The Gilded Age, Complete
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
Part 2 out of 9
The look and the tone were a plain call for admiring surprise, and
therefore Washington said (it was the only thing that offered itself at
"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 some London bankers had been over to consult with
him about--and soon he was building glittering pyramids of coin, and
Washington was presently growing opulent under the magic of his
eloquence. But at the same time Washington was not able to ignore the
cold entirely. He was nearly as close to the stove as he could get,
and yet he could not persuade himself, that he felt the slightest heat,
notwithstanding the isinglass' door was still gently and serenely
glowing. He tried to get a trifle closer to the stove, and the
consequence was, he tripped the supporting poker and the stove-door
tumbled to the floor. And then there was a revelation--there was nothing
in the stove but a lighted tallow-candle! The poor youth blushed and
felt as if he must die with shame. But the Colonel was only
disconcerted for a moment--he straightway found his voice again:
"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
Academy of France had been testing the properties of heat, and they came
to the conclusion that it was a nonconductor or something like that,
and of course its influence must necessarily be deadly in nervous
organizations with excitable temperaments, especially where there is any
tendency toward rheumatic affections. Bless you I saw in a moment what
was the matter with us, and says I, out goes your fires!--no more slow
torture and certain death for me, sir. What you want is the appearance
of heat, not the heat itself--that's the idea. Well how to do it was the
next thing. I just put my head, to work, pegged away, a couple of days,
and here you are! Rheumatism? Why a man can't any more start a case of
rheumatism in this house than he can shake an opinion out of a mummy!
Stove with a candle in it and a transparent door--that's it--it has been
the salvation of this family. Don't you fail to write your father about
it, Washington. And tell him the idea is mine--I'm no more conceited
than most people, I reckon, but you know it is human nature for a man to
want credit for a thing like that."
Washington said with his blue lips that he would, but he said in his
secret heart that he would promote no such iniquity. He tried to believe
in the healthfulness of the invention, and succeeded tolerably well;
but after all he could not feel that good health in a frozen, body was
any real improvement on the rheumatism.
--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
In Novo Orbe; here's the rich Peru:
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
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,
Washington, all in good time. You'll see. Now there's an operation in
corn that looks well. Some New York men are trying to get me to go into
it--buy up all the growing crops and just boss the market when they
mature--ah I tell you it's a great thing. And it only costs a trifle;
two millions or two and a half will do it. I haven't exactly promised
yet--there's no hurry--the more indifferent I seem, you know, the more
anxious those fellows will get. And then there is the hog speculation
--that's bigger still. We've got quiet men at work," [he was very
impressive here,] "mousing around, to get propositions out of all the
farmers in the whole west and northwest for the hog crop, and other
agents quietly getting propositions and terms out of all the
manufactories--and don't you see, if we can get all the hogs and all the
slaughter horses into our hands on the dead quiet--whew! it would take
three ships to carry the money.--I've looked into the thing--calculated
all the chances for and all the chances against, and though I shake my
head and hesitate and keep on thinking, apparently, I've got my mind made
up that if the thing can be done on a capital of six millions, that's the
horse to put up money on! Why Washington--but what's the use of talking
about it--any man can see that there's whole Atlantic oceans of cash in
it, gulfs and bays thrown in. But there's a bigger thing than that, yes
"Why Colonel, you can't want anything bigger!" said Washington, his eyes
blazing. "Oh, I wish I could go into either of those speculations--I
only wish I had money--I wish I wasn't cramped and kept down and fettered
with poverty, and such prodigious chances lying right here in sight!
Oh, it is a fearful thing to be poor. But don't throw away those things
--they are so splendid and I can see how sure they are. Don't throw them
away for something still better and maybe fail in it! I wouldn't,
Colonel. I would stick to these. I wish father were here and were his
old self again--Oh, he never in his life had such chances as these are.
Colonel; you can't improve on these--no man can improve on them!"
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----"
Washington nodded three or four times impatiently, and his glowing eyes
said, "Yes, yes--hurry--I 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!"
Washington finally got his breath and said:
"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."
"Never mind, Washington, don't you worry. I'll fix you. There's plenty
of chances. How much money have you got?"
In the presence of so many millions, Washington could not keep from
blushing when he had to confess that he had but eighteen dollars in the
"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 United States and----"
"O, splendid!" said Washington. "Let's commence right away--let's----"
"----1,000,000 bottles in the United States--profit at least $350,000
--and then it would begin to be time to turn our attention toward the real
idea of the business."
"The real idea of it! Ain't $350,000 a year a pretty real----"
"Stuff! Why what an infant you are, Washington--what a guileless,
short-sighted, easily-contented innocent you, are, my poor little
country-bred know-nothing! Would I go to all that trouble and bother for
the poor crumbs a body might pick up in this country? Now do I look like
a man who----does my history suggest that I am a man who deals in
trifles, contents himself with the narrow horizon that hems in the common
herd, sees no further than the end of his nose? Now you know that that
is not me--couldn't be me. You ought to know that if I throw my time and
abilities into a patent medicine, it's a patent medicine whose field of
operations is the solid earth! its clients the swarming nations that
inhabit it! Why what is the republic of America for an eye-water
country? Lord bless you, it is nothing but a barren highway that you've
got to cross to get to the true eye-water market! Why, Washington, in
the Oriental countries people swarm like the sands of the desert; every
square mile of ground upholds its thousands upon thousands of struggling
human creatures--and every separate and individual devil of them's got
the ophthalmia! It's as natural to them as noses are--and sin. It's
born with them, it stays with them, it's all that some of them have left
when they die. Three years of introductory trade in the orient and what
will be the result? Why, our headquarters would be in Constantinople and
our hindquarters in Further India! Factories and warehouses in Cairo,
Ispahan, Bagdad, Damascus, Jerusalem, Yedo, Peking, Bangkok, Delhi,
Bombay--and Calcutta! Annual income--well, God only knows how many
millions and millions apiece!"
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.
When Washington left the breakfast table he could have worshiped that
man. Washington was one of that kind of people whose hopes are in the
very, clouds one day and in the gutter the next. He walked on air, now.
The Colonel was ready to take him around and introduce him to the
employment he had found for him, but Washington begged for a few moments
in which to write home; with his kind of people, to ride to-day's new
interest to death and put off yesterday's till another time, is nature
itself. He ran up stairs and wrote glowingly, enthusiastically, to his
mother about the hogs and the corn, the banks and the eye-water--and
added a few inconsequential millions to each project. And he said that
people little dreamed what a man Col. Sellers was, and that the world
would open its eyes when it found out. And he closed his letter thus:
"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 Washington learned what he was to be. He was to be
a clerk in a real estate office. Instantly the fickle youth's dreams
forsook the magic eye-water and flew back to the Tennessee Land. And the
gorgeous possibilities of that great domain straightway began to occupy
his imagination to such a degree that he could scarcely manage to keep
even enough of his attention upon the Colonel's talk to retain the
general run of what he was saying. He was glad it was a real estate
office--he was a made man now, sure.
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
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 Washington with a
kindly but reserved politeness. Washington rather liked his looks.
He was about fifty years old, dignified, well preserved and well dressed.
After the Colonel took his leave, the General talked a while with
Washington--his talk consisting chiefly of instructions about the
clerical duties of the place. He seemed satisfied as to Washington's
ability to take care of the books, he was evidently a pretty fair
theoretical bookkeeper, and experience would soon harden theory into
practice. By and by dinner-time came, and the two walked to the
General's house; and now Washington noticed an instinct in himself that
moved him to keep not in the General's rear, exactly, but yet not at his
side--somehow the old gentleman's dignity and reserve did not inspire
Washington dreamed his way along the street, his fancy flitting from
grain to hogs, from hogs to banks, from banks to eyewater, from eye-water
to Tennessee Land, and lingering but a feverish moment upon each of these
fascinations. He was conscious of but one outward thing, to wit, the
General, and he was really not vividly conscious of him.
Arrived at the finest dwelling in the town, they entered it and were at
home. Washington was introduced to Mrs. Boswell, and his imagination was
on the point of flitting into the vapory realms of speculation again,
when a lovely girl of sixteen or seventeen came in. This vision swept
Washington's mind clear of its chaos of glittering rubbish in an instant.
Beauty had fascinated him before; many times he had been in love even for
weeks at a time with the same object but his heart had never suffered so
sudden and so fierce an assault as this, within his recollection.
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
followed. Washington plunged into this love affair as he plunged into
everything else--upon impulse and without reflection. As the days went
by it seemed plain that he was growing in favor with Louise,--not
sweepingly so, but yet perceptibly, he fancied. His attentions to her
troubled her father and mother a little, and they warned Louise, without
stating particulars or making allusions to any special person, that a
girl was sure to make a mistake who allowed herself to marry anybody but
a man who could support her well.
Some instinct taught Washington that his present lack of money would be
an obstruction, though possibly not a bar, to his hopes, and straightway
his poverty became a torture to him which cast all his former sufferings
under that held into the shade. He longed for riches now as he had ever
longed for them before.
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 Washington's heart world sink again
and a sigh would tell when it touched bottom.
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 Washington should come home. The news filled him with
grief, for he loved and honored his father; the Boswells were touched by
the youth's sorrow, and even the General unbent and said encouraging
things to him.--There was balm in this; but when Louise bade him
good-bye, and shook his hand and said, "Don't be cast down--it will all
come out right--I know it will all come out right," it seemed a blessed
thing to be in misfortune, and the tears that welled up to his eyes were
the messengers of an adoring and a grateful heart; and when the girl saw
them and answering tears came into her own eyes, Washington could hardly
contain the excess of happiness that poured into the cavities of his
breast that were so lately stored to the roof with grief.
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
"Washington" here and there over a sheet of paper. But there was
something significant in the fact that she scratched the word out every
time she wrote it; examined the erasure critically to see if anybody
could guess at what the word had been; then buried it under a maze of
obliterating lines; and finally, as if still unsatisfied, burned the
When Washington reached home, he recognized at once how serious his
father's case was. The darkened room, the labored breathing and
occasional moanings of the patient, the tip-toeing of the attendants and
their whispered consultations, were full of sad meaning. For three or
four nights Mrs. Hawkins and Laura had been watching by the bedside; Clay
had arrived, preceding Washington by one day, and he was now added to the
corps of watchers. Mr. Hawkins would have none but these three, though
neighborly assistance was offered by old friends. From this time forth
three-hour watches were instituted, and day and night the watchers kept
their vigils. By degrees Laura and her mother began to show wear, but
neither of them would yield a minute of their tasks to Clay. He ventured
once to let the midnight hour pass without calling Laura, but he ventured
no more; there was that about her rebuke when he tried to explain, that
taught him that to let her sleep when she might be ministering to her
father's needs, was to rob her of moments that were priceless in her
eyes; he perceived that she regarded it as a privilege to watch, not a
burden. And, he had noticed, also, that when midnight struck, the
patient turned his eyes toward the door, with an expectancy in them which
presently grew into a longing but brightened into contentment as soon
as the door opened and Laura appeared. And he did not need Laura's
rebuke when he heard his father say:
"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
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 Tennessee Land! Be wary. There is wealth stored up for you
there --wealth that is boundless! The children shall hold up their heads
with the best in the land, yet. Where are the papers?--Have you got the
papers safe? Show them--show them to me!"
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.
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
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
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 New York; I never have seen or heard of him since,
up to this day; he could hardly have sailed, for his name does not
appear upon the books of any shipping office in New York or Boston
or Baltimore. How fortunate it seems, now, that we kept this thing
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
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
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
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,
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
"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
"Well, I am glad of it--I'm glad of it. I never cared anything for him
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 in Hawkeye.
Washington was at work in the real estate office again, and was
alternately in paradise or the other place just as it happened that
Louise was gracious to him or seemingly indifferent--because indifference
or preoccupation could mean nothing else than that she was thinking of
some other young person. Col. Sellers had asked him several times, to
dine with him, when he first returned to Hawkeye, but Washington, for no
particular reason, had not accepted. No particular reason except one
which he preferred to keep to himself--viz. that he could not bear to be
away from Louise. It occurred to him, now, that the Colonel had not
invited him lately--could he be offended? He resolved to go that very
day, and give the Colonel a pleasant surprise. It was a good idea;
especially as Louise had absented herself from breakfast that morning,
and torn his heart; he would tear hers, now, and let her see how it felt.
The Sellers family were just starting to dinner when Washington burst
upon them with his surprise. For an instant the Colonel looked
nonplussed, and just a bit uncomfortable; and Mrs. Sellers looked
actually distressed; but the next moment the head of the house was
himself again, and exclaimed:
"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, Washington; the little woman will tell
you so herself. We don't pretend to style. Plain folks, you know--plain
folks. Just a plain family dinner, but such as it is, our friends are
always welcome, I reckon you know that yourself, Washington. Run along,
children, run along; Lafayette,--[**In those old days the average man
called his children after his most revered literary and historical idols;
consequently there was hardly a family, at least in the West, but had a
Washington in it--and also a Lafayette, a Franklin, and six or eight
sounding names from Byron, Scott, and the Bible, if the offspring held
out. To visit such a family, was to find one's self confronted by a
congress made up of representatives of the imperial myths and the
majestic dead of all the ages. There was something thrilling about it,
to a stranger, not to say awe inspiring.]--stand off the cat's tail,
child, can't you see what you're doing?--Come, come, come, Roderick Dhu,
it isn't nice for little boys to hang onto young gentlemen's coat tails
--but never mind him, Washington, he's full of spirits and don't mean any
harm. Children will be children, you know. Take the chair next to Mrs.
Sellers, Washington--tut, tut, Marie Antoinette, let your brother have
the fork if he wants it, you are bigger than he is."
Washington contemplated the banquet, and wondered if he were in his right
mind. Was this the plain family dinner? And was it all present? It was
soon apparent that this was indeed the dinner: it was all on the table:
it consisted of abundance of clear, fresh water, and a basin of raw
Washington stole a glance at Mrs. Sellers's face, and would have given
the world, the next moment, if he could have spared her that. The poor
woman's face was crimson, and the tears stood in her eyes. Washington
did not know what to do. He wished he had never come there and spied out
this cruel poverty and brought pain to that poor little lady's heart and
shame to her cheek; but he was there, and there was no escape. Col.
Sellers hitched back his coat sleeves airily from his wrists as who
should say "Now for solid enjoyment!" seized a fork, flourished it and
began to harpoon turnips and deposit them in the plates before him "Let
me help you, Washington--Lafayette pass this plate Washington--ah, well,
well, my boy, things are looking pretty bright, now, I tell you.
Speculation--my! the whole atmosphere's full of money. I would'nt take
three fortunes for one little operation I've got on hand now--have
anything from the casters? No? Well, you're right, you're right. Some
people like mustard with turnips, but--now there was Baron Poniatowski
--Lord, but that man did know how to live!--true Russian you know, Russian
to the back bone; I say to my wife, give me a Russian every time, for a
table comrade. The Baron used to say, 'Take mustard, Sellers, try the
mustard,--a man can't know what turnips are in perfection without,
mustard,' but I always said, 'No, Baron, I'm a plain man and I want my
food plain--none of your embellishments for Beriah Sellers--no made
dishes for me! And it's the best way--high living kills more than it
cures in this world, you can rest assured of that.--Yes indeed,
Washington, I've got one little operation on hand that--take some more
water--help yourself, won't you?--help yourself, there's plenty of it.
--You'll find it pretty good, I guess. How does that fruit strike you?"
Washington said he did not know that he had ever tasted better. He did
not add that he detested turnips even when they were cooked loathed them
in their natural state. No, he kept this to himself, and praised the
turnips to the peril of his soul.
"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 New Jersey
--I imported them myself. They cost like sin, too; but lord bless me,
I go in for having the best of a thing, even if it does cost a little
more--it's the best economy, in the long run. These are the Early
Malcolm--it's a turnip that can't be produced except in just one orchard,
and the supply never is up to the demand. Take some more water,
Washington--you can't drink too much water with fruit--all the doctors
say that. The plague can't come where this article is, my boy!"
"Plague? What plague?"
"What plague, indeed? Why the Asiatic plague that nearly depopulated
London a couple of centuries ago."
"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 St. Louis, and I happened to run across old Dr.
McDowells--thinks the world of me, does the doctor. He's a man that
keeps himself to himself, and well he may, for he knows that he's got a
reputation that covers the whole earth--he won't condescend to open
himself out to many people, but lord bless you, he and I are just like
brothers; he won't let me go to a hotel when I'm in the city--says I'm
the only man that's company to him, and I don't know but there's some
truth in it, too, because although I never like to glorify myself and
make a great to-do over what I am or what I can do or what I know,
I don't mind saying here among friends that I am better read up in most
sciences, maybe, than the general run of professional men in these days.
Well, the other day he let me into a little secret, strictly on the
quiet, about this matter of the plague.
"You see it's booming right along in our direction--follows the Gulf
Stream, you know, just as all those epidemics do, and within three months
it will be just waltzing through this land like a whirlwind! And whoever
it touches can make his will and contract for the funeral. Well you
can't cure it, you know, but you can prevent it. How? Turnips! that's
it! Turnips and water! Nothing like it in the world, old McDowells
says, just fill yourself up two or three times a day, and you can snap
your fingers at the plague. Sh!--keep mum, but just you confine yourself
to that diet and you're all right. I wouldn't have old McDowells know
that I told about it for anything--he never would speak to me again.
Take some more water, Washington--the more water you drink, the better.
Here, let me give you some more of the turnips. No, no, no, now, I
insist. There, now. Absorb those. They're, mighty sustaining--brim
full of nutriment--all the medical books say so. Just eat from four to
seven good-sized turnips at a meal, and drink from a pint and a half to a
quart of water, and then just sit around a couple of hours and let them
ferment. You'll feel like a fighting cock next day."
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 a time Washington ought to have been a rapt and enthusiastic
listener, but he was not, for two matters disturbed his mind and
distracted his attention. One was, that he discovered, to his confusion
and shame, that in allowing himself to be helped a second time to the
turnips, he had robbed those hungry children. He had not needed the
dreadful "fruit," and had not wanted it; and when he saw the pathetic
sorrow in their faces when they asked for more and there was no more to
give them, he hated himself for his stupidity and pitied the famishing
young things with all his heart. The other matter that disturbed him was
the dire inflation that had begun in his stomach. It grew and grew, it
became more and more insupportable. Evidently the turnips were
"fermenting." He forced himself to sit still as long as he could, but
his anguish conquered him at last.
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.
Washington was glad enough to get away and feel free again. He
immediately bent his steps toward home.
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
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
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
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 New York life in preparation for the ministry.
Philip was a New England boy and had graduated at Yale; he had not
carried off with him all the learning of that venerable institution, but
he knew some things that were not in the regular course of study. A very
good use of the English language and considerable knowledge of its
literature was one of them; he could sing a song very well, not in time
to be sure, but with enthusiasm; he could make a magnetic speech at a
moment's notice in the class room, the debating society, or upon any
fence or dry-goods box that was convenient; he could lift himself by one
arm, and do the giant swing in the gymnasium; he could strike out from
his left shoulder; he could handle an oar like a professional and pull
stroke in a winning race. Philip had a good appetite, a sunny temper,
and a clear hearty laugh. He had brown hair, hazel eyes set wide apart,
a broad but not high forehead, and a fresh winning face. He was six feet
high, with broad shoulders, long legs and a swinging gait; one of those
loose-jointed, capable fellows, who saunter into the world with a free
air and usually make a stir in whatever company they enter.
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
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
At the time of this history, Philip had gone to New York for a career.
With his talent he thought he should have little difficulty in getting an
editorial position upon a metropolitan newspaper; not that he knew
anything about news paper work, or had the least idea of journalism; he
knew he was not fitted for the technicalities of the subordinate
departments, but he could write leaders with perfect ease, he was sure.
The drudgery of the newspaper office was too distaste ful, and besides it
would be beneath the dignity of a graduate and a successful magazine
writer. He wanted to begin at the top of the ladder.
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
"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
"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 Broad Street, to which he went, or pretended to go, with regularity
every day. It was evident to the most casual acquaintance that he was a
man of affairs, and that his time was engrossed in the largest sort of
operations, about which there was a mysterious air. His liability to be
suddenly summoned to Washington, or Boston or Montreal or even to
Liverpool was always imminent. He never was so summoned, but none of his
acquaintances would have been surprised to hear any day that he had gone
to Panama or Peoria, or to hear from him that he had bought the Bank of
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 Ninth Street,
in a boarding-house, there, which had the honor of lodging and partially
feeding several other young fellows of like kidney, who have since gone
their several ways into fame or into obscurity.
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
"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
"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
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 in New York, that they would start with the rest of the company
next morning for the west.
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
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 Cathay on an
"By the way," calls out Philip from his bed-room, to Henry, "where is
"Why, it's in Missouri somewhere, on the frontier I think. We'll get a
"Never mind the map. We will find the place itself. I was afraid it was
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 some New York
capitalists to go to Missouri, in a land and railroad operation, which
would at least give him a knowledge of the world and not unlikely offer
him a business opening. He knew his uncle would be glad to hear that he
had at last turned his thoughts to a practical matter.
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
Associated with him, and also of this party, was Rodney Schaick, a sleek
New York broker, a man as prominent in the church as in the stock
exchange, dainty in his dress, smooth of speech, the necessary complement
of Duff Brown in any enterprise that needed assurance and adroitness.
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
Our travelers stopped in Chicago long enough to see that they could make
their fortunes there in two week's tine, but it did not seem worth while;
the west was more attractive; the further one went the wider the
They took railroad to Alton and the steamboat from there to St. Louis,
for the change and to have a glimpse of the river.
"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
"That's a fine looking fellow, that delegate, with his glossy, black
whiskers; looks like a Washington man; I shouldn't think he'd be at
"Oh, its only five cent ante, just to make it interesting, the Delegate
"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 Chicago. It was a genial spring day when they landed at St. Louis;
the birds were singing, the blossoms of peach trees in city garden plots,
made the air sweet, and in the roar and tumult on the long river levee
they found an excitement that accorded with their own hopeful
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
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
Harry at once found on landing that his back-woods custom would not be
needed in St. Louis, and that, in fact, he had need of all the resources
of his wardrobe to keep even with the young swells of the town. But this
did not much matter, for Harry was always superior to his clothes.
As they were likely to be detained some time in the city, Harry told
Philip that he was going to improve his time. And he did. It was an
encouragement to any industrious man to see this young fellow rise,
carefully dress himself, eat his breakfast deliberately, smoke his cigar
tranquilly, and then repair to his room, to what he called his work, with
a grave and occupied manner, but with perfect cheerfulness.
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 Washington end of it; he said there was a
fortune in it for a smart young fellow, but I preferred to take the
chances out here. Did I tell you I had an offer from Bobbett and Fanshaw
to go into their office as confidential clerk on a salary of ten
"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
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
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 St. Louis? Ah, yes-yes. From the
East, perhaps? Ah; just so, just so. Eastern born myself--Virginia.
Sellers is my name--Beriah Sellers.
"Ah! by the way--New York, did you say? That reminds me; just met some
gentlemen from your State, a week or two ago--very prominent gentlemen
--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
"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
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
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
"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 Fourth street under the hotel,
and the young gentlemen fell into the custom of the country.
"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 Havana's, those in separate wrappers.
"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
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
"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
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 Philadelphia. It was one of the pleasantest of the
many charming suburban houses in that hospitable city, which is
territorially one of the largest cities in the world, and only prevented
from becoming the convenient metropolis of the country by the intrusive
strip of Camden and Amboy sand which shuts it off from the Atlantic
ocean. It is a city of steady thrift, the arms of which might well be
the deliberate but delicious terrapin that imparts such a royal flavor to
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, Girard College and Fairmount Water Works and Park,
four objects which Americans cannot die peacefully, even in Naples,
without having seen. But Ruth confessed that she was tired of them, and
also of the Mint. She was tired of other things. She tried this morning
an air or two upon the piano, sang a simple song in a sweet but slightly
metallic voice, and then seating herself by the open window, read
Philip's letter. Was she thinking about Philip, as she gazed across the
fresh lawn over the tree tops to the Chelton Hills, or of that world
which his entrance, into her tradition-bound life had been one of the
means of opening to her? Whatever she thought, she was not idly musing,
as one might see by the expression of her face. After a time she took
up a book; it was a medical work, and to all appearance about as
interesting to a girl of eighteen as the statutes at large; but her face
was soon aglow over its pages, and she was so absorbed in it that she did
not notice the entrance of her mother at the open door.
"Well, mother," said the young student, looking up, with a shade of
"I wanted to talk with thee a little about thy plans."
"Mother; thee knows I couldn't stand it at Westfield; the school stifled
me, it's a place to turn young people into dried fruit."
"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
"If I must say it, mother, I want to go away, and get out of this dead
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
"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
"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 Greece to compare with Girard College, was there ever such a
magnificent pile of stone devised for the shelter of poor orphans? Think
of the stone shingles of the roof eight inches thick! Ruth asked the
enthusiasts if they would like to live in such a sounding mausoleum, with
its great halls and echoing rooms, and no comfortable place in it for the
accommodation of any body? If they were orphans, would they like to be
brought up in a Grecian temple?
And then there was Broad street! Wasn't it the broadest and the longest
street in the world? There certainly was no end to it, and even Ruth was
Philadelphian enough to believe that a street ought not to have any end,
or architectural point upon which the weary eye could rest.
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
"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 Germantown, where the windows
are all open and I can see the trees, and hear the stir of the leaves.
It's such a crush at the Yearly Meeting at Arch Street, and then there's
the row of sleek-looking young men who line the curbstone and stare at us
as we come out. No, I don't feel at home there."
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 Sterling," said Eli Bolton.
"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
"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
"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
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
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 St. Louis, would not take his scalp.
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."
Eli Bolton almost laughed as he regarded his wife, with eyes that never
looked at her except fondly, and replied,
"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
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 Medical College in the city. Quite likely
she will soon find that she needs first a more general culture, and fall,
in with thy wish that she should see more of the world at some large
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.
The Bolton house was a sort of hotel for this kind of people. They were
always coming. Ruth had known them from childhood, and she used to say
that her father attracted them as naturally as a sugar hogshead does
flies. Ruth had an idea that a large portion of the world lived by
getting the rest of the world into schemes. Mr. Bolton never could say
"no" to any of them, not even, said Ruth again, to the society for
stamping oyster shells with scripture texts before they were sold at
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
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.
"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.
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