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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XXII

The Gilded Age

Chapter XXII


In mid-winter, an event occurred of unusual interest to the inhabitants
of the Montague house, and to the friends of the young ladies who sought
their society.

This was the arrival at the Sassacua Hotel of two young gentlemen from
the west.

It is the fashion in New England to give Indian names to the public
houses, not that the late lamented savage knew how to keep a hotel, but
that his warlike name may impress the traveler who humbly craves shelter
there, and make him grateful to the noble and gentlemanly clerk if he is
allowed to depart with his scalp safe.

The two young gentlemen were neither students for the Fallkill Seminary,
nor lecturers on physiology, nor yet life assurance solicitors, three
suppositions that almost exhausted the guessing power of the people at
the hotel in respect to the names of "Philip Sterling and Henry Brierly,
Missouri," on the register. They were handsome enough fellows, that was
evident, browned by out-door exposure, and with a free and lordly way
about them that almost awed the hotel clerk himself. Indeed, he very
soon set down Mr. Brierly as a gentleman of large fortune, with enormous
interests on his shoulders. Harry had a way of casually mentioning
western investments, through lines, the freighting business, and the
route through the Indian territory to Lower California, which was
calculated to give an importance to his lightest word.

"You've a pleasant town here, sir, and the most comfortable looking hotel
I've seen out of New York," said Harry to the clerk; "we shall stay here
a few days if you can give us a roomy suite of apartments."

Harry usually had the best of everything, wherever he went, as such
fellows always do have in this accommodating world. Philip would have
been quite content with less expensive quarters, but there was no
resisting Harry's generosity in such matters.

Railroad surveying and real-estate operations were at a standstill during
the winter in Missouri, and the young men had taken advantage of the lull
to come east, Philip to see if there was any disposition in his friends,
the railway contractors, to give him a share in the Salt Lick Union
Pacific Extension, and Harry to open out to his uncle the prospects of
the new city at Stone's Landing, and to procure congressional
appropriations for the harbor and for making Goose Run navigable. Harry
had with him a map of that noble stream and of the harbor, with a perfect
net-work of railroads centering in it, pictures of wharves, crowded with
steamboats, and of huge grain-elevators on the bank, all of which grew
out of the combined imaginations of Col. Sellers and Mr. Brierly. The
Colonel had entire confidence in Harry's influence with Wall street, and
with congressmen, to bring about the consummation of their scheme, and he
waited his return in the empty house at Hawkeye, feeding his pinched
family upon the most gorgeous expectations with a reckless prodigality.

"Don't let 'em into the thing more than is necessary," says the Colonel
to Harry; "give 'em a small interest; a lot apiece in the suburbs of the
Landing ought to do a congressman, but I reckon you'll have to mortgage a
part of the city itself to the brokers."

Harry did not find that eagerness to lend money on Stone's Landing in
Wall street which Col. Sellers had expected, (it had seen too many such
maps as he exhibited), although his uncle and some of the brokers looked
with more favor on the appropriation for improving the navigation of
Columbus River, and were not disinclined to form a company for that
purpose. An appropriation was a tangible thing, if you could get hold of
it, and it made little difference what it was appropriated for, so long
as you got hold of it.

Pending these weighty negotiations, Philip has persuaded Harry to take a
little run up to Fallkill, a not difficult task, for that young man would
at any time have turned his back upon all the land in the West at sight
of a new and pretty face, and he had, it must be confessed, a facility in
love making which made it not at all an interference with the more
serious business of life. He could not, to be sure, conceive how Philip
could be interested in a young lady who was studying medicine, but he had
no objection to going, for he did not doubt that there were other girls
in Fallkill who were worth a week's attention.

The young men were received at the house of the Montagues with the
hospitality which never failed there.

"We are glad to see you again," exclaimed the Squire heartily, "you are
welcome Mr. Brierly, any friend of Phil's is welcome at our house"

"It's more like home to me, than any place except my own home," cried
Philip, as he looked about the cheerful house and went through a general
hand-shaking.

"It's a long time, though, since you have been here to say so," Alice
said, with her father's frankness of manner; "and I suspect we owe the
visit now to your sudden interest in the Fallkill Seminary."

Philip's color came, as it had an awkward way of doing in his tell-tale
face, but before he could stammer a reply, Harry came in with,

"That accounts for Phil's wish to build a Seminary at Stone's Landing,
our place in Missouri, when Col. Sellers insisted it should be a
University. Phil appears to have a weakness for Seminaries."

"It would have been better for your friend Sellers," retorted Philip,
"if he had had a weakness for district schools. Col. Sellers, Miss
Alice, is a great friend of Harry's, who is always trying to build a
house by beginning at the top."

"I suppose it's as easy to build a University on paper as a Seminary, and
it looks better," was Harry's reflection; at which the Squire laughed,
and said he quite agreed with him. The old gentleman understood Stone's
Landing a good deal better than he would have done after an hour's talk
with either of it's expectant proprietors.

At this moment, and while Philip was trying to frame a question that he
found it exceedingly difficult to put into words, the door opened
quietly, and Ruth entered. Taking in the, group with a quick glance, her
eye lighted up, and with a merry smile she advanced and shook hands with
Philip. She was so unconstrained and sincerely cordial, that it made
that hero of the west feel somehow young, and very ill at ease.

For months and months he had thought of this meeting and pictured it to
himself a hundred times, but he had never imagined it would be like this.
He should meet Ruth unexpectedly, as she was walking alone from the
school, perhaps, or entering the room where he was waiting for her, and
she would cry "Oh! Phil," and then check herself, and perhaps blush, and
Philip calm but eager and enthusiastic, would reassure her by his warm
manner, and he would take her hand impressively, and she would look up
timidly, and, after his' long absence, perhaps he would be permitted to
Good heavens, how many times he had come to this point, and wondered if
it could happen so. Well, well; he had never supposed that he should be
the one embarrassed, and above all by a sincere and cordial welcome.

"We heard you were at the Sassacus House," were Ruth's first words; "and
this I suppose is your friend?"

"I beg your pardon," Philip at length blundered out, "this is Mr. Brierly
of whom I have written you."

And Ruth welcomed Harry with a friendliness that Philip thought was due
to his friend, to be sure, but which seemed to him too level with her
reception of himself, but which Harry received as his due from the other
sex.

Questions were asked about the journey and about the West, and the
conversation became a general one, until Philip at length found himself
talking with the Squire in relation to land and railroads and things he
couldn't keep his mind on especially as he heard Ruth and Harry in an
animated discourse, and caught the words "New York," and "opera," and
"reception," and knew that Harry was giving his imagination full range in
the world of fashion.

Harry knew all about the opera, green room and all (at least he said so)
and knew a good many of the operas and could make very entertaining
stories of their plots, telling how the soprano came in here, and the
basso here, humming the beginning of their airs--tum-ti-tum-ti-ti--
suggesting the profound dissatisfaction of the basso recitative--down-
among-the-dead-men--and touching off the whole with an airy grace quite
captivating; though he couldn't have sung a single air through to save
himself, and he hadn't an ear to know whether it was sung correctly. All
the same he doted on the opera, and kept a box there, into which he
lounged occasionally to hear a favorite scene and meet his society
friends.

If Ruth was ever in the city he should be happy to place his box at the
disposal of Ruth and her friends. Needless to say that she was delighted
with the offer.

When she told Philip of it, that discreet young fellow only smiled, and
said that he hoped she would be fortunate enough to be in New York some
evening when Harry had not already given the use of his private box to
some other friend.

The Squire pressed the visitors to let him send for their trunks and
urged them to stay at his house, and Alice joined in the invitation, but
Philip had reasons for declining. They staid to supper, however, and in;
the evening Philip had a long talk apart with Ruth, a delightful hour to
him, in which she spoke freely of herself as of old, of her studies at
Philadelphia and of her plans, and she entered into his adventures and
prospects in the West with a genuine and almost sisterly interest; an
interest, however, which did not exactly satisfy Philip--it was too
general and not personal enough to suit him. And with all her freedom in
speaking of her own hopes, Philip could not, detect any reference to
himself in them; whereas he never undertook anything that he did not
think of Ruth in connection with it, he never made a plan that had not
reference to her, and he never thought of anything as complete if she
could not share it. Fortune, reputation these had no value to him except
in Ruth's eyes, and there were times when it seemed to him that if Ruth
was not on this earth, he should plunge off into some remote wilderness
and live in a purposeless seclusion.

"I hoped," said Philip; "to get a little start in connection with this
new railroad, and make a little money, so that I could came east and
engage in something more suited to my tastes. I shouldn't like to live
in the West. Would you?

"It never occurred to me whether I would or not," was the unembarrassed
reply. "One of our graduates went to Chicago, and has a nice practice
there. I don't know where I shall go. It would mortify mother
dreadfully to have me driving about Philadelphia in a doctor's gig."

Philip laughed at the idea of it. "And does it seem as necessary to you
to do it as it did before you came to Fallkill?"

It was a home question, and went deeper than Philip knew, for Ruth at
once thought of practicing her profession among the young gentlemen and
ladies of her acquaintance in the village; but she was reluctant to admit
to herself that her notions of a career had undergone any change.

"Oh, I don't think I should come to Fallkill to practice, but I must do
something when I am through school; and why not medicine?"

Philip would like to have explained why not, but the explanation would be
of no use if it were not already obvious to Ruth.

Harry was equally in his element whether instructing Squire Montague
about the investment of capital in Missouri, the improvement of Columbus
River, the project he and some gentlemen in New York had for making a
shorter Pacific connection with the Mississippi than the present one; or
diverting Mrs. Montague with his experience in cooking in camp; or
drawing for Miss Alice an amusing picture of the social contrasts of New
England and the border where he had been. Harry was a very entertaining
fellow, having his imagination to help his memory, and telling his
stories as if he believed them--as perhaps he did. Alice was greatly
amused with Harry and listened so seriously to his romancing that he
exceeded his usual limits. Chance allusions to his bachelor
establishment in town and the place of his family on the Hudson, could
not have been made by a millionaire, more naturally.

"I should think," queried Alice, "you would rather stay in New York than
to try the rough life at the West you have been speaking of."

"Oh, adventure," says Harry, "I get tired of New York. And besides I
got involved in some operations that I had to see through. Parties in
New York only last week wanted me to go down into Arizona in a big
diamond interest. I told them, no, no speculation for me. I've got my
interests in Missouri; and I wouldn't leave Philip, as long as he stays
there."

When the young gentlemen were on their way back to the hotel, Mr. Philip,
who was not in very good humor, broke out,

"What the deuce, Harry, did you go on in that style to the Montagues
for?"

"Go on?" cried Harry. "Why shouldn't I try to make a pleasant evening?
And besides, ain't I going to do those things? What difference does it
make about the mood and tense of a mere verb? Didn't uncle tell me only
last Saturday, that I might as well go down to Arizona and hunt for
diamonds? A fellow might as well make a good impression as a poor one."

"Nonsense. You'll get to believing your own romancing by and by."

"Well, you'll see. When Sellers and I get that appropriation, I'll show
you an establishment in town and another on the Hudson and a box at the
opera."

"Yes, it will be like Col. Sellers' plantation at Hawkeye. Did you ever
see that?"

"Now, don't be cross, Phil. She's just superb, that little woman. You
never told me."

"Who's just superb?" growled Philip, fancying this turn of the
conversation less than the other.

"Well, Mrs. Montague, if you must know." And Harry stopped to light a
cigar, and then puffed on in silence. The little quarrel didn't last
over night, for Harry never appeared to cherish any ill-will half a
second, and Philip was too sensible to continue a row about nothing; and
he had invited Harry to come with him.

The young gentlemen stayed in Fallkill a week, and were every day at the
Montagues, and took part in the winter gaieties of the village. There
were parties here and there to which the friends of Ruth and the
Montagues were of course invited, and Harry in the generosity of his
nature, gave in return a little supper at the hotel, very simple indeed,
with dancing in the hall, and some refreshments passed round. And Philip
found the whole thing in the bill when he came to pay it.

Before the week was over Philip thought he had a new light on the
character of Ruth. Her absorption in the small gaieties of the society
there surprised him. He had few opportunities for serious conversation
with her. There was always some butterfly or another flitting about,
and when Philip showed by his manner that he was not pleased, Ruth
laughed merrily enough and rallied him on his soberness--she declared he
was getting to be grim and unsocial. He talked indeed more with Alice
than with Ruth, and scarcely concealed from her the trouble that was in
his mind. It needed, in fact, no word from him, for she saw clearly
enough what was going forward, and knew her sex well enough to know there
was no remedy for it but time.

"Ruth is a dear girl, Philip, and has as much firmness of purpose as
ever, but don't you see she has just discovered that she is fond of
society? Don't you let her see you are selfish about it, is my advice."

The last evening they were to spend in Fallkill, they were at the
Montagues, and Philip hoped that he would find Ruth in a different mood.
But she was never more gay, and there was a spice of mischief in her eye
and in her laugh. "Confound it," said Philip to himself, "she's in a
perfect twitter."

He would have liked to quarrel with her, and fling himself out of the
house in tragedy style, going perhaps so far as to blindly wander off
miles into the country and bathe his throbbing brow in the chilling rain
of the stars, as people do in novels; but he had no opportunity. For
Ruth was as serenely unconscious of mischief as women can be at times,
and fascinated him more than ever with her little demurenesses and half-
confidences. She even said "Thee" to him once in reproach for a cutting
speech he began. And the sweet little word made his heart beat like a
trip-hammer, for never in all her life had she said "thee" to him before.

Was she fascinated with Harry's careless 'bon homie' and gay assurance?
Both chatted away in high spirits, and made the evening whirl along in
the most mirthful manner. Ruth sang for Harry, and that young gentleman
turned the leaves for her at the piano, and put in a bass note now and
then where he thought it would tell.

Yes, it was a merry evening, and Philip was heartily glad when it was
over, and the long leave-taking with the family was through with.

"Farewell Philip. Good night Mr. Brierly," Ruth's clear voice sounded
after them as they went down the walk.

And she spoke Harry's name last, thought Philip.


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