Produced by David Widger
THE GILDED AGE
A Tale of Today
by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
This book was not written for private circulation among friends; it was
not written to cheer and instruct a diseased relative of the author's;
it was not thrown off during intervals of wearing labor to amuse an idle
hour. It was not written for any of these reasons, and therefore it is
submitted without the usual apologies.
It will be seen that it deals with an entirely ideal state of society;
and the chief embarrassment of the writers in this realm of the
imagination has been the want of illustrative examples. In a State where
there is no fever of speculation, no inflamed desire for sudden wealth,
where the poor are all simple-minded and contented, and the rich are all
honest and generous, where society is in a condition of primitive purity
and politics is the occupation of only the capable and the patriotic,
there are necessarily no materials for such a history as we have
constructed out of an ideal commonwealth.
No apology is needed for following the learned custom of placing
attractive scraps of literature at the heads of our chapters. It has
been truly observed by Wagner that such headings, with their vague
suggestions of the matter which is to follow them, pleasantly inflame the
reader's interest without wholly satisfying his curiosity, and we will
hope that it may be found to be so in the present case.
Our quotations are set in a vast number of tongues; this is done for the
reason that very few foreign nations among whom the book will circulate
can read in any language but their own; whereas we do not write for a
particular class or sect or nation, but to take in the whole world.
We do not object to criticism; and we do not expect that the critic will
read the book before writing a notice of it: We do not even expect the
reviewer of the book will say that he has not read it. No, we have no
anticipations of anything unusual in this age of criticism. But if the
Jupiter, Who passes his opinion on the novel, ever happens to peruse it
in some weary moment of his subsequent life, we hope that he will not be
the victim of a remorse bitter but too late.
One word more. This is--what it pretends to be a joint production, in
the conception of the story, the exposition of the characters, and in its
literal composition. There is scarcely a chapter that does not bear the
marks of the two writers of the book. S. L. C.
C. D. W.
[Etext Editor's Note: The following chapters were written by Mark Twain:
1-11, 24, 25, 27, 28, 30, 32-34, 36, 37, 42, 43, 45, 51-53, 57, 59-62;
and portions of 35, 49, and 56. See Twain's letter to Dr. John Brown
Feb. 28, 1874 D.W.]
June 18--. Squire Hawkins sat upon the pyramid of large blocks, called
the "stile," in front of his house, contemplating the morning.
The locality was Obedstown, East Tennessee. You would not know that
Obedstown stood on the top of a mountain, for there was nothing about the
landscape to indicate it--but it did: a mountain that stretched abroad
over whole counties, and rose very gradually. The district was called
the "Knobs of East Tennessee," and had a reputation like Nazareth, as far
as turning out any good thing was concerned.
The Squire's house was a double log cabin, in a state of decay; two or
three gaunt hounds lay asleep about the threshold, and lifted their heads
sadly whenever Mrs. Hawkins or the children stepped in and out over their
bodies. Rubbish was scattered about the grassless yard; a bench stood
near the door with a tin wash basin on it and a pail of water and a
gourd; a cat had begun to drink from the pail, but the exertion was
overtaxing her energies, and she had stopped to rest. There was an
ash-hopper by the fence, and an iron pot, for soft-soap-boiling, near it.
This dwelling constituted one-fifteenth of Obedstown; the other fourteen
houses were scattered about among the tall pine trees and among the
corn-fields in such a way that a man might stand in the midst of the city
and not know but that he was in the country if he only depended on his
eyes for information.
"Squire" Hawkins got his title from being postmaster of Obedstown--not
that the title properly belonged to the office, but because in those
regions the chief citizens always must have titles of some sort, and so
the usual courtesy had been extended to Hawkins. The mail was monthly,
and sometimes amounted to as much as three or four letters at a single
delivery. Even a rush like this did not fill up the postmaster's whole
month, though, and therefore he "kept store" in the intervals.
The Squire was contemplating the morning. It was balmy and tranquil,
the vagrant breezes were laden with the odor of flowers, the murmur of
bees was in the air, there was everywhere that suggestion of repose that
summer woodlands bring to the senses, and the vague, pleasurable
melancholy that such a time and such surroundings inspire.
Presently the United States mail arrived, on horseback. There was but
one letter, and it was for the postmaster. The long-legged youth who
carried the mail tarried an hour to talk, for there was no hurry; and in
a little while the male population of the village had assembled to help.
As a general thing, they were dressed in homespun "jeans," blue or
yellow--here were no other varieties of it; all wore one suspender and
sometimes two--yarn ones knitted at home,--some wore vests, but few wore
coats. Such coats and vests as did appear, however, were rather
picturesque than otherwise, for they were made of tolerably fanciful
patterns of calico--a fashion which prevails thereto this day among those
of the community who have tastes above the common level and are able to
afford style. Every individual arrived with his hands in his pockets;
a hand came out occasionally for a purpose, but it always went back again
after service; and if it was the head that was served, just the cant that
the dilapidated straw hat got by being uplifted and rooted under, was
retained until the next call altered the inclination; many' hats were
present, but none were erect and no two were canted just alike. We are
speaking impartially of men, youths and boys. And we are also speaking
of these three estates when we say that every individual was either
chewing natural leaf tobacco prepared on his own premises, or smoking the
same in a corn-cob pipe. Few of the men wore whiskers; none wore
moustaches; some had a thick jungle of hair under the chin and hiding the
throat--the only pattern recognized there as being the correct thing in
whiskers; but no part of any individual's face had seen a razor for a
These neighbors stood a few moments looking at the mail carrier
reflectively while he talked; but fatigue soon began to show itself,
and one after another they climbed up and occupied the top rail of the
fence, hump-shouldered and grave, like a company of buzzards assembled
for supper and listening for the death-rattle. Old Damrell said:
"Tha hain't no news 'bout the jedge, hit ain't likely?"
"Cain't tell for sartin; some thinks he's gwyne to be 'long toreckly,
and some thinks 'e hain't. Russ Mosely he tote ole Hanks he mought git
to Obeds tomorrer or nex' day he reckoned."
"Well, I wisht I knowed. I got a 'prime sow and pigs in the, cote-house,
and I hain't got no place for to put 'em. If the jedge is a gwyne to
hold cote, I got to roust 'em out, I reckon. But tomorrer'll do, I
The speaker bunched his thick lips together like the stem-end of a tomato
and shot a bumble-bee dead that had lit on a weed seven feet away.
One after another the several chewers expressed a charge of tobacco juice
and delivered it at the deceased with steady, aim and faultless accuracy.
"What's a stirrin', down 'bout the Forks?" continued Old Damrell.
"Well, I dunno, skasely. Ole, Drake Higgins he's ben down to Shelby las'
week. Tuck his crap down; couldn't git shet o' the most uv it; hit
wasn't no time for to sell, he say, so he 'fotch it back agin, 'lowin' to
wait tell fall. Talks 'bout goin' to Mozouri--lots uv 'ems talkin'
that-away down thar, Ole Higgins say. Cain't make a livin' here no mo',
sich times as these. Si Higgins he's ben over to Kaintuck n' married a
high-toned gal thar, outen the fust families, an' he's come back to the
Forks with jist a hell's-mint o' whoop-jamboree notions, folks says.
He's tuck an' fixed up the ole house like they does in Kaintuck, he say,
an' tha's ben folks come cler from Turpentine for to see it. He's tuck
an gawmed it all over on the inside with plarsterin'."
"I dono. Hit's what he calls it. 'Ole Mam Higgins, she tole me.
She say she wasn't gwyne to hang out in no sich a dern hole like a hog.
Says it's mud, or some sich kind o' nastiness that sticks on n' covers up
everything. Plarsterin', Si calls it."
This marvel was discussed at considerable length; and almost with
animation. But presently there was a dog-fight over in the neighborhood
of the blacksmith shop, and the visitors slid off their perch like so
many turtles and strode to the battle-field with an interest bordering on
eagerness. The Squire remained, and read his letter. Then he sighed,
and sat long in meditation. At intervals he said:
"Missouri. Missouri. Well, well, well, everything is so uncertain."
At last he said:
"I believe I'll do it.--A man will just rot, here. My house my yard,
everything around me, in fact, shows' that I am becoming one of these
cattle--and I used to be thrifty in other times."
He was not more than thirty-five, but he had a worn look that made him
seem older. He left the stile, entered that part of his house which was
the store, traded a quart of thick molasses for a coonskin and a cake of
beeswax, to an old dame in linsey-woolsey, put his letter away, an went
into the kitchen. His wife was there, constructing some dried apple
pies; a slovenly urchin of ten was dreaming over a rude weather-vane of
his own contriving; his small sister, close upon four years of age, was
sopping corn-bread in some gravy left in the bottom of a frying-pan and
trying hard not to sop over a finger-mark that divided the pan through
the middle--for the other side belonged to the brother, whose musings
made him forget his stomach for the moment; a negro woman was busy
cooking, at a vast fire-place. Shiftlessness and poverty reigned in the
"Nancy, I've made up my mind. The world is done with me, and perhaps I
ought to be done with it. But no matter--I can wait. I am going to
Missouri. I won't stay in this dead country and decay with it. I've had
it on my mind sometime. I'm going to sell out here for whatever I can
get, and buy a wagon and team and put you and the children in it and
"Anywhere that suits you, suits me, Si. And the children can't be any
worse off in Missouri than, they are here, I reckon."
Motioning his wife to a private conference in their own room, Hawkins
said: "No, they'll be better off. I've looked out for them, Nancy," and
his face lighted. "Do you see these papers? Well, they are evidence
that I have taken up Seventy-five Thousand Acres of Land in this county
--think what an enormous fortune it will be some day! Why, Nancy, enormous
don't express it--the word's too tame! I tell your Nancy----"
"For goodness sake, Si----"
"Wait, Nancy, wait--let me finish--I've been secretly bailing and fuming
with this grand inspiration for weeks, and I must talk or I'll burst!
I haven't whispered to a soul--not a word--have had my countenance under
lock and key, for fear it might drop something that would tell even these
animals here how to discern the gold mine that's glaring under their
noses. Now all that is necessary to hold this land and keep it in the
family is to pay the trifling taxes on it yearly--five or ten dollars
--the whole tract would not sell for over a third of a cent an acre now,
but some day people wild be glad to get it for twenty dollars, fifty
dollars, a hundred dollars an acre! What should you say to" [here he
dropped his voice to a whisper and looked anxiously around to see that
there were no eavesdroppers,] "a thousand dollars an acre!
"Well you may open your eyes and stare! But it's so. You and I may not
see the day, but they'll see it. Mind I tell you; they'll see it.
Nancy, you've heard of steamboats, and maybe you believed in them--of
course you did. You've heard these cattle here scoff at them and call
them lies and humbugs,--but they're not lies and humbugs, they're a
reality and they're going to be a more wonderful thing some day than they
are now. They're going to make a revolution in this world's affairs that
will make men dizzy to contemplate. I've been watching--I've been
watching while some people slept, and I know what's coming.
"Even you and I will see the day that steamboats will come up that little
Turkey river to within twenty miles of this land of ours--and in high
water they'll come right to it! And this is not all, Nancy--it isn't
even half! There's a bigger wonder--the railroad! These worms here have
never even heard of it--and when they do they'll not believe in it.
But it's another fact. Coaches that fly over the ground twenty miles an
hour--heavens and earth, think of that, Nancy! Twenty miles an hour.
It makes a main's brain whirl. Some day, when you and I are in our
graves, there'll be a railroad stretching hundreds of miles--all the way
down from the cities of the Northern States to New Orleans--and its got
to run within thirty miles of this land--may be even touch a corner of
it. Well; do you know, they've quit burning wood in some places in the
Eastern States? And what do you suppose they burn? Coal!" [He bent over
and whispered again:] "There's world--worlds of it on this land! You
know that black stuff that crops out of the bank of the branch?--well,
that's it. You've taken it for rocks; so has every body here; and
they've built little dams and such things with it. One man was going to
build a chimney out of it. Nancy I expect I turned as white as a sheet!
Why, it might have caught fire and told everything. I showed him it was
too crumbly. Then he was going to build it of copper ore--splendid
yellow forty-per-cent. ore! There's fortunes upon fortunes of copper ore
on our land! It scared me to death, the idea of this fool starting a
smelting furnace in his house without knowing it, and getting his dull
eyes opened. And then he was going to build it of iron ore! There's
mountains of iron ore here, Nancy--whole mountains of it. I wouldn't
take any chances. I just stuck by him--I haunted him--I never let him
alone till he built it of mud and sticks like all the rest of the
chimneys in this dismal country. Pine forests, wheat land, corn land,
iron, copper, coal-wait till the railroads come, and the steamboats!
We'll never see the day, Nancy--never in the world---never, never, never,
child. We've got to drag along, drag along, and eat crusts in toil and
poverty, all hopeless and forlorn--but they'll ride in coaches, Nancy!
They'll live like the princes of the earth; they'll be courted and
worshiped; their names will be known from ocean to ocean! Ah,
well-a-day! Will they ever come back here, on the railroad and the
steamboat, and say, 'This one little spot shall not be touched--this
hovel shall be sacred--for here our father and our mother suffered for
us, thought for us, laid the foundations of our future as solid as the
"You are a great, good, noble soul, Si Hawkins, and I am an honored woman
to be the wife of such a man"--and the tears stood in her eyes when she
said it. "We will go to Missouri. You are out of your place, here,
among these groping dumb creatures. We will find a higher place, where
you can walk with your own kind, and be understood when you speak--not
stared at as if you were talking some foreign tongue. I would go
anywhere, anywhere in the wide world with you I would rather my body
would starve and die than your mind should hunger and wither away in this
"Spoken like yourself, my child! But we'll not starve, Nancy. Far from
it. I have a letter from Beriah Sellers--just came this day. A letter
that--I'll read you a line from it!"
He flew out of the room. A shadow blurred the sunlight in Nancy's face
--there was uneasiness in it, and disappointment. A procession of
disturbing thoughts began to troop through her mind. Saying nothing
aloud, she sat with her hands in her lap; now and then she clasped them,
then unclasped them, then tapped the ends of the fingers together;
sighed, nodded, smiled--occasionally paused, shook her head. This
pantomime was the elocutionary expression of an unspoken soliloquy which
had something of this shape:
"I was afraid of it--was afraid of it. Trying to make our fortune in
Virginia, Beriah Sellers nearly ruined us and we had to settle in
Kentucky and start over again. Trying to make our fortune in Kentucky he
crippled us again and we had to move here. Trying to make our fortune
here, he brought us clear down to the ground, nearly. He's an honest
soul, and means the very best in the world, but I'm afraid, I'm afraid
he's too flighty. He has splendid ideas, and he'll divide his chances
with his friends with a free hand, the good generous soul, but something
does seem to always interfere and spoil everything. I never did think he
was right well balanced. But I don't blame my husband, for I do think
that when that man gets his head full of a new notion, he can out-talk a
machine. He'll make anybody believe in that notion that'll listen to him
ten minutes--why I do believe he would make a deaf and dumb man believe
in it and get beside himself, if you only set him where he could see his
eyes tally and watch his hands explain. What a head he has got! When he
got up that idea there in Virginia of buying up whole loads of negroes in
Delaware and Virginia and Tennessee, very quiet, having papers drawn to
have them delivered at a place in Alabama and take them and pay for them,
away yonder at a certain time, and then in the meantime get a law made
stopping everybody from selling negroes to the south after a certain day
--it was somehow that way--mercy how the man would have made money!
Negroes would have gone up to four prices. But after he'd spent money
and worked hard, and traveled hard, and had heaps of negroes all
contracted for, and everything going along just right, he couldn't get
the laws passed and down the whole thing tumbled. And there in Kentucky,
when he raked up that old numskull that had been inventing away at a
perpetual motion machine for twenty-two years, and Beriah Sellers saw at
a glance where just one more little cog-wheel would settle the business,
why I could see it as plain as day when he came in wild at midnight and
hammered us out of bed and told the whole thing in a whisper with the
doors bolted and the candle in an empty barrel. Oceans of money in it
--anybody could see that. But it did cost a deal to buy the old numskull
out--and then when they put the new cog wheel in they'd overlooked
something somewhere and it wasn't any use--the troublesome thing wouldn't
go. That notion he got up here did look as handy as anything in the
world; and how him and Si did sit up nights working at it with the
curtains down and me watching to see if any neighbors were about. The
man did honestly believe there was a fortune in that black gummy oil that
stews out of the bank Si says is coal; and he refined it himself till it
was like water, nearly, and it did burn, there's no two ways about that;
and I reckon he'd have been all right in Cincinnati with his lamp that he
got made, that time he got a house full of rich speculators to see him
exhibit only in the middle of his speech it let go and almost blew the
heads off the whole crowd. I haven't got over grieving for the money
that cost yet. I am sorry enough Beriah Sellers is in Missouri, now, but
I was glad when he went. I wonder what his letter says. But of course
it's cheerful; he's never down-hearted--never had any trouble in his
life--didn't know it if he had. It's always sunrise with that man, and
fine and blazing, at that--never gets noon; though--leaves off and rises
again. Nobody can help liking the creature, he means so well--but I do
dread to come across him again; he's bound to set us all crazy, of
coarse. Well, there goes old widow Hopkins--it always takes her a week
to buy a spool of thread and trade a hank of yarn. Maybe Si can come
with the letter, now."
And he did:
"Widow Hopkins kept me--I haven't any patience with such tedious people.
Now listen, Nancy--just listen at this:
"'Come right along to Missouri! Don't wait and worry about a good
price but sell out for whatever you can get, and come along, or you
might be too late. Throw away your traps, if necessary, and come
empty-handed. You'll never regret it. It's the grandest country
--the loveliest land--the purest atmosphere--I can't describe it; no
pen can do it justice. And it's filling up, every day--people
coming from everywhere. I've got the biggest scheme on earth--and
I'll take you in; I'll take in every friend I've got that's ever
stood by me, for there's enough for all, and to spare. Mum's the
word--don't whisper--keep yourself to yourself. You'll see! Come!
--rush!--hurry!--don't wait for anything!'
"It's the same old boy, Nancy, jest the same old boy--ain't he?"
"Yes, I think there's a little of the old sound about his voice yet.
I suppose you--you'll still go, Si?"
"Go! Well, I should think so, Nancy. It's all a chance, of course, and,
chances haven't been kind to us, I'll admit--but whatever comes, old
wife, they're provided for. Thank God for that!"
"Amen," came low and earnestly.
And with an activity and a suddenness that bewildered Obedstown and
almost took its breath away, the Hawkinses hurried through with their
arrangements in four short months and flitted out into the great
mysterious blank that lay beyond the Knobs of Tennessee.
Toward the close of the third day's journey the wayfarers were just
beginning to think of camping, when they came upon a log cabin in the
woods. Hawkins drew rein and entered the yard. A boy about ten years
old was sitting in the cabin door with his face bowed in his hands.
Hawkins approached, expecting his footfall to attract attention, but it
did not. He halted a moment, and then said:
"Come, come, little chap, you mustn't be going to sleep before sundown"
With a tired expression the small face came up out of the hands,--a face
down which tears were flowing.
"Ah, I'm sorry I spoke so, my boy. Tell me--is anything the matter?"
The boy signified with a scarcely perceptible gesture that the trouble
was in the, house, and made room for Hawkins to pass. Then he put his
face in his hands again and rocked himself about as one suffering a grief
that is too deep to find help in moan or groan or outcry. Hawkins
stepped within. It was a poverty stricken place. Six or eight
middle-aged country people of both sexes were grouped about an object in
the middle of the room; they were noiselessly busy and they talked in
whispers when they spoke. Hawkins uncovered and approached. A coffin
stood upon two backless chairs. These neighbors had just finished
disposing the body of a woman in it--a woman with a careworn, gentle face
that had more the look of sleep about it than of death. An old lady
motioned, toward the door and said to Hawkins in a whisper:
"His mother, po' thing. Died of the fever, last night. Tha warn't no
sich thing as saving of her. But it's better for her--better for her.
Husband and the other two children died in the spring, and she hain't
ever hilt up her head sence. She jest went around broken-hearted like,
and never took no intrust in anything but Clay--that's the boy thar.
She jest worshiped Clay--and Clay he worshiped her. They didn't 'pear to
live at all, only when they was together, looking at each other, loving
one another. She's ben sick three weeks; and if you believe me that
child has worked, and kep' the run of the med'cin, and the times of
giving it, and sot up nights and nussed her, and tried to keep up her
sperits, the same as a grown-up person. And last night when she kep' a
sinking and sinking, and turned away her head and didn't know him no mo',
it was fitten to make a body's heart break to see him climb onto the bed
and lay his cheek agin hern and call her so pitiful and she not answer.
But bymeby she roused up, like, and looked around wild, and then she see
him, and she made a great cry and snatched him to her breast and hilt him
close and kissed him over and over agin; but it took the last po'
strength she had, and so her eyelids begin to close down, and her arms
sort o' drooped away and then we see she was gone, po' creetur. And
Clay, he--Oh, the po' motherless thing--I cain't talk abort it--I cain't
bear to talk about it."
Clay had disappeared from the door; but he came in, now, and the
neighbors reverently fell apart and made way for him. He leaned upon the
open coffin and let his tears course silently. Then he put out his small
hand and smoothed the hair and stroked the dead face lovingly. After a
bit he brought his other hand up from behind him and laid three or four
fresh wild flowers upon the breast, bent over and kissed the unresponsive
lips time and time again, and then turned away and went out of the house
without looking at any of the company. The old lady said to Hawkins:
"She always loved that kind o' flowers. He fetched 'em for her every
morning, and she always kissed him. They was from away north somers--she
kep' school when she fust come. Goodness knows what's to become o' that
po' boy. No father, no mother, no kin folks of no kind. Nobody to go
to, nobody that k'yers for him--and all of us is so put to it for to get
along and families so large."
Hawkins understood. All, eyes were turned inquiringly upon him. He
"Friends, I am not very well provided for, myself, but still I would not
turn my back on a homeless orphan. If he will go with me I will give him
a home, and loving regard--I will do for him as I would have another do
for a child of my own in misfortune."
One after another the people stepped forward and wrung the stranger's
hand with cordial good will, and their eyes looked all that their hands
could not express or their lips speak.
"Said like a true man," said one.
"You was a stranger to me a minute ago, but you ain't now," said another.
"It's bread cast upon the waters--it'll return after many days," said the
old lady whom we have heard speak before.
"You got to camp in my house as long as you hang out here," said one.
"If tha hain't room for you and yourn my tribe'll turn out and camp in
the hay loft."
A few minutes afterward, while the preparations for the funeral were
being concluded, Mr. Hawkins arrived at his wagon leading his little waif
by the hand, and told his wife all that had happened, and asked her if he
had done right in giving to her and to himself this new care? She said:
"If you've done wrong, Si Hawkins, it's a wrong that will shine brighter
at the judgment day than the rights that many' a man has done before you.
And there isn't any compliment you can pay me equal to doing a thing like
this and finishing it up, just taking it for granted that I'll be willing
to it. Willing? Come to me; you poor motherless boy, and let me take
your grief and help you carry it."
When the child awoke in the morning, it was as if from a troubled dream.
But slowly the confusion in his mind took form, and he remembered his
great loss; the beloved form in the coffin; his talk with a generous
stranger who offered him a home; the funeral, where the stranger's wife
held him by the hand at the grave, and cried with him and comforted him;
and he remembered how this, new mother tucked him in his bed in the
neighboring farm house, and coaxed him to talk about his troubles, and
then heard him say his prayers and kissed him good night, and left him
with the soreness in his heart almost healed and his bruised spirit at
And now the new mother came again, and helped him to dress, and combed
his hair, and drew his mind away by degrees from the dismal yesterday,
by telling him about the wonderful journey he was going to take and the
strange things he was going to see. And after breakfast they two went
alone to the grave, and his heart went out to his new friend and his
untaught eloquence poured the praises of his buried idol into her ears
without let or hindrance. Together they planted roses by the headboard
and strewed wild flowers upon the grave; and then together they went
away, hand in hand, and left the dead to the long sleep that heals all
heart-aches and ends all sorrows.
Whatever the lagging dragging journey may have been to the rest of the
emigrants, it was a wonder and delight to the children, a world of
enchantment; and they believed it to be peopled with the mysterious
dwarfs and giants and goblins that figured in the tales the negro slaves
were in the habit of telling them nightly by the shuddering light of the
At the end of nearly a week of travel, the party went into camp near a
shabby village which was caving, house by house, into the hungry
Mississippi. The river astonished the children beyond measure. Its
mile-breadth of water seemed an ocean to them, in the shadowy twilight,
and the vague riband of trees on the further shore, the verge of a
continent which surely none but they had ever seen before.
"Uncle Dan'l"(colored,) aged 40; his wife, "aunt Jinny," aged 30, "Young
Miss" Emily Hawkins, "Young Mars" Washington Hawkins and "Young Mars"
Clay, the new member of the family, ranged themselves on a log, after
supper, and contemplated the marvelous river and discussed it. The moon
rose and sailed aloft through a maze of shredded cloud-wreaths; the
sombre river just perceptibly brightened under the veiled light; a deep
silence pervaded the air and was emphasized, at intervals, rather than
broken, by the hooting of an owl, the baying of a dog, or the muffled
crash of a raving bank in the distance.
The little company assembled on the log were all children (at least in
simplicity and broad and comprehensive ignorance,) and the remarks they
made about the river were in keeping with the character; and so awed were
they by the grandeur and the solemnity of the scene before then, and by
their belief that the air was filled with invisible spirits and that the
faint zephyrs were caused by their passing wings, that all their talk
took to itself a tinge of the supernatural, and their voices were subdued
to a low and reverent tone. Suddenly Uncle Dan'l exclaimed:
"Chil'en, dah's sum fin a comin!"
All crowded close together and every heart beat faster.
Uncle Dan'l pointed down the river with his bony finger.
A deep coughing sound troubled the stillness, way toward a wooded cape
that jetted into the stream a mile distant. All in an instant a fierce
eye of fire shot out froth behind the cape and sent a long brilliant
pathway quivering athwart the dusky water. The coughing grew louder and
louder, the glaring eye grew larger and still larger, glared wilder and
still wilder. A huge shape developed itself out of the gloom, and from
its tall duplicate horns dense volumes of smoke, starred and spangled
with sparks, poured out and went tumbling away into the farther darkness.
Nearer and nearer the thing came, till its long sides began to glow with
spots of light which mirrored themselves in the river and attended the
monster like a torchlight procession.
"What is it! Oh, what is it, Uncle Dan'l!"
With deep solemnity the answer came:
"It's de Almighty! Git down on yo' knees!"
It was not necessary to say it twice. They were all kneeling, in a
moment. And then while the mysterious coughing rose stronger and
stronger and the threatening glare reached farther and wider, the negro's
voice lifted up its supplications:
"O Lord', we's ben mighty wicked, an' we knows dat we 'zerve to go to de
bad place, but good Lord, deah Lord, we ain't ready yit, we ain't ready
--let dese po' chilen hab one mo' chance, jes' one mo' chance. Take de ole
niggah if you's, got to hab somebody.--Good Lord, good deah Lord, we
don't know whah you's a gwyne to, we don't know who you's got yo' eye on,
but we knows by de way you's a comin', we knows by de way you's a tiltin'
along in yo' charyot o' fiah dat some po' sinner's a gwyne to ketch it.
But good Lord, dose chilen don't b'long heah, dey's f'm Obedstown whah
dey don't know nuffin, an' you knows, yo' own sef, dat dey ain't
'sponsible. An' deah Lord, good Lord, it ain't like yo' mercy, it ain't
like yo' pity, it ain't like yo' long-sufferin' lovin' kindness for to
take dis kind o' 'vantage o' sick little chil'en as dose is when dey's so
many ornery grown folks chuck full o' cussedness dat wants roastin' down
dah. Oh, Lord, spah de little chil'en, don't tar de little chil'en away
f'm dey frens, jes' let 'em off jes' dis once, and take it out'n de ole
niggah. HEAH I IS, LORD, HEAH I IS! De ole niggah's ready, Lord,
The flaming and churning steamer was right abreast the party, and not
twenty steps away. The awful thunder of a mud-valve suddenly burst
forth, drowning the prayer, and as suddenly Uncle Dan'l snatched a child
under each arm and scoured into the woods with the rest of the pack at
his heels. And then, ashamed of himself, he halted in the deep darkness
and shouted, (but rather feebly:)
"Heah I is, Lord, heah I is!"
There was a moment of throbbing suspense, and then, to the surprise and
the comfort of the party, it was plain that the august presence had gone
by, for its dreadful noises were receding. Uncle Dan'l headed a cautious
reconnaissance in the direction of the log. Sure enough "the Lord" was
just turning a point a short distance up the river, and while they looked
the lights winked out and the coughing diminished by degrees and
presently ceased altogether.
"H'wsh! Well now dey's some folks says dey ain't no 'ficiency in prah.
Dis Chile would like to know whah we'd a ben now if it warn't fo' dat
prah? Dat's it. Dat's it!"
"Uncle Dan'l, do you reckon it was the prayer that saved us?" said Clay.
"Does I reckon? Don't I know it! Whah was yo' eyes? Warn't de Lord
jes' a cumin' chow! chow! CHOW! an' a goin' on turrible--an' do de
Lord carry on dat way 'dout dey's sumfin don't suit him? An' warn't he a
lookin' right at dis gang heah, an' warn't he jes' a reachin' for 'em?
An' d'you spec' he gwyne to let 'em off 'dout somebody ast him to do it?
"Do you reckon he saw, us, Uncle Dan'l?
"De law sakes, Chile, didn't I see him a lookin' at us?".
"Did you feel scared, Uncle Dan'l?"
"No sah! When a man is 'gaged in prah, he ain't fraid o' nuffin--dey
can't nuffin tetch him."
"Well what did you run for?"
"Well, I--I--mars Clay, when a man is under de influence ob de sperit,
he do-no, what he's 'bout--no sah; dat man do-no what he's 'bout. You
mout take an' tah de head off'n dat man an' he wouldn't scasely fine it
out. Date's de Hebrew chil'en dat went frough de fiah; dey was burnt
considable--ob coase dey was; but dey didn't know nuffin 'bout it--heal
right up agin; if dey'd ben gals dey'd missed dey long haah, (hair,)
maybe, but dey wouldn't felt de burn."
"I don't know but what they were girls. I think they were."
"Now mars Clay, you knows bettern dat. Sometimes a body can't tell
whedder you's a sayin' what you means or whedder you's a sayin' what you
don't mean, 'case you says 'em bofe de same way."
"But how should I know whether they were boys or girls?"
"Goodness sakes, mars Clay, don't de Good Book say? 'Sides, don't it
call 'em de HE-brew chil'en? If dey was gals wouldn't dey be de SHE-brew
chil'en? Some people dat kin read don't 'pear to take no notice when dey
"Well, Uncle Dan'l, I think that-----My! here comes another one up the
river! There can't be two!"
"We gone dis time--we done gone dis time, sho'! Dey ain't two, mars
Clay--days de same one. De Lord kin 'pear eberywhah in a second.
Goodness, how do fiah and de smoke do belch up! Dat mean business,
honey. He comin' now like he fo'got sumfin. Come 'long, chil'en, time
you's gwyne to roos'. Go 'long wid you--ole Uncle Daniel gwyne out in de
woods to rastle in prah--de ole nigger gwyne to do what he kin to sabe
He did go to the woods and pray; but he went so far that he doubted,
himself, if the Lord heard him when He went by.
--Seventhly, Before his Voyage, He should make his peace with God,
satisfie his Creditors if he be in debt; Pray earnestly to God to prosper
him in his Voyage, and to keep him from danger, and, if he be 'sui juris'
he should make his last will, and wisely order all his affairs, since
many that go far abroad, return not home. (This good and Christian
Counsel is given by Martinus Zeilerus in his Apodemical Canons before his
Itinerary of Spain and Portugal.)
Early in the morning Squire Hawkins took passage in a small steamboat,
with his family and his two slaves, and presently the bell rang, the
stage-plank; was hauled in, and the vessel proceeded up the river.
The children and the slaves were not much more at ease after finding out
that this monster was a creature of human contrivance than they were the
night before when they thought it the Lord of heaven and earth. They
started, in fright, every time the gauge-cocks sent out an angry hiss,
and they quaked from head to foot when the mud-valves thundered. The
shivering of the boat under the beating of the wheels was sheer misery to
But of course familiarity with these things soon took away their terrors,
and then the voyage at once became a glorious adventure, a royal progress
through the very heart and home of romance, a realization of their
rosiest wonder-dreams. They sat by the hour in the shade of the pilot
house on the hurricane deck and looked out over the curving expanses of
the river sparkling in the sunlight. Sometimes the boat fought the
mid-stream current, with a verdant world on either hand, and remote from
both; sometimes she closed in under a point, where the dead water and the
helping eddies were, and shaved the bank so closely that the decks were
swept by the jungle of over-hanging willows and littered with a spoil of
leaves; departing from these "points" she regularly crossed the river
every five miles, avoiding the "bight" of the great binds and thus
escaping the strong current; sometimes she went out and skirted a high
"bluff" sand-bar in the middle of the stream, and occasionally followed
it up a little too far and touched upon the shoal water at its head--and
then the intelligent craft refused to run herself aground, but "smelt"
the bar, and straightway the foamy streak that streamed away from her
bows vanished, a great foamless wave rolled forward and passed her under
way, and in this instant she leaned far over on her side, shied from the
bar and fled square away from the danger like a frightened thing--and the
pilot was lucky if he managed to "straighten her up" before she drove her
nose into the opposite bank; sometimes she approached a solid wall of
tall trees as if she meant to break through it, but all of a sudden a
little crack would open just enough to admit her, and away she would go
plowing through the "chute" with just barely room enough between the
island on one side and the main land on the other; in this sluggish water
she seemed to go like a racehorse; now and then small log cabins appeared
in little clearings, with the never-failing frowsy women and girls in
soiled and faded linsey-woolsey leaning in the doors or against woodpiles
and rail fences, gazing sleepily at the passing show; sometimes she found
shoal water, going out at the head of those "chutes" or crossing the
river, and then a deck-hand stood on the bow and hove the lead, while the
boat slowed down and moved cautiously; sometimes she stopped a moment at
a landing and took on some freight or a passenger while a crowd of
slouchy white men and negroes stood on the bank and looked sleepily on
with their hands in their pantaloons pockets,--of course--for they never
took them out except to stretch, and when they did this they squirmed
about and reached their fists up into the air and lifted themselves on
tip-toe in an ecstasy of enjoyment.
When the sun went down it turned all the broad river to a national banner
laid in gleaming bars of gold and purple and crimson; and in time these
glories faded out in the twilight and left the fairy archipelagoes
reflecting their fringing foliage in the steely mirror of the stream.
At night the boat forged on through the deep solitudes of the river,
hardly ever discovering a light to testify to a human presence--mile
after mile and league after league the vast bends were guarded by
unbroken walls of forest that had never been disturbed by the voice or
the foot-fall of man or felt the edge of his sacrilegious axe.
An hour after supper the moon came up, and Clay and Washington ascended
to the hurricane deck to revel again in their new realm of enchantment.
They ran races up and down the deck; climbed about the bell; made friends
with the passenger-dogs chained under the lifeboat; tried to make friends
with a passenger-bear fastened to the verge-staff but were not
encouraged; "skinned the cat" on the hog-chains; in a word, exhausted the
amusement-possibilities of the deck. Then they looked wistfully up at
the pilot house, and finally, little by little, Clay ventured up there,
followed diffidently by Washington. The pilot turned presently to "get
his stern-marks," saw the lads and invited them in. Now their happiness
was complete. This cosy little house, built entirely of glass and
commanding a marvelous prospect in every direction was a magician's
throne to them and their enjoyment of the place was simply boundless.
They sat them down on a high bench and looked miles ahead and saw the
wooded capes fold back and reveal the bends beyond; and they looked miles
to the rear and saw the silvery highway diminish its breadth by degrees
and close itself together in the distance. Presently the pilot said:
"By George, yonder comes the Amaranth!"
A spark appeared, close to the water, several miles down the river. The
pilot took his glass and looked at it steadily for a moment, and said,
chiefly to himself:
"It can't be the Blue Wing. She couldn't pick us up this way. It's the
He bent over a speaking tube and said:
"Who's on watch down there?"
A hollow, unhuman voice rumbled up through the tube in answer:
"I am. Second engineer."
"Good! You want to stir your stumps, now, Harry--the Amaranth's just
turned the point--and she's just a--humping herself, too!"
The pilot took hold of a rope that stretched out forward, jerked it
twice, and two mellow strokes of the big bell responded. A voice out on
the deck shouted:
"Stand by, down there, with that labboard lead!"
"No, I don't want the lead," said the pilot, "I want you. Roust out the
old man--tell him the Amaranth's coming. And go and call Jim--tell him."
The "old man" was the captain--he is always called so, on steamboats and
ships; "Jim" was the other pilot. Within two minutes both of these men
were flying up the pilothouse stairway, three steps at a jump. Jim was
in his shirt sleeves,--with his coat and vest on his arm. He said:
"I was just turning in. Where's the glass"
He took it and looked:
"Don't appear to be any night-hawk on the jack-staff--it's the Amaranth,
The captain took a good long look, and only said:
George Davis, the pilot on watch, shouted to the night-watchman on deck:
"How's she loaded?"
"Two inches by the head, sir."
"'T ain't enough!"
The captain shouted, now:
"Call the mate. Tell him to call all hands and get a lot of that sugar
forrard--put her ten inches by the head. Lively, now!"
A riot of shouting and trampling floated up from below, presently, and
the uneasy steering of the boat soon showed that she was getting "down by
The three men in the pilot house began to talk in short, sharp sentences,
low and earnestly. As their excitement rose, their voices went down.
As fast as one of them put down the spy-glass another took it up--but
always with a studied air of calmness. Each time the verdict was:
"She's a gaining!"
The captain spoke through the tube:
"What steam are You carrying?"
"A hundred and forty-two, sir! But she's getting hotter and hotter all
The boat was straining and groaning and quivering like a monster in pain.
Both pilots were at work now, one on each side of the wheel, with their
coats and vests off, their bosoms and collars wide open and the
perspiration flowing down heir faces. They were holding the boat so
close to the shore that the willows swept the guards almost from stem to
"Stand by!" whispered George.
"All ready!" said Jim, under his breath.
"Let her come!"
The boat sprang away, from the bank like a deer, and darted in a long
diagonal toward the other shore. She closed in again and thrashed her
fierce way along the willows as before. The captain put down the glass:
"Lord how she walks up on us! I do hate to be beat!"
"Jim," said George, looking straight ahead, watching the slightest yawing
of the boat and promptly meeting it with the wheel, "how'll it do to try
"Well, it's--it's taking chances. How was the cottonwood stump on the
false point below Boardman's Island this morning?"
"Water just touching the roots."
"Well it's pretty close work. That gives six feet scant in the head of
Murderer's Chute. We can just barely rub through if we hit it exactly
right. But it's worth trying. She don't dare tackle it!"--meaning the
In another instant the Boreas plunged into what seemed a crooked creek,
and the Amaranth's approaching lights were shut out in a moment. Not a
whisper was uttered, now, but the three men stared ahead into the shadows
and two of them spun the wheel back and forth with anxious watchfulness
while the steamer tore along. The chute seemed to come to an end every
fifty yards, but always opened out in time. Now the head of it was at
hand. George tapped the big bell three times, two leadsmen sprang to
their posts, and in a moment their weird cries rose on the night air and
were caught up and repeated by two men on the upper deck:
"Mark under wa-a-ter three!"
Davis pulled a couple of ropes--there was a jingling of small bells far
below, the boat's speed slackened, and the pent steam began to whistle
and the gauge-cocks to scream:
"By the mark twain!"
"Eight and a half!"
Another jingling of little bells and the wheels ceased turning
altogether. The whistling of the steam was something frightful now--it
almost drowned all other noises.
"Stand by to meet her!"
George had the wheel hard down and was standing on a spoke.
The, boat hesitated seemed to hold her breath, as did the captain and
pilots--and then she began to fall away to starboard and every eye
"Now then!--meet her! meet her! Snatch her!"
The wheel flew to port so fast that the spokes blended into a spider-web
--the swing of the boat subsided--she steadied herself----
"Sev--six and a half!"
"Six feet! Six f----"
Bang! She hit the bottom! George shouted through the tube:
"Spread her wide open! Whale it at her!"
Pow-wow-chow! The escape-pipes belched snowy pillars of steam aloft, the
boat ground and surged and trembled--and slid over into----
"Tap! tap! tap!" (to signify "Lay in the leads")
And away she went, flying up the willow shore, with the whole silver sea
of the Mississippi stretching abroad on every hand.
No Amaranth in sight!
"Ha-ha, boys, we took a couple of tricks that time!" said the captain.
And just at that moment a red glare appeared in the head of the chute and
the Amaranth came springing after them!
"Well, I swear!"
"Jim, what is the meaning of that?"
"I'll tell you what's the meaning of it. That hail we had at Napoleon
was Wash Hastings, wanting to come to Cairo--and we didn't stop. He's in
that pilot house, now, showing those mud turtles how to hunt for easy
"That's it! I thought it wasn't any slouch that was running that middle
bar in Hog-eye Bend. If it's Wash Hastings--well, what he don't know
about the river ain't worth knowing--a regular gold-leaf, kid-glove,
diamond breastpin pilot Wash Hastings is. We won't take any tricks off
of him, old man!"
"I wish I'd a stopped for him, that's all."
The Amaranth was within three hundred yards of the Boreas, and still
gaining. The "old man" spoke through the tube:
"What is she-carrying now?"
"A hundred and sixty-five, sir!"
"How's your wood?"
"Pine all out-cypress half gone-eating up cotton-wood like pie!"
"Break into that rosin on the main deck-pile it in, the boat can pay for
Soon the boat was plunging and quivering and screaming more madly than
ever. But the Amaranth's head was almost abreast the Boreas's stern:
"How's your steam, now, Harry?"
"Hundred and eighty-two, sir!"
"Break up the casks of bacon in the forrard hold! Pile it in! Levy on
that turpentine in the fantail-drench every stick of wood with it!"
The boat was a moving earthquake by this time:
"How is she now?"
"A hundred and ninety-six and still a-swelling!--water, below the middle
gauge-cocks!--carrying every pound she can stand!--nigger roosting on the
"Good! How's your draft?"
"Bully! Every time a nigger heaves a stick of wood into the furnace he
goes out the chimney, with it!"
The Amaranth drew steadily up till her jack-staff breasted the Boreas's
wheel-house--climbed along inch by inch till her chimneys breasted it
--crept along, further and further, till the boats were wheel to wheel
--and then they, closed up with a heavy jolt and locked together tight
and fast in the middle of the big river under the flooding moonlight! A
roar and a hurrah went up from the crowded decks of both steamers--all
hands rushed to the guards to look and shout and gesticulate--the weight
careened the vessels over toward each other--officers flew hither and
thither cursing and storming, trying to drive the people amidships--both
captains were leaning over their railings shaking their fists, swearing
and threatening--black volumes of smoke rolled up and canopied the
scene,--delivering a rain of sparks upon the vessels--two pistol shots
rang out, and both captains dodged unhurt and the packed masses of
passengers surged back and fell apart while the shrieks of women and
children soared above the intolerable din----
And then there was a booming roar, a thundering crash, and the riddled
Amaranth dropped loose from her hold and drifted helplessly away!
Instantly the fire-doors of the Boreas were thrown open and the men began
dashing buckets of water into the furnaces--for it would have been death
and destruction to stop the engines with such a head of steam on.
As soon as possible the Boreas dropped down to the floating wreck and
took off the dead, the wounded and the unhurt--at least all that could be
got at, for the whole forward half of the boat was a shapeless ruin, with
the great chimneys lying crossed on top of it, and underneath were a
dozen victims imprisoned alive and wailing for help. While men with axes
worked with might and main to free these poor fellows, the Boreas's boats
went about, picking up stragglers from the river.
And now a new horror presented itself. The wreck took fire from the
dismantled furnaces! Never did men work with a heartier will than did
those stalwart braves with the axes. But it was of no use. The fire ate
its way steadily, despising the bucket brigade that fought it. It
scorched the clothes, it singed the hair of the axemen--it drove them
back, foot by foot-inch by inch--they wavered, struck a final blow in the
teeth of the enemy, and surrendered. And as they fell back they heard
prisoned voices saying:
"Don't leave us! Don't desert us! Don't, don't do it!"
And one poor fellow said:
"I am Henry Worley, striker of the Amaranth! My mother lives in St.
Louis. Tell her a lie for a poor devil's sake, please. Say I was killed
in an instant and never knew what hurt me--though God knows I've neither
scratch nor bruise this moment! It's hard to burn up in a coop like this
with the whole wide world so near. Good-bye boys--we've all got to come
to it at last, anyway!"
The Boreas stood away out of danger, and the ruined steamer went drifting
down the stream an island of wreathing and climbing flame that vomited
clouds of smoke from time to time, and glared more fiercely and sent its
luminous tongues higher and higher after each emission. A shriek at
intervals told of a captive that had met his doom. The wreck lodged upon
a sandbar, and when the Boreas turned the next point on her upward
journey it was still burning with scarcely abated fury.
When the boys came down into the main saloon of the Boreas, they saw a
pitiful sight and heard a world of pitiful sounds. Eleven poor creatures
lay dead and forty more lay moaning, or pleading or screaming, while a
score of Good Samaritans moved among them doing what they could to
relieve their sufferings; bathing their chinless faces and bodies with
linseed oil and lime water and covering the places with bulging masses of
raw cotton that gave to every face and form a dreadful and unhuman
A little wee French midshipman of fourteen lay fearfully injured, but
never uttered a sound till a physician of Memphis was about to dress his
hurts. Then he said:
"Can I get well? You need not be afraid to tell me."
"No--I--I am afraid you can not."
"Then do not waste your time with me--help those that can get well."
"Help those that can get well! It is, not for me to be a girl. I carry
the blood of eleven generations of soldiers in my veins!"
The physician--himself a man who had seen service in the navy in his
time--touched his hat to this little hero, and passed on.
The head engineer of the Amaranth, a grand specimen of physical manhood,
struggled to his feet a ghastly spectacle and strode toward his brother,
the second engineer, who was unhurt. He said:
"You were on watch. You were boss. You would not listen to me when I
begged you to reduce your steam. Take that!--take it to my wife and tell
her it comes from me by the hand of my murderer! Take it--and take my
curse with it to blister your heart a hundred years--and may you live so
And he tore a ring from his finger, stripping flesh and skin with it,
threw it down and fell dead!
But these things must not be dwelt upon. The Boreas landed her dreadful
cargo at the next large town and delivered it over to a multitude of
eager hands and warm southern hearts--a cargo amounting by this time to
39 wounded persons and 22 dead bodies. And with these she delivered a
list of 96 missing persons that had drowned or otherwise perished at the
scene of the disaster.
A jury of inquest was impaneled, and after due deliberation and inquiry
they returned the inevitable American verdict which has been so familiar
to our ears all the days of our lives--"NOBODY TO BLAME."
**[The incidents of the explosion are not invented. They happened just
as they are told.--The Authors.]
Il veut faire secher de la neige au four et la vendre pour du sel blanc.
When the Boreas backed away from the land to continue her voyage up the
river, the Hawkinses were richer by twenty-four hours of experience in
the contemplation of human suffering and in learning through honest hard
work how to relieve it. And they were richer in another way also.
In the early turmoil an hour after the explosion, a little black-eyed
girl of five years, frightened and crying bitterly, was struggling
through the throng in the Boreas' saloon calling her mother and father,
but no one answered. Something in the face of Mr. Hawkins attracted her
and she came and looked up at him; was satisfied, and took refuge with
him. He petted her, listened to her troubles, and said he would find her
friends for her. Then he put her in a state-room with his children and
told them to be kind to her (the adults of his party were all busy with
the wounded) and straightway began his search.
It was fruitless. But all day he and his wife made inquiries, and hoped
against hope. All that they could learn was that the child and her
parents came on board at New Orleans, where they had just arrived in a
vessel from Cuba; that they looked like people from the Atlantic States;
that the family name was Van Brunt and the child's name Laura. This was
all. The parents had not been seen since the explosion. The child's
manners were those of a little lady, and her clothes were daintier and
finer than any Mrs. Hawkins had ever seen before.
As the hours dragged on the child lost heart, and cried so piteously for
her mother that it seemed to the Hawkinses that the moanings and the
wailings of the mutilated men and women in the saloon did not so strain
at their heart-strings as the sufferings of this little desolate
creature. They tried hard to comfort her; and in trying, learned to love
her; they could not help it, seeing how she clung, to them and put her
arms about their necks and found-no solace but in their kind eyes and
comforting words: There was a question in both their hearts--a question
that rose up and asserted itself with more and more pertinacity as the
hours wore on--but both hesitated to give it voice--both kept silence
--and--waited. But a time came at last when the matter would bear delay
no longer. The boat had landed, and the dead and the wounded were being
conveyed to the shore. The tired child was asleep in the arms of Mrs.
Hawkins. Mr. Hawkins came into their presence and stood without
speaking. His eyes met his wife's; then both looked at the child--and as
they looked it stirred in its sleep and nestled closer; an expression of
contentment and peace settled upon its face that touched the
mother-heart; and when the eyes of husband and wife met again, the
question was asked and answered.
When the Boreas had journeyed some four hundred miles from the time the
Hawkinses joined her, a long rank of steamboats was sighted, packed side
by side at a wharf like sardines, in a box, and above and beyond them
rose the domes and steeples and general architectural confusion of a
city--a city with an imposing umbrella of black smoke spread over it.
This was St. Louis. The children of the Hawkins family were playing
about the hurricane deck, and the father and mother were sitting in the
lee of the pilot house essaying to keep order and not greatly grieved
that they were not succeeding.
"They're worth all the trouble they are, Nancy."
"Yes, and more, Si."
"I believe you! You wouldn't sell one of them at a good round figure?"
"Not for all the money in the bank, Si."
"My own sentiments every time. It is true we are not rich--but still you
are not sorry---you haven't any misgivings about the additions?"
"No. God will provide"
"Amen. And so you wouldn't even part with Clay? Or Laura!"
"Not for anything in the world. I love them just the same as I love my
own: They pet me and spoil me even more than the others do, I think.
I reckon we'll get along, Si."
"Oh yes, it will all come out right, old mother. I wouldn't be afraid to
adopt a thousand children if I wanted to, for there's that Tennessee
Land, you know--enough to make an army of them rich. A whole army,
Nancy! You and I will never see the day, but these little chaps will.
Indeed they will. One of these days it will be the rich Miss Emily
Hawkins--and the wealthy Miss Laura Van Brunt Hawkins--and the Hon.
George Washington Hawkins, millionaire--and Gov. Henry Clay Hawkins,
millionaire! That is the way the world will word it! Don't let's ever
fret about the children, Nancy--never in the world. They're all right.
Nancy, there's oceans and oceans of money in that land--mark my words!"
The children had stopped playing, for the moment, and drawn near to
listen. Hawkins said:
"Washington, my boy, what will you do when you get to be one of the
richest men in the world?"
"I don't know, father. Sometimes I think I'll have a balloon and go up
in the air; and sometimes I think I'll have ever so many books; and
sometimes I think I'll have ever so many weathercocks and water-wheels;
or have a machine like that one you and Colonel Sellers bought; and
sometimes I think I'll have--well, somehow I don't know--somehow I ain't
certain; maybe I'll get a steamboat first."
"The same old chap!--always just a little bit divided about things.--And
what will you do when you get to be one of the richest men in the world,
"I don't know, sir. My mother--my other mother that's gone away--she
always told me to work along and not be much expecting to get rich, and
then I wouldn't be disappointed if I didn't get rich. And so I reckon
it's better for me to wait till I get rich, and then by that time maybe
I'll know what I'll want--but I don't now, sir."
"Careful old head!--Governor Henry Clay Hawkins!--that's what you'll be,
Clay, one of these days. Wise old head! weighty old head! Go on, now,
and play--all of you. It's a prime lot, Nancy; as the Obedstown folk say
about their hogs."
A smaller steamboat received the Hawkinses and their fortunes, and bore
them a hundred and thirty miles still higher up the Mississippi, and
landed them at a little tumble-down village on the Missouri shore in the
twilight of a mellow October day.
The next morning they harnessed up their team and for two days they
wended slowly into the interior through almost roadless and uninhabited
forest solitudes. And when for the last time they pitched their tents,
metaphorically speaking, it was at the goal of their hopes, their new
By the muddy roadside stood a new log cabin, one story high--the store;
clustered in the neighborhood were ten or twelve more cabins, some new,
In the sad light of the departing day the place looked homeless enough.
Two or three coatless young men sat in front of the store on a dry-goods
box, and whittled it with their knives, kicked it with their vast boots,
and shot tobacco-juice at various marks. Several ragged negroes leaned
comfortably against the posts of the awning and contemplated the arrival
of the wayfarers with lazy curiosity. All these people presently managed
to drag themselves to the vicinity of the Hawkins' wagon, and there they
took up permanent positions, hands in pockets and resting on one leg; and
thus anchored they proceeded to look and enjoy. Vagrant dogs came
wagging around and making inquiries of Hawkins's dog, which were not
satisfactory and they made war on him in concert. This would have
interested the citizens but it was too many on one to amount to anything
as a fight, and so they commanded the peace and the foreign dog coiled
his tail and took sanctuary under the wagon. Slatternly negro girls and
women slouched along with pails deftly balanced on their heads, and
joined the group and stared. Little half dressed white boys, and little
negro boys with nothing whatever on but tow-linen shirts with a fine
southern exposure, came from various directions and stood with their
hands locked together behind them and aided in the inspection. The rest
of the population were laying down their employments and getting ready to
come, when a man burst through the assemblage and seized the new-comers
by the hands in a frenzy of welcome, and exclaimed--indeed almost
"Well who could have believed it! Now is it you sure enough--turn
around! hold up your heads! I want to look at you good! Well, well,
well, it does seem most too good to be true, I declare! Lord, I'm so
glad to see you! Does a body's whole soul good to look at you! Shake
hands again! Keep on shaking hands! Goodness gracious alive. What will
my wife say?--Oh yes indeed, it's so!--married only last week--lovely,
perfectly lovely creature, the noblest woman that ever--you'll like her,
Nancy! Like her? Lord bless me you'll love her--you'll dote on her
--you'll be twins! Well, well, well, let me look at you again! Same old
--why bless my life it was only jest this very morning that my wife says,
'Colonel'--she will call me Colonel spite of everything I can do--she
says 'Colonel, something tells me somebody's coming!' and sure enough
here you are, the last people on earth a body could have expected.
Why she'll think she's a prophetess--and hanged if I don't think so too
--and you know there ain't any, country but what a prophet's an honor to,
as the proverb says. Lord bless me and here's the children, too!
Washington, Emily, don't you know me? Come, give us a kiss. Won't I fix
you, though!--ponies, cows, dogs, everything you can think of that'll
delight a child's heart-and--Why how's this? Little strangers? Well
you won't be any strangers here, I can tell you. Bless your souls we'll
make you think you never was at home before--'deed and 'deed we will,
I can tell you! Come, now, bundle right along with me. You can't
glorify any hearth stone but mine in this camp, you know--can't eat
anybody's bread but mine--can't do anything but just make yourselves
perfectly at home and comfortable, and spread yourselves out and rest!
You hear me! Here--Jim, Tom, Pete, Jake, fly around! Take that team to
my place--put the wagon in my lot--put the horses under the shed, and get
out hay and oats and fill them up! Ain't any hay and oats? Well get
some--have it charged to me--come, spin around, now! Now, Hawkins, the
procession's ready; mark time, by the left flank, forward-march!"
And the Colonel took the lead, with Laura astride his neck, and the
newly-inspired and very grateful immigrants picked up their tired limbs
with quite a spring in them and dropped into his wake.
Presently they were ranged about an old-time fire-place whose blazing
logs sent out rather an unnecessary amount of heat, but that was no
matter-supper was needed, and to have it, it had to be cooked. This
apartment was the family bedroom, parlor, library and kitchen, all in
one. The matronly little wife of the Colonel moved hither and thither
and in and out with her pots and pans in her hands', happiness in her
heart and a world of admiration of her husband in her eyes. And when at
last she had spread the cloth and loaded it with hot corn bread, fried
chickens, bacon, buttermilk, coffee, and all manner of country luxuries,
Col. Sellers modified his harangue and for a moment throttled it down to
the orthodox pitch for a blessing, and then instantly burst forth again
as from a parenthesis and clattered on with might and main till every
stomach in the party was laden with all it could carry. And when the
new-comers ascended the ladder to their comfortable feather beds on the
second floor--to wit the garret--Mrs. Hawkins was obliged to say:
"Hang the fellow, I do believe he has gone wilder than ever, but still a
body can't help liking him if they would--and what is more, they don't
ever want to try when they see his eyes and hear him talk."
Within a week or two the Hawkinses were comfortably domiciled in a new
log house, and were beginning to feel at home. The children were put to
school; at least it was what passed for a school in those days: a place
where tender young humanity devoted itself for eight or ten hours a day
to learning incomprehensible rubbish by heart out of books and reciting
it by rote, like parrots; so that a finished education consisted simply
of a permanent headache and the ability to read without stopping to spell
the words or take breath. Hawkins bought out the village store for a
song and proceeded to reap the profits, which amounted to but little more
than another song.
The wonderful speculation hinted at by Col. Sellers in his letter turned
out to be the raising of mules for the Southern market; and really it
promised very well. The young stock cost but a trifle, the rearing but
another trifle, and so Hawkins was easily persuaded to embark his slender
means in the enterprise and turn over the keep and care of the animals to
Sellers and Uncle Dan'l.
All went well: Business prospered little by little. Hawkins even built a
new house, made it two full stories high and put a lightning rod on it.
People came two or three miles to look at it. But they knew that the rod
attracted the lightning, and so they gave the place a wide berth in a
storm, for they were familiar with marksmanship and doubted if the
lightning could hit that small stick at a distance of a mile and a half
oftener than once in a hundred and fifty times. Hawkins fitted out his
house with "store" furniture from St. Louis, and the fame of its
magnificence went abroad in the land. Even the parlor carpet was from
St. Louis--though the other rooms were clothed in the "rag" carpeting of
the country. Hawkins put up the first "paling" fence that had ever
adorned the village; and he did not stop there, but whitewashed it.
His oil-cloth window-curtains had noble pictures on them of castles such
as had never been seen anywhere in the world but on window-curtains.
Hawkins enjoyed the admiration these prodigies compelled, but he always
smiled to think how poor and, cheap they were, compared to what the
Hawkins mansion would display in a future day after the Tennessee Land
should have borne its minted fruit. Even Washington observed, once, that
when the Tennessee Land was sold he would have a "store" carpet in his
and Clay's room like the one in the parlor. This pleased Hawkins, but it
troubled his wife. It did not seem wise, to her, to put one's entire
earthly trust in the Tennessee Land and never think of doing any work.
Hawkins took a weekly Philadelphia newspaper and a semi-weekly St. Louis
journal--almost the only papers that came to the village, though Godey's
Lady's Book found a good market there and was regarded as the perfection
of polite literature by some of the ablest critics in the place. Perhaps
it is only fair to explain that we are writing of a by gone age--some
twenty or thirty years ago. In the two newspapers referred to lay the
secret of Hawkins's growing prosperity. They kept him informed of the
condition of the crops south and east, and thus he knew which articles
were likely to be in demand and which articles were likely to be
unsalable, weeks and even months in advance of the simple folk about him.
As the months went by he came to be regarded as a wonderfully lucky man.
It did not occur to the citizens that brains were at the bottom of his
His title of "Squire" came into vogue again, but only for a season; for,
as his wealth and popularity augmented, that title, by imperceptible
stages, grew up into "Judge;" indeed' it bade fair to swell into
"General" bye and bye. All strangers of consequence who visited the
village gravitated to the Hawkins Mansion and became guests of the
Hawkins had learned to like the people of his section very much. They
were uncouth and not cultivated, and not particularly industrious; but
they were honest and straightforward, and their virtuous ways commanded
respect. Their patriotism was strong, their pride in the flag was of the
old fashioned pattern, their love of country amounted to idolatry.
Whoever dragged the national honor in the dirt won their deathless
hatred. They still cursed Benedict Arnold as if he were a personal
friend who had broken faith--but a week gone by.
We skip ten years and this history finds certain changes to record.
Judge Hawkins and Col. Sellers have made and lost two or three moderate
fortunes in the meantime and are now pinched by poverty. Sellers has two
pairs of twins and four extras. In Hawkins's family are six children of
his own and two adopted ones. From time to time, as fortune smiled, the
elder children got the benefit of it, spending the lucky seasons at
excellent schools in St. Louis and the unlucky ones at home in the
chafing discomfort of straightened circumstances.
Neither the Hawkins children nor the world that knew them ever supposed
that one of the girls was of alien blood and parentage: Such difference
as existed between Laura and Emily is not uncommon in a family. The
girls had grown up as sisters, and they were both too young at the time
of the fearful accident on the Mississippi to know that it was that which
had thrown their lives together.
And yet any one who had known the secret of Laura's birth and had seen
her during these passing years, say at the happy age of twelve or
thirteen, would have fancied that he knew the reason why she was more
winsome than her school companion.
Philosophers dispute whether it is the promise of what she will be in
the careless school-girl, that makes her attractive, the undeveloped
maidenhood, or the mere natural, careless sweetness of childhood.
If Laura at twelve was beginning to be a beauty, the thought of it had
never entered her head. No, indeed. Her mind wad filled with more
important thoughts. To her simple school-girl dress she was beginning to
add those mysterious little adornments of ribbon-knots and ear-rings,
which were the subject of earnest consultations with her grown friends.
When she tripped down the street on a summer's day with her dainty hands
propped into the ribbon-broidered pockets of her apron, and elbows
consequently more or less akimbo with her wide Leghorn hat flapping down
and hiding her face one moment and blowing straight up against her fore
head the next and making its revealment of fresh young beauty; with all
her pretty girlish airs and graces in full play, and that sweet ignorance
of care and that atmosphere of innocence and purity all about her that
belong to her gracious time of life, indeed she was a vision to warm the
coldest heart and bless and cheer the saddest.
Willful, generous, forgiving, imperious, affectionate, improvident,
bewitching, in short--was Laura at this period. Could she have remained
there, this history would not need to be written. But Laura had grown to
be almost a woman in these few years, to the end of which we have now
come--years which had seen Judge Hawkins pass through so many trials.
When the judge's first bankruptcy came upon him, a homely human angel
intruded upon him with an offer of $1,500 for the Tennessee Land. Mrs.
Hawkins said take it. It was a grievous temptation, but the judge
withstood it. He said the land was for the children--he could not rob
them of their future millions for so paltry a sum. When the second
blight fell upon him, another angel appeared and offered $3,000 for the
land. He was in such deep distress that he allowed his wife to persuade
him to let the papers be drawn; but when his children came into his
presence in their poor apparel, he felt like a traitor and refused to
But now he was down again, and deeper in the mire than ever. He paced
the floor all day, he scarcely slept at night. He blushed even to
acknowledge it to himself, but treason was in his mind--he was
meditating, at last, the sale of the land. Mrs. Hawkins stepped into the
room. He had not spoken a word, but he felt as guilty as if she had
caught him in some shameful act. She said:
"Si, I do not know what we are going to do. The children are not fit to
be seen, their clothes are in such a state. But there's something more
serious still.--There is scarcely a bite in the house to eat"
"Why, Nancy, go to Johnson----."
"Johnson indeed! You took that man's part when he hadn't a friend in the
world, and you built him up and made him rich. And here's the result of
it: He lives in our fine house, and we live in his miserable log cabin.
He has hinted to our children that he would rather they wouldn't come
about his yard to play with his children,--which I can bear, and bear
easy enough, for they're not a sort we want to associate with much--but
what I can't bear with any quietness at all, is his telling Franky our
bill was running pretty high this morning when I sent him for some meal
--and that was all he said, too--didn't give him the meal--turned off and
went to talking with the Hargrave girls about some stuff they wanted to
"Nancy, this is astounding!"
"And so it is, I warrant you. I've kept still, Si, as long as ever I
could. Things have been getting worse and worse, and worse and worse,
every single day; I don't go out of the house, I feel so down; but you
had trouble enough, and I wouldn't say a word--and I wouldn't say a word
now, only things have got so bad that I don't know what to do, nor where
to turn." And she gave way and put her face in her hands and cried.
"Poor child, don't grieve so. I never thought that of Johnson. I am
clear at my wit's end. I don't know what in the world to do. Now if
somebody would come along and offer $3,000--Uh, if somebody only would
come along and offer $3,000 for that Tennessee Land."
"You'd sell it, S!" said Mrs. Hawkins excitedly.
Mrs. Hawkins was out of the room in a moment. Within a minute she was
back again with a business-looking stranger, whom she seated, and then
she took her leave again. Hawkins said to himself, "How can a man ever
lose faith? When the blackest hour comes, Providence always comes with
it--ah, this is the very timeliest help that ever poor harried devil had;
if this blessed man offers but a thousand I'll embrace him like a
The stranger said:
"I am aware that you own 75,000 acres, of land in East Tennessee, and
without sacrificing your time, I will come to the point at once. I am
agent of an iron manufacturing company, and they empower me to offer you
ten thousand dollars for that land."
Hawkins's heart bounded within him. His whole frame was racked and
wrenched with fettered hurrahs. His first impulse was to shout "Done!
and God bless the iron company, too!"
But a something flitted through his mind, and his opened lips uttered
nothing. The enthusiasm faded away from his eyes, and the look of a man
who is thinking took its place. Presently, in a hesitating, undecided
way, he said:
"Well, I--it don't seem quite enough. That--that is a very valuable
property--very valuable. It's brim full of iron-ore, sir--brim full of
it! And copper, coal,--everything--everything you can think of! Now,
I'll tell you what I'll, do. I'll reserve everything except the iron,
and I'll sell them the iron property for $15,000 cash, I to go in with
them and own an undivided interest of one-half the concern--or the stock,
as you may say. I'm out of business, and I'd just as soon help run the
thing as not. Now how does that strike you?"
"Well, I am only an agent of these people, who are friends of mine, and
I am not even paid for my services. To tell you the truth, I have tried
to persuade them not to go into the thing; and I have come square out
with their offer, without throwing out any feelers--and I did it in the
hope that you would refuse. A man pretty much always refuses another
man's first offer, no matter what it is. But I have performed my duty,
and will take pleasure in telling them what you say."
He was about to rise. Hawkins said,
"Wait a bit."
Hawkins thought again. And the substance of his thought was: "This
is a deep man; this is a very deep man; I don't like his candor; your
ostentatiously candid business man's a deep fox--always a deep fox;
this man's that iron company himself--that's what he is; he wants that
property, too; I am not so blind but I can see that; he don't want the
company to go into this thing--O, that's very good; yes, that's very
good indeed--stuff! he'll be back here tomorrow, sure, and take my offer;
take it? I'll risk anything he is suffering to take it now; here--I must
mind what I'm about. What has started this sudden excitement about iron?
I wonder what is in the wind? just as sure as I'm alive this moment,
there's something tremendous stirring in iron speculation" [here Hawkins
got up and began to pace the floor with excited eyes and with gesturing
hands]--"something enormous going on in iron, without the shadow of a
doubt, and here I sit mousing in the dark and never knowing anything
about it; great heaven, what an escape I've made! this underhanded
mercenary creature might have taken me up--and ruined me! but I have
escaped, and I warrant me I'll not put my foot into--"
He stopped and turned toward the stranger; saying:
"I have made you a proposition, you have not accepted it, and I desire
that you will consider that I have made none. At the same time my
conscience will not allow me to--. Please alter the figures I named to
thirty thousand dollars, if you will, and let the proposition go to the
company--I will stick to it if it breaks my heart!" The stranger looked
amused, and there was a pretty well defined touch of surprise in his
expression, too, but Hawkins never noticed it. Indeed he scarcely
noticed anything or knew what he was about. The man left; Hawkins flung
himself into a chair; thought a few moments, then glanced around, looked
frightened, sprang to the door----
"Too late--too late! He's gone! Fool that I am! always a fool! Thirty
thousand--ass that I am! Oh, why didn't I say fifty thousand!"
He plunged his hands into his hair and leaned his elbows on his knees,
and fell to rocking himself back and forth in anguish. Mrs. Hawkins
sprang in, beaming:
"Oh, con-found the con-founded--con-found it, Nancy. I've gone and done
"Done what Si for mercy's sake!"
"Done everything! Ruined everything!"
"Tell me, tell me, tell me! Don't keep a body in such suspense. Didn't
he buy, after all? Didn't he make an offer?"
Offer? He offered $10,000 for our land, and----"
"Thank the good providence from the very bottom of my heart of hearts!
What sort of ruin do you call that, Si!"
"Nancy, do you suppose I listened to such a preposterous proposition?
No! Thank fortune I'm not a simpleton! I saw through the pretty scheme
in a second. It's a vast iron speculation!--millions upon millions in
it! But fool as I am I told him he could have half the iron property for
thirty thousand--and if I only had him back here he couldn't touch it for
a cent less than a quarter of a million!"
Mrs. Hawkins looked up white and despairing:
"You threw away this chance, you let this man go, and we in this awful
trouble? You don't mean it, you can't mean it!"
"Throw it away? Catch me at it! Why woman, do you suppose that man
don't know what he is about? Bless you, he'll be back fast enough
"Never, never, never. He never will comeback. I don't know what is to
become of us. I don't know what in the world is to become of us."
A shade of uneasiness came into Hawkins's face. He said:
"Why, Nancy, you--you can't believe what you are saying."
"Believe it, indeed? I know it, Si. And I know that we haven't a cent
in the world, and we've sent ten thousand dollars a-begging."
"Nancy, you frighten me. Now could that man--is it possible that I
--hanged if I don't believe I have missed a chance! Don't grieve, Nancy,
don't grieve. I'll go right after him. I'll take--I'll take--what a
fool I am!--I'll take anything he'll give!"
The next instant he left the house on a run. But the man was no longer
in the town. Nobody knew where he belonged or whither he had gone.
Hawkins came slowly back, watching wistfully but hopelessly for the
stranger, and lowering his price steadily with his sinking heart. And
when his foot finally pressed his own threshold, the value he held the
entire Tennessee property at was five hundred dollars--two hundred down
and the rest in three equal annual payments, without interest.
There was a sad gathering at the Hawkins fireside the next night. All
the children were present but Clay. Mr. Hawkins said:
"Washington, we seem to be hopelessly fallen, hopelessly involved. I am
ready to give up. I do not know where to turn--I never have been down so
low before, I never have seen things so dismal. There are many mouths to
feed; Clay is at work; we must lose you, also, for a little while, my
boy. But it will not be long--the Tennessee land----"
He stopped, and was conscious of a blush. There was silence for a
moment, and then Washington--now a lank, dreamy-eyed stripling between
twenty-two and twenty-three years of age--said:
"If Col. Sellers would come for me, I would go and stay with him a while,
till the Tennessee land is sold. He has often wanted me to come, ever
since he moved to Hawkeye."
"I'm afraid he can't well come for you, Washington. From what I can
hear--not from him of course, but from others--he is not far from as bad
off as we are--and his family is as large, too. He might find something
for you to do, maybe, but you'd better try to get to him yourself,
Washington--it's only thirty miles."
"But how can I, father? There's no stage or anything."
"And if there were, stages require money. A stage goes from Swansea,
five miles from here. But it would be cheaper to walk."
"Father, they must know you there, and no doubt they would credit you in
a moment, for a little stage ride like that. Couldn't you write and ask
"Couldn't you, Washington--seeing it's you that wants the ride? And what
do you think you'll do, Washington, when you get to Hawkeye? Finish your
invention for making window-glass opaque?"
"No, sir, I have given that up. I almost knew I could do it, but it was
so tedious and troublesome I quit it."
"I was afraid of it, my boy. Then I suppose you'll finish your plan of
coloring hen's eggs by feeding a peculiar diet to the hen?"
"No, sir. I believe I have found out the stuff that will do it, but it
kills the hen; so I have dropped that for the present, though I can take
it up again some day when I learn how to manage the mixture better."
"Well, what have you got on hand--anything?"
"Yes, sir, three or four things. I think they are all good and can all
be done, but they are tiresome, and besides they require money. But as
soon as the land is sold----"
"Emily, were you about to say something?" said Hawkins.
Yes, sir. If you are willing, I will go to St. Louis. That will make
another mouth less to feed. Mrs. Buckner has always wanted me to come."
"But the money, child?"
"Why I think she would send it, if you would write her--and I know she
would wait for her pay till----"
"Come, Laura, let's hear from you, my girl."
Emily and Laura were about the same age--between seventeen and eighteen.
Emily was fair and pretty, girlish and diffident--blue eyes and light
hair. Laura had a proud bearing, and a somewhat mature look; she had
fine, clean-cut features, her complexion was pure white and contrasted
vividly with her black hair and eyes; she was not what one calls pretty
--she was beautiful. She said:
"I will go to St. Louis, too, sir. I will find a way to get there.
I will make a way. And I will find a way to help myself along, and do
what I can to help the rest, too."
She spoke it like a princess. Mrs. Hawkins smiled proudly and kissed
her, saying in a tone of fond reproof:
"So one of my girls is going to turn out and work for her living! It's
like your pluck and spirit, child, but we will hope that we haven't got
quite down to that, yet."
The girl's eyes beamed affection under her mother's caress. Then she
straightened up, folded her white hands in her lap and became a splendid
ice-berg. Clay's dog put up his brown nose for a little attention, and
got it. He retired under the table with an apologetic yelp, which did
not affect the iceberg.
Judge Hawkins had written and asked Clay to return home and consult with
him upon family affairs. He arrived the evening after this conversation,
and the whole household gave him a rapturous welcome. He brought sadly
needed help with him, consisting of the savings of a year and a half of
work--nearly two hundred dollars in money.
It was a ray of sunshine which (to this easy household) was the earnest
of a clearing sky.
Bright and early in the morning the family were astir, and all were busy
preparing Washington for his journey--at least all but Washington
himself, who sat apart, steeped in a reverie. When the time for his
departure came, it was easy to see how fondly all loved him and how hard
it was to let him go, notwithstanding they had often seen him go before,
in his St. Louis schooling days. In the most matter-of-course way they
had borne the burden of getting him ready for his trip, never seeming to
think of his helping in the matter; in the same matter-of-course way Clay
had hired a horse and cart; and now that the good-byes were ended he
bundled Washington's baggage in and drove away with the exile.
At Swansea Clay paid his stage fare, stowed him away in the vehicle, and
saw him off. Then he returned home and reported progress, like a
committee of the whole.
Clay remained at home several days. He held many consultations with his
mother upon the financial condition of the family, and talked once with
his father upon the same subject, but only once. He found a change in
that quarter which was distressing; years of fluctuating fortune had done
their work; each reverse had weakened the father's spirit and impaired
his energies; his last misfortune seemed to have left hope and ambition
dead within him; he had no projects, formed no plans--evidently he was a
vanquished man. He looked worn and tired. He inquired into Clay's
affairs and prospects, and when he found that Clay was doing pretty well
and was likely to do still better, it was plain that he resigned himself
with easy facility to look to the son for a support; and he said, "Keep
yourself informed of poor Washington's condition and movements, and help
him along all you can, Clay."
The younger children, also, seemed relieved of all fears and distresses,
and very ready and willing to look to Clay for a livelihood. Within
three days a general tranquility and satisfaction reigned in the
household. Clay's hundred and eighty or ninety, dollars had worked a
wonder. The family were as contented, now, and as free from care as they
could have been with a fortune. It was well that Mrs. Hawkins held the
purse otherwise the treasure would have lasted but a very little while.
It took but a trifle to pay Hawkins's outstanding obligations, for he had
always had a horror of debt.
When Clay bade his home good-bye and set out to return to the field of
his labors, he was conscious that henceforth he was to have his father's
family on his hands as pensioners; but he did not allow himself to chafe
at the thought, for he reasoned that his father had dealt by him with a
free hand and a loving one all his life, and now that hard fortune had
broken his spirit it ought to be a pleasure, not a pain, to work for him.
The younger children were born and educated dependents. They had never
been taught to do anything for themselves, and it did not seem to occur
to them to make an attempt now.
The girls would not have been permitted to work for a living under any
circumstances whatever. It was a southern family, and of good blood;
and for any person except Laura, either within or without the household
to have suggested such an idea would have brought upon the suggester the
suspicion of being a lunatic.
Via, Pecunia! when she's run and gone
And fled, and dead, then will I fetch her again
With aqua vita, out of an old hogshead!
While there are lees of wine, or dregs of beer,
I'll never want her! Coin her out of cobwebs,
Dust, but I'll have her! raise wool upon egg-shells,
Sir, and make grass grow out of marrow-bones,
To make her come!
Bearing Washington Hawkins and his fortunes, the stage-coach tore out of
Swansea at a fearful gait, with horn tooting gaily and half the town
admiring from doors and windows. But it did not tear any more after it
got to the outskirts; it dragged along stupidly enough, then--till it
came in sight of the next hamlet; and then the bugle tooted gaily again
and again the vehicle went tearing by the horses. This sort of conduct
marked every entry to a station and every exit from it; and so in those
days children grew up with the idea that stage-coaches always tore and
always tooted; but they also grew up with the idea that pirates went into
action in their Sunday clothes, carrying the black flag in one hand and
pistolling people with the other, merely because they were so represented
in the pictures--but these illusions vanished when later years brought
their disenchanting wisdom. They learned then that the stagecoach is but
a poor, plodding, vulgar thing in the solitudes of the highway; and that
the pirate is only a seedy, unfantastic "rough," when he is out of the
Toward evening, the stage-coach came thundering into Hawkeye with a
perfectly triumphant ostentation--which was natural and proper, for
Hawkey a was a pretty large town for interior Missouri. Washington,
very stiff and tired and hungry, climbed out, and wondered how he was to
proceed now. But his difficulty was quickly solved. Col. Sellers came
down the street on a run and arrived panting for breath. He said:
"Lord bless you--I'm glad to see you, Washington--perfectly delighted to
see you, my boy! I got your message. Been on the look-out for you.
Heard the stage horn, but had a party I couldn't shake off--man that's
got an enormous thing on hand--wants me to put some capital into it--and
I tell you, my boy, I could do worse, I could do a deal worse. No, now,
let that luggage alone; I'll fix that. Here, Jerry, got anything to do?
All right-shoulder this plunder and follow me. Come along, Washington.
Lord I'm glad to see you! Wife and the children are just perishing to
look at you. Bless you, they won't know you, you've grown so. Folks all
well, I suppose? That's good--glad to hear that. We're always going to
run down and see them, but I'm into so many operations, and they're not
things a man feels like trusting to other people, and so somehow we keep
putting it off. Fortunes in them! Good gracious, it's the country to
pile up wealth in! Here we are--here's where the Sellers dynasty hangs
out. Hump it on the door-step, Jerry--the blackest niggro in the State,
Washington, but got a good heart--mighty likely boy, is Jerry. And now I
suppose you've got to have ten cents, Jerry. That's all right--when a
man works for me--when a man--in the other pocket, I reckon--when a man
--why, where the mischief as that portmonnaie!--when a--well now that's
odd--Oh, now I remember, must have left it at the bank; and b'George I've
left my check-book, too--Polly says I ought to have a nurse--well, no
matter. Let me have a dime, Washington, if you've got--ah, thanks. Now
clear out, Jerry, your complexion has brought on the twilight half an
hour ahead of time. Pretty fair joke--pretty fair. Here he is, Polly!
Washington's come, children! come now, don't eat him up--finish him in
the house. Welcome, my boy, to a mansion that is proud to shelter the
son of the best man that walks on the ground. Si Hawkins has been a good
friend to me, and I believe I can say that whenever I've had a chance to
put him into a good thing I've done it, and done it pretty cheerfully,
too. I put him into that sugar speculation--what a grand thing that was,
if we hadn't held on too long!"
True enough; but holding on too long had utterly ruined both of them;
and the saddest part of it was, that they never had had so much money to
lose before, for Sellers's sale of their mule crop that year in New
Orleans had been a great financial success. If he had kept out of sugar
and gone back home content to stick to mules it would have been a happy
wisdom. As it was, he managed to kill two birds with one stone--that is
to say, he killed the sugar speculation by holding for high rates till he
had to sell at the bottom figure, and that calamity killed the mule that
laid the golden egg--which is but a figurative expression and will be so
understood. Sellers had returned home cheerful but empty-handed, and the
mule business lapsed into other hands. The sale of the Hawkins property
by the Sheriff had followed, and the Hawkins hearts been torn to see
Uncle Dan'l and his wife pass from the auction-block into the hands of a
negro trader and depart for the remote South to be seen no more by the
family. It had seemed like seeing their own flesh and blood sold into
Washington was greatly pleased with the Sellers mansion. It was a
two-story-and-a-half brick, and much more stylish than any of its
neighbors. He was borne to the family sitting room in triumph by the
swarm of little Sellerses, the parents following with their arms about
each other's waists.
The whole family were poorly and cheaply dressed; and the clothing,
although neat and clean, showed many evidences of having seen long
service. The Colonel's "stovepipe" hat was napless and shiny with much
polishing, but nevertheless it had an almost convincing expression about
it of having been just purchased new. The rest of his clothing was
napless and shiny, too, but it had the air of being entirely satisfied
with itself and blandly sorry for other people's clothes. It was growing
rather dark in the house, and the evening air was chilly, too. Sellers
"Lay off your overcoat, Washington, and draw up to the stove and make
yourself at home--just consider yourself under your own shingles my boy
--I'll have a fire going, in a jiffy. Light the lamp, Polly, dear, and
let's have things cheerful just as glad to see you, Washington, as if
you'd been lost a century and we'd found you again!"
By this time the Colonel was conveying a lighted match into a poor little
stove. Then he propped the stove door to its place by leaning the poker
against it, for the hinges had retired from business. This door framed
a small square of isinglass, which now warmed up with a faint glow.
Mrs. Sellers lit a cheap, showy lamp, which dissipated a good deal of the
gloom, and then everybody gathered into the light and took the stove into
The children climbed all over Sellers, fondled him, petted him, and were
lavishly petted in return. Out from this tugging, laughing, chattering
disguise of legs and arms and little faces, the Colonel's voice worked
its way and his tireless tongue ran blithely on without interruption;
and the purring little wife, diligent with her knitting, sat near at hand
and looked happy and proud and grateful; and she listened as one who
listens to oracles and, gospels and whose grateful soul is being
refreshed with the bread of life. Bye and bye the children quieted down
to listen; clustered about their father, and resting their elbows on his
legs, they hung upon his words as if he were uttering the music of the
A dreary old hair-cloth sofa against the wall; a few damaged chairs; the
small table the lamp stood on; the crippled stove--these things
constituted the furniture of the room. There was no carpet on the floor;
on the wall were occasional square-shaped interruptions of the general
tint of the plaster which betrayed that there used to be pictures in the
house--but there were none now. There were no mantel ornaments, unless
one might bring himself to regard as an ornament a clock which never came
within fifteen strokes of striking the right time, and whose hands always
hitched together at twenty-two minutes past anything and traveled in
company the rest of the way home.
"Remarkable clock!" said Sellers, and got up and wound it. "I've been
offered--well, I wouldn't expect you to believe what I've been offered
for that clock. Old Gov. Hager never sees me but he says, 'Come, now,
Colonel, name your price--I must have that clock!' But my goodness I'd
as soon think of selling my wife. As I was saying to ---- silence in the
court, now, she's begun to strike! You can't talk against her--you have
to just be patient and hold up till she's said her say. Ah well, as I
was saying, when--she's beginning again! Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one,
twenty-two, twen----ah, that's all.--Yes, as I was saying to old Judge
----go it, old girl, don't mind me.--Now how is that?----isn't that a
good, spirited tone? She can wake the dead! Sleep? Why you might as
well try to sleep in a thunder-factory. Now just listen at that. She'll
strike a hundred and fifty, now, without stopping,--you'll see. There
ain't another clock like that in Christendom."
Washington hoped that this might be true, for the din was distracting
--though the family, one and all, seemed filled with joy; and the more the
clock "buckled down to her work" as the Colonel expressed it, and the
more insupportable the clatter became, the more enchanted they all
appeared to be. When there was silence, Mrs Sellers lifted upon
Washington a face that beamed with a childlike pride, and said:
"It belonged to his grandmother."
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.