally pressed his own
threshold, the value he held the entire
There was a sad gathering at the Hawkins fireside the next night. All the children were present but Clay. Mr. Hawkins said:
He stopped, and was conscious of a blush. There was silence for a moment, and then Washington--now a lank, dreamy-eyed stripling between twenty-two and twenty-three years of age--said:
"If Col. Sellers would come for me, I would go and stay
with him a while, till the
"I'm afraid he can't well come for you,
Washington. From what I can hear--not
from him of course, but from others--he is not far from as bad off as we
are--and his family is as large, too. He
might find something for you to do, maybe, but you'd better try to get to him
"But how can I, father? There's no stage or anything."
"And if there were, stages require money. A stage goes from
"Father, they must know you there, and no doubt they would credit you in a moment, for a little stage ride like that. Couldn't you write and ask them?"
"Couldn't you, Washington--seeing it's you that wants
the ride? And what do you think you'll
"No, sir, I have given that up. I almost knew I could do it, but it was so tedious and troublesome I quit it."
"I was afraid of it, my boy. Then I suppose you'll finish your plan of coloring hen's eggs by feeding a peculiar diet to the hen?"
"No, sir. I believe I have found out the stuff that will do it, but it kills the hen; so I have dropped that for the present, though I can take it up again some day when I learn how to manage the mixture better."
"Well, what have you got on hand--anything?"
"Yes, sir, three or four things. I think they are all good and can all be done, but they are tiresome, and besides they require money. But as soon as the land is sold----"
"Emily, were you about to say something?" said Hawkins.
Yes, sir. If you are
willing, I will go to
"But the money, child?"
"Why I think she would send it, if you would write her--and I know she would wait for her pay till----"
"Come, Laura, let's hear from you, my girl."
Emily and Laura were about the same age--between seventeen and eighteen. Emily was fair and pretty, girlish and diffident--blue eyes and light hair. Laura had a proud bearing, and a somewhat mature look; she had fine, clean-cut features, her complexion was pure white and contrasted vividly with her black hair and eyes; she was not what one calls pretty --she was beautiful. She said:
"I will go to
She spoke it like a princess. Mrs. Hawkins smiled proudly and kissed her, saying in a tone of fond reproof:
"So one of my girls is going to turn out and work for her living! It's like your pluck and spirit, child, but we will hope that we haven't got quite down to that, yet."
The girl's eyes beamed affection under her mother's caress. Then she straightened up, folded her white hands in her lap and became a splendid ice-berg. Clay's dog put up his brown nose for a little attention, and got it. He retired under the table with an apologetic yelp, which did not affect the iceberg.
Judge Hawkins had written and asked Clay to return home and consult with him upon family affairs. He arrived the evening after this conversation, and the whole household gave him a rapturous welcome. He brought sadly needed help with him, consisting of the savings of a year and a half of work--nearly two hundred dollars in money.
It was a ray of sunshine which (to this easy household) was the earnest of a clearing sky.
Bright and early in the morning the family were astir, and
all were busy preparing
At Swansea Clay paid his stage fare, stowed him away in the vehicle, and saw him off. Then he returned home and reported progress, like a committee of the whole.
Clay remained at home several days. He held many consultations with his mother upon the financial condition of the family, and talked once with his father upon the same subject, but only once. He found a change in that quarter which was distressing; years of fluctuating fortune had done their work; each reverse had weakened the father's spirit and impaired his energies; his last misfortune seemed to have left hope and ambition dead within him; he had no projects, formed no plans--evidently he was a vanquished man. He looked worn and tired. He inquired into Clay's affairs and prospects, and when he found that Clay was doing pretty well and was likely to do still better, it was plain that he resigned himself with easy facility to look to the son for a support; and he said, "Keep yourself informed of poor Washington's condition and movements, and help him along all you can, Clay."
The younger children, also, seemed relieved of all fears and distresses, and very ready and willing to look to Clay for a livelihood. Within three days a general tranquility and satisfaction reigned in the household. Clay's hundred and eighty or ninety, dollars had worked a wonder. The family were as contented, now, and as free from care as they could have been with a fortune. It was well that Mrs. Hawkins held the purse otherwise the treasure would have lasted but a very little while.
It took but a trifle to pay Hawkins's outstanding obligations, for he had always had a horror of debt.
When Clay bade his home good-bye and set out to return to the field of his labors, he was conscious that henceforth he was to have his father's family on his hands as pensioners; but he did not allow himself to chafe at the thought, for he reasoned that his father had dealt by him with a free hand and a loving one all his life, and now that hard fortune had broken his spirit it ought to be a pleasure, not a pain, to work for him. The younger children were born and educated dependents. They had never been taught to do anything for themselves, and it did not seem to occur to them to make an attempt now.
The girls would not have been permitted to work for a living under any circumstances whatever. It was a southern family, and of good blood; and for any person except Laura, either within or without the household to have suggested such an idea would have brought upon the suggester the suspicion of being a lunatic.
Via, Pecunia! when she's run and gone
And fled, and dead, then will I fetch her again
With aqua vita, out of an old hogshead!
While there are lees of wine, or dregs of beer,
I'll never want her! Coin her out of cobwebs,
Dust, but I'll have her! raise wool upon egg-shells,
Sir, and make grass grow out of marrow-bones,
To make her come!
Bearing Washington Hawkins and his fortunes, the stage-coach
tore out of
Toward evening, the stage-coach came thundering into Hawkeye
with a perfectly triumphant ostentation--which was natural and proper, for
Hawkey a was a pretty large town for interior
"Lord bless you--I'm glad to see you,
Washington--perfectly delighted to see you, my boy! I got your message. Been on the look-out for you. Heard the stage
horn, but had a party I couldn't shake off--man that's got an enormous thing on
hand--wants me to put some capital into it--and I tell you, my boy, I could do
worse, I could do a deal worse. No, now,
let that luggage alone; I'll fix that.
Here, Jerry, got anything to do? All right-shoulder this plunder and
follow me. Come along,
True enough; but holding on too long had utterly ruined both of them; and the saddest part of it was, that they never had had so much money to lose before, for Sellers's sale of their mule crop that year in New Orleans had been a great financial success. If he had kept out of sugar and gone back home content to stick to mules it would have been a happy wisdom. As it was, he managed to kill two birds with one stone--that is to say, he killed the sugar speculation by holding for high rates till he had to sell at the bottom figure, and that calamity killed the mule that laid the golden egg--which is but a figurative expression and will be so understood. Sellers had returned home cheerful but empty-handed, and the mule business lapsed into other hands. The sale of the Hawkins property by the Sheriff had followed, and the Hawkins hearts been torn to see Uncle Dan'l and his wife pass from the auction-block into the hands of a negro trader and depart for the remote South to be seen no more by the family. It had seemed like seeing their own flesh and blood sold into banishment.
The whole family were poorly and cheaply dressed; and the clothing, although neat and clean, showed many evidences of having seen long service. The Colonel's "stovepipe" hat was napless and shiny with much polishing, but nevertheless it had an almost convincing expression about it of having been just purchased new. The rest of his clothing was napless and shiny, too, but it had the air of being entirely satisfied with itself and blandly sorry for other people's clothes. It was growing rather dark in the house, and the evening air was chilly, too. Sellers said:
"Lay off your overcoat,
By this time the Colonel was conveying a lighted match into a poor little stove. Then he propped the stove door to its place by leaning the poker against it, for the hinges had retired from business. This door framed a small square of isinglass, which now warmed up with a faint glow. Mrs. Sellers lit a cheap, showy lamp, which dissipated a good deal of the gloom, and then everybody gathered into the light and took the stove into close companionship.
The children climbed all over Sellers, fondled him, petted him, and were lavishly petted in return. Out from this tugging, laughing, chattering disguise of legs and arms and little faces, the Colonel's voice worked its way and his tireless tongue ran blithely on without interruption; and the purring little wife, diligent with her knitting, sat near at hand and looked happy and proud and grateful; and she listened as one who listens to oracles and, gospels and whose grateful soul is being refreshed with the bread of life. Bye and bye the children quieted down to listen; clustered about their father, and resting their elbows on his legs, they hung upon his words as if he were uttering the music of the spheres.
A dreary old hair-cloth sofa against the wall; a few damaged chairs; the small table the lamp stood on; the crippled stove--these things constituted the furniture of the room. There was no carpet on the floor; on the wall were occasional square-shaped interruptions of the general tint of the plaster which betrayed that there used to be pictures in the house--but there were none now. There were no mantel ornaments, unless one might bring himself to regard as an ornament a clock which never came within fifteen strokes of striking the right time, and whose hands always hitched together at twenty-two minutes past anything and traveled in company the rest of the way home.
"Remarkable clock!" said Sellers, and got up and wound it. "I've been offered--well, I wouldn't expect you to believe what I've been offered for that clock. Old Gov. Hager never sees me but he says, 'Come, now, Colonel, name your price--I must have that clock!' But my goodness I'd as soon think of selling my wife. As I was saying to ---- silence in the court, now, she's begun to strike! You can't talk against her--you have to just be patient and hold up till she's said her say. Ah well, as I was saying, when--she's beginning again! Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twen----ah, that's all.--Yes, as I was saying to old Judge
----go it, old girl, don't mind
good, spirited tone? She can wake the dead! Sleep? Why you might as well try to sleep in a thunder-factory. Now just listen at that. She'll strike a hundred and fifty, now, without stopping,--you'll see. There ain't another clock like that in Christendom."
Washington hoped that this might be true, for the din was
distracting --though the family, one and all, seemed filled with joy; and the
more the clock "buckled down to her work" as the Colonel expressed
it, and the more insupportable the clatter became, the more enchanted they all
appeared to be. When there was silence,
Mrs Sellers lifted upon
"It belonged to his grandmother."
The look and the tone were a plain call for admiring
surprise, and therefore
"Yes, it did, didn't it father!" exclaimed one of the twins. "She was my great-grandmother--and George's too; wasn't she, father! You never saw her, but Sis has seen her, when Sis was a baby-didn't you, Sis! Sis has seen her most a hundred times. She was awful deef--she's dead, now. Aint she, father!"
All the children chimed in, now, with one general Babel of information about deceased--nobody offering to read the riot act or seeming to discountenance the insurrection or disapprove of it in any way--but the head twin drowned all the turmoil and held his own against the field:
"It's our clock, now--and it's got wheels inside of it, and a thing that flutters every time she strikes--don't it, father! Great-grandmother died before hardly any of us was born--she was an Old-School Baptist and had warts all over her--you ask father if she didn't. She had an uncle once that was bald-headed and used to have fits; he wasn't our uncle, I don't know what he was to us--some kin or another I reckon--father's seen him a thousand times--hain't you, father! We used to have a calf that et apples and just chawed up dishrags like nothing, and if you stay here you'll see lots of funerals--won't he, Sis! Did you ever see a house afire? I have! Once me and Jim Terry----"
But Sellers began to speak now, and the storm ceased. He began to tell about an enormous
speculation he was thinking of embarking some capital in--a speculation which
"A little idea of my own, Washington--one of the
greatest things in the world! You must
write and tell your father about it--don't forget that, now. I have been reading up some European
Scientific reports--friend of mine, Count Fugier, sent them to me--sends me all
sorts of things from Paris--he thinks the world of me, Fugier does. Well, I saw that the
--Whan pe horde is thynne, as of seruyse,
Nought replenesshed with grete diuersite
Of mete & drinke, good chere may then suffise
With honest talkyng----
The Book of Curtesye.
MAMMON. Come on, sir. Now, you set your foot on shore
Orbe; here's the rich
And there within, sir, are the golden mines,
Great Solomon's Ophir!----
The supper at Col. Sellers's was not sumptuous, in the beginning, but it improved on acquaintance. That is to say, that what Washington regarded at first sight as mere lowly potatoes, presently became awe-inspiring agricultural productions that had been reared in some ducal garden beyond the sea, under the sacred eye of the duke himself, who had sent them to Sellers; the bread was from corn which could be grown in only one favored locality in the earth and only a favored few could get it; the Rio coffee, which at first seemed execrable to the taste, took to itself an improved flavor when Washington was told to drink it slowly and not hurry what should be a lingering luxury in order to be fully appreciated--it was from the private stores of a Brazilian nobleman with an unrememberable name. The Colonel's tongue was a magician's wand that turned dried apples into figs and water into wine as easily as it could change a hovel into a palace and present poverty into imminent future riches.
Washington slept in a cold bed in a carpetless room and woke up in a palace in the morning; at least the palace lingered during the moment that he was rubbing his eyes and getting his bearings--and then it disappeared and he recognized that the Colonel's inspiring talk had been influencing his dreams. Fatigue had made him sleep late; when he entered the sitting room he noticed that the old hair-cloth sofa was absent; when he sat down to breakfast the Colonel tossed six or seven dollars in bills on the table, counted them over, said he was a little short and must call upon his banker; then returned the bills to his wallet with the indifferent air of a man who is used to money. The breakfast was not an improvement upon the supper, but the Colonel talked it up and transformed it into an oriental feast. Bye and bye, he said:
"I intend to look out for you, Washington, my boy. I hunted up a place for you yesterday, but I
am not referring to that,--now--that is a mere livelihood--mere bread and
butter; but when I say I mean to look out for you I mean something very
different. I mean to put things in your
way than will make a mere livelihood a trifling thing. I'll put you in a way to make more money than
you'll ever know what to do with. You'll
be right here where I can put my hand on you when anything turns up. I've got some prodigious operations on foot;
but I'm keeping quiet; mum's the word; your old hand don't go around pow-wowing
and letting everybody see his k'yards and find out his little game. But all in good time,
"Why Colonel, you can't want anything bigger!"
A sweet, compassionate smile played about the Colonel's features, and he leaned over the table with the air of a man who is "going to show you" and do it without the least trouble:
"Why Washington, my boy, these things are nothing. They look large of course--they look large to a novice, but to a man who has been all his life accustomed to large operations--shaw! They're well enough to while away an idle hour with, or furnish a bit of employment that will give a trifle of idle capital a chance to earn its bread while it is waiting for something to do, but--now just listen a moment--just let me give you an idea of what we old veterans of commerce call 'business.' Here's the Rothschild's proposition--this is between you and me, you understand----"
----"for I wouldn't have it get out for a fortune. They want me to go in
with them on the sly--agent was here two weeks ago about it--go in on the sly" [voice down to an impressive whisper, now,] "and buy up a hundred and thirteen wild cat banks in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri--notes of these banks are at all sorts of discount now--average discount of the hundred and thirteen is forty-four per cent--buy them all up, you see, and then all of a sudden let the cat out of the bag! Whiz! the stock of every one of those wildcats would spin up to a tremendous premium before you could turn a handspring--profit on the speculation not a dollar less than forty millions!" [An eloquent pause, while the marvelous vision settled into W.'s focus.] "Where's your hogs now? Why my dear innocent boy, we would just sit down on the front door-steps and peddle banks like lucifer matches!"
"Oh, it is perfectly wonderful! Why couldn't these things have happened in father's day? And I--it's of no use--they simply lie before my face and mock me. There is nothing for me but to stand helpless and see other people reap the astonishing harvest."
In the presence of so many millions,
"Well, all right--don't despair. Other people have been obliged to begin with less. I have a small idea that may develop into something for us both, all in good time. Keep your money close and add to it. I'll make it breed. I've been experimenting (to pass away the time), on a little preparation for curing sore eyes--a kind of decoction nine-tenths water and the other tenth drugs that don't cost more than a dollar a barrel; I'm still experimenting; there's one ingredient wanted yet to perfect the thing, and somehow I can't just manage to hit upon the thing that's necessary, and I don't dare talk with a chemist, of course. But I'm progressing, and before many weeks I wager the country will ring with the fame of Beriah Sellers' Infallible Imperial Oriental Optic Liniment and Salvation for Sore Eyes--the Medical Wonder of the Age! Small bottles fifty cents, large ones a dollar. Average cost, five and seven cents for the two sizes.
"The first year sell, say, ten thousand bottles in
Missouri, seven thousand in Iowa, three thousand in Arkansas, four thousand in
Kentucky, six thousand in Illinois, and say twenty-five thousand in the rest of
the country. Total, fifty five thousand
bottles; profit clear of all expenses, twenty thousand dollars at the very
lowest calculation. All the capital needed
is to manufacture the first two thousand bottles --say a hundred and fifty
dollars--then the money would begin to flow in. The second year, sales would
reach 200,000 bottles--clear profit, say, $75,000--and in the meantime the
great factory would be building in St. Louis, to cost, say, $100,000. The third year we could, easily sell
1,000,000 bottles in the
"O, splendid!" said
"----1,000,000 bottles in the
"The real idea of it! Ain't $350,000 a year a pretty real----"
"Stuff! Why what
an infant you are,
Washington was so dazed, so bewildered--his heart and his eyes had wandered so far away among the strange lands beyond the seas, and such avalanches of coin and currency had fluttered and jingled confusedly down before him, that he was now as one who has been whirling round and round for a time, and, stopping all at once, finds his surroundings still whirling and all objects a dancing chaos. However, little by little the Sellers family cooled down and crystalized into shape, and the poor room lost its glitter and resumed its poverty. Then the youth found his voice and begged Sellers to drop everything and hurry up the eye-water; and he got his eighteen dollars and tried to force it upon the Colonel--pleaded with him to take it--implored him to do it. But the Colonel would not; said he would not need the capital (in his native magnificent way he called that eighteen dollars Capital) till the eye-water was an accomplished fact. He made Washington easy in his mind, though, by promising that he would call for it just as soon as the invention was finished, and he added the glad tidings that nobody but just they two should be admitted to a share in the speculation.
"So make yourself perfectly easy, mother-in a little while you shall have everything you want, and more. I am not likely to stint you in anything, I fancy. This money will not be for me, alone, but for all of us. I want all to share alike; and there is going to be far more for each than one person can spend. Break it to father cautiously--you understand the need of that--break it to him cautiously, for he has had such cruel hard fortune, and is so stricken by it that great good news might prostrate him more surely than even bad, for he is used to the bad but is grown sadly unaccustomed to the other. Tell Laura--tell all the children. And write to Clay about it if he is not with you yet. You may tell Clay that whatever I get he can freely share in-freely. He knows that that is true--there will be no need that I should swear to that to make him believe it. Good-bye--and mind what I say: Rest perfectly easy, one and all of you, for our troubles are nearly at an end."
Poor lad, he could not know that his mother would cry some loving, compassionate tears over his letter and put off the family with a synopsis of its contents which conveyed a deal of love to then but not much idea of his prospects or projects. And he never dreamed that such a joyful letter could sadden her and fill her night with sighs, and troubled thoughts, and bodings of the future, instead of filling it with peace and blessing it with restful sleep.
When the letter was done, Washington and the Colonel sallied
forth, and as they walked along
The Colonel said that General Boswell was a rich man and had a good and growing business; and that Washington's work world be light and he would get forty dollars a month and be boarded and lodged in the General's family--which was as good as ten dollars more; and even better, for he could not live as well even at the "City Hotel" as he would there, and yet the hotel charged fifteen dollars a month where a man had a good room.
General Boswell was in his office; a comfortable looking
place, with plenty of outline maps hanging about the walls and in the windows,
and a spectacled man was marking out another one on a long table. The office was in the principal street. The General received
Arrived at the finest dwelling in the town, they entered it
and were at home.
Louise Boswell occupied his mind and drifted among his
multiplication tables all the afternoon.
He was constantly catching himself in a reverie--reveries made up of
recalling how she looked when she first burst upon him; how her voice thrilled
him when she first spoke; how charmed the very air seemed by her presence. Blissful as the afternoon was, delivered up
to such a revel as this, it seemed an eternity, so impatient was he to see the
girl again. Other afternoons like it
Some instinct taught
He had been once or twice to dine with Col. Sellers, and had been discouraged to note that the Colonel's bill of fare was falling off both in quantity and quality--a sign, he feared, that the lacking ingredient in the eye-water still remained undiscovered--though Sellers always explained that these changes in the family diet had been ordered by the doctor, or suggested by some new scientific work the Colonel had stumbled upon. But it always turned out that the lacking ingredient was still lacking--though it always appeared, at the same time, that the Colonel was right on its heels.
Every time the Colonel came into the real estate office
Washington's heart bounded and his eyes lighted with hope, but it always turned
out that the Colonel was merely on the scent of some vast, undefined landed
speculation--although he was customarily able to say that he was nearer to the
all-necessary ingredient than ever, and could almost name the hour when success
would dawn. And then
About this time a letter came, saying that Judge Hawkins had
been ailing for a fortnight, and was now considered to be seriously ill. It was thought best that
All the way home he nursed his woe and exalted it. He pictured himself as she must be picturing him: a noble, struggling young spirit persecuted by misfortune, but bravely and patiently waiting in the shadow of a dread calamity and preparing to meet the blow as became one who was all too used to hard fortune and the pitiless buffetings of fate. These thoughts made him weep, and weep more broken-heartedly than ever; and be wished that she could see his sufferings now.
There was nothing significant in the fact that Louise,
dreamy and distraught, stood at her bedroom bureau that night, scribbling
"Clay is good, and you are tired, poor child; but I wanted you so."
"Clay is not good, father--he did not call me. I would not have treated him so. How could you do it, Clay?"
Clay begged forgiveness and promised not to break faith again; and as he betook him to his bed, he said to himself: "It's a steadfast little soul; whoever thinks he is doing the Duchess a kindness by intimating that she is not sufficient for any undertaking she puts her hand to, makes a mistake; and if I did not know it before, I know now that there are surer ways of pleasing her than by trying to lighten her labor when that labor consists in wearing herself out for the sake of a person she loves."
A week drifted by, and all the while the patient sank lower and lower. The night drew on that was to end all suspense. It was a wintry one. The darkness gathered, the snow was falling, the wind wailed plaintively about the house or shook it with fitful gusts. The doctor had paid his last visit and gone away with that dismal remark to the nearest friend of the family that he "believed there was nothing more that he could do" --a remark which is always overheard by some one it is not meant for and strikes a lingering half-conscious hope dead with a withering shock; the medicine phials had been removed from the bedside and put out of sight, and all things made orderly and meet for the solemn event that was impending; the patient, with closed eyes, lay scarcely breathing; the watchers sat by and wiped the gathering damps from his forehead while the silent tears flowed down their faces; the deep hush was only interrupted by sobs from the children, grouped about the bed.
After a time--it was toward midnight now--Mr. Hawkins roused out of a doze, looked about him and was evidently trying to speak. Instantly Laura lifted his head and in a failing voice he said, while something of the old light shone in his eyes:
"Wife--children--come nearer--nearer. The darkness grows. Let me see you all, once more."
The group closed together at the bedside, and their tears and sobs came now without restraint.
"I am leaving you in cruel poverty. I have been--so foolish--so
short-sighted. But courage! A better day is--is coming. Never lose sight of the
Under his strong excitement his voice had gathered power and his last sentences were spoken with scarcely a perceptible halt or hindrance. With an effort he had raised himself almost without assistance to a sitting posture. But now the fire faded out of his eyes and be fell back exhausted. The papers were brought and held before him, and the answering smile that flitted across his face showed that he was satisfied. He closed his eyes, and the signs of approaching dissolution multiplied rapidly. He lay almost motionless for a little while, then suddenly partly raised his head and looked about him as one who peers into a dim uncertain light. He muttered:
"Gone? No--I see you--still. It is--it is-over. But you are--safe. Safe. The Ten-----"
The voice died out in a whisper; the sentence was never finished. The emaciated fingers began to pick at the coverlet, a fatal sign. After a time there were no sounds but the cries of the mourners within and the gusty turmoil of the wind without. Laura had bent down and kissed her father's lips as the spirit left the body; but she did not sob, or utter any ejaculation; her tears flowed silently. Then she closed the dead eyes, and crossed the hands upon the breast; after a season, she kissed the forehead reverently, drew the sheet up over the face, and then walked apart and sat down with the look of one who is done with life and has no further interest in its joys and sorrows, its hopes or its ambitions. Clay buried his face in the coverlet of the bed; when the other children and the mother realized that death was indeed come at last, they threw themselves into each others' arms and gave way to a frenzy of grief.
Only two or three days had elapsed since the funeral, when something happened which was to change the drift of Laura's life somewhat, and influence in a greater or lesser degree the formation of her character.
Major Lackland had once been a man of note in the State--a man of extraordinary natural ability and as extraordinary learning. He had been universally trusted and honored in his day, but had finally, fallen into misfortune; while serving his third term in Congress, and while upon the point of being elevated to the Senate--which was considered the summit of earthly aggrandizement in those days--he had yielded to temptation, when in distress for money wherewith to save his estate; and sold his vote. His crime was discovered, and his fall followed instantly. Nothing could reinstate him in the confidence of the people, his ruin was irretrievable--his disgrace complete. All doors were closed against him, all men avoided him. After years of skulking retirement and dissipation, death had relieved him of his troubles at last, and his funeral followed close upon that of Mr. Hawkins. He died as he had latterly lived--wholly alone and friendless. He had no relatives--or if he had they did not acknowledge him. The coroner's jury found certain memoranda upon his body and about the premises which revealed a fact not suspected by the villagers before-viz., that Laura was not the child of Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins.
The gossips were soon at work. They were but little hampered by the fact that the memoranda referred to betrayed nothing but the bare circumstance that Laura's real parents were unknown, and stopped there. So far from being hampered by this, the gossips seemed to gain all the more freedom from it. They supplied all the missing information themselves, they filled up all the blanks. The town soon teemed with histories of Laura's origin and secret history, no two versions precisely alike, but all elaborate, exhaustive, mysterious and interesting, and all agreeing in one vital particular-to-wit, that there was a suspicious cloud about her birth, not to say a disreputable one.
Laura began to encounter cold looks, averted eyes and peculiar nods and gestures which perplexed her beyond measure; but presently the pervading gossip found its way to her, and she understood them--then. Her pride was stung. She was astonished, and at first incredulous. She was about to ask her mother if there was any truth in these reports, but upon second thought held her peace. She soon gathered that Major Lackland's memoranda seemed to refer to letters which had passed between himself and Judge Hawkins. She shaped her course without difficulty the day that that hint reached her.
That night she sat in her room till all was still, and then she stole into the garret and began a search. She rummaged long among boxes of musty papers relating to business matters of no, interest to her, but at last she found several bundles of letters. One bundle was marked "private," and in that she found what she wanted. She selected six or eight letters from the package and began to devour their contents, heedless of the cold.
By the dates, these letters were from five to seven years old. They were all from Major Lackland to Mr. Hawkins. The substance of them was, that some one in the east had been inquiring of Major Lackland about a lost child and its parents, and that it was conjectured that the child might be Laura.
Evidently some of the letters were missing, for the name of the inquirer was not mentioned; there was a casual reference to "this handsome-featured aristocratic gentleman," as if the reader and the writer were accustomed to speak of him and knew who was meant.
In one letter the Major said he agreed with Mr. Hawkins that the inquirer seemed not altogether on the wrong track; but he also agreed that it would be best to keep quiet until more convincing developments were forthcoming.
Another letter said that "the poor soul broke completely down when be saw Laura's picture, and declared it must be she."
Still another said:
"He seems entirely alone in the world, and his heart is so wrapped
up in this thing that I believe that if it proved a false hope, it
would kill him; I have persuaded him to wait a little while and go
west when I go."
Another letter had this paragraph in it:
"He is better one day and worse the next, and is out of his mind a
good deal of the time. Lately his case has developed a something
which is a wonder to the hired nurses, but which will not be much of
a marvel to you if you have read medical philosophy much. It is
this: his lost memory returns to him when he is delirious, and goes
away again when he is himself-just as old Canada Joe used to talk
the French patois of his boyhood in the delirium of typhus fever,
though he could not do it when his mind was clear. Now this poor
gentleman's memory has always broken down before he reached the
explosion of the steamer; he could only remember starting up the
river with his wife and child, and he had an idea that there was a
race, but he was not certain; he could not name the boat he was on;
there was a dead blank of a month or more that supplied not an item
to his recollection. It was not for me to assist him, of course.
But now in his delirium it all comes out: the names of the boats,
every incident of the explosion, and likewise the details of his
astonishing escape--that is, up to where, just as a yawl-boat was
approaching him (he was clinging to the starboard wheel of the
burning wreck at the time), a falling timber struck him on the head.
But I will write out his wonderful escape in full to-morrow or next
day. Of course the physicians will not let me tell him now that our
Laura is indeed his child--that must come later, when his health is
thoroughly restored. His case is not considered dangerous at all;
he will recover presently, the doctors say. But they insist that he
must travel a little when he gets well--they recommend a short sea
voyage, and they say he can be persuaded to try it if we continue to
keep him in ignorance and promise to let him see L. as soon as he
The letter that bore the latest date of all, contained this clause:
"It is the most unaccountable thing in the world; the mystery
remains as impenetrable as ever; I have hunted high and low for him,
and inquired of everybody, but in vain; all trace of him ends at
that hotel in
up to this day; he could hardly have sailed, for his name does not
appear upon the
books of any shipping office in
to ourselves; Laura still has a father in you, and it is better for
her that we drop this subject here forever."
That was all. Random remarks here and there, being pieced together gave Laura a vague impression of a man of fine presence, abort forty-three or forty-five years of age, with dark hair and eyes, and a slight limp in his walk--it was not stated which leg was defective. And this indistinct shadow represented her father. She made an exhaustive search for the missing letters, but found none. They had probably been burned; and she doubted not that the ones she had ferreted out would have shared the same fate if Mr. Hawkins had not been a dreamer, void of method, whose mind was perhaps in a state of conflagration over some bright new speculation when he received them.
She sat long, with the letters in her lap, thinking--and unconsciously freezing. She felt like a lost person who has traveled down a long lane in good hope of escape, and, just as the night descends finds his progress barred by a bridge-less river whose further shore, if it has one, is lost in the darkness. If she could only have found these letters a month sooner! That was her thought. But now the dead had carried their secrets with them. A dreary, melancholy settled down upon her. An undefined sense of injury crept into her heart. She grew very miserable.
She had just reached the romantic age--the age when there is a sad sweetness, a dismal comfort to a girl to find out that there is a mystery connected with her birth, which no other piece of good luck can afford. She had more than her rightful share of practical good sense, but still she was human; and to be human is to have one's little modicum of romance secreted away in one's composition. One never ceases to make a hero of one's self, (in private,) during life, but only alters the style of his heroism from time to time as the drifting years belittle certain gods of his admiration and raise up others in their stead that seem greater.
The recent wearing days and nights of watching, and the wasting grief that had possessed her, combined with the profound depression that naturally came with the reaction of idleness, made Laura peculiarly susceptible at this time to romantic impressions. She was a heroine, now, with a mysterious father somewhere. She could not really tell whether she wanted to find him and spoil it all or not; but still all the traditions of romance pointed to the making the attempt as the usual and necessary, course to follow; therefore she would some day begin the search when opportunity should offer.
Now a former thought struck her--she would speak to Mrs. Hawkins. And naturally enough Mrs. Hawkins appeared on the stage at that moment.
She said she knew all--she knew that Laura had discovered the secret that Mr. Hawkins, the elder children, Col. Sellers and herself had kept so long and so faithfully; and she cried and said that now that troubles had begun they would never end; her daughter's love would wean itself away from her and her heart would break. Her grief so wrought upon Laura that the girl almost forgot her own troubles for the moment in her compassion for her mother's distress. Finally Mrs. Hawkins said:
"Speak to me, child--do not forsake me. Forget all this miserable talk. Say I am your mother!--I have loved you so long, and there is no other. I am your mother, in the sight of God, and nothing shall ever take you from me!"
All barriers fell, before this appeal. Laura put her arms about her mother's neck and said:
"You are my mother, and always shall be. We will be as we have always been; and neither this foolish talk nor any other thing shall part us or make us less to each other than we are this hour."
There was no longer any sense of separation or estrangement between them. Indeed their love seemed more perfect now than it had ever been before. By and by they went down stairs and sat by the fire and talked long and earnestly about Laura's history and the letters. But it transpired that Mrs. Hawkins had never known of this correspondence between her husband and Major Lackland. With his usual consideration for his wife, Mr. Hawkins had shielded her from the worry the matter would have caused her.
Laura went to bed at last with a mind that had gained largely in tranquility and had lost correspondingly in morbid romantic exaltation. She was pensive, the next day, and subdued; but that was not matter for remark, for she did not differ from the mournful friends about her in that respect. Clay and Washington were the same loving and admiring brothers now that they had always been. The great secret was new to some of the younger children, but their love suffered no change under the wonderful revelation.
It is barely possible that things might have presently settled down into their old rut and the mystery have lost the bulk of its romantic sublimity in Laura's eyes, if the village gossips could have quieted down. But they could not quiet down and they did not. Day after day they called at the house, ostensibly upon visits of condolence, and they pumped away at the mother and the children without seeming to know that their questionings were in bad taste. They meant no harm they only wanted to know. Villagers always want to know.
The family fought shy of the questionings, and of course that was high testimony "if the Duchess was respectably born, why didn't they come out and prove it?--why did they, stick to that poor thin story about picking her up out of a steamboat explosion?"
Under this ceaseless persecution, Laura's morbid self-communing was renewed. At night the day's contribution of detraction, innuendo and malicious conjecture would be canvassed in her mind, and then she would drift into a course of thinking. As her thoughts ran on, the indignant tears would spring to her eyes, and she would spit out fierce little ejaculations at intervals. But finally she would grow calmer and say some comforting disdainful thing--something like this:
"But who are they?--Animals! What are their opinions to me? Let them talk--I will not stoop to be affected by it. I could hate----. Nonsense--nobody I care for or in any way respect is changed toward me, I fancy."
She may have supposed she was thinking of many individuals, but it was not so--she was thinking of only one. And her heart warmed somewhat, too, the while. One day a friend overheard a conversation like this: --and naturally came and told her all about it:
"Ned, they say you don't go there any more. How is that?"
"Well, I don't; but I tell you it's not because I don't want to and it's not because I think it is any matter who her father was or who he wasn't, either; it's only on account of this talk, talk, talk. I think she is a fine girl every way, and so would you if you knew her as well as I do; but you know how it is when a girl once gets talked about--it's all up with her--the world won't ever let her alone, after that."
The only comment Laura made upon this revelation, was:
"Then it appears that if this trouble had not occurred I could have had the happiness of Mr. Ned Thurston's serious attentions. He is well favored in person, and well liked, too, I believe, and comes of one of the first families of the village. He is prosperous, too, I hear; has been a doctor a year, now, and has had two patients--no, three, I think; yes, it was three. I attended their funerals. Well, other people have hoped and been disappointed; I am not alone in that. I wish you could stay to dinner, Maria--we are going to have sausages; and besides, I wanted to talk to you about Hawkeye and make you promise to come and see us when we are settled there."
But Maria could not stay. She had come to mingle romantic tears with Laura's over the lover's defection and had found herself dealing with a heart that could not rise to an appreciation of affliction because its interest was all centred in sausages.
But as soon as Maria was gone, Laura stamped her expressive foot and said:
"The coward! Are all books lies? I thought he would fly to the front, and be brave and noble, and stand up for me against all the world, and defy my enemies, and wither these gossips with his scorn! Poor crawling thing, let him go. I do begin to despise thin world!"
She lapsed into thought. Presently she said:
"If the time ever comes, and I get a chance, Oh, I'll----"
She could not find a word that was strong enough, perhaps. By and by she said:
"Well, I am glad of it--I'm glad of it. I never cared anything for him anyway!"
And then, with small consistency, she cried a little, and patted her foot more indignantly than ever.
Two months had gone by and the Hawkins family were domiciled
The Sellers family were just starting to dinner when
"All right, my boy, all right--always glad to see
you--always glad to hear your voice and take you by the hand. Don't wait for special invitations--that's
all nonsense among friends. Just come
whenever you can, and come as often as you can--the oftener the better. You can't please us any better than that,
"I thought you'd like them. Examine them--examine them--they'll bear it.
See how perfectly firm and juicy they are--they can't start any like them in
this part of the country, I can tell you.
These are from
"Plague? What plague?"
"What plague, indeed?
Why the Asiatic plague that nearly depopulated
"But how does that concern us? There is no plague here, I reckon."
"Sh! I've let it out!
Well, never mind--just keep it to yourself. Perhaps I oughtn't said
anything, but its bound to come out sooner or later, so what is the odds? Old McDowells wouldn't like me to--to
--bother it all, I'll jest tell the whole thing and let it go. You see, I've been down to
"You see it's booming right along in our
Fifteen or twenty minutes later the Colonel's tongue was
still chattering away--he had piled up several future fortunes out of several
incipient "operations" which he had blundered into within the past
week, and was now soaring along through some brilliant expectations born of late
promising experiments upon the lacking ingredient of the eye-water. And at such
He rose in the midst of the Colonel's talk and excused
himself on the plea of a previous engagement.
The Colonel followed him to the door, promising over and over again that
he would use his influence to get some of the Early Malcolms for him, and
insisting that he should not be such a stranger but come and take pot-luck with
him every chance he got.
In bed he passed an hour that threatened to turn his hair gray, and then a blessed calm settled down upon him that filled his heart with gratitude. Weak and languid, he made shift to turn himself about and seek rest and sleep; and as his soul hovered upon the brink of unconciousness, he heaved a long, deep sigh, and said to himself that in his heart he had cursed the Colonel's preventive of rheumatism, before, and now let the plague come if it must--he was done with preventives; if ever any man beguiled him with turnips and water again, let him die the death.
If he dreamed at all that night, no gossiping spirit disturbed his visions to whisper in his ear of certain matters just then in bud in the East, more than a thousand miles away that after the lapse of a few years would develop influences which would profoundly affect the fate and fortunes of the Hawkins family.
"Oh, it's easy enough to make a fortune," Henry said.
"It seems to be easier than it is, I begin to think," replied Philip.
"Well, why don't you go into something? You'll never dig it out of the Astor Library."
If there be any place and time in the world where and when it seems easy to "go into something" it is in Broadway on a spring morning, when one is walking city-ward, and has before him the long lines of palace-shops with an occasional spire seen through the soft haze that lies over the lower town, and hears the roar and hum of its multitudinous traffic.
To the young American, here or elsewhere, the paths to fortune are innumerable and all open; there is invitation in the air and success in all his wide horizon. He is embarrassed which to choose, and is not unlikely to waste years in dallying with his chances, before giving himself to the serious tug and strain of a single object. He has no traditions to bind him or guide him, and his impulse is to break away from the occupation his father has followed, and make a new way for himself.
Philip Sterling used to say that if he should seriously set himself for ten years to any one of the dozen projects that were in his brain, he felt that he could be a rich man. He wanted to be rich, he had a sincere desire for a fortune, but for some unaccountable reason he hesitated about addressing himself to the narrow work of getting it. He never walked Broadway, a part of its tide of abundant shifting life, without feeling something of the flush of wealth, and unconsciously taking the elastic step of one well-to-do in this prosperous world.
Especially at night in the crowded theatre--Philip was too young to remember the old Chambers' Street box, where the serious Burton led his hilarious and pagan crew--in the intervals of the screaming comedy, when the orchestra scraped and grunted and tooted its dissolute tunes, the world seemed full of opportunities to Philip, and his heart exulted with a conscious ability to take any of its prizes he chose to pluck.
Perhaps it was the swimming ease of the acting, on the stage, where virtue had its reward in three easy acts, perhaps it was the excessive light of the house, or the music, or the buzz of the excited talk between acts, perhaps it was youth which believed everything, but for some reason while Philip was at the theatre he had the utmost confidence in life and his ready victory in it.
Delightful illusion of paint and tinsel and silk attire, of cheap sentiment and high and mighty dialogue! Will there not always be rosin enough for the squeaking fiddle-bow?
Do we not all like the maudlin hero, who is sneaking round the right entrance, in wait to steal the pretty wife of his rich and tyrannical neighbor from the paste-board cottage at the left entrance? and when he advances down to the foot-lights and defiantly informs the audience that, "he who lays his hand on a woman except in the way of kindness," do we not all applaud so as to drown the rest of the sentence?
Philip never was fortunate enough to hear what would become of a man who should lay his hand on a woman with the exception named; but he learned afterwards that the woman who lays her hand on a man, without any exception whatsoever, is always acquitted by the jury.
The fact was, though Philip Sterling did not know it, that
he wanted several other things quite as much as he wanted wealth. The modest fellow would have liked fame
thrust upon him for some worthy achievement; it might be for a book, or for the
skillful management of some great newspaper, or for some daring expedition like
that of Lt. Strain or Dr. Kane. He was
unable to decide exactly what it should be.
Sometimes he thought he would like to stand in a conspicuous pulpit and
humbly preach the gospel of repentance; and it even crossed his mind that it
would be noble to give himself to a missionary life to some benighted region,
where the date-palm grows, and the nightingale's voice is in tune, and the
bul-bul sings on the off nights. If he
were good enough he would attach himself to that company of young men in the
Theological Seminary, who were seeing
Philip was a
After he left college Philip took the advice of friends and read law. Law seemed to him well enough as a science, but he never could discover a practical case where it appeared to him worth while to go to law, and all the clients who stopped with this new clerk in the ante-room of the law office where he was writing, Philip invariably advised to settle--no matter how, but settle--greatly to the disgust of his employer, who knew that justice between man and man could only be attained by the recognized processes, with the attendant fees. Besides Philip hated the copying of pleadings, and he was certain that a life of "whereases" and "aforesaids" and whipping the devil round the stump, would be intolerable.
[Note: these few paragraphs are nearly an autobiography of the life of Charles Dudley Warner whose contributions to the story start here with Chapter XII. D.W.]
His pen therefore, and whereas, and not as aforesaid, strayed off into other scribbling. In an unfortunate hour, he had two or three papers accepted by first-class magazines, at three dollars the printed page, and, behold, his vocation was open to him. He would make his mark in literature.
Life has no moment so sweet as that in which a young man believes himself called into the immortal ranks of the masters of literature. It is such a noble ambition, that it is a pity it has usually such a shallow foundation.
At the time of this history, Philip had gone to
To his surprise he found that every situation in the editorial department of the journals was full, always had been full, was always likely to be full. It seemed to him that the newspaper managers didn't want genius, but mere plodding and grubbing. Philip therefore read diligently in the Astor library, planned literary works that should compel attention, and nursed his genius. He had no friend wise enough to tell him to step into the Dorking Convention, then in session, make a sketch of the men and women on the platform, and take it to the editor of the Daily Grapevine, and see what he could get a line for it.
One day he had an offer from some country friends, who believed in him, to take charge of a provincial daily newspaper, and he went to consult Mr. Gringo--Gringo who years ago managed the Atlas--about taking the situation.
"Take it of course," says Gringo, take anything that offers, why not?"
"But they want me to make it an opposition paper."
"Well, make it that. That party is going to succeed, it's going to elect the next president."
"I don't believe it," said Philip, stoutly, "its wrong in principle, and it ought not to succeed, but I don't see how I can go for a thing I don't believe in."
"O, very well," said Gringo, turning away with a shade of contempt, "you'll find if you are going into literature and newspaper work that you can't afford a conscience like that."
But Philip did afford it, and he wrote, thanking his friends, and declining because he said the political scheme would fail, and ought to fail. And he went back to his books and to his waiting for an opening large enough for his dignified entrance into the literary world.
It was in this time of rather impatient waiting that Philip
was one morning walking down Broadway with Henry Brierly. He frequently accompanied Henry part way down
town to what the latter called his office in
The two were intimate at that time,--they had been class,
mates--and saw a great deal of each other.
Indeed, they lived together in
It was during the morning walk to which reference has been made that Henry Brierly suddenly said, "Philip, how would you like to go to St. Jo?"
"I think I should like it of all things," replied Philip, with some hesitation, "but what for."
"Oh, it's a big operation. We are going, a lot of us, railroad men, engineers, contractors. You know my uncle is a great railroad man. I've no doubt I can get you a chance to go if you'll go."
"But in what capacity would I go?"
"Well, I'm going as an engineer. You can go as one."
"I don't know an engine from a coal cart."
"Field engineer, civil engineer. You can begin by carrying a rod, and putting down the figures. It's easy enough. I'll show you about that. We'll get Trautwine and some of those books."
"Yes, but what is it for, what is it all about?"
"Why don't you see? We lay out a line, spot the good land, enter it up, know where the stations are to be, spot them, buy lots; there's heaps of money in it. We wouldn't engineer long."
"When do you go?" was Philip's next question, after some moments of silence.
"To-morrow. Is that too soon?"
"No, its not too soon. I've been ready to go anywhere for six months. The fact is, Henry, that I'm about tired of trying to force myself into things, and am quite willing to try floating with the stream for a while, and see where I will land. This seems like a providential call; it's sudden enough."
The two young men who were by this time full of the
adventure, went down to the Wall street office of Henry's uncle and had a talk
with that wily operator. The uncle knew
Philip very well, and was pleased with his frank enthusiasm, and willing enough
to give him a trial in the western venture.
It was settled therefore, in the prompt way in which things are settled
On the way up town these adventurers bought books on engineering, and suits of India-rubber, which they supposed they would need in a new and probably damp country, and many other things which nobody ever needed anywhere.
The night was spent in packing up and writing letters, for
Philip would not take such an important step without informing his
friends. If they disapprove, thought he,
I've done my duty by letting them know. Happy
youth, that is ready to pack its valise, and start for
"By the way," calls out Philip from his bed-room, to Henry, "where is St. Jo.?"
"Why, it's in
"Never mind the map. We will find the place itself. I was afraid it was nearer home."
Philip wrote a long letter, first of all, to his mother, full of love and glowing anticipations of his new opening. He wouldn't bother her with business details, but he hoped that the day was not far off when she would see him return, with a moderate fortune, and something to add to the comfort of her advancing years.
To his uncle he said that he had made an arrangement with
It was to Ruth Bolton that Philip wrote last. He might never see her again; he went to seek his fortune. He well knew the perils of the frontier, the savage state of society, the lurking Indians and the dangers of fever. But there was no real danger to a person who took care of himself. Might he write to her often and, tell her of his life. If he returned with a fortune, perhaps and perhaps. If he was unsuccessful, or if he never returned--perhaps it would be as well. No time or distance, however, would ever lessen his interest in her. He would say good-night, but not good-bye.
In the soft beginning of a Spring morning, long before New York had breakfasted, while yet the air of expectation hung about the wharves of the metropolis, our young adventurers made their way to the Jersey City railway station of the Erie road, to begin the long, swinging, crooked journey, over what a writer of a former day called a causeway of cracked rails and cows, to the West.
What ever to say be toke in his entente,
his langage was so fayer & pertynante,
yt semeth unto manys herying not only the worde,
but veryly the thyng.
Caxton's Book of Curtesye.
In the party of which our travelers found themselves members, was Duff Brown, the great railroad contractor, and subsequently a well-known member of Congress; a bluff, jovial Bost'n man, thick-set, close shaven, with a heavy jaw and a low forehead--a very pleasant man if you were not in his way. He had government contracts also, custom houses and dry docks, from Portland to New Orleans, and managed to get out of congress, in appropriations, about weight for weight of gold for the stone furnished.
Associated with him, and also of this party, was Rodney
Schaick, a sleek
It would be difficult to find a pleasanter traveling party one that shook off more readily the artificial restraints of Puritanic strictness, and took the world with good-natured allowance. Money was plenty for every attainable luxury, and there seemed to be no doubt that its supply would continue, and that fortunes were about to be made without a great deal of toil. Even Philip soon caught the prevailing spirit; Barry did not need any inoculation, he always talked in six figures. It was as natural for the dear boy to be rich as it is for most people to be poor.
The elders of the party were not long in discovering the fact, which almost all travelers to the west soon find out; that the water was poor. It must have been by a lucky premonition of this that they all had brandy flasks with which to qualify the water of the country; and it was no doubt from an uneasy feeling of the danger of being poisoned that they kept experimenting, mixing a little of the dangerous and changing fluid, as they passed along, with the contents of the flasks, thus saving their lives hour by hour. Philip learned afterwards that temperance and the strict observance of Sunday and a certain gravity of deportment are geographical habits, which people do not usually carry with them away from home.
Our travelers stopped in
They took railroad to
"Isn't this jolly?" cried Henry, dancing out of the barber's room, and coming down the deck with a one, two, three step, shaven, curled and perfumed after his usual exquisite fashion.
"What's jolly?" asked Philip, looking out upon the dreary and monotonous waste through which the shaking steamboat was coughing its way.
"Why, the whole thing; it's immense I can tell you. I wouldn't give that to be guaranteed a hundred thousand cold cash in a year's time."
"Where's Mr. Brown?"
"He is in the saloon, playing poker with Schaick and that long haired party with the striped trousers, who scrambled aboard when the stage plank was half hauled in, and the big Delegate to Congress from out west."
"That's a fine looking fellow, that delegate, with his
glossy, black whiskers; looks like a
"Oh, its only five cent ante, just to make it interesting, the Delegate said."
"But I shouldn't think a representative in Congress would play poker any way in a public steamboat."
"Nonsense, you've got to pass the time. I tried a hand myself, but those old fellows are too many for me. The Delegate knows all the points. I'd bet a hundred dollars he will ante his way right into the United States Senate when his territory comes in. He's got the cheek for it."
"He has the grave and thoughtful manner of expectoration of a public man, for one thing," added Philip.
"Harry," said Philip, after a pause, "what have you got on those big boots for; do you expect to wade ashore?"
"I'm breaking 'em in."
The fact was Harry had got himself up in what he thought a proper costume for a new country, and was in appearance a sort of compromise between a dandy of Broadway and a backwoodsman. Harry, with blue eyes, fresh complexion, silken whiskers and curly chestnut hair, was as handsome as a fashion plate. He wore this morning a soft hat, a short cutaway coat, an open vest displaying immaculate linen, a leathern belt round his waist, and top-boots of soft leather, well polished, that came above his knees and required a string attached to his belt to keep them up. The light hearted fellow gloried in these shining encasements of his well shaped legs, and told Philip that they were a perfect protection against prairie rattle-snakes, which never strike above the knee.
The landscape still wore an almost wintry appearance when
our travelers left
The party went to the Southern Hotel, where the great Duff Brown was very well known, and indeed was a man of so much importance that even the office clerk was respectful to him. He might have respected in him also a certain vulgar swagger and insolence of money, which the clerk greatly admired.
The young fellows liked the house and liked the city; it seemed to them a mighty free and hospitable town. Coming from the East they were struck with many peculiarities. Everybody smoked in the streets, for one thing, they noticed; everybody "took a drink" in an open manner whenever he wished to do so or was asked, as if the habit needed no concealment or apology. In the evening when they walked about they found people sitting on the door-steps of their dwellings, in a manner not usual in a northern city; in front of some of the hotels and saloons the side walks were filled with chairs and benches--Paris fashion, said Harry--upon which people lounged in these warm spring evenings, smoking, always smoking; and the clink of glasses and of billiard balls was in the air. It was delightful.
Harry at once found on landing that his back-woods custom
would not be needed in
Harry would take off his coat, remove his cravat, roll up his shirt-sleeves, give his curly hair the right touch before the glass, get out his book on engineering, his boxes of instruments, his drawing paper, his profile paper, open the book of logarithms, mix his India ink, sharpen his pencils, light a cigar, and sit down at the table to "lay out a line," with the most grave notion that he was mastering the details of engineering. He would spend half a day in these preparations without ever working out a problem or having the faintest conception of the use of lines or logarithms. And when he had finished, he had the most cheerful confidence that he had done a good day's work.
It made no difference, however, whether Harry was in his room in a hotel or in a tent, Philip soon found, he was just the same. In camp he would get himself, up in the most elaborate toilet at his command, polish his long boots to the top, lay out his work before him, and spend an hour or longer, if anybody was looking at him, humming airs, knitting his brows, and "working" at engineering; and if a crowd of gaping rustics were looking on all the while it was perfectly satisfactory to him.
"You see," he says to Philip one morning at the hotel when he was thus engaged, "I want to get the theory of this thing, so that I can have a check on the engineers."
"I thought you were going to be an engineer yourself," queried Philip.
"Not many times, if the court knows herself. There's better game. Brown and Schaick have, or will have, the control for the whole line of the Salt Lick Pacific Extension, forty thousand dollars a mile over the prairie, with extra for hard-pan--and it'll be pretty much all hardpan I can tell you; besides every alternate section of land on this line. There's millions in the job. I'm to have the sub-contract for the first fifty miles, and you can bet it's a soft thing."
"I'll tell you what you do, Philip," continued Larry, in a burst of generosity, "if I don't get you into my contract, you'll be with the engineers, and you jest stick a stake at the first ground marked for a depot, buy the land of the farmer before he knows where the depot will be, and we'll turn a hundred or so on that. I'll advance the money for the payments, and you can sell the lots. Schaick is going to let me have ten thousand just for a flyer in such operations."
"But that's a good deal of money."
"Wait till you are used to handling money. I didn't come out here for a bagatelle. My uncle wanted me to stay East and go in on
the Mobile custom house, work up the
"Why didn't you take it ?" asked Philip, to whom a salary of two thousand would have seemed wealth, before he started on this journey.
"Take it? I'd rather operate on my own hook;" said Harry, in his most airy manner.
A few evenings after their arrival at the Southern, Philip and Harry made the acquaintance of a very agreeable gentleman, whom they had frequently seen before about the hotel corridors, and passed a casual word with. He had the air of a man of business, and was evidently a person of importance.
The precipitating of this casual intercourse into the more substantial form of an acquaintanceship was the work of the gentleman himself, and occurred in this wise. Meeting the two friends in the lobby one evening, he asked them to give him the time, and added:
"Excuse me, gentlemen--strangers in
"Ah! by the way--
--in public life they are; you must know them, without doubt. Let me see
--let me see. Curious those names have escaped me. I know they were from
your State, because I remember afterward my old friend Governor Shackleby said to me--fine man, is the Governor--one of the finest men our country has produced--said he, 'Colonel, how did you like those New York gentlemen?--not many such men in the world,--Colonel Sellers,' said the Governor--yes, it was New York he said--I remember it distinctly. I can't recall those names, somehow. But no matter. Stopping here, gentlemen--stopping at the Southern?"
In shaping their reply in their minds, the title "Mr." had a place in it; but when their turn had arrived to speak, the title "Colonel" came from their lips instead.
They said yes, they were abiding at the Southern, and thought it a very good house.
"Yes, yes, the Southern is fair. I myself go to the Planter's, old, aristocratic house. We Southern gentlemen don't change our ways, you know. I always make it my home there when I run down from Hawkeye--my plantation is in Hawkeye, a little up in the country. You should know the Planter's."
Philip and Harry both said they should like to see a hotel that had been so famous in its day--a cheerful hostelrie, Philip said it must have been where duels were fought there across the dining-room table.
"You may believe it, sir, an uncommonly pleasant lodging. Shall we walk?"
And the three strolled along the streets, the Colonel talking all the way in the most liberal and friendly manner, and with a frank open-heartedness that inspired confidence.
"Yes, born East myself, raised all along, know the West--a great country, gentlemen. The place for a young fellow of spirit to pick up a fortune, simply pick it up, it's lying round loose here. Not a day that I don't put aside an opportunity; too busy to look into it. Management of my own property takes my time. First visit? Looking for an opening?"
"Yes, looking around," replied Harry.
"Ah, here we are. You'd rather sit here in front than go to my apartments? So had I. An opening eh?"
The Colonel's eyes twinkled. "Ah, just so. The country is opening up, all we want is capital to develop it. Slap down the rails and bring the land into market. The richest land on God Almighty's footstool is lying right out there. If I had my capital free I could plant it for millions."
"I suppose your capital is largely in your plantation?" asked Philip.
"Well, partly, sir, partly. I'm down here now with reference to a little operation--a little side thing merely. By the way gentlemen, excuse the liberty, but it's about my usual time"--
The Colonel paused, but as no movement of his acquaintances followed this plain remark, he added, in an explanatory manner,
"I'm rather particular about the exact time--have to be in this climate."
Even this open declaration of his hospitable intention not being understood the Colonel politely said,
"Gentlemen, will you take something?"
Col. Sellers led the way to a saloon on
"Not that," said the Colonel to the bar-keeper, who shoved along the counter a bottle of apparently corn-whiskey, as if he had done it before on the same order; "not that," with a wave of the hand. "That Otard if you please. Yes. Never take an inferior liquor, gentlemen, not in the evening, in this climate. There. That's the stuff. My respects!"
The hospitable gentleman, having disposed of his liquor,
remarking that it was not quite the thing--"when a man has his own cellar
to go to, he is apt to get a little fastidious about his liquors"--called
for cigars. But the brand offered did not suit him; he motioned the box away,
and asked for some particular
"I always smoke this sort, gentlemen; they are a little more expensive, but you'll learn, in this climate, that you'd better not economize on poor cigars"
Having imparted this valuable piece of information, the Colonel lighted the fragrant cigar with satisfaction, and then carelessly put his fingers into his right vest pocket. That movement being without result, with a shade of disappointment on his face, he felt in his left vest pocket. Not finding anything there, he looked up with a serious and annoyed air, anxiously slapped his right pantaloon's pocket, and then his left, and exclaimed,
"By George, that's annoying. By George, that's mortifying. Never had anything of that kind happen to me before. I've left my pocket-book. Hold! Here's a bill, after all. No, thunder, it's a receipt."
"Allow me," said Philip, seeing how seriously the Colonel was annoyed, and taking out his purse.
The Colonel protested he couldn't think of it, and muttered something to the barkeeper about "hanging it up," but the vender of exhilaration made no sign, and Philip had the privilege of paying the costly shot; Col. Sellers profusely apologizing and claiming the right "next time, next time."
As soon as Beriah Sellers had bade his friends good night and seen them depart, he did not retire apartments in the Planter's, but took his way to his lodgings with a friend in a distant part of the city.
The letter that Philip Sterling wrote to Ruth Bolton, on the
evening of setting out to seek his fortune in the west, found that young lady
in her own father's house in
It was a spring morning, and perhaps it was the influence of
it that made Ruth a little restless, satisfied neither with the out-doors nor
the in-doors. Her sisters had gone to
the city to show some country visitors Independence Hall,
"Well, mother," said the young student, looking up, with a shade of impatience.
"I wanted to talk with thee a little about thy plans."
"Mother; thee knows I couldn't stand it at
"I know," said Margaret Bolton, with a half anxious smile, thee chafes against all the ways of Friends, but what will thee do? Why is thee so discontented?"
"If I must say it, mother, I want to go away, and get out of this dead level."
With a look half of pain and half of pity, her mother answered, "I am sure thee is little interfered with; thee dresses as thee will, and goes where thee pleases, to any church thee likes, and thee has music. I had a visit yesterday from the society's committee by way of discipline, because we have a piano in the house, which is against the rules."
"I hope thee told the elders that father and I are responsible for the piano, and that, much as thee loves music, thee is never in the room when it is played. Fortunately father is already out of meeting, so they can't discipline him. I heard father tell cousin Abner that he was whipped so often for whistling when he was a boy that he was determined to have what compensation he could get now."
"Thy ways greatly try me, Ruth, and all thy relations. I desire thy happiness first of all, but thee is starting out on a dangerous path. Is thy father willing thee should go away to a school of the world's people?"
"I have not asked him," Ruth replied with a look that might imply that she was one of those determined little bodies who first made up her own mind and then compelled others to make up theirs in accordance with hers.
"And when thee has got the education thee wants, and lost all relish for the society of thy friends and the ways of thy ancestors, what then?"
Ruth turned square round to her mother, and with an impassive face and not the slightest change of tone, said,
"Mother, I'm going to study medicine?"
Margaret Bolton almost lost for a moment her habitual placidity.
"Thee, study medicine! A slight frail girl like thee, study medicine! Does thee think thee could stand it six months? And the lectures, and the dissecting rooms, has thee thought of the dissecting rooms?"
"Mother," said Ruth calmly, "I have thought it all over. I know I can go through the whole, clinics, dissecting room and all. Does thee think I lack nerve? What is there to fear in a person dead more than in a person living?"
"But thy health and strength, child; thee can never stand the severe application. And, besides, suppose thee does learn medicine?"
"I will practice it."
"Where thee and thy family are known?"
"If I can get patients."
"I hope at least, Ruth, thee will let us know when thee opens an office," said her mother, with an approach to sarcasm that she rarely indulged in, as she rose and left the room.
Ruth sat quite still for a tine, with face intent and flushed. It was out now. She had begun her open battle.
The sight-seers returned in high spirits from the city. Was there any building in
And then there was
But neither St. Girard, nor Broad street, neither wonders of the Mint nor the glories of the Hall where the ghosts of our fathers sit always signing the Declaration; impressed the visitors so much as the splendors of the Chestnut street windows, and the bargains on Eighth street. The truth is that the country cousins had come to town to attend the Yearly Meeting, and the amount of shopping that preceded that religious event was scarcely exceeded by the preparations for the opera in more worldly circles.
"Is thee going to the Yearly Meeting, Ruth?" asked one of the girls.
"I have nothing to wear," replied that demure person. "If thee wants to see new bonnets, orthodox to a shade and conformed to the letter of the true form, thee must go to the Arch Street Meeting. Any departure from either color or shape would be instantly taken note of. It has occupied mother a long time, to find at the shops the exact shade for her new bonnet. Oh, thee must go by all means. But thee won't see there a sweeter woman than mother."
"And thee won't go?"
"Why should I?
I've been again and again. If I
go to Meeting at all I like best to sit in the quiet old house in
That evening Ruth and her father sat late by the drawing-room fire, as they were quite apt to do at night. It was always a time of confidences.
"Thee has another letter from young
"Yes. Philip has gone to the far west."
"He doesn't say, but it's on the frontier, and on the map everything beyond it is marked 'Indians' and 'desert,' and looks as desolate as a Wednesday Meeting."
"Humph. It was time for him to do something. Is he going to start a daily newspaper among the Kick-a-poos?"
"Father, thee's unjust to Philip. He's going into business."
"What sort of business can a young man go into without capital?"
"He doesn't say exactly what it is," said Ruth a little dubiously, "but it's something about land and railroads, and thee knows, father, that fortunes are made nobody knows exactly how, in a new country."
"I should think so, you innocent puss, and in an old one too. But Philip is honest, and he has talent enough, if he will stop scribbling, to make his way. But thee may as well take care of theeself, Ruth, and not go dawdling along with a young man in his adventures, until thy own mind is a little more settled what thee wants."
This excellent advice did not seem to impress Ruth greatly, for she was looking away with that abstraction of vision which often came into her grey eyes, and at length she exclaimed, with a sort of impatience,
"I wish I could go west, or south, or somewhere. What a box women are put into, measured for it, and put in young; if we go anywhere it's in a box, veiled and pinioned and shut in by disabilities. Father, I should like to break things and get loose!"
What a sweet-voiced little innocent, it was to be sure.
"Thee will no doubt break things enough when thy time comes, child; women always have; but what does thee want now that thee hasn't?"
"I want to be something, to make myself something, to do something. Why should I rust, and be stupid, and sit in inaction because I am a girl? What would happen to me if thee should lose thy property and die? What one useful thing could I do for a living, for the support of mother and the children? And if I had a fortune, would thee want me to lead a useless life?"
"Has thy mother led a useless life?"
"Somewhat that depends upon whether her children amount to anything," retorted the sharp little disputant. "What's the good, father, of a series of human beings who don't advance any?"
Friend Eli, who had long ago laid aside the Quaker dress, and was out of Meeting, and who in fact after a youth of doubt could not yet define his belief, nevertheless looked with some wonder at this fierce young eagle of his, hatched in a Friend's dove-cote. But he only said,
"Has thee consulted thy mother about a career, I suppose it is a career thee wants?"
Ruth did not reply directly; she complained that her mother didn't understand her. But that wise and placid woman understood the sweet rebel a great deal better than Ruth understood herself. She also had a history, possibly, and had sometime beaten her young wings against the cage of custom, and indulged in dreams of a new social order, and had passed through that fiery period when it seems possible for one mind, which has not yet tried its limits, to break up and re-arrange the world.
Ruth replied to Philip's letter in due time and in the most cordial and unsentimental manner. Philip liked the letter, as he did everything she did; but he had a dim notion that there was more about herself in the letter than about him. He took it with him from the Southern Hotel, when he went to walk, and read it over and again in an unfrequented street as he stumbled along. The rather common-place and unformed hand-writing seemed to him peculiar and characteristic, different from that of any other woman.
Ruth was glad to hear that Philip had made a push into the
world, and she was sure that his talent and courage would make a way for
him. She should pray for his success at
any rate, and especially that the Indians, in
Philip looked rather dubious at this sentence, and wished that he had written nothing about Indians.
Eli Bolton and his wife talked over Ruth's case, as they had often done before, with no little anxiety. Alone of all their children she was impatient of the restraints and monotony of the Friends' Society, and wholly indisposed to accept the "inner light" as a guide into a life of acceptance and inaction. When Margaret told her husband of Ruth's newest project, he did not exhibit so much surprise as she hoped for. In fact he said that he did not see why a woman should not enter the medical profession if she felt a call to it.
"But," said Margaret, "consider her total inexperience of the world, and her frail health. Can such a slight little body endure the ordeal of the preparation for, or the strain of, the practice of the profession?"
"Did thee ever think, Margaret, whether, she can endure being thwarted in an, object on which she has so set her heart, as she has on this? Thee has trained her thyself at home, in her enfeebled childhood, and thee knows how strong her will is, and what she has been able to accomplish in self-culture by the simple force of her determination. She never will be satisfied until she has tried her own strength."
"I wish," said Margaret, with an inconsequence that is not exclusively feminine, "that she were in the way to fall in love and marry by and by. I think that would cure her of some of her notions. I am not sure but if she went away, to some distant school, into an entirely new life, her thoughts would be diverted."
"Perhaps thee remembers that thee had notions also, before we were married, and before thee became a member of Meeting. I think Ruth comes honestly by certain tendencies which thee has hidden under the Friend's dress."
Margaret could not say no to this, and while she paused, it was evident that memory was busy with suggestions to shake her present opinions.
"Why not let Ruth try the study for a time,"
suggested Eli; "there is a fair beginning of a Woman's
There really seemed to be nothing else to be done, and Margaret consented at length without approving. And it was agreed that Ruth, in order to spare her fatigue, should take lodgings with friends near the college and make a trial in the pursuit of that science to which we all owe our lives, and sometimes as by a miracle of escape.
That day Mr. Bolton brought home a stranger to dinner, Mr. Bigler of the great firm of Pennybacker, Bigler & Small, railroad contractors. He was always bringing home somebody, who had a scheme; to build a road, or open a mine, or plant a swamp with cane to grow paper-stock, or found a hospital, or invest in a patent shad-bone separator, or start a college somewhere on the frontier, contiguous to a land speculation.
Mr. Bigler's plan this time, about which he talked loudly, with his mouth full, all dinner time, was the building of the Tunkhannock, Rattlesnake and Young-womans-town railroad, which would not only be a great highway to the west, but would open to market inexhaustible coal-fields and untold millions of lumber. The plan of operations was very simple.
"We'll buy the lands," explained he, "on long time, backed by the notes of good men; and then mortgage them for money enough to get the road well on. Then get the towns on the line to issue their bonds for stock, and sell their bonds for enough to complete the road, and partly stock it, especially if we mortgage each section as we complete it. We can then sell the rest of the stock on the prospect of the business of the road through an improved country, and also sell the lands at a big advance, on the strength of the road. All we want," continued Mr. Bigler in his frank manner, "is a few thousand dollars to start the surveys, and arrange things in the legislature. There is some parties will have to be seen, who might make us trouble."
"It will take a good deal of money to start the enterprise," remarked Mr. Bolton, who knew very well what "seeing" a Pennsylvania Legislature meant, but was too polite to tell Mr. Bigler what he thought of him, while he was his guest; "what security would one have for it?"
Mr. Bigler smiled a hard kind of smile, and said, "You'd be inside, Mr. Bolton, and you'd have the first chance in the deal."
This was rather unintelligible to Ruth, who was nevertheless somewhat amused by the study of a type of character she had seen before. At length she interrupted the conversation by asking,
"You'd sell the stock, I suppose, Mr. Bigler, to anybody who was attracted by the prospectus?"
"O, certainly, serve all alike," said Mr. Bigler, now noticing Ruth for the first time, and a little puzzled by the serene, intelligent face that was turned towards him.
"Well, what would become of the poor people who had been led to put their little money into the speculation, when you got out of it and left it half way?"
It would be no more true to say of Mr. Bigler that he was or could be embarrassed, than to say that a brass counterfeit dollar-piece would change color when refused; the question annoyed him a little, in Mr. Bolton's presence.
"Why, yes, Miss, of course, in a great enterprise for the benefit of the community there will little things occur, which, which--and, of course, the poor ought to be looked to; I tell my wife, that the poor must be looked to; if you can tell who are poor--there's so many impostors. And then, there's so many poor in the legislature to be looked after," said the contractor with a sort of a chuckle, "isn't that so, Mr. Bolton?"
Eli Bolton replied that he never had much to do with the legislature.
"Yes," continued this public benefactor, "an uncommon poor lot this year, uncommon. Consequently an expensive lot. The fact is, Mr. Bolton, that the price is raised so high on United States Senator now, that it affects the whole market; you can't get any public improvement through on reasonable terms. Simony is what I call it, Simony," repeated Mr. Bigler, as if he had said a good thing.
Mr. Bigler went on and gave some very interesting details of the intimate connection between railroads and politics, and thoroughly entertained himself all dinner time, and as much disgusted Ruth, who asked no more questions, and her father who replied in monosyllables:
"I wish," said Ruth to her father, after the guest had gone, "that you wouldn't bring home any more such horrid men. Do all men who wear big diamond breast-pins, flourish their knives at table, and use bad grammar, and cheat?"
"O, child, thee mustn't be too observing. Mr. Bigler is one of the most important men
in the state; nobody has more influence at
"Father, I think thee'd better have his ill-will than
his company. Is it true that he gave
money to help build the pretty little
"Yes. He is not
such a bad fellow. One of the men in
"I think he's just horrid," was Ruth's final summary of him, after the manner of the swift judgment of women, with no consideration of the extenuating circumstances. Mr. Bigler had no idea that he had not made a good impression on the whole family; he certainly intended to be agreeable. Margaret agreed with her daughter, and though she never said anything to such people, she was grateful to Ruth for sticking at least one pin into him.
Such was the serenity of the Bolton household that a
stranger in it would never have suspected there was any opposition to Ruth's
going to the
Ruth was absorbed, and for the first time in her life thoroughly happy; happy in the freedom of her life, and in the keen enjoyment of the investigation that broadened its field day by day. She was in high spirits when she came home to spend First Days; the house was full of her gaiety and her merry laugh, and the children wished that Ruth would never go away again. But her mother noticed, with a little anxiety, the sometimes flushed face, and the sign of an eager spirit in the kindling eyes, and, as well, the serious air of determination and endurance in her face at unguarded moments.
The college was a small one and it sustained itself not without difficulty in this city, which is so conservative, and is yet the origin of so many radical movements. There were not more than a dozen attendants on the lectures all together, so that the enterprise had the air of an experiment, and the fascination of pioneering for those engaged in it. There was one woman physician driving about town in her carriage, attacking the most violent diseases in all quarters with persistent courage, like a modern Bellona in her war chariot, who was popularly supposed to gather in fees to the amount ten to twenty thousand dollars a year. Perhaps some of these students looked forward to the near day when they would support such a practice and a husband besides, but it is unknown that any of them ever went further than practice in hospitals and in their own nurseries, and it is feared that some of them were quite as ready as their sisters, in emergencies, to "call a man."
If Ruth had any exaggerated expectations of a professional life, she kept them to herself, and was known to her fellows of the class simply as a cheerful, sincere student, eager in her investigations, and never impatient at anything, except an insinuation that women had not as much mental capacity for science as men.
"They really say," said one young Quaker sprig to another youth of his age, "that Ruth Bolton is really going to be a saw-bones, attends lectures, cuts up bodies, and all that. She's cool enough for a surgeon, anyway." He spoke feelingly, for he had very likely been weighed in Ruth's calm eyes sometime, and thoroughly scared by the little laugh that accompanied a puzzling reply to one of his conversational nothings. Such young gentlemen, at this time, did not come very distinctly into Ruth's horizon, except as amusing circumstances.
About the details of her student life, Ruth said very little to her friends, but they had reason to know, afterwards, that it required all her nerve and the almost complete exhaustion of her physical strength, to carry her through. She began her anatomical practice upon detached portions of the human frame, which were brought into the demonstrating room--dissecting the eye, the ear, and a small tangle of muscles and nerves--an occupation which had not much more savor of death in it than the analysis of a portion of a plant out of which the life went when it was plucked up by the roots. Custom inures the most sensitive persons to that which is at first most repellant; and in the late war we saw the most delicate women, who could not at home endure the sight of blood, become so used to scenes of carnage, that they walked the hospitals and the margins of battle-fields, amid the poor remnants of torn humanity, with as perfect self-possession as if they were strolling in a flower garden.
It happened that Ruth was one evening deep in a line of investigation which she could not finish or understand without demonstration, and so eager was she in it, that it seemed as if she could not wait till the next day. She, therefore, persuaded a fellow student, who was reading that evening with her, to go down to the dissecting room of the college, and ascertain what they wanted to know by an hour's work there. Perhaps, also, Ruth wanted to test her own nerve, and to see whether the power of association was stronger in her mind than her own will.
The janitor of the shabby and comfortless old building admitted the girls, not without suspicion, and gave them lighted candles, which they would need, without other remark than "there's a new one, Miss," as the girls went up the broad stairs.
They climbed to the third story, and paused before a door, which they unlocked, and which admitted them into a long apartment, with a row of windows on one side and one at the end. The room was without light, save from the stars and the candles the girls carried, which revealed to them dimly two long and several small tables, a few benches and chairs, a couple of skeletons hanging on the wall, a sink, and cloth-covered heaps of something upon the tables here and there.
The windows were open, and the cool night wind came in strong enough to flutter a white covering now and then, and to shake the loose casements. But all the sweet odors of the night could not take from the room a faint suggestion of mortality.
The young ladies paused a moment. The room itself was familiar enough, but night makes almost any chamber eerie, and especially such a room of detention as this where the mortal parts of the unburied might--almost be supposed to be, visited, on the sighing night winds, by the wandering spirits of their late tenants.
Opposite and at some distance across the roofs of lower buildings, the girls saw a tall edifice, the long upper story of which seemed to be a dancing hall. The windows of that were also open, and through them they heard the scream of the jiggered and tortured violin, and the pump, pump of the oboe, and saw the moving shapes of men and women in quick transition, and heard the prompter's drawl.
"I wonder," said Ruth, "what the girls dancing there would think if they saw us, or knew that there was such a room as this so near them."
She did not speak very loud, and, perhaps unconsciously, the girls drew near to each other as they approached the long table in the centre of the room. A straight object lay upon it, covered with a sheet. This was doubtless "the new one" of which the janitor spoke. Ruth advanced, and with a not very steady hand lifted the white covering from the upper part of the figure and turned it down. Both the girls started. It was a negro. The black face seemed to defy the pallor of death, and asserted an ugly life-likeness that was frightful.
Ruth was as pale as the white sheet, and her comrade whispered, "Come away, Ruth, it is awful."
Perhaps it was the wavering light of the candles, perhaps it was only the agony from a death of pain, but the repulsive black face seemed to wear a scowl that said, "Haven't you yet done with the outcast, persecuted black man, but you must now haul him from his grave, and send even your women to dismember his body?"
Who is this dead man, one of thousands who died yesterday, and will be dust anon, to protest that science shall not turn his worthless carcass to some account?
Ruth could have had no such thought, for with a pity in her sweet face, that for the moment overcame fear and disgust, she reverently replaced the covering, and went away to her own table, as her companion did to hers. And there for an hour they worked at their several problems, without speaking, but not without an awe of the presence there, "the new one," and not without an awful sense of life itself, as they heard the pulsations of the music and the light laughter from the dancing-hall.
When, at length, they went away, and locked the dreadful room behind them, and came out into the street, where people were passing, they, for the first time, realized, in the relief they felt, what a nervous strain they had been under.
While Ruth was thus absorbed in her new occupation, and the spring was wearing away, Philip and his friends were still detained at the Southern Hotel. The great contractors had concluded their business with the state and railroad officials and with the lesser contractors, and departed for the East. But the serious illness of one of the engineers kept Philip and Henry in the city and occupied in alternate watchings.
Philip wrote to Ruth of the new acquaintance they had made, Col. Sellers, an enthusiastic and hospitable gentleman, very much interested in the development of the country, and in their success. They had not had an opportunity to visit at his place "up in the country" yet, but the Colonel often dined with them, and in confidence, confided to them his projects, and seemed to take a great liking to them, especially to his friend Harry. It was true that he never seemed to have ready money, but he was engaged in very large operations.
The correspondence was not very brisk between these two young persons, so differently occupied; for though Philip wrote long letters, he got brief ones in reply, full of sharp little observations however, such as one concerning Col. Sellers, namely, that such men dined at their house every week.
Ruth's proposed occupation astonished Philip immensely, but while he argued it and discussed it, he did not dare hint to her his fear that it would interfere with his most cherished plans. He too sincerely respected Ruth's judgment to make any protest, however, and he would have defended her course against the world.
This enforced waiting at
Harry was entirely happy; in his circumstances. He very soon knew everybody, from the governor of the state down to the waiters at the hotel. He had the Wall street slang at his tongue's end; he always talked like a capitalist, and entered with enthusiasm into all the land and railway schemes with which the air was thick.
Col. Sellers and Harry talked together by the hour and by the day. Harry informed his new friend that he was going out with the engineer corps of the Salt Lick Pacific Extension, but that wasn't his real business.
"I'm to have, with another party," said Harry, "a big contract in the road, as soon as it is let; and, meantime, I'm with the engineers to spy out the best land and the depot sites."
"It's everything," suggested' the Colonel,
"in knowing where to invest. I've known people throwaway their money
because they were too consequential to
take Sellers' advice. Others, again,
have made their pile on taking it. I've
looked over the ground; I've been studying it for twenty years. You can't put your finger on a spot in the
"Oh, I haven't got much in ready money I can lay my hands on now, but if a fellow could do anything with fifteen or twenty thousand dollars, as a beginning, I shall draw for that when I see the right opening."
"Well, that's something, that's something, fifteen or twenty thousand dollars, say twenty--as an advance," said the Colonel reflectively, as if turning over his mind for a project that could be entered on with such a trifling sum.
"I'll tell you what it is--but only to you Mr. Brierly, only to you, mind; I've got a little project that I've been keeping. It looks small, looks small on paper, but it's got a big future. What should you say, sir, to a city, built up like the rod of Aladdin had touched it, built up in two years, where now you wouldn't expect it any more than you'd expect a light-house on the top of Pilot Knob? and you could own the land! It can be done, sir. It can be done!"
The Colonel hitched up his chair close to Harry, laid his hand on his knee, and, first looking about him, said in a low voice, "The Salt Lick Pacific Extension is going to run through Stone's Landing! The Almighty never laid out a cleaner piece of level prairie for a city; and it's the natural center of all that region of hemp and tobacco."
"What makes you think the road will go there? It's twenty miles, on the map, off the straight line of the road?"
"You can't tell what is the straight line till the engineers have been over it. Between us, I have talked with Jeff Thompson, the division engineer. He understands the wants of Stone's Landing, and the claims of the inhabitants--who are to be there. Jeff says that a railroad is for --the accommodation of the people and not for the benefit of gophers; and if, he don't run this to Stone's Landing he'll be damned! You ought to know Jeff; he's one of the most enthusiastic engineers in this western country, and one of the best fellows that ever looked through the bottom of a glass."
The recommendation was not undeserved. There was nothing that Jeff wouldn't do, to
accommodate a friend, from sharing his last dollar with him, to winging him in
a duel. When he understood from Col.
Sellers. how the land lay at Stone's Landing, he cordially shook hands with
that gentleman, asked him to drink, and fairly roared out, "Why, God bless
my soul, Colonel, a word from one
Philip had not so much faith as Harry in Stone's Landing, when the latter opened the project to him, but Harry talked about it as if he already owned that incipient city.
Harry thoroughly believed in all his projects and
inventions, and lived day by day in their golden atmosphere. Everybody liked the young fellow, for how
could they help liking one of such engaging manners and large fortune? The waiters at the hotel would do more for
him than for any other guest, and he made a great many acquaintances among the
Meantime the days went along and the weeks, and the money in
Harry's pocket got lower and lower. He
was just as liberal with what he had as before, indeed it was his nature to be
free with his money or with that of others, and he could lend or spend a dollar
with an air that made it seem like ten.
At length, at the end of one week, when his hotel bill was presented,
Harry found not a cent in his pocket to meet it. He carelessly remarked to the landlord that
he was not that day in funds, but he would draw on
But the bill had to be paid, and Harry took it to Philip, and asked him if he thought he hadn't better draw on his uncle. Philip had not much faith in Harry's power of "drawing," and told him that he would pay the bill himself. Whereupon Harry dismissed the matter then and thereafter from his thoughts, and, like a light-hearted good fellow as he was, gave himself no more trouble about his board-bills. Philip paid them, swollen as they were with a monstrous list of extras; but he seriously counted the diminishing bulk of his own hoard, which was all the money he had in the world. Had he not tacitly agreed to share with Harry to the last in this adventure, and would not the generous fellow divide; with him if he, Philip, were in want and Harry had anything?
The fever at length got tired of tormenting the stout young engineer, who lay sick at the hotel, and left him, very thin, a little sallow but an "acclimated" man. Everybody said he was "acclimated" now, and said it cheerfully. What it is to be acclimated to western fevers no two persons exactly agree.
Some say it is a sort of vaccination that renders death by some malignant type of fever less probable. Some regard it as a sort of initiation, like that into the Odd Fellows, which renders one liable to his regular dues thereafter. Others consider it merely the acquisition of a habit of taking every morning before breakfast a dose of bitters, composed of whiskey and assafoetida, out of the acclimation jug.
Jeff Thompson afterwards told Philip that he once asked
Senator Atchison, then acting Vice-President: of the
"I suppose, Senator, that you have become acclimated to this country?"
"Well," said the Vice-President, crossing his legs, pulling his wide-awake down over his forehead, causing a passing chicken to hop quickly one side by the accuracy of his aim, and speaking with senatorial deliberation, "I think I have. I've been here twenty-five years, and dash, dash my dash to dash, if I haven't entertained twenty-five separate and distinct earthquakes, one a year. The niggro is the only person who can stand the fever and ague of this region."
The convalescence of the engineer was the signal for
breaking up quarters at
"I shall send you up that basket of champagne by the next boat; no, no; no thanks; you'll find it not bad in camp," he cried out as the plank was hauled in. "My respects to Thompson. Tell him to sight for Stone's. Let me know, Mr. Brierly, when you are ready to locate; I'll come over from Hawkeye. Goodbye."
And the last the young fellows saw of the Colonel, he was waving his hat, and beaming prosperity and good luck.
The voyage was delightful, and was not long enough to become
monotonous. The travelers scarcely had time indeed to get accustomed to the
splendors of the great saloon where the tables were spread for meals, a marvel
of paint and gilding, its ceiling hung with fancifully cut tissue-paper of many
colors, festooned and arranged in endless patterns. The whole was more beautiful than a barber's
shop. The printed bill of fare at dinner
was longer and more varied, the proprietors justly boasted, than that of any
The travelers landed at a little settlement on the left bank, and at once took horses for the camp in the interior, carrying their clothes and blankets strapped behind the saddles. Harry was dressed as we have seen him once before, and his long and shining boots attracted not a little the attention of the few persons they met on the road, and especially of the bright faced wenches who lightly stepped along the highway, picturesque in their colored kerchiefs, carrying light baskets, or riding upon mules and balancing before them a heavier load.
Harry sang fragments of operas and talked abort their fortune. Philip even was excited by the sense of freedom and adventure, and the beauty of the landscape. The prairie, with its new grass and unending acres of brilliant flowers--chiefly the innumerable varieties of phlox-bore the look of years of cultivation, and the occasional open groves of white oaks gave it a park-like appearance. It was hardly unreasonable to expect to see at any moment, the gables and square windows of an Elizabethan mansion in one of the well kept groves.
Towards sunset of the third day, when the young gentlemen
thought they ought to be near the town of
"Can you tell me, auntie, how far it is to the town of
"Why, bress you chile," laughed the woman, "you's dere now."
It was true. This log horse was the compactly built town, and all creation was its suburbs. The engineers' camp was only two or three miles distant.
"You's boun' to find it," directed auntie, "if you don't keah nuffin 'bout de road, and go fo' de sun-down."
A brisk gallop brought the riders in sight of the twinkling light of the camp, just as the stars came out. It lay in a little hollow, where a small stream ran through a sparse grove of young white oaks. A half dozen tents were pitched under the trees, horses and oxen were corraled at a little distance, and a group of men sat on camp stools or lay on blankets about a bright fire. The twang of a banjo became audible as they drew nearer, and they saw a couple of negroes, from some neighboring plantation, "breaking down" a juba in approved style, amid the "hi, hi's" of the spectators.
Mr. Jeff Thompson, for it was the camp of this redoubtable engineer, gave the travelers a hearty welcome, offered them ground room in his own tent, ordered supper, and set out a small jug, a drop from which he declared necessary on account of the chill of the evening.
"I never saw an Eastern man," said Jeff, "who knew how to drink from a jug with one hand. It's as easy as lying. So." He grasped the handle with the right hand, threw the jug back upon his arm, and applied his lips to the nozzle. It was an act as graceful as it was simple. "Besides," said Mr. Thompson, setting it down, "it puts every man on his honor as to quantity."
Early to turn in was the rule of the camp, and by nine o'clock everybody was under his blanket, except Jeff himself, who worked awhile at his table over his field-book, and then arose, stepped outside the tent door and sang, in a strong and not unmelodious tenor, the Star Spangled Banner from beginning to end. It proved to be his nightly practice to let off the unexpended seam of his conversational powers, in the words of this stirring song.
It was a long time before Philip got to sleep. He saw the fire light, he saw the clear stars through the tree-tops, he heard the gurgle of the stream, the stamp of the horses, the occasional barking of the dog which followed the cook's wagon, the hooting of an owl; and when these failed he saw Jeff, standing on a battlement, mid the rocket's red glare, and heard him sing, "Oh, say, can you see?", It was the first time he had ever slept on the ground.
----"We have view'd it,
And measur'd it within all, by the scale
The richest tract of land, love, in the kingdom!
There will be made seventeen or eighteeen millions,
Or more, as't may be handled!"
The Devil is an Ass.
Nobody dressed more like an engineer than Mr. Henry Brierly. The completeness of his appointments was the envy of the corps, and the gay fellow himself was the admiration of the camp servants, axemen, teamsters and cooks.
"I reckon you didn't git them boots no wher's this side
o' Sent Louis?" queried the tall
"Yas, I've heern o'
"It's not far off."
"Abolish'n wan't it? They must a cost right smart," referring to the boots.
Harry shouldered his rod and went to the field, tramped over the prairie by day, and figured up results at night, with the utmost cheerfulness and industry, and plotted the line on the profile paper, without, however, the least idea of engineering practical or theoretical. Perhaps there was not a great deal of scientific knowledge in the entire corps, nor was very much needed. They were making, what is called a preliminary survey, and the chief object of a preliminary survey was to get up an excitement about the road, to interest every town in that part of the state in it, under the belief that the road would run through it, and to get the aid of every planter upon the prospect that a station would be on his land.
Mr. Jeff Thompson was the most popular engineer who could be found for this work. He did not bother himself much about details or practicabilities of location, but ran merrily along, sighting from the top of one divide to the top of another, and striking "plumb" every town site and big plantation within twenty or thirty miles of his route. In his own language he "just went booming."
This course gave Harry an opportunity, as he said, to learn the practical details of engineering, and it gave Philip a chance to see the country, and to judge for himself what prospect of a fortune it offered. Both he and Harry got the "refusal" of more than one plantation as they went along, and wrote urgent letters to their eastern correspondents, upon the beauty of the land and the certainty that it would quadruple in value as soon as the road was finally located. It seemed strange to them that capitalists did not flock out there and secure this land.
They had not been in the field over two weeks when Harry wrote to his friend Col. Sellers that he'd better be on the move, for the line was certain to go to Stone's Landing. Any one who looked at the line on the map, as it was laid down from day to day, would have been uncertain which way it was going; but Jeff had declared that in his judgment the only practicable route from the point they then stood on was to follow the divide to Stone's Landing, and it was generally understood that that town would be the next one hit.
"We'll make it, boys," said the chief, "if we have to go in a balloon."
And make it they did In less than a week, this indomitable engineer had carried his moving caravan over slues and branches, across bottoms and along divides, and pitched his tents in the very heart of the city of Stone's Landing.
"Well, I'll be dashed," was heard the cheery voice
of Mr. Thompson, as he stepped outside the tent door at sunrise next morning. "If this don't get me. I say, yon, Grayson, get out your sighting
iron and see if you can find old Sellers' town.
Blame me if we wouldn't have run plumb by it if twilight had held on a
little longer. Oh!
The fellows turned out of the tents, rubbing their eyes, and stared about them. They were camped on the second bench of the narrow bottom of a crooked, sluggish stream, that was some five rods wide in the present good stage of water. Before them were a dozen log cabins, with stick and mud chimneys, irregularly disposed on either side of a not very well defined road, which did not seem to know its own mind exactly, and, after straggling through the town, wandered off over the rolling prairie in an uncertain way, as if it had started for nowhere and was quite likely to reach its destination. Just as it left the town, however, it was cheered and assisted by a guide-board, upon which was the legend "10 Mils to Hawkeye."
The road had never been made except by the travel over it, and at this season--the rainy June--it was a way of ruts cut in the black soil, and of fathomless mud-holes. In the principal street of the city, it had received more attention; for hogs; great and small, rooted about in it and wallowed in it, turning the street into a liquid quagmire which could only be crossed on pieces of plank thrown here and there.
About the chief cabin, which was the store and grocery of this mart of trade, the mud was more liquid than elsewhere, and the rude platform in front of it and the dry-goods boxes mounted thereon were places of refuge for all the loafers of the place. Down by the stream was a dilapidated building which served for a hemp warehouse, and a shaky wharf extended out from it, into the water. In fact a flat-boat was there moored by it, it's setting poles lying across the gunwales. Above the town the stream was crossed by a crazy wooden bridge, the supports of which leaned all ways in the soggy soil; the absence of a plank here and there in the flooring made the crossing of the bridge faster than a walk an offense not necessary to be prohibited by law.
"This, gentlemen," said Jeff, "is
As the sun rose and sent his level beams along the stream, the thin stratum of mist, or malaria, rose also and dispersed, but the light was not able to enliven the dull water nor give any hint of its apparently fathomless depth. Venerable mud-turtles crawled up and roosted upon the old logs in the stream, their backs glistening in the sun, the first inhabitants of the metropolis to begin the active business of the day.
It was not long, however, before smoke began to issue from the city chimneys; and before the engineers, had finished their breakfast they were the object of the curious inspection of six or eight boys and men, who lounged into the camp and gazed about them with languid interest, their hands in their pockets every one.
"Good morning; gentlemen," called out the chief engineer, from the table.
"Good mawning," drawled out the spokesman of the party. "I allow thish-yers the railroad, I heern it was a-comin'."
"Yes, this is the railroad; all but the rails and the ironhorse."
"I reckon you kin git all the rails you want oaten my white oak timber over, thar," replied the first speaker, who appeared to be a man of property and willing to strike up a trade.
"You'll have to negotiate with the contractors about the rails, sir," said Jeff; "here's Mr. Brierly, I've no doubt would like to buy your rails when the time comes."
"O," said the man, "I thought maybe you'd fetch the whole bilin along with you. But if you want rails, I've got em, haint I Eph."
"Heaps," said Eph, without taking his eyes off the group at the table.
"Well," said Mr. Thompson, rising from his seat and moving towards his tent, "the railroad has come to Stone's Landing, sure; I move we take a drink on it all round."
The proposal met with universal favor. Jeff gave prosperity to Stone's Landing and navigation to Goose Run, and the toast was washed down with gusto, in the simple fluid of corn; and with the return compliment that a rail road was a good thing, and that Jeff Thompson was no slouch.
About ten o'clock a horse and wagon was descried making a slow approach to the camp over the prairie. As it drew near, the wagon was seen to contain a portly gentleman, who hitched impatiently forward on his seat, shook the reins and gently touched up his horse, in the vain attempt to communicate his own energy to that dull beast, and looked eagerly at the tents. When the conveyance at length drew up to Mr. Thompson's door, the gentleman descended with great deliberation, straightened himself up, rubbed his hands, and beaming satisfaction from every part of his radiant frame, advanced to the group that was gathered to welcome him, and which had saluted him by name as soon as he came within hearing.
"Welcome to Napoleon, gentlemen, welcome. I am proud to see you here Mr. Thompson. You are, looking well Mr. Sterling. This is the country, sir. Right glad to see you Mr. Brierly. You got that basket of champagne? No?
Those blasted river thieves! I'll
never send anything more by 'em. The
best brand, Roederer. The last I had in
my cellar, from a lot sent me by Sir George Gore--took him out on a buffalo
hunt, when he visited our, country. Is
always sending me some trifle. You
haven't looked about any yet, gentlemen?
It's in the rough yet, in the rough.
Those buildings will all have to come down. That's the place for the public square, Court
House, hotels, churches, jail--all that sort of thing. About where we stand, the deepo. How does that strike your engineering eye,
Mr. Thompson? Down yonder the business
streets, running to the wharves. The
University up there, on rising ground, sightly place, see the river for
"Don't now evidently," said Philip aside to Harry. "Have you breakfasted Colonel?"
"Hastily. Cup of
coffee. Can't trust any coffee I don't
import myself. But I put up a basket of provisions,--wife would put in a few
delicacies, women always will, and a half dozen of that
Apparently it was not there. For the Colonel raised up the flap, looked in front and behind, and then exclaimed,
"Confound it. That comes of not doing a thing yourself. I trusted to the women folks to set that basket in the wagon, and it ain't there."
The camp cook speedily prepared a savory breakfast for the Colonel, broiled chicken, eggs, corn-bread, and coffee, to which he did ample justice, and topped off with a drop of Old Bourbon, from Mr. Thompson's private store, a brand which he said he knew well, he should think it came from his own sideboard.
While the engineer corps went to the field, to run back a couple of miles and ascertain, approximately, if a road could ever get down to the Landing, and to sight ahead across the Run, and see if it could ever get out again, Col. Sellers and Harry sat down and began to roughly map out the city of Napoleon on a large piece of drawing paper.
"I've got the refusal of a mile square here," said the Colonel, "in our names, for a year, with a quarter interest reserved for the four owners."
They laid out the town liberally, not lacking room, leaving space for the railroad to come in, and for the river as it was to be when improved.
The engineers reported that the railroad could come in, by taking a little sweep and crossing the stream on a high bridge, but the grades would be steep. Col. Sellers said he didn't care so much about the grades, if the road could only be made to reach the elevators on the river. The next day Mr. Thompson made a hasty survey of the stream for a mile or two, so that the Colonel and Harry were enabled to show on their map how nobly that would accommodate the city. Jeff took a little writing from the Colonel and Harry for a prospective share but Philip declined to join in, saying that he had no money, and didn't want to make engagements he couldn't fulfill.
The next morning the camp moved on, followed till it was out of sight by the listless eyes of the group in front of the store, one of whom remarked that, "he'd be doggoned if he ever expected to see that railroad any mo'."
Harry went with the Colonel to Hawkeye to complete their
arrangements, a part of which was the preparation of a petition to congress for
the improvement of the navigation of
Eight years have passed since the death of Mr. Hawkins. Eight years are not many in the life of a
nation or the history of a state, but they maybe years of destiny that shall
fix the current of the century following.
Such years were those that followed the little scrimmage on Lexington
Common. Such years were those that
followed the double-shotted demand for the surrender of
The eight years in America from 1860 to 1868 uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people, transformed the social life of half the country, and wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations.
As we are accustomed to interpret the economy of providence, the life of the individual is as nothing to that of the nation or the race; but who can say, in the broader view and the more intelligent weight of values, that the life of one man is not more than that of a nationality, and that there is not a tribunal where the tragedy of one human soul shall not seem more significant than the overturning of any human institution whatever?
When one thinks of the tremendous forces of the upper and the nether world which play for the mastery of the soul of a woman during the few years in which she passes from plastic girlhood to the ripe maturity of womanhood, he may well stand in awe before the momentous drama.
What capacities she has of purity, tenderness, goodness; what capacities of vileness, bitterness and evil. Nature must needs be lavish with the mother and creator of men, and centre in her all the possibilities of life. And a few critical years can decide whether her life is to be full of sweetness and light, whether she is to be the vestal of a holy temple, or whether she will be the fallen priestess of a desecrated shrine. There are women, it is true, who seem to be capable neither of rising much nor of falling much, and whom a conventional life saves from any special development of character.
But Laura was not one of them. She had the fatal gift of beauty, and that more fatal gift which does not always accompany mere beauty, the power of fascination, a power that may, indeed, exist without beauty. She had will, and pride and courage and ambition, and she was left to be very much her own guide at the age when romance comes to the aid of passion, and when the awakening powers of her vigorous mind had little object on which to discipline themselves.
The tremendous conflict that was fought in this girl's soul none of those about her knew, and very few knew that her life had in it anything unusual or romantic or strange.
Those were troublous days in Hawkeye as well as in most
Fortunately we only need to deal with Laura's life at this period historically, and look back upon such portions of it as will serve to reveal the woman as she was at the time of the arrival of Mr. Harry Brierly in Hawkeye.
The Hawkins family were settled there, and had a hard enough
struggle with poverty and the necessity of keeping up appearances in accord
with their own family pride and the large expectations they secretly cherished
of a fortune in the Knobs of East Tennessee.
How pinched they were perhaps no one knew but Clay, to whom they looked
for almost their whole support.
He went out with a company from Hawkeye to the war, and was not wanting in courage, but he would have been a better soldier if he had been less engaged in contrivances for circumventing the enemy by strategy unknown to the books.
It happened to him to be captured in one of his self-appointed expeditions, but the federal colonel released him, after a short examination, satisfied that he could most injure the confederate forces opposed to the Unionists by returning him to his regiment. Col. Sellers was of course a prominent man during the war. He was captain of the home guards in Hawkeye, and he never left home except upon one occasion, when on the strength of a rumor, he executed a flank movement and fortified Stone's Landing, a place which no one unacquainted with the country would be likely to find.
"Gad," said the Colonel afterwards, "the
Landing is the key to upper
The Colonel had his own theories about war as he had in
other things. If everybody had stayed at home as he did, he said, the South
never would have been conquered. For
what would there have been to conquer? Mr. Jeff Davis was constantly writing him to
take command of a corps in the confederate army, but Col. Sellers said, no, his
duty was at home. And he was by no means
idle. He was the inventor of the famous
air torpedo, which came very near destroying the Union armies in
His plan was to fill a torpedo with Greek fire and poisonous
and deadly missiles, attach it to a balloon, and then let it sail away over the
hostile camp and explode at the right moment, when the time-fuse burned
out. He intended to use this invention
in the capture of
The patriotic old gentleman, however, planted so much powder and so many explosive contrivances in the roads leading into Hawkeye, and then forgot the exact spots of danger, that people were afraid to travel the highways, and used to come to town across the fields, The Colonel's motto was, "Millions for defence but not one cent for tribute."
When Laura came to Hawkeye she might have forgotten the annoyances of the gossips of Murpheysburg and have out lived the bitterness that was growing in her heart, if she had been thrown less upon herself, or if the surroundings of her life had been more congenial and helpful. But she had little society, less and less as she grew older that was congenial to her, and her mind preyed upon itself; and the mystery of her birth at once chagrined her and raised in her the most extravagant expectations. She was proud and she felt the sting of poverty. She could not but be conscious of her beauty also, and she was vain of that, and came to take a sort of delight in the exercise of her fascinations upon the rather loutish young men who came in her way and whom she despised.
There was another world opened to her--a world of books. But it was not the best world of that sort, for the small libraries she had access to in Hawkeye were decidedly miscellaneous, and largely made up of romances and fictions which fed her imagination with the most exaggerated notions of life, and showed her men and women in a very false sort of heroism. From these stories she learned what a woman of keen intellect and some culture joined to beauty and fascination of manner, might expect to accomplish in society as she read of it; and along with these ideas she imbibed other very crude ones in regard to the emancipation of woman.
There were also other books-histories, biographies of distinguished people, travels in far lands, poems, especially those of Byron, Scott and Shelley and Moore, which she eagerly absorbed, and appropriated therefrom what was to her liking. Nobody in Hawkeye had read so much or, after a fashion, studied so diligently as Laura. She passed for an accomplished girl, and no doubt thought herself one, as she was, judged by any standard near her.
During the war there came to Hawkeye a confederate officer, Col. Selby, who was stationed there for a time, in command of that district. He was a handsome, soldierly man of thirty years, a graduate of the University of Virginia, and of distinguished family, if his story might be believed, and, it was evident, a man of the world and of extensive travel and adventure.
To find in such an out of the way country place a woman like Laura was a piece of good luck upon which Col. Selby congratulated himself. He was studiously polite to her and treated her with a consideration to which she was unaccustomed. She had read of such men, but she had never seen one before, one so high-bred, so noble in sentiment, so entertaining in conversation, so engaging in manner.
It is a long story; unfortunately it is an old story, and it need not be dwelt on. Laura loved him, and believed that his love for her was as pure and deep as her own. She worshipped him and would have counted her life a little thing to give him, if he would only love her and let her feed the hunger of her heart upon him.
The passion possessed her whole being, and lifted her up, till she seemed to walk on air. It was all true, then, the romances she had read, the bliss of love she had dreamed of. Why had she never noticed before how blithesome the world was, how jocund with love; the birds sang it, the trees whispered it to her as she passed, the very flowers beneath her feet strewed the way as for a bridal march.
When the Colonel went away they were engaged to be married, as soon as he could make certain arrangements which he represented to be necessary, and quit the army. He wrote to her from Harding, a small town in the southwest corner of the state, saying that he should be held in the service longer than he had expected, but that it would not be more than a few months, then he should be at liberty to take her to Chicago where he had property, and should have business, either now or as soon as the war was over, which he thought could not last long. Meantime why should they be separated? He was established in comfortable quarters, and if she could find company and join him, they would be married, and gain so many more months of happiness.
Was woman ever prudent when she loved? Laura went to Harding, the neighbors supposed to nurse Washington who had fallen ill there. Her engagement was, of course, known in Hawkeye, and was indeed a matter of pride to her family. Mrs. Hawkins would have told the first inquirer that. Laura had gone to be married; but Laura had cautioned her; she did not want to be thought of, she said, as going in search of a husband; let the news come back after she was married.
So she traveled to Harding on the pretence we have
mentioned, and was married. She was
married, but something must have happened on that very day or the next that
Communication that summer, as may be imagined, was neither regular nor frequent between the remote confederate camp at Harding and Hawkeye, and Laura was in a measure lost sight of--indeed, everyone had troubles enough of his own without borrowing from his neighbors.
Laura had given herself utterly to her husband, and if he had faults, if he was selfish, if he was sometimes coarse, if he was dissipated, she did not or would not see it. It was the passion of her life, the time when her whole nature went to flood tide and swept away all barriers. Was her husband ever cold or indifferent? She shut her eyes to everything but her sense of possession of her idol.
Three months passed. One morning her husband informed her that he had been ordered South, and must go within two hours.
"I can be ready," said Laura, cheerfully.
"But I can't take you. You must go back to Hawkeye."
"Can't-take-me?" Laura asked, with wonder in her eyes. "I can't live without you. You said-----"
"O bother what I said,"--and the Colonel took up his sword to buckle it on, and then continued coolly, "the fact is Laura, our romance is played out."
Laura heard, but she did not comprehend. She caught his arm and cried, "George, how can you joke so cruelly? I will go any where with you. I will wait any where. I can't go back to Hawkeye."
"Well, go where you like. Perhaps," continued he with a sneer, "you would do as well to wait here, for another colonel."
Laura's brain whirled. She did not yet comprehend. "What does this mean? Where are you going?"
"It means," said the officer, in measured words,
"that you haven't anything to show for a legal marriage, and that I am
"It's a lie, George, it's a lie. I am your wife. I shall go.
I shall follow you to
"Perhaps my wife might not like it!"
Laura raised her head, her eyes flamed with fire, she tried to utter a cry, and fell senseless on the floor.
When she came to herself the Colonel was gone. Washington Hawkins stood at her bedside. Did she come to herself? Was there anything left in her heart but hate and bitterness, a sense of an infamous wrong at the hands of the only man she had ever loved?
She returned to Hawkeye. With the exception of Washington and his mother, no one knew what had happened. The neighbors supposed that the engagement with Col. Selby had fallen through. Laura was ill for a long time, but she recovered; she had that resolution in her that could conquer death almost. And with her health came back her beauty, and an added fascination, a something that might be mistaken for sadness. Is there a beauty in the knowledge of evil, a beauty that shines out in the face of a person whose inward life is transformed by some terrible experience? Is the pathos in the eyes of the Beatrice Cenci from her guilt or her innocence?
Laura was not much changed. The lovely woman had a devil in her heart. That was all.
Mr. Harry Brierly drew his pay as an engineer while he was living at the City Hotel in Hawkeye. Mr. Thompson had been kind enough to say that it didn't make any difference whether he was with the corps or not; and although Harry protested to the Colonel daily and to Washington Hawkins that he must go back at once to the line and superintend the lay-out with reference to his contract, yet he did not go, but wrote instead long letters to Philip, instructing him to keep his eye out, and to let him know when any difficulty occurred that required his presence.
Meantime Harry blossomed out in the society of Hawkeye, as
he did in any society where fortune cast him and he had the slightest
opportunity to expand. Indeed the
talents of a rich and accomplished young fellow like Harry were not likely to go
unappreciated in such a place. A land
operator, engaged in vast speculations, a favorite in the select circles of
"Gad," says Harry to the Colonel, "she's a
superb creature, she'd make a stir in
Harry had a way of looking at women as he looked at anything else in the world he wanted, and he half resolved to appropriate Miss Laura, during his stay in Hawkeye. Perhaps the Colonel divined his thoughts, or was offended at Harry's talk, for he replied,
"No nonsense, Mr. Brierly. Nonsense won't do in Hawkeye, not with my
friends. The Hawkins' blood is good
blood, all the way from
"Of course, Colonel.
Not the least offense intended.
But you can see she is a fascinating woman. I was only thinking, as to this appropriation,
now, what such a woman could do in
"Would you have her sign our petition?" asked the Colonel, innocently.
Harry laughed. "Women don't get anything by petitioning Congress; nobody does, that's for form. Petitions are referred somewhere, and that's the last of them; you can't refer a handsome woman so easily, when she is present. They prefer 'em mostly."
The petition however was elaborately drawn up, with a
glowing description of Napoleon and the adjacent country, and a statement of
the absolute necessity to the prosperity of that region and of one of the
stations on the great through route to the Pacific, of the, immediate
improvement of Columbus River; to this was appended a map of the city and a
survey of the river. It was signed by
all the people at Stone's Landing who could write their names, by Col. Beriah
Sellers, and the Colonel agreed to have the names headed by all the senators
and representatives from the state and by a sprinkling of ex-governors and
ex-members of congress. When completed
it was a formidable document. Its
preparation and that of more minute plots of the
In the eyes of Washington Hawkins, Harry was a superior
being, a man who was able to bring things to pass in a way that excited his
enthusiasm. He never tired of listening to his stories of what he had done and
of what he was going to do. As for
"He's got his plans, sir. God bless my soul, at his age, I was full of plans. But experience sobers a man, I never touch any thing now that hasn't been weighed in my judgment; and when Beriah Sellers puts his judgment on a thing, there it is."
Whatever might have been Harry's intentions with regard to Laura, he saw more and more of her every day, until he got to be restless and nervous when he was not with her.
That consummate artist in passion allowed him to believe that the fascination was mainly on his side, and so worked upon his vanity, while inflaming his ardor, that he scarcely knew what he was about. Her coolness and coyness were even made to appear the simple precautions of a modest timidity, and attracted him even more than the little tendernesses into which she was occasionally surprised. He could never be away from her long, day or evening; and in a short time their intimacy was the town talk. She played with him so adroitly that Harry thought she was absorbed in love for him, and yet he was amazed that he did not get on faster in his conquest.
And when he thought of it, he was piqued as well. A country girl, poor enough, that was evident; living with her family in a cheap and most unattractive frame house, such as carpenters build in America, scantily furnished and unadorned; without the adventitious aids of dress or jewels or the fine manners of society--Harry couldn't understand it. But she fascinated him, and held him just beyond the line of absolute familiarity at the same time. While he was with her she made him forget that the Hawkins' house was nothing but a wooden tenement, with four small square rooms on the ground floor and a half story; it might have been a palace for aught he knew.
Perhaps Laura was older than Harry. She was, at any rate, at that ripe age when beauty in woman seems more solid than in the budding period of girlhood, and she had come to understand her powers perfectly, and to know exactly how much of the susceptibility and archness of the girl it was profitable to retain. She saw that many women, with the best intentions, make a mistake of carrying too much girlishness into womanhood. Such a woman would have attracted Harry at any time, but only a woman with a cool brain and exquisite art could have made him lose his head in this way; for Harry thought himself a man of the world. The young fellow never dreamed that he was merely being experimented on; he was to her a man of another society and another culture, different from that she had any knowledge of except in books, and she was not unwilling to try on him the fascinations of her mind and person.
For Laura had her dreams. She detested the narrow limits in which her lot was cast, she hated poverty. Much of her reading had been of modern works of fiction, written by her own sex, which had revealed to her something of her own powers and given her indeed, an exaggerated notion of the influence, the wealth, the position a woman may attain who has beauty and talent and ambition and a little culture, and is not too scrupulous in the use of them. She wanted to be rich, she wanted luxury, she wanted men at her feet, her slaves, and she had not--thanks to some of the novels she had read--the nicest discrimination between notoriety and reputation; perhaps she did not know how fatal notoriety usually is to the bloom of womanhood.
With the other Hawkins children Laura had been brought up in
the belief that they had inherited a fortune in the Tennessee Lands. She did not by any means share all the
delusion of the family; but her brain was not seldom busy with schemes about
"You men must enjoy your schemes and your activity and
liberty to go about the world," she said to Harry one day, when he had
been talking of
"Oh, yes," replied that martyr to business, "it's all well enough, if you don't have too much of it, but it only has one object."
"What is that?"
"If a woman doesn't know, it's useless to tell her. What do you suppose I am staying in Hawkeye for, week after week, when I ought to be with my corps?"
"I suppose it's your business with Col. Sellers about Napoleon, you've always told me so," answered Laura, with a look intended to contradict her words.
"And now I tell you that is all arranged, I suppose you'll tell me I ought to go?"
"Harry!" exclaimed Laura, touching his arm and letting her pretty hand rest there a moment. "Why should I want you to go away? The only person in Hawkeye who understands me."
"But you refuse to understand me," replied Harry, flattered but still petulant. "You are like an iceberg, when we are alone."
Laura looked up with wonder in her great eyes, and something like a blush suffusing her face, followed by a look of langour that penetrated Harry's heart as if it had been longing.
"Did I ever show any want of confidence in you, Harry?" And she gave him her hand, which Harry pressed with effusion--something in her manner told him that he must be content with that favor.
It was always so. She excited his hopes and denied him, inflamed his passion and restrained it, and wound him in her toils day by day. To what purpose? It was keen delight to Laura to prove that she had power over men.
Laura liked to hear about life at the east, and especially about the luxurious society in which Mr. Brierly moved when he was at home. It pleased her imagination to fancy herself a queen in it.
"You should be a winter in
"But I have no acquaintances there."
"Don't know any of the families of the congressmen? They like to have a pretty woman staying with them."
"Suppose Col. Sellers should, have business there; say,
"Sellers!" and Laura laughed.
"You needn't laugh.
Queerer things have happened.
Sellers knows everybody from
"Thank you," replied Laura. "But I prefer the quiet of home, and the love of those I know;" and her face wore a look of sweet contentment and unworldliness that finished Mr. Harry Brierly for the day.
Nevertheless, the hint that Harry had dropped fell upon good
ground, and bore fruit an hundred fold; it worked in her mind until she had
built up a plan on it, and almost a career for herself. Why not, she said, why shouldn't I do as
other women have done? She took the
first opportunity to see Col. Sellers, and to sound him about the
"Well, maybe. If
the people of Napoleon want me to go to
Perhaps it is unnecessary to say to the reader that Senator Dilworthy had not stayed with Col. Sellers while he was in Hawkeye; this visit to his house being only one of the Colonel's hallucinations--one of those instant creations of his fertile fancy, which were always flashing into his brain and out of his mouth in the course of any conversation and without interrupting the flow of it.
During the summer Philip rode across the country and made a short visit in Hawkeye, giving Harry an opportunity to show him the progress that he and the Colonel had made in their operation at Stone's Landing, to introduce him also to Laura, and to borrow a little money when he departed. Harry bragged about his conquest, as was his habit, and took Philip round to see his western prize.
Laura received Mr. Philip with a courtesy and a slight hauteur that rather surprised and not a little interested him. He saw at once that she was older than Harry, and soon made up his mind that she was leading his friend a country dance to which he was unaccustomed. At least he thought he saw that, and half hinted as much to Harry, who flared up at once; but on a second visit Philip was not so sure, the young lady was certainly kind and friendly and almost confiding with Harry, and treated Philip with the greatest consideration. She deferred to his opinions, and listened attentively when he talked, and in time met his frank manner with an equal frankness, so that he was quite convinced that whatever she might feel towards Harry, she was sincere with him. Perhaps his manly way did win her liking. Perhaps in her mind, she compared him with Harry, and recognized in him a man to whom a woman might give her whole soul, recklessly and with little care if she lost it. Philip was not invincible to her beauty nor to the intellectual charm of her presence.
The week seemed very short that he passed in Hawkeye, and when he bade Laura good by, he seemed to have known her a year.
"We shall see you again, Mr. Sterling," she said as she gave him her hand, with just a shade of sadness in her handsome eyes.
And when he turned away she followed him with a look that
might have disturbed his serenity, if he had not at the moment had a little
square letter in his breast pocket, dated at
The visit of Senator Abner Dilworthy was an event in
Hawkeye. When a Senator, whose place is
Senator Dilworthy, who was from a neighboring state, had been a Unionist in the darkest days of his country, and had thriven by it, but was that any reason why Col. Sellers, who had been a confederate and had not thriven by it, should give him the cold shoulder?
The Senator was the guest of his old friend Gen. Boswell, but it almost appeared that he was indebted to Col. Sellers for the unreserved hospitalities of the town. It was the large hearted Colonel who, in a manner, gave him the freedom of the city.
"You are known here, sir," said the Colonel, "and Hawkeye is proud of you. You will find every door open, and a welcome at every hearthstone. I should insist upon your going to my house, if you were not claimed by your older friend Gen. Boswell. But you will mingle with our people, and you will see here developments that will surprise you."
The Colonel was so profuse in his hospitality that he must have made the impression upon himself that he had entertained the Senator at his own mansion during his stay; at any rate, he afterwards always spoke of him as his guest, and not seldom referred to the Senator's relish of certain viands on his table. He did, in fact, press him to dine upon the morning of the day the Senator was going away.
Senator Dilworthy was large and portly, though not tall--a pleasant spoken man, a popular man with the people.
He took a lively interest in the town and all the surrounding country, and made many inquiries as to the progress of agriculture, of education, and of religion, and especially as to the condition of the emancipated race.
"You can't do much with 'em," interrupted Col. Sellers. "They are a speculating race, sir, disinclined to work for white folks without security, planning how to live by only working for themselves. Idle, sir, there's my garden just a ruin of weeds. Nothing practical in 'em."
"There is some truth in your observation, Colonel, but you must educate them."
"You educate the niggro and you make him more speculating than he was before. If he won't stick to any industry except for himself now, what will he do then?"
"But, Colonel, the negro when educated will be more able to make his speculations fruitful."
"Never, sir, never. He would only have a wider scope to injure himself. A niggro has no grasp, sir. Now, a white man can conceive great operations, and carry them out; a niggro can't."
"Still," replied the Senator, "granting that he might injure himself in a worldly point of view, his elevation through education would multiply his chances for the hereafter--which is the important thing after all, Colonel. And no matter what the result is, we must fulfill our duty by this being."
"I'd elevate his soul," promptly responded the Colonel; "that's just it; you can't make his soul too immortal, but I wouldn't touch him, himself. Yes, sir! make his soul immortal, but don't disturb the niggro as he is."
Of course one of the entertainments offered the Senator was a public reception, held in the court house, at which he made a speech to his fellow citizens. Col. Sellers was master of ceremonies. He escorted the band from the city hotel to Gen. Boswell's; he marshalled the procession of Masons, of Odd Fellows, and of Firemen, the Good Templars, the Sons of Temperance, the Cadets of Temperance, the Daughters of Rebecca, the Sunday School children, and citizens generally, which followed the Senator to the court house; he bustled about the room long after every one else was seated, and loudly cried "Order!" in the dead silence which preceded the introduction of the Senator by Gen. Boswell. The occasion was one to call out his finest powers of personal appearance, and one he long dwelt on with pleasure.
This not being an edition of the Congressional Globe it is impossible to give Senator Dilworthy's speech in full. He began somewhat as follows:
"Fellow citizens: It gives me great pleasure to thus meet and mingle with you, to lay aside for a moment the heavy duties of an official and burdensome station, and confer in familiar converse with my friends in your great state. The good opinion of my fellow citizens of all sections is the sweetest solace in all my anxieties. I look forward with longing to the time when I can lay aside the cares of office--" ["dam sight," shouted a tipsy fellow near the door. Cries of "put him out."]
"My friends, do not remove him. Let the misguided man stay. I see that he is a victim of that evil which is swallowing up public virtue and sapping the foundation of society. As I was saying, when I can lay down the cares of office and retire to the sweets of private life in some such sweet, peaceful, intelligent, wide-awake and patriotic place as Hawkeye (applause). I have traveled much, I have seen all parts of our glorious union, but I have never seen a lovelier village than yours, or one that has more signs of commercial and industrial and religious prosperity --(more applause)."
The Senator then launched into a sketch of our great country, and dwelt for an hour or more upon its prosperity and the dangers which threatened it.
He then touched reverently upon the institutions of religion, and upon the necessity of private purity, if we were to have any public morality. "I trust," he said, "that there are children within the sound of my voice," and after some remarks to them, the Senator closed with an apostrophe to "the genius of American Liberty, walking with the Sunday School in one hand and Temperance in the other up the glorified steps of the National Capitol."
Col. Sellers did not of course lose the opportunity to
impress upon so influential a person as the Senator the desirability of
improving the navigation of
"Is this Napoleon?"
"This is the nucleus, the nucleus," said the Colonel, unrolling his map. "Here is the deepo, the church, the City Hall and so on."
"Ah, I see. How
far from here is
"That, why, that's Goose Run. Thar ain't no
"Yes, sir," the Colonel hastened to explain,
"in the old records
"You'll want a considerable appropriation, Col. Sellers.
"I should say a million; is that your figure Mr. Brierly."
"According to our surveys," said Harry, "a million would do it; a million spent on the river would make Napoleon worth two millions at least."
"I see," nodded the Senator. "But you'd better begin by asking only for two or three hundred thousand, the usual way. You can begin to sell town lots on that appropriation you know."
The Senator, himself, to do him justice, was not very much interested
in the country or the stream, but he favored the appropriation, and he gave the
Colonel and Mr. Brierly to and understand that he would endeavor to get it
through. Harry, who thought he was
shrewd and understood
But he saw that the Senator was wounded by the suggestion.
"You will offend me by repeating such an observation," he said. "Whatever I do will be for the public interest. It will require a portion of the appropriation for necessary expenses, and I am sorry to say that there are members who will have to be seen. But you can reckon upon my humble services."
This aspect of the subject was not again alluded to. The Senator possessed himself of the facts, not from his observation of the ground, but from the lips of Col. Sellers, and laid the appropriation scheme away among his other plans for benefiting the public.
It was on this visit also that the Senator made the acquaintance of Mr. Washington Hawkins, and was greatly taken with his innocence, his guileless manner and perhaps with his ready adaptability to enter upon any plan proposed.
Col. Sellers was pleased to see this interest that Washington had awakened, especially since it was likely to further his expectations with regard to the Tennessee lands; the Senator having remarked to the Colonel, that he delighted to help any deserving young man, when the promotion of a private advantage could at the same time be made to contribute to the general good. And he did not doubt that this was an opportunity of that kind.
The result of several conferences with Washington was that the Senator proposed that he should go to Washington with him and become his private secretary and the secretary of his committee; a proposal which was eagerly accepted.
The Senator spent Sunday in Hawkeye and attended church. He cheered the heart of the worthy and zealous minister by an expression of his sympathy in his labors, and by many inquiries in regard to the religious state of the region. It was not a very promising state, and the good man felt how much lighter his task would be, if he had the aid of such a man as Senator Dilworthy.
"I am glad to see, my dear sir," said the Senator,
"that you give them the doctrines.
It is owing to a neglect of the doctrines, that there is such a fearful
falling away in the country. I wish that
we might have you in
The good man could not but be a little flattered, and if sometimes, thereafter, in his discouraging work, he allowed the thought that he might perhaps be called to Washington as chaplain of the Senate, to cheer him, who can wonder. The Senator's commendation at least did one service for him, it elevated him in the opinion of Hawkeye.
Laura was at church alone that day, and Mr. Brierly walked home with her. A part of their way lay with that of General Boswell and Senator Dilworthy, and introductions were made. Laura had her own reasons for wishing to know the Senator, and the Senator was not a man who could be called indifferent to charms such as hers. That meek young lady so commended herself to him in the short walk, that he announced his intentions of paying his respects to her the next day, an intention which Harry received glumly; and when the Senator was out of hearing he called him "an old fool."
"Fie," said Laura, "I do believe you are jealous, Harry. He is a very pleasant man. He said you were a young man of great promise."
The Senator did call next day, and the result of his visit was that he was confirmed in his impression that there was something about him very attractive to ladies. He saw Laura again and again daring his stay, and felt more and more the subtle influence of her feminine beauty, which every man felt who came near her.
Harry was beside himself with rage while the Senator remained in town; he declared that women were always ready to drop any man for higher game; and he attributed his own ill-luck to the Senator's appearance. The fellow was in fact crazy about her beauty and ready to beat his brains out in chagrin. Perhaps Laura enjoyed his torment, but she soothed him with blandishments that increased his ardor, and she smiled to herself to think that he had, with all his protestations of love, never spoken of marriage. Probably the vivacious fellow never had thought of it. At any rate when he at length went away from Hawkeye he was no nearer it. But there was no telling to what desperate lengths his passion might not carry him.
Laura bade him good bye with tender regret, which, however, did not disturb her peace or interfere with her plans. The visit of Senator Dilworthy had become of more importance to her, and it by and by bore the fruit she longed for, in an invitation to visit his family in the National Capital during the winter session of Congress.
O lift your natures up:
Embrace our aims: work out your freedom. Girls,
Knowledge is now no more a fountain sealed;
Drink deep until the habits of the slave,
The sins of emptiness, gossip and spite
And slander, die.
Whether medicine is a science, or only an empirical method of getting a living out of the ignorance of the human race, Ruth found before her first term was over at the medical school that there were other things she needed to know quite as much as that which is taught in medical books, and that she could never satisfy her aspirations without more general culture.
"Does your doctor know any thing--I don't mean about medicine, but about things in general, is he a man of information and good sense?" once asked an old practitioner. "If he doesn't know any thing but medicine the chance is he doesn't know that:"
The close application to her special study was beginning to tell upon Ruth's delicate health also, and the summer brought with it only weariness and indisposition for any mental effort.
In this condition of mind and body the quiet of her home and the unexciting companionship of those about her were more than ever tiresome.
She followed with more interest Philip's sparkling account of his life in the west, and longed for his experiences, and to know some of those people of a world so different from here, who alternately amused and displeased him. He at least was learning the world, the good and the bad of it, as must happen to every one who accomplishes anything in it.
But what, Ruth wrote, could a woman do, tied up by custom, and cast into particular circumstances out of which it was almost impossible to extricate herself? Philip thought that he would go some day and extricate Ruth, but he did not write that, for he had the instinct to know that this was not the extrication she dreamed of, and that she must find out by her own experience what her heart really wanted.
Philip was not a philosopher, to be sure, but he had the old fashioned notion, that whatever a woman's theories of life might be, she would come round to matrimony, only give her time. He could indeed recall to mind one woman--and he never knew a nobler--whose whole soul was devoted and who believed that her life was consecrated to a certain benevolent project in singleness of life, who yielded to the touch of matrimony, as an icicle yields to a sunbeam.
Neither at home nor elsewhere did Ruth utter any complaint, or admit any weariness or doubt of her ability to pursue the path she had marked out for herself. But her mother saw clearly enough her struggle with infirmity, and was not deceived by either her gaiety or by the cheerful composure which she carried into all the ordinary duties that fell to her. She saw plainly enough that Ruth needed an entire change of scene and of occupation, and perhaps she believed that such a change, with the knowledge of the world it would bring, would divert Ruth from a course for which she felt she was physically entirely unfitted.
It therefore suited the wishes of all concerned, when autumn came, that Ruth should go away to school. She selected a large New England Seminary, of which she had often heard Philip speak, which was attended by both sexes and offered almost collegiate advantages of education. Thither she went in September, and began for the second time in the year a life new to her.
The Seminary was the chief feature of Fallkill, a village of two to three thousand inhabitants. It was a prosperous school, with three hundred students, a large corps of teachers, men and women, and with a venerable rusty row of academic buildings on the shaded square of the town. The students lodged and boarded in private families in the place, and so it came about that while the school did a great deal to support the town, the town gave the students society and the sweet influences of home life. It is at least respectful to say that the influences of home life are sweet.
Ruth's home, by the intervention of Philip, was in a
family--one of the rare exceptions in life or in fiction--that had never known
better days. The Montagues, it is perhaps well to say, had intended to come
over in the Mayflower, but were detained at Delft Haven by the illness of a
child. They came over to
The family consisted of the Squire and his wife, a son and a daughter married and not at home, a son in college at Cambridge, another son at the Seminary, and a daughter Alice, who was a year or more older than Ruth. Having only riches enough to be able to gratify reasonable desires, and yet make their gratifications always a novelty and a pleasure, the family occupied that just mean in life which is so rarely attained, and still more rarely enjoyed without discontent.
If Ruth did not find so much luxury in the house as in her own home, there were evidences of culture, of intellectual activity and of a zest in the affairs of all the world, which greatly impressed her. Every room had its book-cases or book-shelves, and was more or less a library; upon every table was liable to be a litter of new books, fresh periodicals and daily newspapers. There were plants in the sunny windows and some choice engravings on the walls, with bits of color in oil or water-colors; the piano was sure to be open and strewn with music; and there were photographs and little souvenirs here and there of foreign travel. An absence of any "what-pots" in the corners with rows of cheerful shells, and Hindoo gods, and Chinese idols, and nests of use less boxes of lacquered wood, might be taken as denoting a languidness in the family concerning foreign missions, but perhaps unjustly.
At any rate the life of the world flowed freely into this hospitable house, and there was always so much talk there of the news of the day, of the new books and of authors, of Boston radicalism and New York civilization, and the virtue of Congress, that small gossip stood a very poor chance.
All this was in many ways so new to Ruth that she seemed to have passed into another world, in which she experienced a freedom and a mental exhilaration unknown to her before. Under this influence she entered upon her studies with keen enjoyment, finding for a time all the relaxation she needed, in the charming social life at the Montague house.
It is strange, she wrote to Philip, in one of her occasional
letters, that you never told me more about this delightful family, and scarcely
mentioned Alice who is the life of it, just the noblest girl, unselfish, knows
how to do so many things, with lots of talent, with a dry humor, and an odd way
of looking at things, and yet quiet and even serious often--one of your
"capable" New England girls.
We shall be great friends. It had
never occurred to Philip that there was any thing extraordinary about the
family that needed mention. He knew
dozens of girls like
Good friends the two girls were from the beginning. Ruth was a study to Alice; the product of a culture entirely foreign to her experience, so much a child in some things, so much a woman in others; and Ruth in turn, it must be confessed, probing Alice sometimes with her serious grey eyes, wondered what her object in life was, and whether she had any purpose beyond living as she now saw her. For she could scarcely conceive of a life that should not be devoted to the accomplishment of some definite work, and she had-no doubt that in her own case everything else would yield to the professional career she had marked out.
"So you know Philip Sterling," said Ruth one day as the girls sat at their sewing. Ruth never embroidered, and never sewed when she could avoid it. Bless her.
"Oh yes, we are old friends. Philip used to come to Fallkill often while he was in college. He was once rusticated here for a term."
"Suspended for some College scrape. He was a great favorite here. Father and he were famous friends. Father said that Philip had no end of nonsense in him and was always blundering into something, but he was a royal good fellow and would come out all right."
"Did you think he was fickle?"
"Why, I never thought whether he was or not,"
"Why did he come to you?" pursued Ruth you were younger than he."
"I'm sure I don't know. He was at our house a good deal. Once at a picnic by the lake, at the risk of his own life, he saved sister Millie from drowning, and we all liked to have him here. Perhaps he thought as he had saved one sister, the other ought to help him when he was in trouble. I don't know."
The fact was that
This is not a history of Fallkill, nor of the Montague family, worthy as both are of that honor, and this narrative cannot be diverted into long loitering with them. If the reader visits the village to-day, he will doubtless be pointed out the Montague dwelling, where Ruth lived, the cross-lots path she traversed to the Seminary, and the venerable chapel with its cracked bell.
In the little society of the place, the Quaker girl was a favorite, and no considerable social gathering or pleasure party was thought complete without her. There was something in this seemingly transparent and yet deep character, in her childlike gaiety and enjoyment of the society about her, and in her not seldom absorption in herself, that would have made her long remembered there if no events had subsequently occurred to recall her to mind.
To the surprise of
"Do you look upon them as I subjects, dear?" she would ask.
And Ruth laughed her merriest laugh, and then looked sober again. Perhaps she was thinking, after all, whether she knew herself.
If you should rear a duck in the heart of the Sahara, no doubt
it would swim if you brought it to the
Surely no one would have predicted when Ruth left
As the fall went on and the winter, Ruth did not distinguish herself greatly at the Fallkill Seminary as a student, a fact that apparently gave her no anxiety, and did not diminish her enjoyment of a new sort of power which had awakened within her.
In mid-winter, an event occurred of unusual interest to the inhabitants of the Montague house, and to the friends of the young ladies who sought their society.
This was the arrival at the Sassacua Hotel of two young gentlemen from the west.
It is the fashion in New England to give Indian names to the public houses, not that the late lamented savage knew how to keep a hotel, but that his warlike name may impress the traveler who humbly craves shelter there, and make him grateful to the noble and gentlemanly clerk if he is allowed to depart with his scalp safe.
The two young gentlemen were neither students for the
Fallkill Seminary, nor lecturers on physiology, nor yet life assurance
solicitors, three suppositions that almost exhausted the guessing power of the
people at the hotel in respect to the names of "Philip Sterling and Henry
Brierly, Missouri," on the register.
They were handsome enough fellows, that was evident, browned by out-door
exposure, and with a free and lordly way about them that almost awed the hotel
clerk himself. Indeed, he very soon set
down Mr. Brierly as a gentleman of large fortune, with enormous interests on
his shoulders. Harry had a way of
casually mentioning western investments, through lines, the freighting
business, and the route through the Indian territory to
"You've a pleasant town here, sir, and the most
comfortable looking hotel I've seen out of
Harry usually had the best of everything, wherever he went, as such fellows always do have in this accommodating world. Philip would have been quite content with less expensive quarters, but there was no resisting Harry's generosity in such matters.
Railroad surveying and real-estate operations were at a standstill during the winter in Missouri, and the young men had taken advantage of the lull to come east, Philip to see if there was any disposition in his friends, the railway contractors, to give him a share in the Salt Lick Union Pacific Extension, and Harry to open out to his uncle the prospects of the new city at Stone's Landing, and to procure congressional appropriations for the harbor and for making Goose Run navigable. Harry had with him a map of that noble stream and of the harbor, with a perfect net-work of railroads centering in it, pictures of wharves, crowded with steamboats, and of huge grain-elevators on the bank, all of which grew out of the combined imaginations of Col. Sellers and Mr. Brierly. The Colonel had entire confidence in Harry's influence with Wall street, and with congressmen, to bring about the consummation of their scheme, and he waited his return in the empty house at Hawkeye, feeding his pinched family upon the most gorgeous expectations with a reckless prodigality.
"Don't let 'em into the thing more than is necessary," says the Colonel to Harry; "give 'em a small interest; a lot apiece in the suburbs of the Landing ought to do a congressman, but I reckon you'll have to mortgage a part of the city itself to the brokers."
Harry did not find that eagerness to lend money on Stone's Landing in Wall street which Col. Sellers had expected, (it had seen too many such maps as he exhibited), although his uncle and some of the brokers looked with more favor on the appropriation for improving the navigation of Columbus River, and were not disinclined to form a company for that purpose. An appropriation was a tangible thing, if you could get hold of it, and it made little difference what it was appropriated for, so long as you got hold of it.
Pending these weighty negotiations, Philip has persuaded Harry to take a little run up to Fallkill, a not difficult task, for that young man would at any time have turned his back upon all the land in the West at sight of a new and pretty face, and he had, it must be confessed, a facility in love making which made it not at all an interference with the more serious business of life. He could not, to be sure, conceive how Philip could be interested in a young lady who was studying medicine, but he had no objection to going, for he did not doubt that there were other girls in Fallkill who were worth a week's attention.
The young men were received at the house of the Montagues with the hospitality which never failed there.
"We are glad to see you again," exclaimed the Squire heartily, "you are welcome Mr. Brierly, any friend of Phil's is welcome at our house"
"It's more like home to me, than any place except my own home," cried Philip, as he looked about the cheerful house and went through a general hand-shaking.
"It's a long time, though, since you have been here to
Philip's color came, as it had an awkward way of doing in his tell-tale face, but before he could stammer a reply, Harry came in with,
"That accounts for Phil's wish to build a Seminary at
Stone's Landing, our place in
"It would have been better for your friend Sellers," retorted Philip, "if he had had a weakness for district schools. Col. Sellers, Miss Alice, is a great friend of Harry's, who is always trying to build a house by beginning at the top."
"I suppose it's as easy to build a University on paper as a Seminary, and it looks better," was Harry's reflection; at which the Squire laughed, and said he quite agreed with him. The old gentleman understood Stone's Landing a good deal better than he would have done after an hour's talk with either of it's expectant proprietors.
At this moment, and while Philip was trying to frame a question that he found it exceedingly difficult to put into words, the door opened quietly, and Ruth entered. Taking in the, group with a quick glance, her eye lighted up, and with a merry smile she advanced and shook hands with Philip. She was so unconstrained and sincerely cordial, that it made that hero of the west feel somehow young, and very ill at ease.
For months and months he had thought of this meeting and pictured it to himself a hundred times, but he had never imagined it would be like this. He should meet Ruth unexpectedly, as she was walking alone from the school, perhaps, or entering the room where he was waiting for her, and she would cry "Oh! Phil," and then check herself, and perhaps blush, and Philip calm but eager and enthusiastic, would reassure her by his warm manner, and he would take her hand impressively, and she would look up timidly, and, after his' long absence, perhaps he would be permitted to Good heavens, how many times he had come to this point, and wondered if it could happen so. Well, well; he had never supposed that he should be the one embarrassed, and above all by a sincere and cordial welcome.
"We heard you were at the Sassacus House," were Ruth's first words; "and this I suppose is your friend?"
"I beg your pardon," Philip at length blundered out, "this is Mr. Brierly of whom I have written you."
And Ruth welcomed Harry with a friendliness that Philip thought was due to his friend, to be sure, but which seemed to him too level with her reception of himself, but which Harry received as his due from the other sex.
Questions were asked about the journey and about the West, and the conversation became a general one, until Philip at length found himself talking with the Squire in relation to land and railroads and things he couldn't keep his mind on especially as he heard Ruth and Harry in an animated discourse, and caught the words "New York," and "opera," and "reception," and knew that Harry was giving his imagination full range in the world of fashion.
Harry knew all about the opera, green room and all (at least he said so) and knew a good many of the operas and could make very entertaining stories of their plots, telling how the soprano came in here, and the basso here, humming the beginning of their airs--tum-ti-tum-ti-ti
--suggesting the profound dissatisfaction of the basso recitative--down
--among--the--dead--men--and touching off the whole with an airy grace
quite captivating; though he couldn't have sung a single air through to save himself, and he hadn't an ear to know whether it was sung correctly. All the same he doted on the opera, and kept a box there, into which he lounged occasionally to hear a favorite scene and meet his society friends.
If Ruth was ever in the city he should be happy to place his box at the disposal of Ruth and her friends. Needless to say that she was delighted with the offer.
When she told Philip of it, that discreet young fellow only
smiled, and said that he hoped she would be fortunate enough to be in
The Squire pressed the visitors to let him send for their
trunks and urged them to stay at his house, and
"I hoped," said Philip; "to get a little start in connection with this new railroad, and make a little money, so that I could came east and engage in something more suited to my tastes. I shouldn't like to live in the West. Would you?
"It never occurred to me whether I would or not,"
was the unembarrassed reply. "One
of our graduates went to
Philip laughed at the idea of it. "And does it seem as necessary to you to do it as it did before you came to Fallkill?"
It was a home question, and went deeper than Philip knew, for Ruth at once thought of practicing her profession among the young gentlemen and ladies of her acquaintance in the village; but she was reluctant to admit to herself that her notions of a career had undergone any change.
"Oh, I don't think I should come to Fallkill to practice, but I must do something when I am through school; and why not medicine?"
Philip would like to have explained why not, but the explanation would be of no use if it were not already obvious to Ruth.
Harry was equally in his element whether instructing Squire
Montague about the investment of capital in Missouri, the improvement of
Columbus River, the project he and some gentlemen in New York had for making a
shorter Pacific connection with the Mississippi than the present one; or
diverting Mrs. Montague with his experience in cooking in camp; or drawing for
Miss Alice an amusing picture of the social contrasts of New England and the
border where he had been. Harry was a very entertaining fellow, having his
imagination to help his memory, and telling his stories as if he believed
them--as perhaps he did.
"I should think," queried
"Oh, adventure," says Harry, "I get tired of
When the young gentlemen were on their way back to the hotel, Mr. Philip, who was not in very good humor, broke out,
"What the deuce, Harry, did you go on in that style to the Montagues for?"
"Go on?" cried Harry. "Why shouldn't I try to make a pleasant
evening? And besides, ain't I going to do those things? What difference does it make about the mood
and tense of a mere verb? Didn't uncle
tell me only last Saturday, that I might as well go down to
"Nonsense. You'll get to believing your own romancing by and by."
"Well, you'll see.
When Sellers and I get that appropriation, I'll show you an
establishment in town and another on the
"Yes, it will be like Col. Sellers' plantation at Hawkeye. Did you ever see that?"
"Now, don't be cross, Phil. She's just superb, that little woman. You never told me."
"Who's just superb?" growled Philip, fancying this turn of the conversation less than the other.
"Well, Mrs. Montague, if you must know." And Harry stopped to light a cigar, and then puffed on in silence. The little quarrel didn't last over night, for Harry never appeared to cherish any ill-will half a second, and Philip was too sensible to continue a row about nothing; and he had invited Harry to come with him.
The young gentlemen stayed in Fallkill a week, and were every day at the Montagues, and took part in the winter gaieties of the village. There were parties here and there to which the friends of Ruth and the Montagues were of course invited, and Harry in the generosity of his nature, gave in return a little supper at the hotel, very simple indeed, with dancing in the hall, and some refreshments passed round. And Philip found the whole thing in the bill when he came to pay it.
Before the week was over Philip thought he had a new light
on the character of Ruth. Her absorption
in the small gaieties of the society there surprised him. He had few opportunities for serious
conversation with her. There was always
some butterfly or another flitting about, and when Philip showed by his manner
that he was not pleased, Ruth laughed merrily enough and rallied him on his
soberness--she declared he was getting to be grim and unsocial. He talked indeed more with
"Ruth is a dear girl, Philip, and has as much firmness of purpose as ever, but don't you see she has just discovered that she is fond of society? Don't you let her see you are selfish about it, is my advice."
The last evening they were to spend in Fallkill, they were at the Montagues, and Philip hoped that he would find Ruth in a different mood. But she was never more gay, and there was a spice of mischief in her eye and in her laugh. "Confound it," said Philip to himself, "she's in a perfect twitter."
He would have liked to quarrel with her, and fling himself out of the house in tragedy style, going perhaps so far as to blindly wander off miles into the country and bathe his throbbing brow in the chilling rain of the stars, as people do in novels; but he had no opportunity. For Ruth was as serenely unconscious of mischief as women can be at times, and fascinated him more than ever with her little demurenesses and half-confidences. She even said "Thee" to him once in reproach for a cutting speech he began. And the sweet little word made his heart beat like a trip-hammer, for never in all her life had she said "thee" to him before.
Was she fascinated with Harry's careless 'bon homie' and gay assurance? Both chatted away in high spirits, and made the evening whirl along in the most mirthful manner. Ruth sang for Harry, and that young gentleman turned the leaves for her at the piano, and put in a bass note now and then where he thought it would tell.
Yes, it was a merry evening, and Philip was heartily glad when it was over, and the long leave-taking with the family was through with.
"Farewell Philip. Good night Mr. Brierly," Ruth's clear voice sounded after them as they went down the walk.
And she spoke Harry's name last, thought Philip.
"O see ye not yon narrow road
So thick beset wi' thorns and briers?
That is the Path of Righteousness,
Though after it but few inquires.
"And see ye not yon braid, braid road,
That lies across the lily leven?
That is the Path of Wickedness,
Though some call it the road to Heaven."
Thomas the Rhymer.
Phillip and Harry reached
It had been signed by everybody of any importance in
"I should go on myself," wrote the Colonel, "but I am engaged in the invention of a process for lighting such a city as St. Louis by means of water; just attach my machine to the water-pipes anywhere and the decomposition of the fluid begins, and you will have floods of light for the mere cost of the machine. I've nearly got the lighting part, but I want to attach to it a heating, cooking, washing and ironing apparatus. It's going to be the great thing, but we'd better keep this appropriation going while I am perfecting it."
Harry took letters to several congressmen from his uncle and from Mr. Duff Brown, each of whom had an extensive acquaintance in both houses where they were well known as men engaged in large private operations for the public good and men, besides, who, in the slang of the day, understood the virtues of "addition, division and silence."
Senator Dilworthy introduced the petition into the Senate with the remark that he knew, personally, the signers of it, that they were men interested; it was true, in the improvement of the country, but he believed without any selfish motive, and that so far as he knew the signers were loyal. It pleased him to see upon the roll the names of many colored citizens, and it must rejoice every friend of humanity to know that this lately emancipated race were intelligently taking part in the development of the resources of their native land. He moved the reference of the petition to the proper committee.
Senator Dilworthy introduced his young friend to influential members, as a person who was very well informed about the Salt Lick Extension of the Pacific, and was one of the Engineers who had made a careful survey of Columbus River; and left him to exhibit his maps and plans and to show the connection between the public treasury, the city of Napoleon and legislation for the benefit off the whole country.
Harry was the guest of Senator Dilworthy. There was scarcely any good movement in which
the Senator was not interested. His
house was open to all the laborers in the field of total abstinence, and much
of his time was taken up in attending the meetings of this cause. He had a Bible class in the Sunday school of
the church which he attended, and he suggested to Harry that he might take a
class during the time he remained in
Philip, if the truth must be told, was not well satisfied
with his western prospects, nor altogether with the people he had fallen in
with. The railroad contractors held out large but rather indefinite promises.
Opportunities for a fortune he did not doubt existed in
Still Philip felt that if he was going to make either
reputation or money as an engineer, he had a great deal of hard study before
him, and it is to his credit that he did not shrink from it. While Harry was in
Philip sent copies of his performances to Ruth's father and to other gentlemen whose good opinion he coveted, but he did not rest upon his laurels. Indeed, so diligently had he applied himself, that when it came time for him to return to the West, he felt himself, at least in theory, competent to take charge of a division in the field.
The capital of the
You are assailed by a long rank of hackmen who shake their whips in your face as you step out upon the sidewalk; you enter what they regard as a "carriage," in the capital, and you wonder why they do not take it out of service and put it in the museum: we have few enough antiquities, and it is little to our credit that we make scarcely any effort to preserve the few we have. You reach your hotel, presently--and here let us draw the curtain of charity--because of course you have gone to the wrong one. You being a stranger, how could you do otherwise? There are a hundred and eighteen bad hotels, and only one good one. The most renowned and popular hotel of them all is perhaps the worst one known to history.
It is winter, and night. When you arrived, it was snowing. When you reached the hotel, it was sleeting. When you went to bed, it was raining. During the night it froze hard, and the wind blew some chimneys down. When you got up in the morning, it was foggy. When you finished your breakfast at ten o'clock and went out, the sunshine was brilliant, the weather balmy and delicious, and the mud and slush deep and all-pervading. You will like the climate when you get used to it.
You naturally wish to view the city; so you take an umbrella, an overcoat, and a fan, and go forth. The prominent features you soon locate and get familiar with; first you glimpse the ornamental upper works of a long, snowy palace projecting above a grove of trees, and a tall, graceful white dome with a statue on it surmounting the palace and pleasantly contrasting with the background of blue sky. That building is the capitol; gossips will tell you that by the original estimates it was to cost $12,000,000, and that the government did come within $21,200,000 of building it for that sum.
You stand at the back of the capitol to treat yourself to a view, and it is a very noble one. You understand, the capitol stands upon the verge of a high piece of table land, a fine commanding position, and its front looks out over this noble situation for a city--but it don't see it, for the reason that when the capitol extension was decided upon, the property owners at once advanced their prices to such inhuman figures that the people went down and built the city in the muddy low marsh behind the temple of liberty; so now the lordly front of the building, with, its imposing colonades, its, projecting, graceful wings, its, picturesque groups of statuary, and its long terraced ranges of steps, flowing down in white marble waves to the ground, merely looks out upon a sorrowful little desert of cheap boarding houses.
So you observe, that you take your view from the back of the capitol. And yet not from the airy outlooks of the dome, by the way, because to get there you must pass through the great rotunda: and to do that, you would have to see the marvelous Historical Paintings that hang there, and the bas-reliefs--and what have you done that you should suffer thus? And besides, you might have to pass through the old part of the building, and you could not help seeing Mr. Lincoln, as petrified by a young lady artist for $10,000--and you might take his marble emancipation proclamation, which he holds out in his hand and contemplates, for a folded napkin; and you might conceive from his expression and his attitude, that he is finding fault with the washing. Which is not the case. Nobody knows what is the matter with him; but everybody feels for him. Well, you ought not to go into the dome anyhow, because it would be utterly impossible to go up there without seeing the frescoes in it--and why should you be interested in the delirium tremens of art?
The capitol is a very noble and a very beautiful building,
both within and without, but you need not examine it now. Still, if you greatly prefer going into the
dome, go. Now your general glance gives
you picturesque stretches of gleaming water, on your left, with a sail here and
there and a lunatic asylum on shore; over beyond the water, on a distant
elevation, you see a squat yellow temple which your eye dwells upon lovingly
through a blur of unmanly moisture, for it recalls your lost boyhood and the
Parthenons done in molasses candy which made it blest and beautiful. Still in the distance, but on this side of
the water and close to its edge, the Monument to the Father of his Country
towers out of the mud--sacred soil is the, customary term. It has the aspect of a factory chimney with
the top broken off. The skeleton of a
decaying scaffolding lingers about its summit, and tradition says that the
Now you wrench your gaze loose, and you look down in front
of you and see the broad
The front and right hand views give you the city at large. It is a wide stretch of cheap little brick houses, with here and there a noble architectural pile lifting itself out of the midst-government buildings, these. If the thaw is still going on when you come down and go about town, you will wonder at the short-sightedness of the city fathers, when you come to inspect the streets, in that they do not dilute the mud a little more and use them for canals.
If you inquire around a little, you will find that there are
more boardinghouses to the square acre in
Of course you contrive to see everything and find out
everything. And one of the first and
most startling things you find out is, that every individual you encounter in
the City of Washington almost--and certainly every separate and distinct
individual in the public employment, from the highest bureau chief, clear down
to the maid who scrubs Department halls, the night watchmen of the public
buildings and the darkey boy who purifies the Department spittoons--represents
Political Influence. Unless you can get the ear of a Senator, or a Congressman,
or a Chief of a Bureau or Department, and persuade him to use his
"influence" in your behalf, you cannot get an employment of the most
trivial nature in
The wages received by this great hive of employees are placed at the liberal figure meet and just for skilled and competent labor. Such of them as are immediately employed about the two Houses of Congress, are not only liberally paid also, but are remembered in the customary Extra Compensation bill which slides neatly through, annually, with the general grab that signalizes the last night of a session, and thus twenty per cent. is added to their wages, for--for fun, no doubt.
Washington Hawkins' new life was an unceasing delight to him. Senator Dilworthy lived sumptuously, and Washington's quarters were charming --gas; running water, hot and cold; bath-room, coal-fires, rich carpets, beautiful pictures on the walls; books on religion, temperance, public charities and financial schemes; trim colored servants, dainty food --everything a body could wish for. And as for stationery, there was no end to it; the government furnished it; postage stamps were not needed --the Senator's frank could convey a horse through the mails, if necessary.
And then he saw such dazzling company. Renowned generals and admirals who had seemed but colossal myths when he was in the far west, went in and out before him or sat at the Senator's table, solidified into palpable flesh and blood; famous statesmen crossed his path daily; that once rare and awe-inspiring being, a Congressman, was become a common spectacle--a spectacle so common, indeed, that he could contemplate it without excitement, even without embarrassment; foreign ministers were visible to the naked eye at happy intervals; he had looked upon the President himself, and lived. And more; this world of enchantment teemed with speculation--the whole atmosphere was thick with hand that indeed was Washington Hawkins' native air; none other refreshed his lungs so gratefully. He had found paradise at last.
The more he saw of his chief the Senator, the more he
honored him, and the more conspicuously the moral grandeur of his character
appeared to stand out. To possess the
friendship and the kindly interest of such a man,
The weeks drifted by;--Harry Brierly flirted, danced, added lustre to the brilliant Senatorial receptions, and diligently "buzzed" and "button-holed" Congressmen in the interest of the Columbus River scheme; meantime Senator Dilworthy labored hard in the same interest--and in others of equal national importance. Harry wrote frequently to Sellers, and always encouragingly; and from these letters it was easy to see that Harry was a pet with all Washington, and was likely to carry the thing through; that the assistance rendered him by "old Dilworthy" was pretty fair--pretty fair; "and every little helps, you know," said Harry.
(Signed,) "ABNER DILWORTHY, U. S. S.,
At the end of a week,
Then there was a hiatus.
He saw the bill go into Committee of the whole and struggle
for its life again, and finally worry through.
In the fullness of time he noted its second reading, and by and by the
day arrived when the grand ordeal came, and it was put upon its final
At the end of two or three hours the Senator arrived in the
bosom of his family, and dinner was waiting.
"We may rejoice freely, now, my son--
"It is beautiful to hear him talk when his heart is full of thankfulness for some manifestation of the Divine favor. You shall know him, some day my Louise, and knowing him you will honor him, as I do."
"I pulled it through, Colonel, but it was a tough job,
there is no question about that. There
was not a friend to the measure in the House committee when I began, and not a
friend in the Senate committee except old Dil himself, but they were all fixed
for a majority report when I hauled off my forces. Everybody here says you can't get a thing
like this through Congress without buying committees for straight-out cash on
delivery, but I think I've taught them a thing or two--if I could only make
them believe it. When I tell the old
residenters that this thing went through without buying a vote or making a
promise, they say, 'That's rather too thin.'
And when I say thin or not thin it's a fact, anyway, they say, 'Come,
now, but do you really believe that?' and when I say I don't believe anything
about it, I know it, they smile and say, 'Well, you are pretty innocent, or
pretty blind, one or the other--there's no getting around that.' Why they really do believe that votes have
been bought--they do indeed. But let
them keep on thinking so. I have found
out that if a man knows how to talk to women, and has a little gift in the way
of argument with men, he can afford to play for an appropriation against a
money bag and give the money bag odds in the game. We've raked in $200,000 of Uncle Sam's money,
say what they will--and there is more where this came from, when we want it,
and I rather fancy I am the person that can go in and occupy it, too, if I do
say it myself, that shouldn't, perhaps.
I'll be with you within a week.
Scare up all the men you can, and put them to work at once. When I get there I propose to make things
hum." The great news lifted Sellers
into the clouds. He went to work on the
instant. He flew hither and thither
making contracts, engaging men, and steeping his soul in the ecstasies of
business. He was the happiest man in
"Rejoice with me, for the long agony is over! We have waited patiently and faithfully, all
these years, and now at last the reward is at hand. A man is to pay our family
$40,000 for the
And she did tell her father and mother, but they said, let
it be kept still for the present. The
careful father also told her to write
Harry joined the Colonel at Stone's Landing, and that dead place sprang into sudden life. A swarm of men were hard at work, and the dull air was filled with the cheery music of labor. Harry had been constituted engineer-in-general, and he threw the full strength of his powers into his work. He moved among his hirelings like a king. Authority seemed to invest him with a new splendor. Col. Sellers, as general superintendent of a great public enterprise, was all that a mere human being could be --and more. These two grandees went at their imposing "improvement" with the air of men who had been charged with the work of altering the foundations of the globe.
They turned their first attention to straightening the river just above the Landing, where it made a deep bend, and where the maps and plans showed that the process of straightening would not only shorten distance but increase the "fall." They started a cut-off canal across the peninsula formed by the bend, and such another tearing up of the earth and slopping around in the mud as followed the order to the men, had never been seen in that region before. There was such a panic among the turtles that at the end of six hours there was not one to be found within three miles of Stone's Landing. They took the young and the aged, the decrepit and the sick upon their backs and left for tide-water in disorderly procession, the tadpoles following and the bull-frogs bringing up the rear.
Saturday night came, but the men were obliged to wait, because the appropriation had not come. Harry said he had written to hurry up the money and it would be along presently. So the work continued, on Monday. Stone's Landing was making quite a stir in the vicinity, by this time. Sellers threw a lot or two on the market, "as a feeler," and they sold well. He re-clothed his family, laid in a good stock of provisions, and still had money left. He started a bank account, in a small way--and mentioned the deposit casually to friends; and to strangers, too; to everybody, in fact; but not as a new thing--on the contrary, as a matter of life-long standing. He could not keep from buying trifles every day that were not wholly necessary, it was such a gaudy thing to get out his bank-book and draw a check, instead of using his old customary formula, "Charge it" Harry sold a lot or two, also--and had a dinner party or two at Hawkeye and a general good time with the money. Both men held on pretty strenuously for the coming big prices, however.
At the end of a month things were looking bad. Harry had besieged the
"What's to be done?" said the Colonel.
"Hang'd if I know."
"Company say anything?"
"Not a word."
"You telegraphed yesterday?"
Yes, and the day before, too."
Then there was a long pause. Finally both spoke at once:
"I've got it!"
"I've got it!"
"What's yours?" said Harry.
"Give the boys thirty-day orders on the Company for the back pay."
"That's it-that's my own idea to a dot. But then--but then----"
"Yes, I know," said the Colonel; "I know they
can't wait for the orders to go to
"Of course they can. That solves the difficulty. Everybody knows the appropriation's been made and the Company's perfectly good."
So the orders were given and the men appeased, though they
grumbled a little at first. The orders
went well enough for groceries and such things at a fair discount, and the work
danced along gaily for a time. Two or three purchasers put up frame houses at
the Landing and moved in, and of course a far-sighted but easy-going journeyman
printer wandered along and started the "Napoleon Weekly Telegraph and
Literary Repository"--a paper with a Latin motto from the Unabridged
dictionary, and plenty of "fat" conversational tales and
double-leaded poetry--all for two dollars a year, strictly in advance. Of course the merchants forwarded the orders
at once to
At the end of some weeks Harry's orders were a drug in the market--nobody would take them at any discount whatever. The second month closed with a riot.--Sellers was absent at the time, and Harry began an active absence himself with the mob at his heels. But being on horseback, he had the advantage. He did not tarry in Hawkeye, but went on, thus missing several appointments with creditors. He was far on his flight eastward, and well out of danger when the next morning dawned. He telegraphed the Colonel to go down and quiet the laborers--he was bound east for money --everything would be right in a week--tell the men so--tell them to rely on him and not be afraid.
Sellers found the mob quiet enough when he reached the Landing. They had gutted the Navigation office, then piled the beautiful engraved stock-books and things in the middle of the floor and enjoyed the bonfire while it lasted. They had a liking for the Colonel, but still they had some idea of hanging him, as a sort of make-shift that might answer, after a fashion, in place of more satisfactory game.
But they made the mistake of waiting to hear what he had to say first. Within fifteen minutes his tongue had done its work and they were all rich men.--He gave every one of them a lot in the suburbs of the city of Stone's Landing, within a mile and a half of the future post office and railway station, and they promised to resume work as soon as Harry got east and started the money along. Now things were blooming and pleasant again, but the men had no money, and nothing to live on. The Colonel divided with them the money he still had in bank--an act which had nothing surprising about it because he was generally ready to divide whatever he had with anybody that wanted it, and it was owing to this very trait that his family spent their days in poverty and at times were pinched with famine.
When the men's minds had cooled and Sellers was gone, they
hated themselves for letting him beguile them with fine speeches, but it was
too late, now--they agreed to hang him another time--such time as
Rumors of Ruth's frivolity and worldliness at Fallkill
Hannah Shoecraft told another, cousin that, for her part, she never believed that Ruth had so much more "mind" than other people; and Cousin Hulda added that she always thought Ruth was fond of admiration, and that was the reason she was unwilling to wear plain clothes and attend Meeting. The story that Ruth was "engaged" to a young gentleman of fortune in Fallkill came with the other news, and helped to give point to the little satirical remarks that went round about Ruth's desire to be a doctor!
Margaret Bolton was too wise to be either surprised or alarmed by these rumors. They might be true; she knew a woman's nature too well to think them improbable, but she also knew how steadfast Ruth was in her purposes, and that, as a brook breaks into ripples and eddies and dances and sports by the way, and yet keeps on to the sea, it was in Ruth's nature to give back cheerful answer to the solicitations of friendliness and pleasure, to appear idly delaying even, and sporting in the sunshine, while the current of her resolution flowed steadily on.
That Ruth had this delight in the mere surface play of life that she could, for instance, be interested in that somewhat serious by-play called "flirtation," or take any delight in the exercise of those little arts of pleasing and winning which are none the less genuine and charming because they are not intellectual, Ruth, herself, had never suspected until she went to Fallkill. She had believed it her duty to subdue her gaiety of temperament, and let nothing divert her from what are called serious pursuits: In her limited experience she brought everything to the judgment of her own conscience, and settled the affairs of all the world in her own serene judgment hall. Perhaps her mother saw this, and saw also that there was nothing in the Friends' society to prevent her from growing more and more opinionated.
When Ruth returned to Philadelphia, it must be confessed--though it would not have been by her--that a medical career did seem a little less necessary for her than formerly; and coming back in a glow of triumph, as it were, and in the consciousness of the freedom and life in a lively society and in new and sympathetic friendship, she anticipated pleasure in an attempt to break up the stiffness and levelness of the society at home, and infusing into it something of the motion and sparkle which were so agreeable at Fallkill. She expected visits from her new friends, she would have company, the new books and the periodicals about which all the world was talking, and, in short, she would have life.
For a little while she lived in this atmosphere which she had brought with her. Her mother was delighted with this change in her, with the improvement in her health and the interest she exhibited in home affairs. Her father enjoyed the society of his favorite daughter as he did few things besides; he liked her mirthful and teasing ways, and not less a keen battle over something she had read. He had been a great reader all his life, and a remarkable memory had stored his mind with encyclopaedic information. It was one of Ruth's delights to cram herself with some out of the way subject and endeavor to catch her father; but she almost always failed. Mr. Bolton liked company, a house full of it, and the mirth of young people, and he would have willingly entered into any revolutionary plans Ruth might have suggested in relation to Friends' society.
But custom and the fixed order are stronger than the most enthusiastic and rebellious young lady, as Ruth very soon found. In spite of all her brave efforts, her frequent correspondence, and her determined animation, her books and her music, she found herself settling into the clutches of the old monotony, and as she realized the hopelessness of her endeavors, the medical scheme took new hold of her, and seemed to her the only method of escape.
"Mother, thee does not know how different it is in Fallkill, how much more interesting the people are one meets, how much more life there is."
"But thee will find the world, child, pretty much all the same, when thee knows it better. I thought once as thee does now, and had as little thought of being a Friend as thee has. Perhaps when thee has seen more, thee will better appreciate a quiet life."
"Thee married young. I shall not marry young, and perhaps not at all," said Ruth, with a look of vast experience.
"Perhaps thee doesn't know thee own mind; I have known persons of thy age who did not. Did thee see anybody whom thee would like to live with always in Fallkill?"
"Not always," replied Ruth with a little laugh. "Mother, I think I wouldn't say 'always' to any one until I have a profession and am as independent as he is. Then my love would be a free act, and not in any way a necessity."
Margaret Bolton smiled at this new-fangled philosophy. "Thee will find that love, Ruth, is a thing thee won't reason about, when it comes, nor make any bargains about. Thee wrote that Philip Sterling was at Fallkill."
"Yes, and Henry Brierly, a friend of his; a very amusing young fellow and not so serious-minded as Philip, but a bit of a fop maybe."
"And thee preferred the fop to the serious-minded?"
"I didn't prefer anybody; but Henry Brierly was good company, which Philip wasn't always."
"Did thee know thee father had been in correspondence with Philip?"
Ruth looked up surprised and with a plain question in her eyes.
"Oh, it's not about thee."
"What then?" and if there was any shade of disappointment in her tone, probably Ruth herself did not know it.
"It's about some land up in the country. That man Bigler has got father into another speculation."
"That odious man! Why will father have anything to do with him? Is it that railroad?"
"Yes. Father advanced money and took land as security, and whatever has gone with the money and the bonds, he has on his hands a large tract of wild land."
"And what has Philip to do with that?"
"It has good timber, if it could ever be got out, and father says that there must be coal in it; it's in a coal region. He wants Philip to survey it, and examine it for indications of coal."
"It's another of father's fortunes, I suppose," said Ruth. "He has put away so many fortunes for us that I'm afraid we never shall find them."
Ruth was interested in it nevertheless, and perhaps mainly because Philip was to be connected with the enterprise. Mr. Bigler came to dinner with her father next day, and talked a great deal about Mr. Bolton's magnificent tract of land, extolled the sagacity that led him to secure such a property, and led the talk along to another railroad which would open a northern communication to this very land.
"Pennybacker says it's full of coal, he's no doubt of
it, and a railroad to strike the
"Suppose you take the land and work the thing up, Mr. Bigler; you may have the tract for three dollars an acre."
"You'd throw it away, then," replied Mr. Bigler, "and I'm not the man to take advantage of a friend. But if you'll put a mortgage on it for the northern road, I wouldn't mind taking an interest, if Pennybacker is willing; but Pennybacker, you know, don't go much on land, he sticks to the legislature." And Mr. Bigler laughed.
When Mr. Bigler had gone, Ruth asked her father about Philip's connection with the land scheme.
"There's nothing definite," said Mr. Bolton. "Philip is showing aptitude for his
profession. I hear the best reports of
All his life Eli Bolton had been giving young fellows a lift, and shouldering the loses when things turned out unfortunately. His ledger, take-it-altogether, would not show a balance on the right side; but perhaps the losses on his books will turn out to be credits in a world where accounts are kept on a different basis. The left hand of the ledger will appear the right, looked at from the other side.
Philip, wrote to Ruth rather a comical account of the
bursting up of the city of
As to the railroad, Philip had made up his mind that it was merely kept on foot for speculative purposes in Wall street, and he was about to quit it. Would Ruth be glad to hear, he wondered, that he was coming East? For he was coming, in spite of a letter from Harry in New York, advising him to hold on until he had made some arrangements in regard to contracts, he to be a little careful about Sellers, who was somewhat visionary, Harry said.
The summer went on without much excitement for Ruth. She kept up a correspondence with Alice, who
promised a visit in the fall, she read, she earnestly tried to interest herself
in home affairs and such people as came to the house; but she found herself
falling more and more into reveries, and growing weary of things as they
were. She felt that everybody might
become in time like two relatives from a Shaker establishment in
Amusing as this Shaker caricature of the Friends was, it oppressed Ruth beyond measure; and increased her feeling of being stifled.
It was a most unreasonable feeling. No home could be pleasanter than Ruth's. The house, a little out of the city; was one
of those elegant country residences which so much charm visitors to the suburbs
It needed only the peace of the mind within, to make it a paradise. One riding by on the Old Germantown road, and seeing a young girl swinging in the hammock on the piazza and, intent upon some volume of old poetry or the latest novel, would no doubt have envied a life so idyllic. He could not have imagined that the young girl was reading a volume of reports of clinics and longing to be elsewhere.
Ruth could not have been more discontented if all the wealth about her had been as unsubstantial as a dream. Perhaps she so thought it.
"I feel," she once said to her father, "as if I were living in a house of cards."
"And thee would like to turn it into a hospital?"
"No. But tell me father," continued Ruth, not to be put off, "is thee still going on with that Bigler and those other men who come here and entice thee?"
Mr. Bolton smiled, as men do when they talk with women about "business" "Such men have their uses, Ruth. They keep the world active, and I owe a great many of my best operations to such men. Who knows, Ruth, but this new land purchase, which I confess I yielded a little too much to Bigler in, may not turn out a fortune for thee and the rest of the children?"
"Ah, father, thee sees every thing in a rose-colored light. I do believe thee wouldn't have so readily allowed me to begin the study of medicine, if it hadn't had the novelty of an experiment to thee."
"And is thee satisfied with it?"
"If thee means, if I have had enough of it, no. I just begin to see what I can do in it, and what a noble profession it is for a woman. Would thee have me sit here like a bird on a bough and wait for somebody to come and put me in a cage?"
Mr. Bolton was not sorry to divert the talk from his own affairs, and he did not think it worth while to tell his family of a performance that very day which was entirely characteristic of him.
Ruth might well say that she felt as if she were living in a house of cards, although the Bolton household had no idea of the number of perils that hovered over them, any more than thousands of families in America have of the business risks and contingences upon which their prosperity and luxury hang.
A sudden call upon Mr. Bolton for a large sum of money, which must be forthcoming at once, had found him in the midst of a dozen ventures, from no one of which a dollar could be realized. It was in vain that he applied to his business acquaintances and friends; it was a period of sudden panic and no money. "A hundred thousand! Mr. Bolton," said Plumly. "Good God, if you should ask me for ten, I shouldn't know where to get it."
And yet that day Mr. Small (Pennybacker, Bigler and Small) came to Mr. Bolton with a piteous story of ruin in a coal operation, if he could not raise ten thousand dollars. Only ten, and he was sure of a fortune. Without it he was a beggar. Mr. Bolton had already Small's notes for a large amount in his safe, labeled "doubtful;" he had helped him again and again, and always with the same result. But Mr. Small spoke with a faltering voice of his family, his daughter in school, his wife ignorant of his calamity, and drew such a picture of their agony, that Mr. Bolton put by his own more pressing necessity, and devoted the day to scraping together, here and there, ten thousand dollars for this brazen beggar, who had never kept a promise to him nor paid a debt.
Beautiful credit! The foundation of modern society. Who shall say that this is not the golden age of mutual trust, of unlimited reliance upon human promises? That is a peculiar condition of society which enables a whole nation to instantly recognize point and meaning in the familiar newspaper anecdote, which puts into the mouth of a distinguished speculator in lands and mines this remark:--"I wasn't worth a cent two years ago, and now I owe two millions of dollars."
It was a hard blow to poor Sellers to see the work on his darling enterprise stop, and the noise and bustle and confusion that had been such refreshment to his soul, sicken and die out. It was hard to come down to humdrum ordinary life again after being a General Superintendent and the most conspicuous man in the community. It was sad to see his name disappear from the newspapers; sadder still to see it resurrected at intervals, shorn of its aforetime gaudy gear of compliments and clothed on with rhetorical tar and feathers.
But his friends suffered more on his account than he did. He was a cork that could not be kept under the water many moments at a time.
He had to bolster up his wife's spirits every now and then. On one of these occasions he said:
"It's all right, my dear, all right; it will all come right in a little while. There's $200,000 coming, and that will set things booming again: Harry seems to be having some difficulty, but that's to be expected--you can't move these big operations to the tune of Fisher's Hornpipe, you know. But Harry will get it started along presently, and then you'll see! I expect the news every day now."
"But Beriah, you've been expecting it every day, all along, haven't you?"
"Well, yes; yes--I don't know but I have. But anyway, the longer it's delayed, the nearer it grows to the time when it will start--same as every day you live brings you nearer to--nearer--"
"Well, no--not that exactly; but you can't understand these things, Polly dear--women haven't much head for business, you know. You make yourself perfectly comfortable, old lady, and you'll see how we'll trot this right along. Why bless you, let the appropriation lag, if it wants to--that's no great matter--there's a bigger thing than that."
"Bigger than $200,000, Beriah?"
"Bigger, child?--why, what's $200,000? Pocket money! Mere pocket money! Look at the railroad! Did you forget the railroad? It ain't many months till spring; it will be coming right along, and the railroad swimming right along behind it. Where'll it be by the middle of summer? Just stop and fancy a moment--just think a little--don't anything suggest itself? Bless your heart, you dear women live right in the present all the time--but a man, why a man lives----
"In the future, Beriah? But don't we live in the future most too much, Beriah? We do somehow seem to manage to live on next year's crop of corn and potatoes as a general thing while this year is still dragging along, but sometimes it's not a robust diet,--Beriah. But don't look that way, dear--don't mind what I say. I don't mean to fret, I don't mean to worry; and I don't, once a month, do I, dear? But when I get a little low and feel bad, I get a bit troubled and worrisome, but it don't mean anything in the world. It passes right away. I know you're doing all you can, and I don't want to seem repining and ungrateful--for I'm not, Beriah--you know I'm not, don't you?"
"Lord bless you, child, I know you are the very best little woman that ever lived--that ever lived on the whole face of the Earth! And I know that I would be a dog not to work for you and think for you and scheme for you with all my might. And I'll bring things all right yet, honey --cheer up and don't you fear. The railroad----"
"Oh, I had forgotten the railroad, dear, but when a body gets blue, a body forgets everything. Yes, the railroad--tell me about the railroad."
"Aha, my girl, don't you see? Things ain't so dark, are they? Now I didn't forget the railroad. Now just think for a moment--just figure up a
little on the future dead moral certainties.
For instance, call this waiter
"And we'll lay this fork (representing the railroad)
"Then with this carving knife we'll continue the railroad from Slouchburg to Doodleville, shown by the black pepper:
"Then we run along the--yes--the comb--to the tumbler that's Brimstone:
"Thence by the pipe to Belshazzar, which is the salt-cellar:
"Thence to, to--that quill--Catfish--hand me the pincushion, Marie Antoinette:
"Thence right along these shears to this horse,
"Then by the spoon to Bloody Run--thank you, the ink:
"Thence to Hail
"Then--let me open my knife--to Hark-from-the-Tomb, where we'll put the candle-stick--only a little distance from Hail Columbia to Hark-from-the-Tomb--down-grade all the way.
"And there we strike Columbus River--pass me two or throe skeins of thread to stand for the river; the sugar bowl will do for Hawkeye, and the rat trap for Stone's Landing-Napoleon, I mean--and you can see how much better Napoleon is located than Hawkeye. Now here you are with your railroad complete, and showing its continuation to Hallelujah and thence to Corruptionville.
"Now then-them you are!
It's a beautiful road, beautiful.
Jeff Thompson can out-engineer any civil engineer that ever sighted
through an aneroid, or a theodolite, or whatever they call it--he calls it
sometimes one and sometimes the other just whichever levels off his sentence
neatest, I reckon. But ain't it a ripping
toad, though? I tell you, it'll make a
stir when it gets along. Just see what a
country it goes through. There's your onions at Slouchburg--noblest onion
country that graces God's footstool; and there's your turnip country all around
Doodleville --bless my life, what fortunes are going to be made there when they
get that contrivance perfected for extracting olive oil out of turnips--if
there's any in them; and I reckon there is, because Congress has made an
appropriation of money to test the thing, and they wouldn't have done that just
on conjecture, of course. And now we
come to the Brimstone region--cattle raised there till you can't rest--and
corn, and all that sort of thing. Then
you've got a little stretch along through Belshazzar that don't produce
anything now--at least nothing but rocks--but irrigation will fetch it. Then from Catfish to
"But Beriah, dear--"
"Don't interrupt me; Polly--I don't want you to lose
the run of the map --well, take your toy-horse, James Fitz-James, if you must
have it--and run along with you. Here,
now--the soap will do for
The eldest boy entered just in the nick of time and brought a letter, warm from the post-office.
"Things do look bright, after all, Beriah. I'm sorry I was blue, but it did seem as if everything had been going against us for whole ages. Open the letter--open it quick, and let's know all about it before we stir out of our places. I am all in a fidget to know what it says."
The letter was opened, without any unnecessary delay.
Whatever may have been the language of Harry's letter to the
Colonel, the information it conveyed was condensed or expanded, one or the
other, from the following episode of his visit to
He called, with official importance in his mien, at
"The president of the company, of course."
"He is busy with some gentlemen, sir; says he will be done with them directly."
That a copper-plate card with "Engineer-in-Chief" on it should be received with such tranquility as this, annoyed Mr. Brierly not a little. But he had to submit. Indeed his annoyance had time to augment a good deal; for he was allowed to cool his heels a frill half hour in the ante-room before those gentlemen emerged and he was ushered into the presence. He found a stately dignitary occupying a very official chair behind a long green morocco-covered table, in a room with sumptuously carpeted and furnished, and well garnished with pictures.
"Good morning, sir; take a seat--take a seat."
"Thank you sir," said Harry, throwing as much chill into his manner as his ruffled dignity prompted.
"We perceive by your reports and the reports of the Chief Superintendent, that you have been making gratifying progress with the work.--We are all very much pleased."
"Indeed? We did not discover it from your letters--which we have not received; nor by the treatment our drafts have met with--which were not honored; nor by the reception of any part of the appropriation, no part of it having come to hand."
"Why, my dear Mr. Brierly, there must be some mistake, I am sure we wrote you and also Mr. Sellers, recently--when my clerk comes he will show copies--letters informing you of the ten per cent. assessment."
"Oh, certainly, we got those letters. But what we wanted was money to carry on the work--money to pay the men."
"Certainly, certainly--true enough--but we credited you both for a large part of your assessments--I am sure that was in our letters."
"Of course that was in--I remember that."
"Ah, very well then. Now we begin to understand each other."
"Well, I don't see that we do. There's two months' wages due the men, and----"
"How? Haven't you paid the men?"
"Paid them! How are we going to pay them when you don't honor our drafts?"
"Why, my dear sir, I cannot see how you can find any fault with us. I am sure we have acted in a perfectly straight forward business way.--Now let us look at the thing a moment. You subscribed for 100 shares of the capital stock, at $1,000 a share, I believe?"
"Yes, sir, I did."
"And Mr. Sellers took a like amount?"
"Very well. No concern can get along without money. We levied a ten per cent. assessment. It was the original understanding that you and Mr. Sellers were to have the positions you now hold, with salaries of $600 a month each, while in active service. You were duly elected to these places, and you accepted them. Am I right?"
"Very well. You
were given your instructions and put to work.
By your reports it appears that you have expended the sum of $9,610 upon
the said work. Two months salary to you
two officers amounts altogether to $2,400--about one-eighth of your ten per
cent. assessment, you see; which leaves you in debt to the company for the
other seven-eighths of the assessment--viz, something over $8,000 apiece. Now instead of requiring you to forward this
aggregate of $16,000 or $17,000 to
"Confound it, do you mean to say that instead of the company owing us $2,400, we owe the company $7,960?"
"And that we owe the men and the contractors nearly ten thousand dollars besides?"
"Owe them! Oh bless my soul, you can't mean that you have not paid these people?"
"But I do mean it!"
The president rose and walked the floor like a man in bodily pain. His brows contracted, he put his hand up and clasped his forehead, and kept saying, "Oh, it is, too bad, too bad, too bad! Oh, it is bound to be found out--nothing can prevent it--nothing!"
Then he threw himself into his chair and said:
"My dear Mr. Brierson, this is dreadful--perfectly dreadful. It will be found out. It is bound to tarnish the good name of the company; our credit will be seriously, most seriously impaired. How could you be so thoughtless--the men ought to have been paid though it beggared us all!"
"They ought, ought they? Then why the devil--my name is not Bryerson, by the way--why the mischief didn't the compa--why what in the nation ever became of the appropriation? Where is that appropriation?--if a stockholder may make so bold as to ask."
The appropriation?--that paltry $200,000, do you mean?"
"Of course--but I didn't know that $200,000 was so very paltry. Though I grant, of course, that it is not a large sum, strictly speaking. But where is it?"
"My dear sir, you surprise me. You surely cannot have had a large acquaintance with this sort of thing. Otherwise you would not have expected much of a result from a mere INITIAL appropriation like that. It was never intended for anything but a mere nest egg for the future and real appropriations to cluster around."
"Indeed? Well, was it a myth, or was it a reality? Whatever become of it?"
"Why the--matter is simple enough. A Congressional appropriation costs money. Just reflect, for instance--a majority of the House Committee, say $10,000 apiece--$40,000; a majority of the Senate Committee, the same each--say $40,000; a little extra to one or two chairman of one or two such committees, say $10,000 each--$20,000; and there's $100,000 of the money gone, to begin with. Then, seven male lobbyists, at $3,000 each --$21,000; one female lobbyist, $10,000; a high moral Congressman or Senator here and there--the high moral ones cost more, because they. give tone to a measure--say ten of these at $3,000 each, is $30,000; then a lot of small-fry country members who won't vote for anything whatever without pay--say twenty at $500 apiece, is $10,000; a lot of dinners to members--say $10,000 altogether; lot of jimcracks for Congressmen's wives and children--those go a long way--you can't sped too much money in that line--well, those things cost in a lump, say $10,000--along there somewhere; and then comes your printed documents--your maps, your tinted engravings, your pamphlets, your illuminated show cards, your advertisements in a hundred and fifty papers at ever so much a line --because you've got to keep the papers all light or you are gone up, you know. Oh, my dear sir, printing bills are destruction itself. Ours so far amount to--let me see--10; 52; 22; 13;--and then there's 11; 14; 33
--well, never mind the details, the total in clean numbers foots up
$118,254.42 thus far!"
"Oh, yes indeed. Printing's no bagatelle, I can tell you. And then there's your contributions, as a company, to Chicago fires and Boston fires, and orphan asylums and all that sort of thing--head the list, you see, with the company's full name and a thousand dollars set opposite --great card, sir--one of the finest advertisements in the world--the preachers mention it in the pulpit when it's a religious charity--one of the happiest advertisements in the world is your benevolent donation. Ours have amounted to sixteen thousand dollars and some cents up to this time."
"Oh, yes. Perhaps the biggest thing we've done in the advertising line was to get an officer of the U. S. government, of perfectly Himmalayan official altitude, to write up our little internal improvement for a religious paper of enormous circulation--I tell you that makes our bonds go handsomely among the pious poor. Your religious paper is by far the best vehicle for a thing of this kind, because they'll 'lead' your article and put it right in the midst of the reading matter; and if it's got a few Scripture quotations in it, and some temperance platitudes and a bit of gush here and there about Sunday Schools, and a sentimental snuffle now and then about 'God's precious ones, the honest hard-handed poor,' it works the nation like a charm, my dear sir, and never a man suspects that it is an advertisement; but your secular paper sticks you right into the advertising columns and of course you don't take a trick. Give me a religious paper to advertise in, every time; and if you'll just look at their advertising pages, you'll observe that other people think a good deal as I do--especially people who have got little financial schemes to make everybody rich with. Of course I mean your great big metropolitan religious papers that know how to serve God and make money at the same time--that's your sort, sir, that's your sort--a religious paper that isn't run to make money is no use to us, sir, as an advertising medium--no use to anybody--in our line of business. I guess our next best dodge was sending a pleasure trip of newspaper reporters out to Napoleon. Never paid them a cent; just filled them up with champagne and the fat of the land, put pen, ink and paper before them while they were red-hot, and bless your soul when you come to read their letters you'd have supposed they'd been to heaven. And if a sentimental squeamishness held one or two of them back from taking a less rosy view of Napoleon, our hospitalities tied his tongue, at least, and he said nothing at all and so did us no harm. Let me see--have I stated all the expenses I've been at? No, I was near forgetting one or two items. There's your official salaries--you can't get good men for nothing. Salaries cost pretty lively. And then there's your big high-sounding millionaire names stuck into your advertisements as stockholders--another card, that--and they are stockholders, too, but you have to give them the stock and non-assessable at that--so they're an expensive lot. Very, very expensive thing, take it all around, is a big internal improvement concern--but you see that yourself, Mr. Bryerman--you see that, yourself, sir."
"But look here.
I think you are a little mistaken about it's ever having cost anything
for Congressional votes. I happen to
know something about that. I've let you say
your say--now let me say mine. I don't
wish to seem to throw any suspicion on anybody's statements, because we are all
liable to be mistaken. But how would it
strike you if I were to say that I was in
The president smiled blandly, even sweetly, all through this harangue, and then said:
"Is that so?"
"Every word of it."
"Well it does seem to alter the complexion of things a little. You are acquainted with the members down there, of course, else you could not have worked to such advantage?"
"I know them all, sir. I know their wives, their children, their babies --I even made it a point to be on good terms with their lackeys. I know every Congressman well--even familiarly."
"Very good. Do you know any of their signatures? Do you know their handwriting?"
"Why I know their handwriting as well as I know my own--have had correspondence enough with them, I should think. And their signatures --why I can tell their initials, even."
The president went to a private safe, unlocked it and got out some letters and certain slips of paper. Then he said:
"Now here, for instance; do you believe that that is a genuine letter? Do you know this signature here?--and this one? Do you know who those initials represent--and are they forgeries?"
Harry was stupefied. There were things there that made his brain swim. Presently, at the bottom of one of the letters he saw a signature that restored his equilibrium; it even brought the sunshine of a smile to his face.
The president said:
"That one amuses you. You never suspected him?"
"Of course I ought to have suspected him, but I don't believe it ever really occurred to me. Well, well, well--how did you ever have the nerve to approach him, of all others?"
"Why my friend, we never think of accomplishing anything without his help. He is our mainstay. But how do those letters strike you?"
"They strike me dumb! What a stone-blind idiot I have been!"
"Well, take it all around, I suppose you had a pleasant
"Come, now, Mr. President, that's plenty of that! I take back everything I said on that head. I'm a wiser man to-day than I was yesterday, I can tell you."
"I think you are. In fact I am satisfied you are. But now I showed you these things in confidence, you understand. Mention facts as much as you want to, but don't mention names to anybody. I can depend on you for that, can't I?"
"Oh, of course. I understand the necessity of that. I will not betray the names. But to go back a bit, it begins to look as if you never saw any of that appropriation at all?"
"We saw nearly ten thousand dollars of it--and that was
all. Several of us took turns at
"If you hadn't levied the assessment you would have been in a close place I judge?"
"Close? Have you figured up the total of the disbursements I told you of?"
"No, I didn't think of that."
"Well, lets see:
Printing, advertising, etc., say .... $118,000
Charity, say, ....................... $16,000
Total, ............... $325,000
The money to do that with, comes from --Appropriation, ...................... $200,000
Ten per cent. assessment on capital of
$1,000,000 ..................... $100,000
Total, ............... $300,000
"Which leaves us in debt some $25,000 at this moment. Salaries of home officers are still going on; also printing and advertising. Next month will show a state of things!"
"And then--burst up, I suppose?"
"By no means. Levy another assessment"
"Oh, I see. That's dismal."
"By no means."
"Why isn't it? What's the road out?"
"Another appropriation, don't you see?"
"Bother the appropriations. They cost more than they come to."
"Not the next one. We'll call for half a million--get it and go for a million the very next month."--"Yes, but the cost of it!"
The president smiled, and patted his secret letters affectionately. He said:
"All these people are in the next Congress. We shan't have to pay them a cent. And what is more, they will work like beavers for us--perhaps it might be to their advantage."
Harry reflected profoundly a while. Then he said:
"We send many missionaries to lift up the benighted races of other lands. How much cheaper and better it would be if those people could only come here and drink of our civilization at its fountain head."
"I perfectly agree with you, Mr. Beverly. Must you go? Well, good morning. Look in, when you are passing; and whenever I can give you any information about our affairs and pro'spects, I shall be glad to do it."
Harry's letter was not a long one, but it contained at least the calamitous figures that came out in the above conversation. The Colonel found himself in a rather uncomfortable place--no $1,200 salary forthcoming; and himself held responsible for half of the $9,640 due the workmen, to say nothing of being in debt to the company to the extent of nearly $4,000. Polly's heart was nearly broken; the "blues" returned in fearful force, and she had to go out of the room to hide the tears that nothing could keep back now.
There was mourning in another quarter, too, for Louise had a
Spring blossomed, summer came, dragged its hot weeks by, and the Colonel's spirits rose, day by day, for the railroad was making good progress. But by and by something happened. Hawkeye had always declined to subscribe anything toward the railway, imagining that her large business would be a sufficient compulsory influence; but now Hawkeye was frightened; and before Col. Sellers knew what he was about, Hawkeye, in a panic, had rushed to the front and subscribed such a sum that Napoleon's attractions suddenly sank into insignificance and the railroad concluded to follow a comparatively straight coarse instead of going miles out of its way to build up a metropolis in the muddy desert of Stone's Landing.
The thunderbolt fell. After all the Colonel's deep planning; after all his brain work and tongue work in drawing public attention to his pet project and enlisting interest in it; after all his faithful hard toil with his hands, and running hither and thither on his busy feet; after all his high hopes and splendid prophecies, the fates had turned their backs on him at last, and all in a moment his air-castles crumbled to ruins abort him. Hawkeye rose from her fright triumphant and rejoicing, and down went Stone's Landing! One by one its meagre parcel of inhabitants packed up and moved away, as the summer waned and fall approached. Town lots were no longer salable, traffic ceased, a deadly lethargy fell upon the place once more, the "Weekly Telegraph" faded into an early grave, the wary tadpole returned from exile, the bullfrog resumed his ancient song, the tranquil turtle sunned his back upon bank and log and drowsed his grateful life away as in the old sweet days of yore.
Philip Sterling was on his way to Ilium, in the state of
On the last day of the journey as the railway train Philip was on was leaving a large city, a lady timidly entered the drawing-room car, and hesitatingly took a chair that was at the moment unoccupied. Philip saw from the window that a gentleman had put her upon the car just as it was starting. In a few moments the conductor entered, and without waiting an explanation, said roughly to the lady,
"Now you can't sit there. That seat's taken. Go into the other car."
"I did not intend to take the seat," said the lady rising, "I only sat down a moment till the conductor should come and give me a seat."
"There aint any. Car's full. You'll have to leave."
"But, sir," said the lady, appealingly, "I thought--"
"Can't help what you thought--you must go into the other car."
"The train is going very fast, let me stand here till we stop."
"The lady can have my seat," cried Philip, springing up.
The conductor turned towards Philip, and coolly and deliberately surveyed him from head to foot, with contempt in every line of his face, turned his back upon him without a word, and said to the lady,
"Come, I've got no time to talk. You must go now."
The lady, entirely disconcerted by such rudeness, and frightened, moved towards the door, opened it and stepped out. The train was swinging along at a rapid rate, jarring from side to side; the step was a long one between the cars and there was no protecting grating. The lady attempted it, but lost her balance, in the wind and the motion of the car, and fell! She would inevitably have gone down under the wheels, if Philip, who had swiftly followed her, had not caught her arm and drawn her up. He then assisted her across, found her a seat, received her bewildered thanks, and returned to his car.
The conductor was still there, taking his tickets, and growling something about imposition. Philip marched up to him, and burst out with,
"You are a brute, an infernal brute, to treat a woman that way."
"Perhaps you'd like to make a fuss about it," sneered the conductor.
Philip's reply was a blow, given so suddenly and planted so squarely in the conductor's face, that it sent him reeling over a fat passenger, who was looking up in mild wonder that any one should dare to dispute with a conductor, and against the side of the car.
He recovered himself, reached the bell rope, "Damn you, I'll learn you," stepped to the door and called a couple of brakemen, and then, as the speed slackened; roared out,
"Get off this train."
"I shall not get off. I have as much right here as you."
"We'll see," said the conductor, advancing with the brakemen. The passengers protested, and some of them said to each other, "That's too bad," as they always do in such cases, but none of them offered to take a hand with Philip. The men seized him, wrenched him from his seat, dragged him along the aisle, tearing his clothes, thrust him from the car, and, then flung his carpet-bag, overcoat and umbrella after him. And the train went on.
The conductor, red in the face and puffing from his exertion, swaggered through the car, muttering "Puppy, I'll learn him." The passengers, when he had gone, were loud in their indignation, and talked about signing a protest, but they did nothing more than talk.
The next morning the Hooverville Patriot and Clarion had this "item":--
"We learn that as the down noon express was leaving H---- yesterday
a lady! (God save the mark) attempted to force herself into the
already full palatial car. Conductor Slum, who is too old a bird to
be caught with chaff, courteously informed her that the car was
full, and when she insisted on remaining, he persuaded her to go
into the car where she belonged. Thereupon a young sprig, from the
conductor with his chin music. That gentleman delivered the young
aspirant for a muss one of his elegant little left-handers, which so
astonished him that he began to feel for his shooter. Whereupon Mr.
Slum gently raised the youth, carried him forth, and set him down
just outside the car to cool off. Whether the young blood has yet
made his way out of Bascom's swamp, we have not learned. Conductor
Slum is one of the most gentlemanly and efficient officers on the
road; but he ain't trifled with, not much. We learn that the
company have put a new engine on the seven o'clock train, and newly
upholstered the drawing-room car throughout. It spares no effort
for the comfort of the traveling public."
Philip never had been before in Bascom's swamp, and there was nothing inviting in it to detain him. After the train got out of the way he crawled out of the briars and the mud, and got upon the track. He was somewhat bruised, but he was too angry to mind that. He plodded along over the ties in a very hot condition of mind and body. In the scuffle, his railway check had disappeared, and he grimly wondered, as he noticed the loss, if the company would permit him to walk over their track if they should know he hadn't a ticket.
Philip had to walk some five miles before he reached a little station, where he could wait for a train, and he had ample time for reflection. At first he was full of vengeance on the company. He would sue it. He would make it pay roundly. But then it occurred to him that he did not know the name of a witness he could summon, and that a personal fight against a railway corporation was about the most hopeless in the world. He then thought he would seek out that conductor, lie in wait for him at some station, and thrash him, or get thrashed himself.
But as he got cooler, that did not seem to him a project worthy of a gentleman exactly. Was it possible for a gentleman to get even with such a fellow as that conductor on the letter's own plane? And when he came to this point, he began to ask himself, if he had not acted very much like a fool. He didn't regret striking the fellow--he hoped he had left a mark on him. But, after all, was that the best way? Here was he, Philip Sterling, calling himself a gentleman, in a brawl with a vulgar conductor, about a woman he had never seen before. Why should he have put himself in such a ridiculous position? Wasn't it enough to have offered the lady his seat, to have rescued her from an accident, perhaps from death? Suppose he had simply said to the conductor, "Sir, your conduct is brutal, I shall report you." The passengers, who saw the affair, might have joined in a report against the conductor, and he might really have accomplished something. And, now! Philip looked at leis torn clothes, and thought with disgust of his haste in getting into a fight with such an autocrat.
At the little station where Philip waited for the next train, he met a man--who turned out to be a justice of the peace in that neighborhood, and told him his adventure. He was a kindly sort of man, and seemed very much interested.
"Dum 'em," said he, when he had heard the story.
"Do you think any thing can be done, sir?"
"Wal, I guess tain't no use. I hain't a mite of doubt of every word you say. But suin's no use. The railroad company owns all these people along here, and the judges on the bench too. Spiled your clothes! Wal, 'least said's soonest mended.' You haint no chance with the company."
When next morning, he read the humorous account in the Patriot and Clarion, he saw still more clearly what chance he would have had before the public in a fight with the railroad company.
Still Philip's conscience told him that it was his plain duty to carry the matter into the courts, even with the certainty of defeat. He confessed that neither he nor any citizen had a right to consult his own feelings or conscience in a case where a law of the land had been violated before his own eyes. He confessed that every citizen's first duty in such case is to put aside his own business and devote his time and his best efforts to seeing that the infraction is promptly punished; and he knew that no country can be well governed unless its citizens as a body keep religiously before their minds that they are the guardians of the law, and that the law officers are only the machinery for its execution, nothing more. As a finality he was obliged to confess that he was a bad citizen, and also that the general laxity of the time, and the absence of a sense of duty toward any part of the community but the individual himself were ingrained in him, am he was no better than the rest of the people.
The result of this little adventure was that Philip did not
As Philip approached the hotel he saw what appeared to be a wild beast crouching on the piazza. It did not stir, however, and he soon found that it was only a stuffed skin. This cheerful invitation to the tavern was the remains of a huge panther which had been killed in the region a few weeks before. Philip examined his ugly visage and strong crooked fore-arm, as he was waiting admittance, having pounded upon the door.
"Yait a bit. I'll shoost--put on my trowsers," shouted a voice from the window, and the door was soon opened by the yawning landlord.
"Morgen! Didn't hear d' drain oncet. Dem boys geeps me up zo spate. Gom right in."
Philip was shown into a dirty bar-room. It was a small room, with a stove in the middle, set in a long shallow box of sand, for the benefit of the "spitters," a bar across one end--a mere counter with a sliding glass-case behind it containing a few bottles having ambitious labels, and a wash-sink in one corner. On the walls were the bright yellow and black handbills of a traveling circus, with pictures of acrobats in human pyramids, horses flying in long leaps through the air, and sylph-like women in a paradisaic costume, balancing themselves upon the tips of their toes on the bare backs of frantic and plunging steeds, and kissing their hands to the spectators meanwhile.
As Philip did not desire a room at that hour, he was invited to wash himself at the nasty sink, a feat somewhat easier than drying his face, for the towel that hung in a roller over the sink was evidently as much a fixture as the sink itself, and belonged, like the suspended brush and comb, to the traveling public. Philip managed to complete his toilet by the use of his pocket-handkerchief, and declining the hospitality of the landlord, implied in the remark, "You won'd dake notin'?" he went into the open air to wait for breakfast.
The country he saw was wild but not picturesque. The mountain before him might be eight
hundred feet high, and was only a portion of a long unbroken range, savagely
wooded, which followed the stream.
Behind the hotel, and across the brawling brook, was another
level-topped, wooded range exactly like it.
Philip was recalled from the contemplation of
The dining room was long, low and narrow, and a narrow table extended its whole length. Upon this was spread a cloth which from appearance might have been as long in use as the towel in the barroom. Upon the table was the usual service, the heavy, much nicked stone ware, the row of plated and rusty castors, the sugar bowls with the zinc tea-spoons sticking up in them, the piles of yellow biscuits, the discouraged-looking plates of butter. The landlord waited, and Philip was pleased to observe the change in his manner. In the barroom he was the conciliatory landlord. Standing behind his guests at table, he had an air of peremptory patronage, and the voice in which he shot out the inquiry, as he seized Philip's plate, "Beefsteak or liver?" quite took away Philip's power of choice. He begged for a glass of milk, after trying that green hued compound called coffee, and made his breakfast out of that and some hard crackers which seemed to have been imported into Ilium before the introduction of the iron horse, and to have withstood a ten years siege of regular boarders, Greeks and others.
The land that Philip had come to look at was at least five
miles distant from
His first step was to hire three woodsmen to accompany him. By their help he built a log hut, and established a camp on the land, and then began his explorations, mapping down his survey as he went along, noting the timber, and the lay of the land, and making superficial observations as to the prospect of coal.
The landlord at
Acting with his usual promptness, Philip, with the consent of Mr. Bolton, broke ground there at once, and, before snow came, had some rude buildings up, and was ready for active operations in the spring. It was true that there were no outcroppings of coal at the place, and the people at Ilium said he "mought as well dig for plug terbaccer there;" but Philip had great faith in the uniformity of nature's operations in ages past, and he had no doubt that he should strike at this spot the rich vein that had made the fortune of the Golden Briar Company.
Once more Louise had good news from her
"If the Senator has really taken hold of this matter, I
may look for that invitation to his house at, any moment. I am perishing to go! I do long to know whether I am only simply a
large-sized pigmy among these pigmies here, who tumble over so easily when one
strikes them, or whether I am really--."
Her thoughts drifted into other channels, for a season. Then she
continued:-- "He said I could be useful in the great cause of
philanthropy, and help in the blessed work of uplifting the poor and the
ignorant, if he found it feasible to take hold of our Land. Well, that is neither here nor there; what I
want, is to go to
Along in the fall the invitation came, sure enough. It came officially through brother Washington, the private Secretary, who appended a postscript that was brimming with delight over the prospect of seeing the Duchess again. He said it would be happiness enough to look upon her face once more--it would be almost too much happiness when to it was added the fact that she would bring messages with her that were fresh from Louise's lips.
Almost at the door she met Col. Sellers. She told him about her invitation to
"Bless me!" said the Colonel. "I have about made up my mind to go there myself. You see we've got to get another appropriation through, and the Company want me to come east and put it through Congress. Harry's there, and he'll do what he can, of course; and Harry's a good fellow and always does the very best he knows how, but then he's young--rather young for some parts of such work, you know--and besides he talks too much, talks a good deal too much; and sometimes he appears to be a little bit visionary, too, I think the worst thing in the world for a business man. A man like that always exposes his cards, sooner or later. This sort of thing wants an old, quiet, steady hand--wants an old cool head, you know, that knows men, through and through, and is used to large operations. I'm expecting my salary, and also some dividends from the company, and if they get along in time, I'll go along with you Laura--take you under my wing--you mustn't travel alone. Lord I wish I had the money right now. --But there'll be plenty soon--plenty."
Laura reasoned with herself that if the kindly, simple-hearted Colonel was going anyhow, what could she gain by traveling alone and throwing away his company? So she told him she accepted his offer gladly, gratefully. She said it would be the greatest of favors if he would go with her and protect her--not at his own expense as far as railway fares were concerned, of course; she could not expect him to put himself to so much trouble for her and pay his fare besides. But he wouldn't hear of her paying his fare--it would be only a pleasure to him to serve her. Laura insisted on furnishing the tickets; and finally, when argument failed, she said the tickets cost neither her nor any one else a cent --she had two of them--she needed but one--and if he would not take the other she would not go with him. That settled the matter. He took the ticket. Laura was glad that she had the check for new clothing, for she felt very certain of being able to get the Colonel to borrow a little of the money to pay hotel bills with, here and there.
She the, gracious lady, yet no paines did spare
To doe him ease, or doe him remedy:
Many restoratives of vertues rare
And costly cordialles she did apply,
To mitigate his stubborne malady.
Mr. Henry Brierly was exceedingly busy in
The Colonel believed that Harry was the prince of lobbyists, a little too sanguine, may be, and given to speculation, but, then, he knew everybody; the Columbus River navigation scheme was, got through almost entirely by his aid. He was needed now to help through another scheme, a benevolent scheme in which Col. Sellers, through the Hawkinses, had a deep interest.
"I don't care, you know," he wrote to Harry,
"so much about the niggroes. But if the government will buy this land, it
will set up the Hawkins family--make Laura an heiress--and I shouldn't wonder
if Beriah Sellers would set up his carriage again. Dilworthy looks at it different, of
course. He's all for philanthropy, for
benefiting the colored race. There's old Balsam, was in the Interior--used to
be the Rev. Orson Balsam of
Though Harry was in a hurry to reach
Philip was at home--he sometimes wished he were not so much so. He felt that too much or not enough was taken for granted. Ruth had met him, when he first came, with a cordial frankness, and her manner continued entirely unrestrained. She neither sought his company nor avoided it, and this perfectly level treatment irritated him more than any other could have done. It was impossible to advance much in love-making with one who offered no obstacles, had no concealments and no embarrassments, and whom any approach to sentimentality would be quite likely to set into a fit of laughter.
"Why, Phil," she would say, "what puts you in
the dumps to day? You are as solemn as
the upper bench in Meeting. I shall have
"It's not your presence, but your absence when you are present," began Philip, dolefully, with the idea that he was saying a rather deep thing. "But you won't understand me."
"No, I confess I cannot. If you really are so low, as to think I am
absent when I am present, it's a frightful case of aberration; I shall ask
father to bring out Dr. Jackson. Does
"It might be more cheerful than you are at times,"
Ruth replied with a laugh. "But you
mustn't do it without consulting
"I don't know why you should bring
"Bless you, no.
It never entered my head. Are
you? The thought of Philip Sterling in
love is too comical. I thought you were
only in love with the
This is a specimen of Philip's wooing. Confound the girl, he would say to himself, why does she never tease Harry and that young Shepley who comes here?
"I can tell you one thing, Philip," she said, "if ever Ruth Bolton loves, it will be with her whole soul, in a depth of passion that will sweep everything before it and surprise even herself."
A remark that did not much console Philip, who imagined that only some grand heroism could unlock the sweetness of such a heart; and Philip feared that he wasn't a hero. He did not know out of what materials a woman can construct a hero, when she is in the creative mood.
Harry skipped into this society with his usual lightness and
gaiety. His good nature was inexhaustible, and though he liked to relate his
own exploits, he had a little tact in adapting himself to the tastes of his
hearers. He was not long in finding out
Harry did not neglect to endeavor to make himself agreeable
to Mrs. Bolton, by paying great attention to the children, and by professing
the warmest interest in the Friends' faith.
It always seemed to him the most peaceful religion; he thought it must
be much easier to live by an internal light than by a lot of outward rules; he
had a dear Quaker aunt in
"Thy friend, Henry Brierly, appears to be a very worldly minded young man. Does he believe in anything?"
"Oh, yes," said Philip laughing, "he believes in more things than any other person I ever saw."
To Ruth, Harry seemed to be very congenial. He was never moody for one thing, but lent himself with alacrity to whatever her fancy was. He was gay or grave as the need might be. No one apparently could enter more fully into her plans for an independent career.
"My father," said Harry, "was bred a physician, and practiced a little before he went into Wall street. I always had a leaning to the study. There was a skeleton hanging in the closet of my father's study when I was a boy, that I used to dress up in old clothes. Oh, I got quite familiar with the human frame."
"You must have," said Philip. "Was that where you learned to play the bones? He is a master of those musical instruments, Ruth; he plays well enough to go on the stage."
"Philip hates science of any kind, and steady application," retorted Harry. He didn't fancy Philip's banter, and when the latter had gone out, and Ruth asked,
"Why don't you take up medicine, Mr. Brierly?"
Harry said, "I have it in mind. I believe I would begin attending lectures
this winter if it weren't for being wanted in
"Why so?" asked Ruth, rather amused.
"Well, the treatment of disease is a good deal a matter of sympathy. A woman's intuition is better than a man's. Nobody knows anything, really, you know, and a woman can guess a good deal nearer than a man."
"You are very complimentary to my sex."
"But," said Harry frankly; "I should want to choose my doctor; an ugly woman would ruin me, the disease would be sure to strike in and kill me at sight of her. I think a pretty physician, with engaging manners, would coax a fellow to live through almost anything."
"I am afraid you are a scoffer, Mr. Brierly."
"On the contrary, I am quite sincere. Wasn't it old what's his name? that said only the beautiful is useful?"
Whether Ruth was anything more than diverted with Harry's
company; Philip could not determine. He
scorned at any rate to advance his own interest by any disparaging
communications about Harry, both because he could not help liking the fellow
himself, and because he may have known that he could not more surely create a
sympathy for him in Ruth's mind. That
Ruth was in no danger of any serious impression he felt pretty sure, felt
certain of it when he reflected upon her severe occupation with her
profession. Hang it, he would say to
himself, she is nothing but pure intellect anyway. And he only felt uncertain of it when she was
in one of her moods of raillery, with mocking mischief in her eyes. At such times she seemed to prefer Harry's
society to his. When Philip was
miserable about this, he always took refuge with
Harry was entirely satisfied with his own situation. A bird of passage is always at its ease, having no house to build, and no responsibility. He talked freely with Philip about Ruth, an almighty fine girl, he said, but what the deuce she wanted to study medicine for, he couldn't see.
There was a concert one night at the Musical Fund Hall and
the four had arranged to go in and return by the
Perhaps he meant to take advantage of the occasion to say some very serious things. His love for Ruth was no secret to Mrs. Bolton, and he felt almost sure that he should have no opposition in the family. Mrs. Bolton had been cautious in what she said, but Philip inferred everything from her reply to his own questions, one day, "Has thee ever spoken thy mind to Ruth?"
Why shouldn't he speak his mind, and end his doubts? Ruth had been more tricksy than usual that day, and in a flow of spirits quite inconsistent, it would seem, in a young lady devoted to grave studies.
Had Ruth a premonition of Philip's intention, in his manner? It may be, for when the girls came down stairs, ready to walk to the cars; and met Philip and Harry in the hall, Ruth said, laughing,
"The two tallest must walk together" and before Philip knew how it happened Ruth had taken Harry's arm, and his evening was spoiled. He had too much politeness and good sense and kindness to show in his manner that he was hit. So he said to Harry,
"That's your disadvantage in being short." And he gave
The Hall was crowded with the fashion of the town. The concert was one of those fragmentary drearinesses that people endure because they are fashionable; tours de force on the piano, and fragments from operas, which have no meaning without the setting, with weary pauses of waiting between; there is the comic basso who is so amusing and on such familiar terms with the audience, and always sings the Barber; the attitudinizing tenor, with his languishing "Oh, Summer Night;" the soprano with her "Batti Batti," who warbles and trills and runs and fetches her breath, and ends with a noble scream that brings down a tempest of applause in the midst of which she backs off the stage smiling and bowing. It was this sort of concert, and Philip was thinking that it was the most stupid one he ever sat through, when just as the soprano was in the midst of that touching ballad, "Comin' thro' the Rye" (the soprano always sings "Comin' thro' the Rye" on an encore)--the Black Swan used to make it irresistible, Philip remembered, with her arch, "If a body kiss a body" there was a cry of "Fire!"
The hall is long and narrow, and there is only one place of egress. Instantly the audience was on its feet, and a rush began for the door. Men shouted, women screamed, and panic seized the swaying mass. A second's thought would have convinced every one that getting out was impossible, and that the only effect of a rush would be to crash people to death. But a second's thought was not given. A few cried:
"Sit down, sit down," but the mass was turned towards the door. Women were down and trampled on in the aisles, and stout men, utterly lost to self-control, were mounting the benches, as if to run a race over the mass to the entrance.
Philip who had forced the girls to keep their seats saw, in a flash, the new danger, and sprang to avert it. In a second more those infuriated men would be over the benches and crushing Ruth and Alice under their boots. He leaped upon the bench in front of them and struck out before him with all his might, felling one man who was rushing on him, and checking for an instant the movement, or rather parting it, and causing it to flow on either side of him. But it was only for an instant; the pressure behind was too great, and, the next Philip was dashed backwards over the seat.
And yet that instant of arrest had probably saved the girls, for as Philip fell, the orchestra struck up "Yankee Doodle" in the liveliest manner. The familiar tune caught the ear of the mass, which paused in wonder, and gave the conductor's voice a chance to be heard--"It's a false alarm!"
The tumult was over in a minute, and the next, laughter was heard, and not a few said, "I knew it wasn't anything." "What fools people are at such a time."
The concert was over, however. A good many people were hurt, some of them seriously, and among them Philip Sterling was found bent across the seat, insensible, with his left arm hanging limp and a bleeding wound on his head.
When he was carried into the air he revived, and said it was
nothing. A surgeon was called, and it was thought best to drive at once to the
But he was not, or he would not have murmured "Let Alice do it, she is not too tall."
It was Ruth's first case.
"But your criticisms are too full of brotherly
partiality to be depended on,
"Indeed they won't.
You'll see. There will never be a
Laura wished in her heart that the prophecy might come true; and privately she even believed it might--for she had brought all the women whom she had seen since she left home under sharp inspection, and the result had not been unsatisfactory to her.
During a week or two
Congress began its sittings, and every day or two
Invitations began to flow in upon her and soon she was fairly "in society." "The season" was now in full bloom, and the first select reception was at hand that is to say, a reception confined to invited guests. Senator Dilworthy had become well convinced; by this time, that his judgment of the country-bred Missouri girl had not deceived him--it was plain that she was going to be a peerless missionary in the field of labor he designed her for, and therefore it would be perfectly safe and likewise judicious to send her forth well panoplied for her work.--So he had added new and still richer costumes to her wardrobe, and assisted their attractions with costly jewelry-loans on the future land sale.
This first select reception took place at a cabinet minister's--or rather a cabinet secretary's mansion. When Laura and the Senator arrived, about half past nine or ten in the evening, the place was already pretty well crowded, and the white-gloved negro servant at the door was still receiving streams of guests.--The drawing-rooms were brilliant with gaslight, and as hot as ovens. The host and hostess stood just within the door of entrance; Laura was presented, and then she passed on into the maelstrom of be-jeweled and richly attired low-necked ladies and white-kid-gloved and steel pen-coated gentlemen and wherever she moved she was followed by a buzz of admiration that was grateful to all her senses--so grateful, indeed, that her white face was tinged and its beauty heightened by a perceptible suffusion of color. She caught such remarks as, "Who is she?" "Superb woman!" "That is the new beauty from the west," etc., etc.
Whenever she halted, she was presently surrounded by Ministers, Generals, Congressmen, and all manner of aristocratic, people. Introductions followed, and then the usual original question, "How do you like Washington, Miss Hawkins?" supplemented by that other usual original question, "Is this your first visit?"
These two exciting topics being exhausted, conversation generally drifted into calmer channels, only to be interrupted at frequent intervals by new introductions and new inquiries as to how Laura liked the capital and whether it was her first visit or not. And thus for an hour or more the Duchess moved through the crush in a rapture of happiness, for her doubts were dead and gone, now she knew she could conquer here. A familiar face appeared in the midst of the multitude and Harry Brierly fought his difficult way to her side, his eyes shouting their gratification, so to speak:
"Oh, this is a happiness! Tell me, my dear Miss Hawkins--"
"Sh! I know what
you are going to ask. I do like
"No, but I was going to ask--"
"Yes, I am coming to it, coming to it as fast as I can. It is my first visit. I think you should know that yourself."
And straightway a wave of the crowd swept her beyond his reach.
"Now what can the girl mean? Of course she likes
And he did "smile around a little," and got as near to her as he could to watch the effect, but the scheme was a failure--he could not get her attention. She seemed wholly unconscious of him, and so he could not flirt with any spirit; he could only talk disjointedly; he could not keep his eyes on the charmers he talked to; he grew irritable, jealous, and very, unhappy. He gave up his enterprise, leaned his shoulder against a fluted pilaster and pouted while he kept watch upon Laura's every movement. His other shoulder stole the bloom from many a lovely cheek that brushed him in the surging crush, but he noted it not. He was too busy cursing himself inwardly for being an egotistical imbecile. An hour ago he had thought to take this country lass under his protection and show her "life" and enjoy her wonder and delight--and here she was, immersed in the marvel up to her eyes, and just a trifle more at home in it than he was himself. And now his angry comments ran on again:
"Now she's sweetening old Brother Balaam; and he--well
he is inviting her to the Congressional prayer-meeting, no doubt--better let
old Dilworthy alone to see that she doesn't overlook that. And now its Splurge, of
But he hadn't. He got as far as the door--and then struggled back to take one more look, hating himself all the while for his weakness.
Toward midnight, when supper was announced, the crowd thronged to the supper room where a long table was decked out with what seemed a rare repast, but which consisted of things better calculated to feast the eye than the appetite. The ladies were soon seated in files along the wall, and in groups here and there, and the colored waiters filled the plates and glasses and the, male guests moved hither and thither conveying them to the privileged sex.
Harry took an ice and stood up by the table with other gentlemen, and listened to the buzz of conversation while he ate.
From these remarks he learned a good deal about Laura that was news to him. For instance, that she was of a distinguished western family; that she was highly educated; that she was very rich and a great landed heiress; that she was not a professor of religion, and yet was a Christian in the truest and best sense of the word, for her whole heart was devoted to the accomplishment of a great and noble enterprise--none other than the sacrificing of her landed estates to the uplifting of the down-trodden negro and the turning of his erring feet into the way of light and righteousness. Harry observed that as soon as one listener had absorbed the story, he turned about and delivered it to his next neighbor and the latter individual straightway passed it on. And thus he saw it travel the round of the gentlemen and overflow rearward among the ladies. He could not trace it backward to its fountain head, and so he could not tell who it was that started it.
One thing annoyed Harry a great deal; and that was the
reflection that he might have been in
He only found one little opportunity of speaking again with Laura before the evening's festivities ended, and then, for the first time in years, his airy self-complacency failed him, his tongue's easy confidence forsook it in a great measure, and he was conscious of an unheroic timidity. He was glad to get away and find a place where he could despise himself in private and try to grow his clipped plumes again.
When Laura reached home she was tired but exultant, and Senator Dilworthy was pleased and satisfied. He called Laura "my daughter," next morning, and gave her some "pin money," as he termed it, and she sent a hundred and fifty dollars of it to her mother and loaned a trifle to Col. Sellers. Then the Senator had a long private conference with Laura, and unfolded certain plans of his for the good of the country, and religion, and the poor, and temperance, and showed her how she could assist him in developing these worthy and noble enterprises.
Laura soon discovered that there were three distinct
The aristocracy of the Antiques ignored the aristocracy of the Parvenus; the Parvenus laughed at the Antiques, (and secretly envied them.)
There were certain important "society" customs which one in Laura's position needed to understand. For instance, when a lady of any prominence comes to one of our cities and takes up her residence, all the ladies of her grade favor her in turn with an initial call, giving their cards to the servant at the door by way of introduction. They come singly, sometimes; sometimes in couples; and always in elaborate full dress. They talk two minutes and a quarter and then go. If the lady receiving the call desires a further acquaintance, she must return the visit within two weeks; to neglect it beyond that time means "let the matter drop." But if she does return the visit within two weeks, it then becomes the other party's privilege to continue the acquaintance or drop it. She signifies her willingness to continue it by calling again any time within twelve-months; after that, if the parties go on calling upon each other once a year, in our large cities, that is sufficient, and the acquaintanceship holds good. The thing goes along smoothly, now. The annual visits are made and returned with peaceful regularity and bland satisfaction, although it is not necessary that the two ladies shall actually see each other oftener than once every few years. Their cards preserve the intimacy and keep the acquaintanceship intact.
For instance, Mrs. A. pays her annual visit, sits in her carriage and sends in her card with the lower right hand corner turned down, which signifies that she has "called in person;" Mrs. B: sends down word that she is "engaged" or "wishes to be excused"--or if she is a Parvenu and low-bred, she perhaps sends word that she is "not at home." Very good; Mrs. A. drives, on happy and content. If Mrs. A.'s daughter marries, or a child is born to the family, Mrs. B. calls, sends in her card with the upper left hand corner turned down, and then goes along about her affairs--for that inverted corner means "Congratulations." If Mrs. B.'s husband falls downstairs and breaks his neck, Mrs. A. calls, leaves her card with the upper right hand corner turned down, and then takes her departure; this corner means "Condolence." It is very necessary to get the corners right, else one may unintentionally condole with a friend on a wedding or congratulate her upon a funeral. If either lady is about to leave the city, she goes to the other's house and leaves her card with "P. P. C." engraved under the name--which signifies, "Pay Parting Call." But enough of etiquette. Laura was early instructed in the mysteries of society life by a competent mentor, and thus was preserved from troublesome mistakes.
The first fashionable call she received from a member of the ancient nobility, otherwise the Antiques, was of a pattern with all she received from that limb of the aristocracy afterward. This call was paid by Mrs. Major-General Fulke-Fulkerson and daughter. They drove up at one in the afternoon in a rather antiquated vehicle with a faded coat of arms on the panels, an aged white-wooled negro coachman on the box and a younger darkey beside him--the footman. Both of these servants were dressed in dull brown livery that had seen considerable service.
The ladies entered the drawing-room in full character; that is to say, with Elizabethan stateliness on the part of the dowager, and an easy grace and dignity on the part of the young lady that had a nameless something about it that suggested conscious superiority. The dresses of both ladies were exceedingly rich, as to material, but as notably modest as to color and ornament. All parties having seated themselves, the dowager delivered herself of a remark that was not unusual in its form, and yet it came from her lips with the impressiveness of Scripture:
"The weather has been unpropitious of late, Miss Hawkins."
"It has indeed," said Laura. "The climate seems to be variable."
"It is its nature of old, here," said the daughter--stating it apparently as a fact, only, and by her manner waving aside all personal responsibility on account of it. "Is it not so, mamma?"
"Quite so, my child. Do you like winter, Miss Hawkins?" She said "like" as if she had, an idea that its dictionary meaning was "approve of."
"Not as well as summer--though I think all seasons have their charms."
"It is a very just remark. The general held similar views. He considered snow in winter proper; sultriness in summer legitimate; frosts in the autumn the same, and rains in spring not objectionable. He was not an exacting man. And I call to mind now that he always admired thunder. You remember, child, your father always admired thunder?"
"He adored it."
"No doubt it reminded him of battle," said Laura.
"Yes, I think perhaps it did. He had a great respect for Nature. He often said there was something striking about the ocean. You remember his saying that, daughter?"
"Yes, often, Mother. I remember it very well."
"And hurricanes... He took a great interest in hurricanes. And animals. Dogs, especially--hunting dogs. Also comets. I think we all have our predilections. I think it is this that gives variety to our tastes."
Laura coincided with this view.
"Do you find it hard and lonely to be so far from your home and friends, Miss Hawkins?"
"I do find it depressing sometimes, but then there is so much about me here that is novel and interesting that my days are made up more of sunshine than shadow."
"I have really had no experience of them, but I have always felt a strong desire to see something of fashionable watering-place life."
Laura said to herself, "
"Why I thought that
There was no need to "feel" any further--there was that in both faces before her which made that truth apparent. The dowager said:
"Nobody goes there, Miss Hawkins--at least only persons of no position in society. And the President." She added that with tranquility.
The visit had spun out nearly three minutes, now. Both ladies rose with grave dignity, conferred upon Laura a formal invitation to call, aid then retired from the conference. Laura remained in the drawing-room and left them to pilot themselves out of the house--an inhospitable thing, it seemed to her, but then she was following her instructions. She stood, steeped in reverie, a while, and then she said:
"I think I could always enjoy icebergs--as scenery but not as company."
Still, she knew these two people by reputation, and was aware that they were not ice-bergs when they were in their own waters and amid their legitimate surroundings, but on the contrary were people to be respected for their stainless characters and esteemed for their social virtues and their benevolent impulses. She thought it a pity that they had to be such changed and dreary creatures on occasions of state.
The first call Laura received from the other extremity of
The three carriages arrived at the same moment from different directions. They were new and wonderfully shiny, and the brasses on the harness were highly polished and bore complicated monograms. There were showy coats of arms, too, with Latin mottoes. The coachmen and footmen were clad in bright new livery, of striking colors, and they had black rosettes with shaving-brushes projecting above them, on the sides of their stove-pipe hats.
When the visitors swept into the drawing-room they filled the place with a suffocating sweetness procured at the perfumer's. Their costumes, as to architecture, were the latest fashion intensified; they were rainbow-hued; they were hung with jewels--chiefly diamonds. It would have been plain to any eye that it had cost something to upholster these women.
The Hon. Mrs. Oliver Higgins was the wife of a delegate from a distant territory--a gentleman who had kept the principal "saloon," and sold the best whiskey in the principal village in his wilderness, and so, of course, was recognized as the first man of his commonwealth and its fittest representative.
He was a man of paramount influence at home, for he was
public spirited, he was chief of the fire department, he had an admirable
command of profane language, and had killed several "parties." His shirt fronts were always immaculate; his
boots daintily polished, and no man could lift a foot and fire a dead shot at a
stray speck of dirt on it with a white handkerchief with a finer grace than he;
his watch chain weighed a pound; the gold in his finger ring was worth forty
five dollars; he wore a diamond cluster-pin and he parted his hair behind. He had always been, regarded as the most
elegant gentleman in his territory, and it was conceded by all that no man
thereabouts was anywhere near his equal in the telling of an obscene story except
the venerable white-haired governor himself.
The Hon. Higgins had not come to serve his country in
The Hon. Mrs. Higgins was a picturesque woman, and a fluent
talker, and she held a tolerably high station among the Parvenus. Her English was fair enough, as a general
thing--though, being of
Petroleum was the agent that had suddenly transformed the Gashlys from modest hard-working country village folk into "loud" aristocrats and ornaments of the city.
The Hon. Patrique Oreille was a wealthy Frenchman from
Patrick O'Riley (as his name then stood) created friends and influence very, fast, for he was always on hand at the police courts to give straw bail for his customers or establish an alibi for them in case they had been beating anybody to death on his premises. Consequently he presently became a political leader, and was elected to a petty office under the city government. Out of a meager salary he soon saved money enough to open quite a stylish liquor saloon higher up town, with a faro bank attached and plenty of capital to conduct it with. This gave him fame and great respectability. The position of alderman was forced upon him, and it was just the same as presenting him a gold mine. He had fine horses and carriages, now, and closed up his whiskey mill.
By and by he became a large contractor for city work, and was a bosom friend of the great and good Wm. M. Weed himself, who had stolen $20,600,000 from the city and was a man so envied, so honored,--so adored, indeed, that when the sheriff went to his office to arrest him as a felon, that sheriff blushed and apologized, and one of the illustrated papers made a picture of the scene and spoke of the matter in such a way as to show that the editor regretted that the offense of an arrest had been offered to so exalted a personage as Mr. Weed.
Mr. O'Riley furnished shingle nails to, the new Court House
at three thousand dollars a keg, and eighteen gross of 60-cent thermometers at
fifteen hundred dollars a dozen; the controller and the board of audit passed
the bills, and a mayor, who was simply ignorant but not criminal, signed
them. When they were paid, Mr. O'Riley's
admirers gave him a solitaire diamond pin of the size of a filbert, in
imitation of the liberality of Mr. Weed's friends, and then Mr. O'Riley retired
from active service and amused himself with buying real estate at enormous
figures and holding it in other people's names.
By and by the newspapers came out with exposures and called Weed and
O'Riley "thieves,"--whereupon the people rose as one man (voting
repeatedly) and elected the two gentlemen to their proper theatre of action,
Being now wealthy and distinguished, Mr. O'Riley, still bearing the legislative "Hon." attached to his name (for titles never die in America, although we do take a republican pride in poking fun at such trifles), sailed for Europe with his family. They traveled all about, turning their noses up at every thing, and not finding it a difficult thing to do, either, because nature had originally given those features a cast in that direction; and finally they established themselves in Paris, that Paradise of Americans of their sort.--They staid there two years and learned to speak English with a foreign accent--not that it hadn't always had a foreign accent (which was indeed the case) but now the nature of it was changed. Finally they returned home and became ultra fashionables. They landed here as the Hon. Patrique Oreille and family, and so are known unto this day.
Laura provided seats for her visitors and they immediately launched forth into a breezy, sparkling conversation with that easy confidence which is to be found only among persons accustomed to high life.
"I've been intending to call sooner, Miss
Hawkins," said the Hon. Mrs. Oreille, "but the weather's been so
horrid. How do you like
Laura liked it very well indeed.
Mrs. Gashly--"Is it your first visit?"
Yea, it was her first.
Mrs. Oreille--"I'm afraid you'll despise the weather, Miss Hawkins. It's perfectly awful. It always is. I tell Mr. Oreille I can't and I won't put up with any such a climate. If we were obliged to do it, I wouldn't mind it; but we are not obliged to, and so I don't see the use of it. Sometimes its real pitiful the way the childern pine for Parry --don't look so sad, Bridget, 'ma chere'--poor child, she can't hear Parry mentioned without getting the blues."
Mrs. Gashly--"Well I should think so, Mrs.
Oreille. A body lives in
Miss Gashly--"Well then, I wish you'd take us back, mother; I'm sure I hate this stoopid country enough, even if it is our dear native land."
Miss Emmeline Gashly--"What and leave poor Johnny Peterson behind?" [An airy genial laugh applauded this sally].
Miss Gashly--"Sister, I should think you'd be ashamed of yourself!"
Miss Emmeline--"Oh, you needn't ruffle your feathers so: I was only joking. He don't mean anything by coming to, the house every evening --only comes to see mother. Of course that's all!" [General laughter].
Miss G. prettily confused--"Emmeline, how can you!"
Mrs. G.--"Let your sister alone, Emmeline. I never saw such a tease!"
Mrs. Oreille--"What lovely corals you have, Miss Hawkins! Just look at them, Bridget, dear. I've a great passion for corals--it's a pity they're getting a little common. I have some elegant ones--not as elegant as yours, though--but of course I don't wear them now."
Laura--"I suppose they are rather common, but still I
have a great affection for these, because they were given to me by a dear old
friend of our family named Murphy. He
was a very charming man, but very eccentric.
We always supposed he was an Irishman, but after be got rich he went
abroad for a year or two, and when he came back you would have been amused to
see how interested he was in a potato.
He asked what it was! Now you
know that when
Mrs. O.--"Not by any means, Miss Hawkins! French society is much more elegant--much more so."
Laura--"I am sorry to hear that. I suppose ours has deteriorated of late."
Mrs. O.--"Very much indeed. There are people in society here that have really no more money to live on than what some of us pay for servant hire. Still I won't say but what some of them are very good people--and respectable, too."
Laura--"The old families seem to be holding themselves aloof, from what I hear. I suppose you seldom meet in society now, the people you used to be familiar with twelve or fifteen years ago?"
Mrs. O.--"Oh, no-hardly ever."
Mr. O'Riley kept his first rum-mill and protected his customers from the law in those days, and this turn of the conversation was rather uncomfortable to madame than otherwise.
Hon. Mrs. Higgins--"Is Francois' health good now, Mrs. Oreille?"
Mrs. O.--(Thankful for the intervention)--"Not very. A body couldn't expect it. He was always delicate--especially his lungs--and this odious climate tells on him strong, now, after Parry, which is so mild."
Mrs. H:--"I should think so. Husband says Percy'll die if he don't have a
change; and so I'm going to swap round a little and see what can be done. I saw a lady from
Mrs. O.--"No, of course that's off. If Francois don't get better soon we've got
to look out for some other place, or else
Mrs. G.--"Yes, but that's about all. It was indigestion, you know, and it looks as if it was chronic. And you know I do dread dyspepsia. We've all been worried a good deal about him. The doctor recommended baked apple and spoiled meat, and I think it done him good. It's about the only thing that will stay on his stomach now-a-days. We have Dr. Shovel now. Who's your doctor, Mrs. Higgins?"
Mrs. H.--"Well, we had Dr. Spooner a good while, but he runs so much to emetics, which I think are weakening, that we changed off and took Dr. Leathers. We like him very much. He has a fine European reputation, too. The first thing he suggested for Percy was to have him taken out in the back yard for an airing, every afternoon, with nothing at all on."
Mrs. O. and Mrs. G.--"What!"
Mrs. H.--"As true as I'm sitting here. And it actually helped him for two or three days; it did indeed. But after that the doctor said it seemed to be too severe and so he has fell back on hot foot-baths at night and cold showers in the morning. But I don't think there, can be any good sound help for him in such a climate as this. I believe we are going to lose him if we don't make a change."
Mrs. O. "I
suppose you heard of the fright we had two weeks ago last Saturday? No?
Why that is strange--but come to remember, you've all been away to
Mrs. O.--"Yes indeed--and broke two of his ribs--"
Mrs. O. "Just as
true as you live. First we thought he
must be injured internally. It was
fifteen minutes past
Everybody--"The mean, contemptible brute!"
Mrs. O--"Well you may say it. I was nearly out of my wits by this time. But
we hurried off the servants after our own doctor and telegraphed mother--she
Mrs. O.--"Yes. So he set his leg and bandaged it up, and fixed his ribs and gave him a dose of something to quiet down his excitement and put him to sleep--poor thing he was trembling and frightened to death and it was pitiful to see him. We had him in my bed--Mr. Oreille slept in the guest room and I laid down beside Francois--but not to sleep bless you no. Bridget and I set up all night, and the doctor staid till two in the morning, bless his old heart.--When mother got there she was so used up with anxiety, that she had to go to bed and have the doctor; but when she found that Francois was not in immediate danger she rallied, and by night she was able to take a watch herself. Well for three days and nights we three never left that bedside only to take an hour's nap at a time. And then the doctor said Francois was out of danger and if ever there was a thankful set, in this world, it was us."
Laura's respect for these, women had augmented during this conversation, naturally enough; affection and devotion are qualities that are able to adorn and render beautiful a character that is otherwise unattractive, and even repulsive.
Mrs. Gashly--"I do believe I would a died if I had been
in your place, Mrs. Oreille. The time
Hildebrand was so low with the pneumonia Emmeline and me were all, alone with
him most of the time and we never took a minute's sleep for as much as two
days, and nights. It was at
Mrs. O.--"It was his right hand hind leg. Jump down, Francois dear, and show the ladies what a cruel limp you've got yet."
Francois demurred, but being coaxed and delivered gently upon the floor, he performed very satisfactorily, with his "right hand hind leg" in the air. All were affected--even Laura--but hers was an affection of the stomach. The country-bred girl had not suspected that the little whining ten-ounce black and tan reptile, clad in a red embroidered pigmy blanket and reposing in Mrs. Oreille's lap all through the visit was the individual whose sufferings had been stirring the dormant generosities of her nature. She said:
"Poor little creature! You might have lost him!"
Mrs. O.--"O pray don't mention it, Miss Hawkins--it gives me such a turn!"
Laura--"And Hildebrand and Percy--are they-are they like this one?"
Mrs. G.--"No, Hilly has considerable Skye blood in him, I believe."
Mrs. H.--"Percy's the same, only he is two months and ten days older and has his ears cropped. His father, Martin Farquhar Tupper, was sickly, and died young, but he was the sweetest disposition.--His mother had heart disease but was very gentle and resigned, and a wonderful ratter." --[** As impossible and exasperating as this conversation may sound to a person who is not an idiot, it is scarcely in any respect an exaggeration of one which one of us actually listened to in an American drawing room --otherwise we could not venture to put such a chapter into a book which, professes to deal with social possibilities.--THE AUTHORS.]
So carried away had the visitors become by their interest attaching to this discussion of family matters, that their stay had been prolonged to a very improper and unfashionable length; but they suddenly recollected themselves now and took their departure.
Laura's scorn was boundless. The more she thought of these people and their extraordinary talk, the more offensive they seemed to her; and yet she confessed that if one must choose between the two extreme aristocracies it might be best, on the whole, looking at things from a strictly business point of view, to herd with the Parvenus; she was in Washington solely to compass a certain matter and to do it at any cost, and these people might be useful to her, while it was plain that her purposes and her schemes for pushing them would not find favor in the eyes of the Antiques. If it came to choice--and it might come to that, sooner or later--she believed she could come to a decision without much difficulty or many pangs.
But the best aristocracy of the three Washington castes, and really the most powerful, by far, was that of the Middle Ground: It was made up of the families of public men from nearly every state in the Union--men who held positions in both the executive and legislative branches of the government, and whose characters had been for years blemishless, both at home and at the capital. These gentlemen and their households were unostentatious people; they were educated and refined; they troubled themselves but little about the two other orders of nobility, but moved serenely in their wide orbit, confident in their own strength and well aware of the potency of their influence. They had no troublesome appearances to keep up, no rivalries which they cared to distress themselves about, no jealousies to fret over. They could afford to mind their own affairs and leave other combinations to do the same or do otherwise, just as they chose. They were people who were beyond reproach, and that was sufficient.
Senator Dilworthy never came into collision with any of these factions. He labored for them all and with them all. He said that all men were brethren and all were entitled to the honest unselfish help and countenance of a Christian laborer in the public vineyard.
Laura concluded, after reflection, to let circumstances determine the course it might be best for her to pursue as regarded the several aristocracies.
Now it might occur to the reader that perhaps Laura had been somewhat rudely suggestive in her remarks to Mrs. Oreille when the subject of corals was under discussion, but it did not occur to Laura herself. She was not a person of exaggerated refinement; indeed, the society and the influences that had formed her character had not been of a nature calculated to make her so; she thought that "give and take was fair play," and that to parry an offensive thrust with a sarcasm was a neat and legitimate thing to do. She some times talked to people in a way which some ladies would consider, actually shocking; but Laura rather prided herself upon some of her exploits of that character. We are sorry we cannot make her a faultless heroine; but we cannot, for the reason that she was human.
She considered herself a superior conversationist. Long ago, when the possibility had first been
brought before her mind that some day she might move in Washington society, she
had recognized the fact that practiced conversational powers would be a
necessary weapon in that field; she had also recognized the fact that since her
dealings there must be mainly with men, and men whom she supposed to be
exceptionally cultivated and able, she would need heavier shot in her magazine
than mere brilliant "society" nothings; whereupon she had at once
entered upon a tireless and elaborate course of reading, and had never since
ceased to devote every unoccupied moment to this sort of preparation. Having now acquired a happy smattering of
various information, she used it with good effect--she passed for a singularly
well informed woman in
When Laura had been in
She had arrived in a state of grievous uncertainty as to what manner of woman she was, physically and intellectually, as compared with eastern women; she was well satisfied, now, that her beauty was confessed, her mind a grade above the average, and her powers of fascination rather extraordinary. So she, was at ease upon those points. When she arrived, she was possessed of habits of economy and not possessed of money; now she dressed elaborately, gave but little thought to the cost of things, and was very well fortified financially. She kept her mother and Washington freely supplied with money, and did the same by Col. Sellers --who always insisted upon giving his note for loans--with interest; he was rigid upon that; she must take interest; and one of the Colonel's greatest satisfactions was to go over his accounts and note what a handsome sum this accruing interest amounted to, and what a comfortable though modest support it would yield Laura in case reverses should overtake her.
In truth he could not help feeling that he was an efficient shield for her against poverty; and so, if her expensive ways ever troubled him for a brief moment, he presently dismissed the thought and said to himself, "Let her go on--even if she loses everything she is still safe--this interest will always afford her a good easy income."
Laura was on excellent terms with a great many members of Congress, and there was an undercurrent of suspicion in some quarters that she was one of that detested class known as "lobbyists;" but what belle could escape slander in such a city? Fairminded people declined to condemn her on mere suspicion, and so the injurious talk made no very damaging headway. She was very gay, now, and very celebrated, and she might well expect to be assailed by many kinds of gossip. She was growing used to celebrity, and could already sit calm and seemingly unconscious, under the fire of fifty lorgnettes in a theatre, or even overhear the low voice "That's she!" as she passed along the street without betraying annoyance.
The whole air was full of a vague vast scheme which was to eventuate in filling Laura's pockets with millions of money; some had one idea of the scheme, and some another, but nobody had any exact knowledge upon the subject. All that any one felt sure about, was that Laura's landed estates were princely in value and extent, and that the government was anxious to get hold of them for public purposes, and that Laura was willing to make the sale but not at all anxious about the matter and not at all in a hurry. It was whispered that Senator Dilworthy was a stumbling block in the way of an immediate sale, because he was resolved that the government should not have the lands except with the understanding that they should be devoted to the uplifting of the negro race; Laura did not care what they were devoted to, it was said, (a world of very different gossip to the contrary notwithstanding,) but there were several other heirs and they would be guided entirely by the Senator's wishes; and finally, many people averred that while it would be easy to sell the lands to the government for the benefit of the negro, by resorting to the usual methods of influencing votes, Senator Dilworthy was unwilling to have so noble a charity sullied by any taint of corruption--he was resolved that not a vote should be bought. Nobody could get anything definite from Laura about these matters, and so gossip had to feed itself chiefly upon guesses. But the effect of it all was, that Laura was considered to be very wealthy and likely to be vastly more so in a little while. Consequently she was much courted and as much envied: Her wealth attracted many suitors. Perhaps they came to worship her riches, but they remained to worship her. Some of the noblest men of the time succumbed to her fascinations. She frowned upon no lover when he made his first advances, but by and by when she was hopelessly enthralled, he learned from her own lips that she had formed a resolution never to marry. Then he would go away hating and cursing the whole sex, and she would calmly add his scalp to her string, while she mused upon the bitter day that Col. Selby trampled her love and her pride in the dust. In time it came to be said that her way was paved with broken hearts.
He was constantly having young ladies thrust upon his notice at receptions, or left upon his hands at parties, and in time he began to feel that he was being deliberately persecuted in this way; and after that he could not enjoy society because of his constant dread of these female ambushes and surprises. He was distressed to find that nearly every time he showed a young lady a polite attention he was straightway reported to be engaged to her; and as some of these reports got into the newspapers occasionally, he had to keep writing to Louise that they were lies and she must believe in him and not mind them or allow them to grieve her.
"Wait. Be patient. You will see."
"But will it be soon, Laura?"
"It will not be very long, I think."
"But what makes you think so?"
"I have reasons--and good ones. Just wait, and be patient."
"But is it going to be as much as people say it is?"
"What do they say it is?"
"Oh, ever so much. Millions!"
"Yes, it will be a great sum."
"But how great, Laura? Will it be millions?"
"Yes, you may call it that. Yes, it will be millions. There, now--does that satisfy you?"
"Splendid! I can wait. I can wait patiently--ever so patiently. Once I was near selling the land for twenty thousand dollars; once for thirty thousand dollars; once after that for seven thousand dollars; and once for forty thousand dollars--but something always told me not to do it. What a fool I would have been to sell it for such a beggarly trifle! It is the land that's to bring the money, isn't it Laura? You can tell me that much, can't you?"
"Yes, I don't mind saying that much. It is the land.
"But mind--don't ever hint that you got it from
me. Don't mention me in the matter at
"All right--I won't. Millions! Isn't it splendid! I mean to look around for a building lot; a lot with fine ornamental shrubbery and all that sort of thing. I will do it to-day. And I might as well see an architect, too, and get him to go to work at a plan for a house. I don't intend to spare and expense; I mean to have the noblest house that money can build." Then after a pause--he did not notice Laura's smiles "Laura, would you lay the main hall in encaustic tiles, or just in fancy patterns of hard wood?"
Laura laughed a good old-fashioned laugh that had more of her former natural self about it than any sound that had issued from her mouth in many weeks. She said:
"You don't change,
He got up and walked the floor feverishly during two hours; and when he sat down he had married Louise, built a house, reared a family, married them off, spent upwards of eight hundred thousand dollars on mere luxuries, and died worth twelve millions.
Laura went down stairs, knocked at/the study door, and entered, scarcely waiting for the response. Senator Dilworthy was alone--with an open Bible in his hand, upside down. Laura smiled, and said, forgetting her acquired correctness of speech,
"It is only me."
"Ah, come in, sit down," and the Senator closed the book and laid it down. "I wanted to see you. Time to report progress from the committee of the whole," and the Senator beamed with his own congressional wit.
"In the committee of the whole things are working very well. We have made ever so much progress in a week. I believe that you and I together could run this government beautifully, uncle."
The Senator beamed again. He liked to be called "uncle" by this beautiful woman.
"Did you see Hopperson last night after the congressional prayer meeting?"
"Yes. He came. He's a kind of--"
"Eh? he is one of my friends, Laura. He's a fine man, a very fine man. I don't know any man in congress I'd sooner go to for help in any Christian work. What did he say?"
"Oh, he beat around a little. He said he should like to help the negro, his heart went out to the negro, and all that--plenty of them say that but he was a little afraid of the Tennessee Land bill; if Senator Dilworthy wasn't in it, he should suspect there was a fraud on the government."
"He said that, did he?"
"Yes. And he said he felt he couldn't vote for it. He was shy."
"Not shy, child, cautious. He's a very cautious man. I have been with him a great deal on conference committees. He wants reasons, good ones. Didn't you show him he was in error about the bill?"
"I did. I went over the whole thing. I had to tell him some of the side arrangements, some of the--"
"You didn't mention me?"
"Oh, no. I told him you were daft about the negro and the philanthropy part of it, as you are."
"Daft is a little strong, Laura. But you know that I wouldn't touch this bill if it were not for the public good, and for the good of the colored race; much as I am interested in the heirs of this property, and would like to have them succeed."
Laura looked a little incredulous, and the Senator proceeded.
"Don't misunderstand me, I don't deny that it is for the interest of all of us that this bill should go through, and it will. I have no concealments from you. But I have one principle in my public life, which I should like you to keep in mind; it has always been my guide. I never push a private interest if it is not Justified and ennobled by some larger public good. I doubt Christian would be justified in working for his own salvation if it was not to aid in the salvation of his fellow men."
The Senator spoke with feeling, and then added,
"I hope you showed Hopperson that our motives were pure?"
"Yes, and he seemed to have a new light on the measure: I think will vote for it."
"I hope so; his name will give tone and strength to it. I knew you would only have to show him that it was just and pure, in order to secure his cordial support."
"I think I convinced him. Yes, I am perfectly sure he will vote right now."
"That's good, that's good," said the Senator; smiling, and rubbing his hands. "Is there anything more?"
"You'll find some changes in that I guess," handing the Senator a printed list of names. "Those checked off are all right."
"Ah--'m--'m," running his eye down the list. "That's encouraging. What is the 'C' before some of the names, and the 'B. B.'?"
"Those are my private marks. That 'C' stands for 'convinced,' with argument. The 'B. B.' is a general sign for a relative. You see it stands before three of the Hon. Committee. I expect to see the chairman of the committee to-day, Mr. Buckstone."
"So, you must, he ought to be seen without any delay. Buckstone is a worldly sort of a fellow, but he has charitable impulses. If we secure him we shall have a favorable report by the committee, and it will be a great thing to be able to state that fact quietly where it will do good."
"Oh, I saw Senator Balloon"
"He will help us, I suppose? Balloon is a whole-hearted fellow. I can't help loving that man, for all his drollery and waggishness. He puts on an air of levity sometimes, but there aint a man in the senate knows the scriptures as he does. He did not make any objections?"
"Not exactly, he said--shall I tell you what he said?" asked Laura glancing furtively at him.
"He said he had no doubt it was a good thing; if Senator Dilworthy was in it, it would pay to look into it."
The Senator laughed, but rather feebly, and said, "Balloon is always full of his jokes."
"I explained it to him. He said it was all right, he only wanted a word with you,", continued Laura. "He is a handsome old gentleman, and he is gallant for an old man."
"My daughter," said the Senator, with a grave look, "I trust there was nothing free in his manner?"
"Free?" repeated Laura, with indignation in her face. "With me!"
"There, there, child. I meant nothing, Balloon talks a little freely sometimes, with men. But he is right at heart. His term expires next year and I fear we shall lose him."
"He seemed to be packing the day I was there. His rooms were full of dry goods boxes, into which his servant was crowding all manner of old clothes and stuff: I suppose he will paint 'Pub. Docs' on them and frank them home. That's good economy, isn't it?"
"Yes, yes, but child, all Congressmen do that. It may not be strictly honest, indeed it is not unless he had some public documents mixed in with the clothes."
"It's a funny world. Good-bye, uncle. I'm going to see that chairman."
And humming a cheery opera air, she departed to her room to dress for going out. Before she did that, however, she took out her note book and was soon deep in its contents; marking, dashing, erasing, figuring, and talking to herself.
"Free! I wonder what Dilworthy does think of me anyway? One . . . two. . .eight . . . seventeen . . . twenty-one,. . 'm'm . . . it takes a heap for a majority. Wouldn't Dilworthy open his eyes if he knew some of the things Balloon did say to me. There. . . . Hopperson's influence ought to count twenty . . . the sanctimonious old curmudgeon. Son-in-law. . . . sinecure in the negro institution . . . .That about gauges him . . . The three committeemen . . . . sons-in-law. Nothing like a son-in-law here in Washington or a brother-in-law . . . And everybody has 'em . . . Let's see: . . . sixty-one. . . . with places . . . twenty-five . . . persuaded--it is getting on; . . . . we'll have two-thirds of Congress in time . . . Dilworthy must surely know I understand him. Uncle Dilworthy . . . . Uncle Balloon!--Tells very amusing stories . . . when ladies are not present . . . I should think so . . . .'m . . . 'm. Eighty-five. There. I must find that chairman. Queer. . . . Buckstone acts . . Seemed to be in love . . . . . I was sure of it. He promised to come here. . . and he hasn't. . . Strange. Very strange . . . . I must chance to meet him to-day."
Laura dressed and went out, thinking she was perhaps too early for Mr. Buckstone to come from the house, but as he lodged near the bookstore she would drop in there and keep a look out for him.
While Laura is on her errand to find Mr. Buckstone, it may
not be out of the way to remark that she knew quite as much of
They were always talking in the Row, everlastingly gossiping, bantering and sarcastically praising things, and going on in a style which was a curious commingling of earnest and persiflage. Col. Sellers liked this talk amazingly, though he was sometimes a little at sea in it--and perhaps that didn't lessen the relish of the conversation to the correspondents.
It seems that they had got hold of the dry-goods box packing story about Balloon, one day, and were talking it over when the Colonel came in. The Colonel wanted to know all about it, and Hicks told him. And then Hicks went on, with a serious air,
"Colonel, if you register a letter, it means that it is of value, doesn't it? And if you pay fifteen cents for registering it, the government will have to take extra care of it and even pay you back its full value if it is lost. Isn't that so?"
"Yes. I suppose it's so.".
"Well Senator Balloon put fifteen cents worth of stamps on each of those seven huge boxes of old clothes, and shipped that ton of second-hand rubbish, old boots and pantaloons and what not through the mails as registered matter! It was an ingenious thing and it had a genuine touch of humor about it, too. I think there is more real: talent among our public men of to-day than there was among those of old times--a far more fertile fancy, a much happier ingenuity. Now, Colonel, can you picture Jefferson, or Washington or John Adams franking their wardrobes through the mails and adding the facetious idea of making the government responsible for the cargo for the sum of one dollar and five cents? Statesmen were dull creatures in those days. I have a much greater admiration for Senator Balloon."
"Yes, Balloon is a man of parts, there is no denying it"
"I think so. He
is spoken of for the post of Minister to
"John Jay and Benjamin Franklin were well enough in their day, but the nation has made progress since then. Balloon is a man we know and can depend on to be true to himself."
"Yes, and Balloon has had a good deal of public experience. He is an old friend of mine. He was governor of one of the territories a while, and was very satisfactory."
"Indeed he was. He was ex-officio Indian agent, too. Many a man would have taken the Indian appropriation and devoted the money to feeding and clothing the helpless savages, whose land had been taken from them by the white man in the interests of civilization; but Balloon knew their needs better. He built a government saw-mill on the reservation with the money, and the lumber sold for enormous prices--a relative of his did all the work free of charge--that is to say he charged nothing more than the lumber world bring." "But the poor Injuns--not that I care much for Injuns--what did he do for them?"
"Gave them the outside slabs to fence in the reservation with. Governor Balloon was nothing less than a father to the poor Indians. But Balloon is not alone, we have many truly noble statesmen in our country's service like Balloon. The Senate is full of them. Don't you think so Colonel?"
"Well, I dunno. I honor my country's public servants as much as any one can. I meet them, Sir, every day, and the more I see of them the more I esteem them and the more grateful I am that our institutions give us the opportunity of securing their services. Few lands are so blest."
"That is true, Colonel. To be sure you can buy now and then a Senator or a Representative but they do not know it is wrong, and so they are not ashamed of it. They are gentle, and confiding and childlike, and in my opinion these are qualities that ennoble them far more than any amount of sinful sagacity could. I quite agree with you, Col. Sellers."
"Well"--hesitated the, Colonel--"I am afraid some of them do buy their seats--yes, I am afraid they do--but as Senator Dilworthy himself said to me, it is sinful,--it is very wrong--it is shameful; Heaven protect me from such a charge. That is what Dilworthy said. And yet when you come to look at it you cannot deny that we would have to go without the services of some of our ablest men, sir, if the country were opposed to --to--bribery. It is a harsh term. I do not like to use it."
The Colonel interrupted himself at this point to meet an engagement with the Austrian minister, and took his leave with his usual courtly bow.
In due time Laura alighted at the book store, and began to look at the titles of the handsome array of books on the counter. A dapper clerk of perhaps nineteen or twenty years, with hair accurately parted and surprisingly slick, came bustling up and leaned over with a pretty smile and an affable--
"Can I--was there any particular book you wished to see?"
"Have you Taine's
"Taine's Notes on
The young gentleman scratched the side of his nose with a cedar pencil which he took down from its bracket on the side of his head, and reflected a moment:
"Ah--I see," [with a bright smile]--"Train, you mean--not Taine. George Francis Train. No, ma'm we--"
"I mean Taine--if I may take the liberty."
The clerk reflected again--then:
"Taine . . . . Taine . . . . Is it hymns?"
"No, it isn't hymns. It is a volume that is making a deal of talk just now, and is very widely known--except among parties who sell it."
The clerk glanced at her face to see if a sarcasm might not lurk somewhere in that obscure speech, but the gentle simplicity of the beautiful eyes that met his, banished that suspicion. He went away and conferred with the proprietor. Both appeared to be non-plussed. They thought and talked, and talked and thought by turns. Then both came forward and the proprietor said:
"Is it an American book, ma'm?"
"No, it is an American reprint of an English translation."
"Oh! Yes--yes--I remember, now. We are expecting it every day. It isn't out yet."
"I think you must be mistaken, because you advertised it a week ago."
"Why no--can that be so?"
"Yes, I am sure of it. And besides, here is the book itself, on the counter."
She bought it and the proprietor retired from the
field. Then she asked the clerk for the
Autocrat of the Breakfast Table--and was pained to see the admiration her
beauty had inspired in him fade out of his face. He said with cold dignity,
that cook books were somewhat out of their line, but he would order it if she
desired it. She said, no, never mind.
Then she fell to conning the titles again, finding a delight in the inspection
"Now here is a work that we've sold a lot of. Everybody that's read it likes it"--and he intruded it under her nose; "it's a book that I can recommend--'The Pirate's Doom, or the Last of the Buccaneers.' I think it's one of the best things that's come out this season."
Laura pushed it gently aside her hand and went on and went on filching from "Venetian Life."
"I believe I do not want it," she said.
The clerk hunted around awhile, glancing at one title and then another, but apparently not finding what he wanted.
However, he succeeded at last. Said he:
"Have you ever read this, ma'm? I am sure you'll like it. It's by the author of 'The Hooligans of Hackensack.' It is full of love troubles and mysteries and all sorts of such things. The heroine strangles her own mother. Just glance at the title please,--'Gonderil the Vampire, or The Dance of Death.' And here is 'The Jokist's Own Treasury, or, The Phunny Phellow's Bosom Phriend.' The funniest thing!--I've read it four times, ma'm, and I can laugh at the very sight of it yet. And 'Gonderil,' --I assure you it is the most splendid book I ever read. I know you will like these books, ma'm, because I've read them myself and I know what they are."
"Oh, I was perplexed--but I see how it is, now. You must have thought I asked you to tell me what sort of books I wanted--for I am apt to say things which I don't really mean, when I am absent minded. I suppose I did ask you, didn't I?"
"No ma'm,--but I--"
"Yes, I must have done it, else you would not have offered your services, for fear it might be rude. But don't be troubled--it was all my fault. I ought not to have been so heedless--I ought not to have asked you."
"But you didn't ask me, ma'm. We always help customers all we can. You see our experience--living right among books all the time--that sort of thing makes us able to help a customer make a selection, you know."
"Now does it, indeed? It is part of your business, then?"
"Yes'm, we always help."
"How good it is of you. Some people would think it rather obtrusive, perhaps, but I don't--I think it is real kindness--even charity. Some people jump to conclusions without any thought--you have noticed that?"
"O yes," said the clerk, a little perplexed as to whether to feel comfortable or the reverse; "Oh yes, indeed, I've often noticed that, ma'm."
"Yes, they jump to conclusions with an absurd heedlessness. Now some people would think it odd that because you, with the budding tastes and the innocent enthusiasms natural to your time of life, enjoyed the Vampires and the volume of nursery jokes, you should imagine that an older person would delight in them too--but I do not think it odd at all. I think it natural--perfectly natural in you. And kind, too. You look like a person who not only finds a deep pleasure in any little thing in the way of literature that strikes you forcibly, but is willing and glad to share that pleasure with others--and that, I think, is noble and admirable--very noble and admirable. I think we ought all--to share our pleasures with others, and do what we can to make each other happy, do not you?"
"Oh, yes. Oh, yes, indeed. Yes, you are quite right, ma'm."
But he was getting unmistakably uncomfortable, now, notwithstanding Laura's confiding sociability and almost affectionate tone.
"Yes, indeed. Many people would think that what a bookseller--or perhaps his clerk--knows about literature as literature, in contradistinction to its character as merchandise, would hardly, be of much assistance to a person--that is, to an adult, of course--in the selection of food for the mind--except of course wrapping paper, or twine, or wafers, or something like that--but I never feel that way. I feel that whatever service you offer me, you offer with a good heart, and I am as grateful for it as if it were the greatest boon to me. And it is useful to me--it is bound to be so. It cannot be otherwise. If you show me a book which you have read--not skimmed over or merely glanced at, but read--and you tell me that you enjoyed it and that you could read it three or four times, then I know what book I want--"
--"to avoid. Yes indeed. I think that no information ever comes amiss in this world. Once or twice I have traveled in the cars--and there you know, the peanut boy always measures you with his eye, and hands you out a book of murders if you are fond of theology; or Tupper or a dictionary or T. S. Arthur if you are fond of poetry; or he hands you a volume of distressing jokes or a copy of the American Miscellany if you particularly dislike that sort of literary fatty degeneration of the heart--just for the world like a pleasant spoken well-meaning gentleman in any, bookstore. But here I am running on as if business men had nothing to do but listen to women talk. You must pardon me, for I was not thinking.--And you must let me thank you again for helping me. I read a good deal, and shall be in nearly every day and I would be sorry to have you think me a customer who talks too much and buys too little. Might I ask you to give me the time? Ah-two-twenty-two. Thank you very much. I will set mine while I have the opportunity."
But she could not get her watch open, apparently. She tried, and tried again. Then the clerk, trembling at his own audacity, begged to be allowed to assist. She allowed him. He succeeded, and was radiant under the sweet influences of her pleased face and her seductively worded acknowledgements with gratification. Then he gave her the exact time again, and anxiously watched her turn the hands slowly till they reached the precise spot without accident or loss of life, and then he looked as happy as a man who had helped a fellow being through a momentous undertaking, and was grateful to know that he had not lived in vain. Laura thanked him once more. The words were music to his ear; but what were they compared to the ravishing smile with which she flooded his whole system? When she bowed her adieu and turned away, he was no longer suffering torture in the pillory where she had had him trussed up during so many distressing moments, but he belonged to the list of her conquests and was a flattered and happy thrall, with the dawn-light of love breaking over the eastern elevations of his heart.
It was about the hour, now, for the chairman of the House Committee on Benevolent Appropriations to make his appearance, and Laura stepped to the door to reconnoiter. She glanced up the street, and sure enough--
That Chairman was nowhere in sight. Such disappointments seldom occur in novels, but are always happening in real life.
She was obliged to make a new plan. She sent him a note, and asked him to call in the evening--which he did.
She received the Hon. Mr. Buckstone with a sunny smile, and said:
"I don't know how I ever dared to send you a note, Mr. Buckstone, for you have the reputation of not being very partial to our sex."
"Why I am sure my, reputation does me wrong, then, Miss Hawkins. I have been married once--is that nothing in my favor?"
"Oh, yes--that is, it may be and it may not be. If you have known what perfection is in woman, it is fair to argue that inferiority cannot interest you now."
"Even if that were the case it could not affect you, Miss Hawkins," said the chairman gallantly. "Fame does not place you in the list of ladies who rank below perfection." This happy speech delighted Mr. Buckstone as much as it seemed to delight Laura. But it did not confuse him as much as it apparently did her.
"I wish in all sincerity that I could be worthy of such a felicitous compliment as that. But I am a woman, and so I am gratified for it just as it is, and would not have it altered."
"But it is not merely a compliment--that is, an empty complement--it is the truth. All men will endorse that."
Laura looked pleased, and said:
"It is very kind of you to say it. It is a distinction indeed, for a country-bred girl like me to be so spoken of by people of brains and culture. You are so kind that I know you will pardon my putting you to the trouble to come this evening."
"Indeed it was no trouble. It was a pleasure. I am alone in the world since I lost my wife, and I often long for the society of your sex, Miss Hawkins, notwithstanding what people may say to the contrary."
"It is pleasant to hear you say that. I am sure it must be so. If I feel lonely at times, because of my exile from old friends, although surrounded by new ones who are already very dear to me, how much more lonely must you feel, bereft as you are, and with no wholesome relief from the cares of state that weigh you down. For your own sake, as well as for the sake of others, you ought to go into society oftener. I seldom see you at a reception, and when I do you do not usually give me very, much of your attention"
"I never imagined that you wished it or I would have been very glad to make myself happy in that way.--But one seldom gets an opportunity to say more than a sentence to you in a place like that. You are always the centre of a group--a fact which you may have noticed yourself. But if one might come here--"
"Indeed you would always find a hearty welcome, Mr.
Buckstone. I have often wished you would
come and tell me more about
"Why, do you remember that yet, Miss Hawkins? I thought ladies' memories were more fickle than that."
"Oh, they are not so fickle as gentlemen's promises. And besides, if I had been inclined to forget, I--did you not give me something by way of a remembrancer?"
"It does seem to me that I did; but I have forgotten what it was now."
"Never, never call a lady's memory fickle again! Do you recognize this?"
"A little spray of box! I am beaten--I surrender. But have you kept that all this time?"
Laura's confusion was very, pretty. She tried to hide it, but the more she tried the more manifest it became and withal the more captivating to look upon. Presently she threw the spray of box from her with an annoyed air, and said:
"I forgot myself. I have been very foolish. I beg that you will forget this absurd thing."
Mr. Buckstone picked up the spray, and sitting down by Laura's side on the sofa, said:
"Please let me keep it, Miss Hawkins. I set a very high value upon it now."
"Give it to me, Mr. Buckstone, and do not speak so. I have been sufficiently punished for my thoughtlessness. You cannot take pleasure in adding to my distress. Please give it to me."
"Indeed I do not wish to distress you. But do not consider the matter so gravely; you have done yourself no wrong. You probably forgot that you had it; but if you had given it to me I would have kept it--and not forgotten it."
"Do not talk so, Mr. Buckstone. Give it to me, please, and forget the matter."
"It would not be kind to refuse, since it troubles you so, and so I restore it. But if you would give me part of it and keep the rest--"
"So that you might have something to remind you of me when you wished to laugh at my foolishness?"
"Oh, by no means, no! Simply that I might remember that I had once assisted to discomfort you, and be reminded to do so no more."
Laura looked up, and scanned his face a moment. She was about to break the twig, but she hesitated and said:
"If I were sure that you--" She threw the spray away, and continued: "This is silly! We will change the subject. No, do not insist--I must have my way in this."
Then Mr. Buckstone drew off his forces and proceeded to make a wily advance upon the fortress under cover of carefully--contrived artifices and stratagems of war. But he contended with an alert and suspicious enemy; and so at the end of two hours it was manifest to him that he had made but little progress. Still, he had made some; he was sure of that.
Laura sat alone and communed with herself;
"He is fairly hooked, poor thing. I can play him at my leisure and land him when I choose. He was all ready to be caught, days and days ago --I saw that, very well. He will vote for our bill--no fear about that; and moreover he will work for it, too, before I am done with him. If he had a woman's eyes he would have noticed that the spray of box had grown three inches since he first gave it to me, but a man never sees anything and never suspects. If I had shown him a whole bush he would have thought it was the same. Well, it is a good night's work: the committee is safe. But this is a desperate game I am playing in these days --a wearing, sordid, heartless game. If I lose, I lose everything--even myself. And if I win the game, will it be worth its cost after all? I do not know. Sometimes I doubt. Sometimes I half wish I had not begun. But no matter; I have begun, and I will never turn back; never while I live."
Mr. Buckstone indulged in a reverie as he walked homeward:
"She is shrewd and deep, and plays her cards with considerable discretion--but she will lose, for all that. There is no hurry; I shall come out winner, all in good time. She is the most beautiful woman in the world; and she surpassed herself to-night. I suppose I must vote for that bill, in the end maybe; but that is not a matter of much consequence the government can stand it. She is bent on capturing me, that is plain; but she will find by and by that what she took for a sleeping garrison was an ambuscade."
Now this surprising news caus'd her fall in 'a trance,
Life as she were dead, no limbs she could advance,
Then her dear brother came, her from the ground he took
And she spake up and said, O my poor heart is broke.
The Barnardcastle Tragedy.
"Don't you think he is distinguished looking?"
"What! That gawky looking person, with Miss Hawkins?"
"There. He's just speaking to Mrs. Schoonmaker. Such high-bred negligence and unconsciousness. Nothing studied. See his fine eyes."
"Very. They are moving this way now. Maybe he is coming here. But he looks as helpless as a rag baby. Who is he, Blanche?"
"Who is he? And you've been here a week, Grace, and don't know? He's the catch of the season. That's Washington Hawkins--her brother."
"No, is it?"
"Very old family, old
"You don't say so?
I thought he was some guy from
It was a day reception of Mrs. Representative Schoonmaker, a
sweet woman, of simple and sincere manners.
Her house was one of the most popular in
These day receptions were attended by more women than men, and those interested in the problem might have studied the costumes of the ladies present, in view of this fact, to discover whether women dress more for the eyes of women or for effect upon men. It is a very important problem, and has been a good deal discussed, and its solution would form one fixed, philosophical basis, upon which to estimate woman's character. We are inclined to take a medium ground, and aver that woman dresses to please herself, and in obedience to a law of her own nature.
"They are coming this way," said Blanche. People who made way for them to pass, turned
to look at them.
"Good morning, Miss Hawkins. Delighted. Mr. Hawkins. My friend, Miss Medlar."
Mr. Hawkins, who was endeavoring to square himself for a bow, put his foot through the train of Mrs. Senator Poplin, who looked round with a scowl, which turned into a smile as she saw who it was. In extricating himself, Mr. Hawkins, who had the care of his hat as well as the introduction on his mind, shambled against Miss Blanche, who said pardon, with the prettiest accent, as if the awkwardness were her own. And Mr. Hawkins righted himself.
"Don't you find it very warm to-day, Mr. Hawkins?" said Blanche, by way of a remark.
"It's awful hot," said
"It's warm for the season," continued Blanche
pleasantly. "But I suppose you are
accustomed to it," she added, with a general idea that the thermometer
always stands at 90 deg. in all parts of the late slave states. "
"It's congenial," said
"That's very good. Did you hear, Grace, Mr. Hawkins says it's congenial when it's not congealed."
"What is, dear?" said Grace, who was talking with Laura.
The conversation was now finely under way.
"Did you see those Japs, Miss Leavitt?"
"Oh, yes, aren't they queer. But so high-bred, so picturesque. Do you think that color makes any difference, Mr. Hawkins? I used to be so prejudiced against color."
"Did you? I never was. I used to think my old mammy was handsome."
"How interesting your life must have been! I should like to hear about it."
"Have you been at the Capitol to-day, Mr. Hawkins?"
"They say it was very exciting. The
"He wants to make himself conspicuous more like," said Laura. "He always, you have noticed, talks with one eye on the gallery, while the other is on the speaker."
"Well, my husband says, its nonsense to talk of war,
and wicked. He knows what war is. If we
do have war, I hope it will be for the patriots of
"I think we want it bad," said
"How stupid and tiresome these people are," she said. "Let's go."
They were turning to say good-by to the hostess, when Laura's attention was arrested by the sight of a gentleman who was just speaking to Mrs. Schoonmaker. For a second her heart stopped beating. He was a handsome man of forty and perhaps more, with grayish hair and whiskers, and he walked with a cane, as if he were slightly lame. He might be less than forty, for his face was worn into hard lines, and he was pale.
No. It could not be,
she said to herself. It is only a
resemblance. But as the gentleman turned and she saw his full face, Laura put
out her hand and clutched
Washington, who was not minding anything, as usual, looked 'round in wonder. Laura's eyes were blazing fire and hatred; he had never seen her look so before; and her face, was livid.
"Why, what is it, sis? Your face is as white as paper."
"It's he, it's he. Come, come," and she dragged him away.
"It's who?" asked
"It's nobody, it's nothing. Did I say he? I was faint with the heat. Don't mention it. Don't you speak of it," she added earnestly, grasping his arm.
When she had gained her room she went to the glass and saw a pallid and haggard face.
"My God," she cried, "this will never
do. I should have killed him, if I
could. The scoundrel still lives, and
dares to come here. I ought to kill
him. He has no right to live. How I hate him. And yet I loved him. Oh heavens, how I did love that man. And why didn't he kill me? He might
better. He did kill all that was good in
me. Oh, but he shall not escape. He shall not escape this time. He may have forgotten. He will find that a woman's hate doesn't
forget. The law? What would the law do but protect him and
make me an outcast? How all
So Laura raved, in tears and in rage by turns, tossed in a tumult of passion, which she gave way to with little effort to control.
A servant came to summon her to dinner. She had a headache. The hour came for the President's reception. She had a raving headache, and the Senator must go without her.
That night of agony was like another night she recalled. How vividly it all came back to her. And at that time she remembered she thought she might be mistaken. He might come back to her. Perhaps he loved her, a little, after all. Now, she knew he did not. Now, she knew he was a cold-blooded scoundrel, without pity. Never a word in all these years. She had hoped he was dead. Did his wife live, she wondered. She caught at that--and it gave a new current to her thoughts. Perhaps, after all --she must see him. She could not live without seeing him. Would he smile as in the old days when she loved him so; or would he sneer as when she last saw him? If be looked so, she hated him. If he should call her "Laura, darling," and look SO! She must find him. She must end her doubts.
Laura kept her room for two days, on one excuse and another--a nervous headache, a cold--to the great anxiety of the Senator's household. Callers, who went away, said she had been too gay--they did not say "fast," though some of them may have thought it. One so conspicuous and successful in society as Laura could not be out of the way two days, without remarks being made, and not all of them complimentary.
When she came down she appeared as usual, a little pale may be, but unchanged in manner. If there were any deepened lines about the eyes they had been concealed. Her course of action was quite determined.
At breakfast she asked if any one had heard any unusual
noise during the night? Nobody had.
Senator Dilworthy said he had come in late. He was detained in a little consultation after the Congressional prayer meeting. Perhaps it was his entrance.
No, Laura said. She heard that. It was later. She might have been nervous, but she fancied somebody was trying to get into the house.
Mr. Brierly humorously suggested that it might be, as none of the members were occupied in night session.
The Senator frowned, and said he did not like to hear that kind of newspaper slang. There might be burglars about.
Laura said that very likely it was only her
nervousness. But she thought she world
feel safer if
During the morning Laura drove down to Mrs. Schoonmaker's to pay a friendly call.
"Your receptions are always delightful," she said to that lady, "the pleasant people all seem to come here."
"It's pleasant to hear you say so, Miss Hawkins. I believe my friends like to come here. Though society in
"I suppose, though, you don't see much of the old rebel element?" said Laura with a smile.
If this seemed to Mrs. Schoonmaker a singular remark for a lady to make, who was meeting "rebels" in society every day, she did not express it in any way, but only said,
"You know we don't say 'rebel' anymore. Before we came to
"Does he know many Southerners?"
"Oh, yes. There were several at my reception the other day. Among others a confederate Colonel--a stranger--handsome man with gray hair, probably you didn't notice him, uses a cane in walking. A very agreeable man. I wondered why he called. When my husband came home and looked over the cards, he said he had a cotton claim. A real southerner. Perhaps you might know him if I could think of his name. Yes, here's his card--Louisiana."
Laura took the card, looked at it intently till she was sure of the address, and then laid it down, with,
"No, he is no friend of ours."
That afternoon, Laura wrote and dispatched the following note. It was in a round hand, unlike her flowing style, and it was directed to a number and street in Georgetown:--
"A Lady at Senator Dilworthy's would like to see Col. George Selby,
on business connected with the Cotton Claims. Can he call Wednesday
at three o'clock P. M.?"
On Wednesday at 3 P. M, no one of the family was likely to be in the house except Laura.
Col. Selby had just come to
At a little after three on Wednesday he rang the bell of the
Senator's residence. It was a handsome
mansion on the Square opposite the President's house. The owner must be a man of great wealth, the
Colonel thought; perhaps, who knows, said he with a smile, he may have got some
of my cotton in exchange for salt and quinine after the capture of
Laura was in the drawing room. She heard the bell, she heard the steps in the hall, and the emphatic thud of the supporting cane. She had risen from her chair and was leaning against the piano, pressing her left hand against the violent beating of her heart. The door opened and the Colonel entered, standing in the full light of the opposite window. Laura was more in the shadow and stood for an instant, long enough for the Colonel to make the inward observation that she was a magnificent Woman. She then advanced a step.
"Col. Selby, is it not?"
The Colonel staggered back, caught himself by a chair, and turned towards her a look of terror.
"Laura? My God!"
"Yes, your wife!"
"Oh, no, it can't be. How came you here? I thought you were--"
"You thought I was dead? You thought you were rid of me? Not so long as you live, Col. Selby, not so long as you live;" Laura in her passion was hurried on to say.
No man had ever accused Col. Selby of cowardice. But he was a coward before this woman. May be he was not the man he once was. Where was his coolness? Where was his sneering, imperturbable manner, with which he could have met, and would have met, any woman he had wronged, if he had only been forewarned. He felt now that he must temporize, that he must gain time. There was danger in Laura's tone. There was something frightful in her calmness. Her steady eyes seemed to devour him.
"You have ruined my life," she said; "and I was so young, so ignorant, and loved you so. You betrayed me, and left me mocking me and trampling me into the dust, a soiled cast-off. You might better have killed me then. Then I should not have hated you."
"Laura," said the Colonel, nerving himself, but still pale, and speaking appealingly, "don't say that. Reproach me. I deserve it. I was a scoundrel. I was everything monstrous. But your beauty made me crazy. You are right. I was a brute in leaving you as I did. But what could I do? I was married, and--"
"And your wife still lives?" asked Laura, bending a little forward in her eagerness.
The Colonel noticed the action, and he almost said "no," but he thought of the folly of attempting concealment.
"Yes. She is here."
What little color had wandered back into Laura's face forsook it again. Her heart stood still, her strength seemed going from her limbs. Her last hope was gone. The room swam before her for a moment, and the Colonel stepped towards her, but she waved him back, as hot anger again coursed through her veins, and said,
"And you dare come with her, here, and tell me of it, here and mock me with it! And you think I will have it; George? You think I will let you live with that woman? You think I am as powerless as that day I fell dead at your feet?"
She raged now. She was in a tempest of excitement. And she advanced towards him with a threatening mien. She would kill me if she could, thought the Colonel; but he thought at the same moment, how beautiful she is. He had recovered his head now. She was lovely when he knew her, then a simple country girl, Now she was dazzling, in the fullness of ripe womanhood, a superb creature, with all the fascination that a woman of the world has for such a man as Col. Selby. Nothing of this was lost on him. He stepped quickly to her, grasped both her hands in his, and said,
"Laura, stop! think! Suppose I loved you yet! Suppose I hated my fate! What can I do? I am broken by the war. I have lost everything almost. I had as lief be dead and done with it."
The Colonel spoke with a low remembered voice that thrilled through Laura. He was looking into her eyes as he had looked in those old days, when no birds of all those that sang in the groves where they walked sang a note of warning. He was wounded. He had been punished. Her strength forsook her with her rage, and she sank upon a chair, sobbing,
"Oh! my God, I thought I hated him!"
The Colonel knelt beside her. He took her hand and she let him keep it. She, looked down into his face, with a pitiable tenderness, and said in a weak voice.
"And you do love me a little?"
The Colonel vowed and protested. He kissed her hand and her lips. He swore his false soul into perdition.
She wanted love, this woman. Was not her love for George Selby deeper than any other woman's could be? Had she not a right to him? Did he not belong to her by virtue of her overmastering passion? His wife--she was not his wife, except by the law. She could not be. Even with the law she could have no right to stand between two souls that were one. It was an infamous condition in society that George should be tied to her.
Laura thought this, believed it; because she desired to believe it. She came to it as an original propositions founded an the requirements of her own nature. She may have heard, doubtless she had, similar theories that were prevalent at that day, theories of the tyranny of marriage and of the freedom of marriage. She had even heard women lecturers say, that marriage should only continue so long as it pleased either party to it --for a year, or a month, or a day. She had not given much heed to this, but she saw its justice now in a dash of revealing desire. It must be right. God would not have permitted her to love George Selby as she did, and him to love her, if it was right for society to raise up a barrier between them. He belonged to her. Had he not confessed it himself?
Not even the religious atmosphere of Senator Dilworthy's house had been sufficient to instill into Laura that deep Christian principle which had been somehow omitted in her training. Indeed in that very house had she not heard women, prominent before the country and besieging Congress, utter sentiments that fully justified the course she was marking out for herself.
They were seated now, side by side, talking with more calmness. Laura was happy, or thought she was. But it was that feverish sort of happiness which is snatched out of the black shadow of falsehood, and is at the moment recognized as fleeting and perilous, and indulged tremblingly. She loved. She was loved. That is happiness certainly. And the black past and the troubled present and the uncertain future could not snatch that from her.
What did they say as they sat there? What nothings do people usually say in such circumstances, even if they are three-score and ten? It was enough for Laura to hear his voice and be near him. It was enough for him to be near her, and avoid committing himself as much as he could. Enough for him was the present also. Had there not always been some way out of such scrapes?
And yet Laura could not be quite content without prying into tomorrow. How could the Colonel manage to free himself from his wife? Would it be long? Could he not go into some State where it would not take much time? He could not say exactly. That they must think of. That they must talk over. And so on. Did this seem like a damnable plot to Laura against the life, maybe, of a sister, a woman like herself? Probably not. It was right that this man should be hers, and there were some obstacles in the way. That was all. There are as good reasons for bad actions as for good ones,--to those who commit them. When one has broken the tenth commandment, the others are not of much account.
Was it unnatural, therefore, that when George Selby departed, Laura should watch him from the window, with an almost joyful heart as he went down the sunny square? "I shall see him to-morrow," she said, "and the next day, and the next. He is mine now."
"Damn the woman," said the Colonel as he picked
his way down the steps. "Or," he added, as his thoughts took a new
turn, "I wish my wife was in
Open your ears; for which of you will stop,
The vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commenced on this ball of earth:
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride;
The which in every, language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
King Henry IV.
As may be readily believed, Col. Beriah Sellers was by this
time one of the best known men in
He was now at the centre of the manufacture of gigantic schemes, of speculations of all sorts, of political and social gossip. The atmosphere was full of little and big rumors and of vast, undefined expectations. Everybody was in haste, too, to push on his private plan, and feverish in his haste, as if in constant apprehension that tomorrow would be Judgment Day. Work while Congress is in session, said the uneasy spirit, for in the recess there is no work and no device.
The Colonel enjoyed this bustle and confusion amazingly; he
thrived in the air of-indefinite expectation.
All his own schemes took larger shape and more misty and majestic
proportions; and in this congenial air, the Colonel seemed even to himself to
expand into something large and mysterious.
If he respected himself before, he almost worshipped Beriah Sellers now,
as a superior being. If he could have
chosen an official position out of the highest, he would have been embarrassed
in the selection. The presidency of the
republic seemed too limited and cramped in the constitutional
restrictions. If he could have been
Grand Llama of the
Col. Sellers knew the President very well, and had access to his presence when officials were kept cooling their heels in the Waiting-room. The President liked to hear the Colonel talk, his voluble ease was a refreshment after the decorous dullness of men who only talked business and government, and everlastingly expounded their notions of justice and the distribution of patronage. The Colonel was as much a lover of farming and of horses as Thomas Jefferson was. He talked to the President by the hour about his magnificent stud, and his plantation at Hawkeye, a kind of principality--he represented it. He urged the President to pay him a visit during the recess, and see his stock farm.
"The President's table is well enough," he used to say, to the loafers who gathered about him at Willard's, "well enough for a man on a salary, but God bless my soul, I should like him to see a little old-fashioned hospitality--open house, you know. A person seeing me at home might think I paid no attention to what was in the house, just let things flow in and out. He'd be mistaken. What I look to is quality, sir. The President has variety enough, but the quality! Vegetables of course you can't expect here. I'm very particular about mine. Take celery, now --there's only one spot in this country where celery will grow. But I an surprised about the wines. I should think they were manufactured in the New York Custom House. I must send the President some from my cellar. I was really mortified the other day at dinner to see Blacque Bey leave his standing in the glasses."
When the Colonel first came to
"I'm whipped," he used to say with a jolly laugh,
"the government was too many for me; I'm cleaned out, done for, except my
plantation and private mansion. We
played for a big thing, and lost it, and I don't whine, for one. I go for putting the old flag on all the
vacant lots. I said to the President,
says I, 'Grant, why don't you take
The Colonel had access to the departments. He knew all the senators and representatives, and especially, the lobby. He was consequently a great favorite in Newspaper Row, and was often lounging in the offices there, dropping bits of private, official information, which were immediately, caught up and telegraphed all over the country. But it need to surprise even the Colonel when he read it, it was embellished to that degree that he hardly recognized it, and the hint was not lost on him. He began to exaggerate his heretofore simple conversation to suit the newspaper demand.
People used to wonder in the winters of 187- and 187-, where the "Specials" got that remarkable information with which they every morning surprised the country, revealing the most secret intentions of the President and his cabinet, the private thoughts of political leaders, the hidden meaning of every movement. This information was furnished by Col. Sellers.
When he was asked, afterwards, about the stolen copy of the Alabama Treaty which got into the "New York Tribune," he only looked mysterious, and said that neither he nor Senator Dilworthy knew anything about it. But those whom he was in the habit of meeting occasionally felt almost certain that he did know.
It must not be supposed that the Colonel in his general patriotic labors neglected his own affairs. The Columbus River Navigation Scheme absorbed only a part of his time, so he was enabled to throw quite a strong reserve force of energy into the Tennessee Land plan, a vast enterprise commensurate with his abilities, and in the prosecution of which he was greatly aided by Mr. Henry Brierly, who was buzzing about the capitol and the hotels day and night, and making capital for it in some mysterious way.
"We must create, a public opinion," said Senator Dilworthy. "My only interest in it is a public one, and if the country wants the institution, Congress will have to yield."
It may have been after a conversation between the Colonel
and Senator Dilworthy that the following special despatch was sent to a
"We understand that a philanthropic plan is on foot in relation to
the colored race that will, if successful, revolutionize the whole
character of southern industry. An experimental institution is in
approaches have been made to the heirs of the late Hon. Silas
Hawkins of Missouri, in reference to a lease of a portion of their
understood, is inflexibly opposed to any arrangement that will not
give the government absolute control. Private interests must give
way to the public good. It is to be hoped that Col. Sellers, who
represents the heirs, will be led to see the matter in this light."
When Washington Hawkins read this despatch, he went to the Colonel in some anxiety. He was for a lease, he didn't want to surrender anything. What did he think the government would offer? Two millions?
"May be three, may be four," said the Colonel,
"it's worth more than the bank of
"If they will not lease," said
Harry told the Colonel that they must drive the thing
through, he couldn't be dallying round
"What is that?" inquired the Colonel, always ready to interest himself in anything large.
"A mountain of coal; that's all. He's going to run a tunnel into it in the Spring."
"Does he want any capital?", asked the Colonel, in the tone of a man who is given to calculating carefully before he makes an investment.
"No. Old man
"If he wants me, tell him I'll come, after Congress
adjourns. I should like to give him a
little lift. He lacks enterprise--now,
"By the way," asked Harry, "who is that rather handsome party that's hanging 'round Laura? I see him with her everywhere, at the Capitol, in the horse cars, and he comes to Dilworthy's. If he weren't lame, I should think he was going to run off with her."
"Oh, that's nothing. Laura knows her business. He has a cotton claim. Used to be at Hawkeye during the war.
"Selby's his name, was a Colonel. Got a wife and family. Very respectable people, the Selby's."
"Well, that's all right," said Harry, "if it's business. But if a woman looked at me as I've seen her at Selby, I should understand it. And it's talked about, I can tell you."
Jealousy had no doubt sharpened this young gentleman's observation. Laura could not have treated him with more lofty condescension if she had been the Queen of Sheba, on a royal visit to the great republic. And he resented it, and was "huffy" when he was with her, and ran her errands, and brought her gossip, and bragged of his intimacy with the lovely creature among the fellows at Newspaper Row.
Laura's life was rushing on now in the full stream of intrigue and fashionable dissipation. She was conspicuous at the balls of the fastest set, and was suspected of being present at those doubtful suppers that began late and ended early. If Senator Dilworthy remonstrated about appearances, she had a way of silencing him. Perhaps she had some hold on him, perhaps she was necessary to his plan for ameliorating the condition the tube colored race.
She saw Col. Selby, when the public knew and when it did not know. She would see him, whatever excuses he made, and however he avoided her. She was urged on by a fever of love and hatred and jealousy, which alternately possessed her. Sometimes she petted him, and coaxed him and tried all her fascinations. And again she threatened him and reproached him. What was he doing? Why had he taken no steps to free himself? Why didn't he send his wife home? She should have money soon. They could go to Europe--anywhere. What did she care for talk?
And he promised, and lied, and invented fresh excuses for delay, like a cowardly gambler and roue as he was, fearing to break with her, and half the time unwilling to give her up.
"That woman doesn't know what fear is," he said to himself, "and she watches me like a hawk."
He told his wife that this woman was a lobbyist, whom he had to tolerate and use in getting through his claims, and that he should pay her and have done with her, when he succeeded.
Henry Brierly was at the Dilworthy's constantly and on such terms of intimacy that he came and went without question. The Senator was not an inhospitable man, he liked to have guests in his house, and Harry's gay humor and rattling way entertained him; for even the most devout men and busy statesmen must have hours of relaxation.
Harry himself believed that he was of great service in the University business, and that the success of the scheme depended upon him to a great degree. He spent many hours in talking it over with the Senator after dinner. He went so far as to consider whether it would be worth his while to take the professorship of civil engineering in the new institution.
But it was not the Senator's society nor his dinners--at which this scapegrace remarked that there was too much grace and too little wine --which attracted him to the horse. The fact was the poor fellow hung around there day after day for the chance of seeing Laura for five minutes at a time. For her presence at dinner he would endure the long bore of the Senator's talk afterwards, while Laura was off at some assembly, or excused herself on the plea of fatigue. Now and then he accompanied her to some reception, and rarely, on off nights, he was blessed with her company in the parlor, when he sang, and was chatty and vivacious and performed a hundred little tricks of imitation and ventriloquism, and made himself as entertaining as a man could be.
It puzzled him not a little that all his fascinations seemed to go for so little with Laura; it was beyond his experience with women. Sometimes Laura was exceedingly kind and petted him a little, and took the trouble to exert her powers of pleasing, and to entangle him deeper and deeper. But this, it angered him afterwards to think, was in private; in public she was beyond his reach, and never gave occasion to the suspicion that she had any affair with him. He was never permitted to achieve the dignity of a serious flirtation with her in public.
"Why do you treat me so?" he once said, reproachfully.
"Treat you how?" asked Laura in a sweet voice, lifting her eyebrows.
"You know well enough. You let other fellows monopolize you in society, and you are as indifferent to me as if we were strangers."
"Can I help it if they are attentive, can I be rude? But we are such old friends, Mr. Brierly, that I didn't suppose you would be jealous."
"I think I must be a very old friend, then, by your conduct towards me. By the same rule I should judge that Col. Selby must be very new."
Laura looked up quickly, as if about to return an indignant answer to such impertinence, but she only said, "Well, what of Col. Selby, sauce-box?"
"Nothing, probably, you'll care for. Your being with him so much is the town talk, that's all?"
"What do people say?" asked Laura calmly.
"Oh, they say a good many things. You are offended, though, to have me speak of it?"
"Not in the least. You are my true friend. I feel that I can trust you. You wouldn't deceive me, Harry?" throwing into her eyes a look of trust and tenderness that melted away all his petulance and distrust. "What do they say?"
"Some say that you've lost your head about him; others
that you don't care any more for him than you do for a dozen others, but that
he is completely fascinated with you and about to desert his wife; and others
say it is nonsense to suppose you would entangle yourself with a married man,
and that your intimacy only arises from the matter of the cotton, claims, for
which he wants your influence with Dilworthy.
But you know everybody is talked about more or less in
"And you believed these slanders?"
"I don't believe anything against you, Laura, but Col. Selby does not mean you any good. I know you wouldn't be seen with him if you knew his reputation."
"Do you know him?" Laura asked, as indifferently as she could.
"Only a little.
I was at his lodgings' in
Laura started; in spite of her self-control.
"And his wife!--Does he take his family? Did you see his wife?"
"Yes. A dark
little woman, rather worn--must have been pretty once though. Has three or four children, one of them a
baby. They'll all go of course. She said she should be glad enough to get
Laura heard all this in a kind of stupor, looking straight at Harry, without seeing him. Is it possible, she was thinking, that this base wretch, after, all his promises, will take his wife and children and leave me? Is it possible the town is saying all these things about me? And a look of bitterness coming into her face--does the fool think he can escape so?
"You are angry with me, Laura," said Harry, not comprehending in the least what was going on in her mind.
"Angry?" she said, forcing herself to come back to his presence. "With you? Oh no. I'm angry with the cruel world, which, pursues an independent woman as it never does a man. I'm grateful to you Harry; I'm grateful to you for telling me of that odious man."
And she rose from her chair and gave him her pretty hand, which the silly fellow took, and kissed and clung to. And he said many silly things, before she disengaged herself gently, and left him, saying it was time to dress, for dinner.
And Harry went away, excited, and a little hopeful, but only a little. The happiness was only a gleam, which departed and left him thoroughly, miserable. She never would love him, and she was going to the devil, besides. He couldn't shut his eyes to what he saw, nor his ears to what he heard of her.
What had come over this thrilling young lady-killer? It was a pity to see such a gay butterfly broken on a wheel. Was there something good in him, after all, that had been touched? He was in fact madly in love with this woman.
It is not for us to analyze the passion and say whether it was a worthy one. It absorbed his whole nature and made him wretched enough. If he deserved punishment, what more would you have? Perhaps this love was kindling a new heroism in him.
He saw the road on which Laura was going clearly enough, though he did not believe the worst he heard of her. He loved her too passionately to credit that for a moment. And it seemed to him that if he could compel her to recognize her position, and his own devotion, she might love him, and that he could save her. His love was so far ennobled, and become a very different thing from its beginning in Hawkeye. Whether he ever thought that if he could save her from ruin, he could give her up himself, is doubtful. Such a pitch of virtue does not occur often in real life, especially in such natures as Harry's, whose generosity and unselfishness were matters of temperament rather than habits or principles.
He wrote a long letter to Laura, an incoherent, passionate letter, pouring out his love as he could not do in her presence, and warning her as plainly as he dared of the dangers that surrounded her, and the risks she ran of compromising herself in many ways.
Laura read the letter, with a little sigh may be, as she thought of other days, but with contempt also, and she put it into the fire with the thought, "They are all alike."
Harry was in the habit of writing to Philip freely, and boasting also about his doings, as he could not help doing and remain himself. Mixed up with his own exploits, and his daily triumphs as a lobbyist, especially in the matter of the new University, in which Harry was to have something handsome, were amusing sketches of Washington society, hints about Dilworthy, stories about Col. Sellers, who had become a well-known character, and wise remarks upon the machinery of private legislation for the public-good, which greatly entertained Philip in his convalescence.
Laura's name occurred very often in these letters, at first in casual mention as the belle of the season, carrying everything before her with her wit and beauty, and then more seriously, as if Harry did not exactly like so much general admiration of her, and was a little nettled by her treatment of him.
This was so different from Harry's usual tone about women, that Philip wondered a good deal over it. Could it be possible that he was seriously affected? Then came stories about Laura, town talk, gossip which Harry denied the truth of indignantly; but he was evidently uneasy, and at length wrote in such miserable spirits that Philip asked him squarely what the trouble was; was he in love?
Upon this, Harry made a clean breast of it, and told Philip
all he knew about the Selby affair, and Laura's treatment of him, sometimes
encouraging him--and then throwing him off, and finally his belief that she
would go, to the bad if something was not done to arouse her from her
infatuation. He wished Philip was in
Philip saw the situation clearly enough. Of Laura he knew not much, except that she was a woman of uncommon fascination, and he thought from what he had seen of her in Hawkeye, her conduct towards him and towards Harry, of not too much principle. Of course he knew nothing of her history; he knew nothing seriously against her, and if Harry was desperately enamored of her, why should he not win her if he could. If, however, she had already become what Harry uneasily felt she might become, was it not his duty to go to the rescue of his friend and try to save him from any rash act on account of a woman that might prove to be entirely unworthy of him; for trifler and visionary as he was, Harry deserved a better fate than this.
Philip determined to go to
Philip had enjoyed his winter very well, for a man with his arm broken and his head smashed. With two such nurses as Ruth and Alice, illness seemed to him rather a nice holiday, and every moment of his convalescence had been precious and all too fleeting. With a young fellow of the habits of Philip, such injuries cannot be counted on to tarry long, even for the purpose of love-making, and Philip found himself getting strong with even disagreeable rapidity.
During his first weeks of pain and weakness, Ruth was unceasing in her ministrations; she quietly took charge of him, and with a gentle firmness resisted all attempts of Alice or any one else to share to any great extent the burden with her. She was clear, decisive and peremptory in whatever she did; but often when Philip, opened his eyes in those first days of suffering and found her standing by his bedside, he saw a look of tenderness in her anxious face that quickened his already feverish pulse, a look that, remained in his heart long after he closed his eyes. Sometimes he felt her hand on his forehead, and did not open his eyes for fear she world take it away. He watched for her coming to his chamber; he could distinguish her light footstep from all others. If this is what is meant by women practicing medicine, thought Philip to himself, I like it.
"Ruth," said he one day when he was getting to be quite himself, "I believe in it?"
"Believe in what?"
"Why, in women physicians."
"Then, I'd better call in Mrs. Dr. Longstreet."
"Oh, no. One will do, one at a time. I think I should be well tomorrow, if I thought I should never have any other."
"Thy physician thinks thee mustn't talk, Philip," said Ruth putting her finger on his lips.
"But, Ruth, I want to tell you that I should wish I never had got well if--"
"There, there, thee must not talk. Thee is wandering again," and Ruth closed his lips, with a smile on her own that broadened into a merry laugh as she ran away.
Philip was not weary, however, of making these attempts, he rather enjoyed it. But whenever he inclined to be sentimental, Ruth would cut him off, with some such gravely conceived speech as, "Does thee think that thy physician will take advantage of the condition of a man who is as weak as thee is? I will call Alice, if thee has any dying confessions to make."
As Philip convalesced, Alice more and more took Ruth's place as his entertainer, and read to him by the hour, when he did not want to talk --to talk about Ruth, as he did a good deal of the time. Nor was this altogether unsatisfactory to Philip. He was always happy and contented with Alice. She was the most restful person he knew. Better informed than Ruth and with a much more varied culture, and bright and sympathetic, he was never weary of her company, if he was not greatly excited by it. She had upon his mind that peaceful influence that Mrs. Bolton had when, occasionally, she sat by his bedside with her work. Some people have this influence, which is like an emanation. They bring peace to a house, they diffuse serene content in a room full of mixed company, though they may say very little, and are apparently, unconscious of their own power.
Not that Philip did not long for Ruth's presence all the same. Since he was well enough to be about the house, she was busy again with her studies. Now and then her teasing humor came again. She always had a playful shield against his sentiment. Philip used sometimes to declare that she had no sentiment; and then he doubted if he should be pleased with her after all if she were at all sentimental; and he rejoiced that she had, in such matters what he called the airy grace of sanity. She was the most gay serious person he ever saw.
Perhaps he waw not so much at rest or so contented with her
Mr. Buckstone's campaign was brief--much briefer than he supposed it would be. He began it purposing to win Laura without being won himself; but his experience was that of all who had fought on that field before him; he diligently continued his effort to win her, but he presently found that while as yet he could not feel entirely certain of having won her, it was very manifest that she had won him. He had made an able fight, brief as it was, and that at least was to his credit. He was in good company, now; he walked in a leash of conspicuous captives. These unfortunates followed Laura helplessly, for whenever she took a prisoner he remained her slave henceforth. Sometimes they chafed in their bondage; sometimes they tore themselves free and said their serfdom was ended; but sooner or later they always came back penitent and worshiping. Laura pursued her usual course: she encouraged Mr. Buckstone by turns, and by turns she harassed him; she exalted him to the clouds at one time, and at another she dragged him down again. She constituted him chief champion of the Knobs University bill, and he accepted the position, at first reluctantly, but later as a valued means of serving her--he even came to look upon it as a piece of great good fortune, since it brought him into such frequent contact with her.
Through him she learned that the Hon. Mr. Trollop was a bitter enemy of her bill. He urged her not to attempt to influence Mr. Trollop in any way, and explained that whatever she might attempt in that direction would surely be used against her and with damaging effect.
She at first said she knew Mr. Trollop, "and was aware that he had a Blank-Blank;"--[**Her private figure of speech for Brother--or Son-in-law]--but Mr. Buckstone said that he was not able to conceive what so curious a phrase as Blank-Blank might mean, and had no wish to pry into the matter, since it was probably private, he "would nevertheless venture the blind assertion that nothing would answer in this particular case and during this particular session but to be exceedingly wary and keep clear away from Mr. Trollop; any other course would be fatal."
It seemed that nothing could be done. Laura was seriously troubled. Everything was looking well, and yet it was plain that one vigorous and determined enemy might eventually succeed in overthrowing all her plans. A suggestion came into her mind presently and she said:
"Can't you fight against his great Pension bill and, bring him to terms?"
"Oh, never; he and I are sworn brothers on that measure; we work in harness and are very loving--I do everything I possibly can for him there. But I work with might and main against his Immigration bill, --as pertinaciously and as vindictively, indeed, as he works against our University. We hate each other through half a conversation and are all affection through the other half. We understand each other. He is an admirable worker outside the capitol; he will do more for the Pension bill than any other man could do; I wish he would make the great speech on it which he wants to make--and then I would make another and we would be safe."
"Well if he wants to make a great speech why doesn't he do it?"
Visitors interrupted the conversation and Mr. Buckstone took his leave. It was not of the least moment to Laura that her question had not been answered, inasmuch as it concerned a thing which did not interest her; and yet, human being like, she thought she would have liked to know. An opportunity occurring presently, she put the same question to another person and got an answer that satisfied her. She pondered a good while that night, after she had gone to bed, and when she finally turned over, to, go to sleep, she had thought out a new scheme. The next evening at Mrs. Gloverson's party, she said to Mr. Buckstone:
"I want Mr. Trollop to make his great speech on the Pension bill."
"Do you? But you remember I was interrupted, and did not explain to you--"
"Never mind, I know. You must' make him make that speech. I very. particularly desire, it."
"Oh, it is easy, to say make him do it, but how am I to make him!"
"It is perfectly easy; I have thought it all out."
She then went into the details. At length Mr. Buckstone said:
"I see now. I can manage it, I am sure. Indeed I wonder he never thought of it himself--there are no end of precedents. But how is this going to benefit you, after I have managed it? There is where the mystery lies."
"But I will take care of that. It will benefit me a great deal."
"I only wish I could see how; it is the oddest freak. You seem to go the furthest around to get at a thing--but you are in earnest, aren't you?"
"Yes I am, indeed."
"Very well, I will do it--but why not tell me how you imagine it is going to help you?"
"I will, by and by.--Now there is nobody talking to him. Go straight and do it, there's a good fellow."
A moment or two later the two sworn friends of the Pension bill were talking together, earnestly, and seemingly unconscious of the moving throng about them. They talked an hour, and then Mr. Buckstone came back and said:
"He hardly fancied it at first, but he fell in love with it after a bit. And we have made a compact, too. I am to keep his secret and he is to spare me, in future, when he gets ready to denounce the supporters of the University bill--and I can easily believe he will keep his word on this occasion."
A fortnight elapsed, and the University bill had gathered to itself many friends, meantime. Senator Dilworthy began to think the harvest was ripe. He conferred with Laura privately. She was able to tell him exactly how the House would vote. There was a majority--the bill would pass, unless weak members got frightened at the last, and deserted--a thing pretty likely to occur. The Senator said:
"I wish we had one more good strong man. Now Trollop ought to be on our side, for he is a friend of the negro. But he is against us, and is our bitterest opponent. If he would simply vote No, but keep quiet and not molest us, I would feel perfectly cheerful and content. But perhaps there is no use in thinking of that."
"Why I laid a little plan for his benefit two weeks ago. I think he will be tractable, maybe. He is to come here tonight."
"Look out for him, my child! He means mischief, sure. It is said that he claims to know of improper practices having been used in the interest of this bill, and he thinks be sees a chance to make a great sensation when the bill comes up. Be wary. Be very, very careful, my dear. Do your very-ablest talking, now. You can convince a man of anything, when you try. You must convince him that if anything improper has been done, you at least are ignorant of it and sorry for it. And if you could only persuade him out of his hostility to the bill, too--but don't overdo the thing; don't seem too anxious, dear."
"I won't; I'll be ever so careful. I'll talk as sweetly to him as if he were my own child! You may trust me--indeed you may."
The door-bell rang.
"That is the gentleman now," said Laura. Senator Dilworthy retired to his study.
Laura welcomed Mr. Trollop, a grave, carefully dressed and very respectable looking man, with a bald head, standing collar and old fashioned watch seals.
"Promptness is a virtue, Mr. Trollop, and I perceive that you have it. You are always prompt with me."
"I always meet my engagements, of every kind, Miss Hawkins."
"It is a quality which is rarer in the world than it has been, I believe. I wished to see you on business, Mr. Trollop."
"I judged so. What can I do for you?"
"You know my bill--the Knobs University bill?"
"Ah, I believe it is your bill. I had forgotten. Yes, I know the bill."
"Well, would you mind telling me your opinion of it?"
"Indeed, since you seem to ask it without reserve, I am obliged to say that I do not regard it favorably. I have not seen the bill itself, but from what I can hear, it--it--well, it has a bad look about it. It--"
"Speak it out--never fear."
"Well, it--they say it contemplates a fraud upon the government."
"Well?" said Laura tranquilly.
"Well! I say 'Well?' too."
"Well, suppose it were a fraud--which I feel able to deny--would it be the first one?"
"You take a body's breath away! Would you--did you wish me to vote for it? Was that what you wanted to see me about?"
"Your instinct is correct. I did want you--I do want you to vote for it."
"Vote for a fr--for a measure which is generally believed to be at least questionable? I am afraid we cannot come to an understanding, Miss Hawkins."
"No, I am afraid not--if you have resumed your principles, Mr. Trollop."
"Did you send for we merely to insult me? It is time for me to take my leave, Miss Hawkins."
"No-wait a moment. Don't be offended at a trifle. Do not be offish and unsociable. The Steamship Subsidy bill was a fraud on the government. You voted for it, Mr. Trollop, though you always opposed the measure until after you had an interview one evening with a certain Mrs. McCarter at her house. She was my agent. She was acting for me. Ah, that is right--sit down again. You can be sociable, easily enough if you have a mind to. Well? I am waiting. Have you nothing to say?"
"Miss Hawkins, I voted for that bill because when I came to examine into it--"
"Ah yes. When you came to examine into it. Well, I only want you to examine into my bill. Mr. Trollop, you would not sell your vote on that subsidy bill--which was perfectly right--but you accepted of some of the stock, with the understanding that it was to stand in your brother-in-law's name."
"There is no pr--I mean, this is, utterly groundless, Miss Hawkins." But the gentleman seemed somewhat uneasy, nevertheless.
"Well, not entirely so, perhaps. I and a person whom we will call Miss Blank (never mind the real name,) were in a closet at your elbow all the while."
Mr. Trollop winced--then he said with dignity:
"Miss Hawkins is it possible that you were capable of such a thing as that?"
"It was bad; I confess that. It was bad. Almost as bad as selling one's vote for--but I forget; you did not sell your vote--you only accepted a little trifle, a small token of esteem, for your brother-in-law. Oh, let us come out and be frank with each other: I know you, Mr. Trollop. I have met you on business three or four times; true, I never offered to corrupt your principles--never hinted such a thing; but always when I had finished sounding you, I manipulated you through an agent. Let us be frank. Wear this comely disguise of virtue before the public--it will count there; but here it is out of place. My dear sir, by and by there is going to be an investigation into that National Internal Improvement Directors' Relief Measure of a few years ago, and you know very well that you will be a crippled man, as likely as not, when it is completed."
"It cannot be shown that a man is a knave merely for owning that stock. I am not distressed about the National Improvement Relief Measure."
"Oh indeed I am not trying to distress you. I only wished, to make good my assertion that I knew you. Several of you gentlemen bought of that stack (without paying a penny down) received dividends from it, (think of the happy idea of receiving dividends, and very large ones, too, from stock one hasn't paid for!) and all the while your names never appeared in the transaction; if ever you took the stock at all, you took it in other people's names. Now you see, you had to know one of two things; namely, you either knew that the idea of all this preposterous generosity was to bribe you into future legislative friendship, or you didn't know it. That is to say, you had to be either a knave or a--well, a fool --there was no middle ground. You are not a fool, Mr. Trollop."
"Miss Hawking you flatter me. But seriously, you do not forget that some of the best and purest men in Congress took that stock in that way?"
"Did Senator Bland?"
"Well, no--I believe not."
"Of course you believe not. Do you suppose he was ever approached, on the subject?"
"If you had approached him, for instance, fortified with the fact that some of the best men in Congress, and the purest, etc., etc.; what would have been the result?"
"Well, what WOULD have been the result?"
"He would have shown you the door! For Mr. Blank is neither a knave nor a fool. There are other men in the Senate and the House whom no one would have been hardy enough to approach with that Relief Stock in that peculiarly generous way, but they are not of the class that you regard as the best and purest. No, I say I know you Mr. Trollop. That is to say, one may suggest a thing to Mr. Trollop which it would not do to suggest to Mr. Blank. Mr. Trollop, you are pledged to support the Indigent Congressmen's Retroactive Appropriation which is to come up, either in this or the next session. You do not deny that, even in public. The man that will vote for that bill will break the eighth commandment in any other way, sir!"
"But he will not vote for your corrupt measure, nevertheless, madam!" exclaimed Mr. Trollop, rising from his seat in a passion.
"Ah, but he will. Sit down again, and let me explain why. Oh, come, don't behave so. It is very unpleasant. Now be good, and you shall have, the missing page of your great speech. Here it is!"--and she displayed a sheet of manuscript.
Mr. Trollop turned immediately back from the threshold. It might have been gladness that flashed into his face; it might have been something else; but at any rate there was much astonishment mixed with it.
"Good! Where did you get it? Give it me!"
"Now there is no hurry. Sit down; sit down and let us talk and be friendly."
The gentleman wavered. Then he said:
"No, this is only a subterfuge. I will go. It is not the missing page."
Laura tore off a couple of lines from the bottom of the sheet.
"Now," she said, "you will know whether this is the handwriting or not. You know it is the handwriting. Now if you will listen, you will know that this must be the list of statistics which was to be the 'nub' of your great effort, and the accompanying blast the beginning of the burst of eloquence which was continued on the next page--and you will recognize that there was where you broke down."
She read the page. Mr. Trollop said:
"This is perfectly astounding. Still, what is all this to me? It is nothing. It does not concern me. The speech is made, and there an end. I did break down for a moment, and in a rather uncomfortable place, since I had led up to those statistics with some grandeur; the hiatus was pleasanter to the House and the galleries than it was to me. But it is no matter now. A week has passed; the jests about it ceased three or four days ago. The, whole thing is a matter of indifference to me, Miss Hawkins."
"But you apologized; and promised the statistics for next day. Why didn't you keep your promise."
"The matter was not of sufficient consequence. The time was gone by to produce an effect with them."
"But I hear that other friends of the Soldiers' Pension Bill desire them very much. I think you ought to let them have them."
"Miss Hawkins, this silly blunder of my copyist evidently has more interest for you than it has for me. I will send my private secretary to you and let him discuss the subject with you at length."
"Did he copy your speech for you?"
"Of course he did. Why all these questions? Tell me--how did you get hold of that page of manuscript? That is the only thing that stirs a passing interest in my mind."
"I'm coming to that." Then she said, much as if she were talking to herself: "It does seem like taking a deal of unnecessary pains, for a body to hire another body to construct a great speech for him and then go and get still another body to copy it before it can be read in the House."
"Miss Hawkins, what do yo mean by such talk as that?"
"Why I am sure I mean no harm--no harm to anybody in the world. I am certain that I overheard the Hon. Mr. Buckstone either promise to write your great speech for you or else get some other competent person to do it."
"This is perfectly absurd, madam, perfectly absurd!" and Mr. Trollop affected a laugh of derision.
"Why, the thing has occurred before now. I mean that I have heard that Congressmen have sometimes hired literary grubs to build speeches for them.--Now didn't I overhear a conversation like that I spoke of?"
"Pshaw! Why of course you may have overheard some such jesting nonsense. But would one be in earnest about so farcical a thing?"
"Well if it was only a joke, why did you make a serious matter of it? Why did you get the speech written for you, and then read it in the House without ever having it copied?"
Mr. Trollop did not laugh this time; he seemed seriously perplexed. He said:
"Come, play out your jest, Miss Hawkins. I can't understand what you are contriving--but it seems to entertain you--so please, go on."
"I will, I assure you; but I hope to make the matter entertaining to you, too. Your private secretary never copied your speech."
"Indeed? Really you seem to know my affairs better than I do myself."
"I believe I do. You can't name your own amanuensis, Mr. Trollop."
"That is sad, indeed. Perhaps Miss Hawkins can?"
"Yes, I can. I wrote your speech myself, and you read it from my manuscript. There, now!"
Mr. Trollop did not spring to his feet and smite his brow with his hand while a cold sweat broke out all over him and the color forsook his face --no, he only said, "Good God!" and looked greatly astonished.
Laura handed him her commonplace-book and called his attention to the fact that the handwriting there and the handwriting of this speech were the same. He was shortly convinced. He laid the book aside and said, composedly:
"Well, the wonderful tragedy is done, and it transpires that I am indebted to you for my late eloquence. What of it? What was all this for and what does it amount to after all? What do you propose to do about it?"
"Oh nothing. It is only a bit of pleasantry. When I overheard that conversation I took an early opportunity to ask Mr. Buckstone if he knew of anybody who might want a speech written--I had a friend, and so forth and so on. I was the friend, myself; I thought I might do you a good turn then and depend on you to do me one by and by. I never let Mr. Buckstone have the speech till the last moment, and when you hurried off to the House with it, you did not know there was a missing page, of course, but I did.
"And now perhaps you think that if I refuse to support your bill, you will make a grand exposure?"
"Well I had not thought of that. I only kept back the page for the mere fun of the thing; but since you mention it, I don't know but I might do something if I were angry."
"My dear Miss Hawkins, if you were to give out that you composed my speech, you know very well that people would say it was only your raillery, your fondness for putting a victim in the pillory and amusing the public at his expense. It is too flimsy, Miss Hawkins, for a person of your fine inventive talent--contrive an abler device than that. Come!"
"It is easily done, Mr. Trollop. I will hire a man, and pin this page on his breast, and label it, 'The Missing Fragment of the Hon. Mr. Trollop's Great Speech--which speech was written and composed by Miss Laura Hawkins under a secret understanding for one hundred dollars--and the money has not been paid.' And I will pin round about it notes in my handwriting, which I will procure from prominent friends of mine for the occasion; also your printed speech in the Globe, showing the connection between its bracketed hiatus and my Fragment; and I give you my word of honor that I will stand that human bulletin board in the rotunda of the capitol and make him stay there a week! You see you are premature, Mr. Trollop, the wonderful tragedy is not done yet, by any means. Come, now, doesn't it improve?"
Mr Trollop opened his eyes rather widely at this novel aspect of the case. He got up and walked the floor and gave himself a moment for reflection. Then he stopped and studied Laura's face a while, and ended by saying:
"Well, I am obliged to believe you would be reckless enough to do that."
"Then don't put me to the test, Mr. Trollop. But let's drop the matter. I have had my joke and you've borne the infliction becomingly enough. It spoils a jest to harp on it after one has had one's laugh. I would much rather talk about my bill."
"So would I, now, my clandestine amanuensis. Compared with some other subjects, even your bill is a pleasant topic to discuss."
"Very good indeed! I thought. I could persuade you. Now I am sure you will be generous to the poor negro and vote for that bill."
"Yes, I feel more tenderly toward the oppressed colored man than I did. Shall we bury the hatchet and be good friends and respect each other's little secrets, on condition that I vote Aye on the measure?"
"With all my heart, Mr. Trollop. I give you my word of that."
"It is a bargain. But isn't there something else you could give me, too?"
Laura looked at him inquiringly a moment, and then she comprehended.
"Oh, yes! You may have it now. I haven't any, more use for it." She picked up the page of manuscript, but she reconsidered her intention of handing it to him, and said, "But never mind; I will keep it close; no one shall see it; you shall have it as soon as your vote is recorded."
Mr. Trollop looked disappointed. But presently made his adieux, and had got as far as the hall, when something occurred to Laura. She said to herself, "I don't simply want his vote under compulsion--he might vote aye, but work against the bill in secret, for revenge; that man is unscrupulous enough to do anything. I must have his hearty co-operation as well as his vote. There is only one way to get that."
She called him back, and said:
"I value your vote, Mr. Trollop, but I value your influence more. You are able to help a measure along in many ways, if you choose. I want to ask you to work for the bill as well as vote for it."
"It takes so much of one's time, Miss Hawkins--and time is money, you know."
"Yes, I know it is--especially in Congress. Now there is no use in you and I dealing in pretenses and going at matters in round-about ways. We know each other--disguises are nonsense. Let us be plain. I will make it an object to you to work for the bill."
"Don't make it unnecessarily plain, please. There are little proprieties that are best preserved. What do you propose?"
"Well, this." She mentioned the names of several prominent Congressmen.
"Now," said she, "these gentlemen are to vote and work for the bill, simply out of love for the negro--and out of pure generosity I have put in a relative of each as a member of the University incorporation. They will handle a million or so of money, officially, but will receive no salaries. A larger number of statesmen are to, vote and work for the bill--also out of love for the negro--gentlemen of but moderate influence, these--and out of pure generosity I am to see that relatives of theirs have positions in the University, with salaries, and good ones, too. You will vote and work for the bill, from mere affection for the negro, and I desire to testify my gratitude becomingly. Make free choice. Have you any friend whom you would like to present with a salaried or unsalaried position in our institution?"
"Well, I have a brother-in-law--"
"That same old brother-in-law, you good unselfish provider! I have heard of him often, through my agents. How regularly he does 'turn up,' to be sure. He could deal with those millions virtuously, and withal with ability, too--but of course you would rather he had a salaried position?"
"Oh, no," said the gentleman, facetiously, "we are very humble, very humble in our desires; we want no money; we labor solely, for our country and require no reward but the luxury of an applauding conscience. Make him one of those poor hard working unsalaried corporators and let him do every body good with those millions--and go hungry himself! I will try to exert a little influence in favor of the bill."
Arrived at home, Mr. Trollop sat down and thought it all over--something after this fashion: it is about the shape it might have taken if he had spoken it aloud.
"My reputation is getting a little damaged, and I meant to clear it up brilliantly with an exposure of this bill at the supreme moment, and ride back into Congress on the eclat of it; and if I had that bit of manuscript, I would do it yet. It would be more money in my pocket in the end, than my brother-in-law will get out of that incorporatorship, fat as it is. But that sheet of paper is out of my reach--she will never let that get out of her hands. And what a mountain it is! It blocks up my road, completely. She was going to hand it to me, once. Why didn't she! Must be a deep woman. Deep devil! That is what she is; a beautiful devil--and perfectly fearless, too. The idea of her pinning that paper on a man and standing him up in the rotunda looks absurd at a first glance. But she would do it! She is capable of doing anything. I went there hoping she would try to bribe me--good solid capital that would be in the exposure. Well, my prayer was answered; she did try to bribe me; and I made the best of a bad bargain and let her. I am check-mated. I must contrive something fresh to get back to Congress on. Very well; a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; I will work for the bill--the incorporatorship will be a very good thing."
As soon as Mr. Trollop had taken his leave, Laura ran to Senator Dilworthy and began to speak, but he interrupted her and said distressfully, without even turning from his writing to look at her:
"Only half an hour! You gave it up early, child. However, it was best, it was best--I'm sure it was best--and safest."
"Give it up! I!"
The Senator sprang up, all aglow:
"My child, you can't mean that you--"
"I've made him promise on honor to think about a compromise tonight and come and tell me his decision in the morning."
"Good! There's hope yet that--"
Nonsense, uncle. I've made him engage to let the Tennessee Land bill utterly alone!"
"I've made him promise to vote with us!"
"I've made him swear that he'll work for us!"
"PRE - - - POSTEROUS!--Utterly pre--break a window, child, before I suffocate!"
"No matter, it's true anyway. Now we can march into Congress with drums beating and colors flying!"
"Well--well--well. I'm sadly bewildered, sadly bewildered. I can't understand it at all--the most extraordinary woman that ever--it's a great day, it's a great day. There--there--let me put my hand in benediction on this precious head. Ah, my child, the poor negro will bless--"
"Oh bother the poor negro, uncle! Put it in your speech. Good-night, good-bye--we'll marshal our forces and march with the dawn!"
Laura reflected a while, when she was alone, and then fell to laughing, peacefully.
"Everybody works for me,"--so ran her thought. "It was a good idea to make Buckstone lead Mr. Trollop on to get a great speech written for him; and it was a happy part of the same idea for me to copy the speech after Mr. Buckstone had written it, and then keep back a page. Mr. B. was very complimentary to me when Trollop's break-down in the House showed him the object of my mysterious scheme; I think he will say, still finer things when I tell him the triumph the sequel to it has gained for us.
"But what a coward the man was, to believe I would have
exposed that page in the rotunda, and so exposed myself. However, I don't know--I don't know. I will think a moment. Suppose he voted no; suppose the bill failed;
that is to suppose this stupendous game lost forever, that I have played so
desperately for; suppose people came around pitying me--odious! And he could
have saved me by his single voice. Yes,
I would have exposed him! What would I
care for the talk that that would have made about me when I was gone to
The very next day, sure enough, the campaign