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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XXV

The Gilded Age

Chapter XXV


Washington sent grand good news to Col. Sellers that night. To Louise he
wrote:

"It is beautiful to hear him talk when his heart is full of thankfulness
for some manifestation of the Divine favor. You shall know him, some day
my Louise, and knowing him you will honor him, as I do."

Harry wrote:

"I pulled it through, Colonel, but it was a tough job, there is no
question about that. There was not a friend to the measure in the House
committee when I began, and not a friend in the Senate committee except
old Dil himself, but they were all fixed for a majority report when I
hauled off my forces. Everybody here says you can't get a thing like
this through Congress without buying committees for straight-out cash on
delivery, but I think I've taught them a thing or two--if I could only
make them believe it. When I tell the old residenters that this thing
went through without buying a vote or making a promise, they say, 'That's
rather too thin.' And when I say thin or not thin it's a fact, anyway,
they say, 'Come, now, but do you really believe that?' and when I say I
don't believe anything about it, I know it, they smile and say, 'Well,
you are pretty innocent, or pretty blind, one or the other--there's no
getting around that.' Why they really do believe that votes have been
bought--they do indeed. But let them keep on thinking so. I have found
out that if a man knows how to talk to women, and has a little gift in
the way of argument with men, he can afford to play for an appropriation
against a money bag and give the money bag odds in the game. We've raked
in $200,000 of Uncle Sam's money, say what they will--and there is more
where this came from, when we want it, and I rather fancy I am the person
that can go in and occupy it, too, if I do say it myself, that shouldn't,
perhaps. I'll be with you within a week. Scare up all the men you can,
and put them to work at once. When I get there I propose to make things
hum." The great news lifted Sellers into the clouds. He went to work on
the instant. He flew hither and thither making contracts, engaging men,
and steeping his soul in the ecstasies of business. He was the happiest
man in Missouri. And Louise was the happiest woman; for presently came a
letter from Washington which said:

"Rejoice with me, for the long agony is over! We have waited patiently
and faithfully, all these years, and now at last the reward is at hand.
A man is to pay our family $40,000 for the Tennessee Land! It is but a
little sum compared to what we could get by waiting, but I do so long to
see the day when I can call you my own, that I have said to myself,
better take this and enjoy life in a humble way than wear out our best
days in this miserable separation. Besides, I can put this money into
operations here that will increase it a hundred fold, yes, a thousand
fold, in a few months. The air is full of such chances, and I know our
family would consent in a moment that I should put in their shares with
mine. Without a doubt we shall be worth half a million dollars in a year
from this time--I put it at the very lowest figure, because it is always
best to be on the safe side--half a million at the very lowest
calculation, and then your father will give his consent and we can marry
at last. Oh, that will be a glorious day. Tell our friends the good
news--I want all to share it."

And she did tell her father and mother, but they said, let it be kept
still for the present. The careful father also told her to write
Washington and warn him not to speculate with the money, but to wait a
little and advise with one or two wise old heads. She did this. And she
managed to keep the good news to herself, though it would seem that the
most careless observer might have seen by her springing step and her
radiant countenance that some fine piece of good fortune had descended
upon her.

Harry joined the Colonel at Stone's Landing, and that dead place sprang
into sudden life. A swarm of men were hard at work, and the dull air was
filled with the cheery music of labor. Harry had been constituted
engineer-in-general, and he threw the full strength of his powers into
his work. He moved among his hirelings like a king. Authority seemed to
invest him with a new splendor. Col. Sellers, as general superintendent
of a great public enterprise, was all that a mere human being could be--
and more. These two grandees went at their imposing "improvement" with
the air of men who had been charged with the work of altering the
foundations of the globe.

They turned their first attention to straightening the river just above
the Landing, where it made a deep bend, and where the maps and plans
showed that the process of straightening would not only shorten distance
but increase the "fall." They started a cut-off canal across the
peninsula formed by the bend, and such another tearing up of the earth
and slopping around in the mud as followed the order to the men, had
never been seen in that region before. There was such a panic among the
turtles that at the end of six hours there was not one to be found within
three miles of Stone's Landing. They took the young and the aged, the
decrepit and the sick upon their backs and left for tide-water in
disorderly procession, the tadpoles following and the bull-frogs bringing
up the rear.

Saturday night came, but the men were obliged to wait, because the
appropriation had not come. Harry said he had written to hurry up the
money and it would be along presently. So the work continued, on Monday.
Stone's Landing was making quite a stir in the vicinity, by this time.
Sellers threw a lot or two on the market, "as a feeler," and they sold
well. He re-clothed his family, laid in a good stock of provisions, and
still had money left. He started a bank account, in a small way--and
mentioned the deposit casually to friends; and to strangers, too; to
everybody, in fact; but not as a new thing--on the contrary, as a matter
of life-long standing. He could not keep from buying trifles every day
that were not wholly necessary, it was such a gaudy thing to get out his
bank-book and draw a check, instead of using his old customary formula,
"Charge it" Harry sold a lot or two, also--and had a dinner party or two
at Hawkeye and a general good time with the money. Both men held on
pretty strenuously for the coming big prices, however.

At the end of a month things were looking bad. Harry had besieged the
New York headquarters of the Columbus River Slack-water Navigation
Company with demands, then commands, and finally appeals, but to no
purpose; the appropriation did not come; the letters were not even
answered. The workmen were clamorous, now. The Colonel and Harry
retired to consult.

"What's to be done?" said the Colonel.

"Hang'd if I know."

"Company say anything?"

"Not a word."

"You telegraphed yesterday?"

Yes, and the day before, too."

"No answer?"

"None-confound them!"

Then there was a long pause. Finally both spoke at once:

"I've got it!"

"I've got it!"

"What's yours?" said Harry.

"Give the boys thirty-day orders on the Company for the back pay."

"That's it-that's my own idea to a dot. But then--but then----"

"Yes, I know," said the Colonel; "I know they can't wait for the orders
to go to New York and be cashed, but what's the reason they can't get
them discounted in Hawkeye?"

"Of course they can. That solves the difficulty. Everybody knows the
appropriation's been made and the Company's perfectly good."

So the orders were given and the men appeased, though they grumbled a
little at first. The orders went well enough for groceries and such
things at a fair discount, and the work danced along gaily for a time.
Two or three purchasers put up frame houses at the Landing and moved in,
and of course a far-sighted but easy-going journeyman printer wandered
along and started the "Napoleon Weekly Telegraph and Literary
Repository"--a paper with a Latin motto from the Unabridged dictionary,
and plenty of "fat" conversational tales and double-leaded poetry--all
for two dollars a year, strictly in advance. Of course the merchants
forwarded the orders at once to New York--and never heard of them again.

At the end of some weeks Harry's orders were a drug in the market--nobody
would take them at any discount whatever. The second month closed with a
riot.--Sellers was absent at the time, and Harry began an active absence
himself with the mob at his heels. But being on horseback, he had the
advantage. He did not tarry in Hawkeye, but went on, thus missing
several appointments with creditors. He was far on his flight eastward,
and well out of danger when the next morning dawned. He telegraphed the
Colonel to go down and quiet the laborers--he was bound east for money--
everything would be right in a week--tell the men so--tell them to rely
on him and not be afraid.

Sellers found the mob quiet enough when he reached the Landing.
They had gutted the Navigation office, then piled the beautiful engraved
stock-books and things in the middle of the floor and enjoyed the bonfire
while it lasted. They had a liking for the Colonel, but still they had
some idea of hanging him, as a sort of make-shift that might answer,
after a fashion, in place of more satisfactory game.

But they made the mistake of waiting to hear what he had to say first.
Within fifteen minutes his tongue had done its work and they were all
rich men.--He gave every one of them a lot in the suburbs of the city of
Stone's Landing, within a mile and a half of the future post office and
railway station, and they promised to resume work as soon as Harry got
east and started the money along. Now things were blooming and pleasant
again, but the men had no money, and nothing to live on. The Colonel
divided with them the money he still had in bank--an act which had
nothing surprising about it because he was generally ready to divide
whatever he had with anybody that wanted it, and it was owing to this
very trait that his family spent their days in poverty and at times were
pinched with famine.

When the men's minds had cooled and Sellers was gone, they hated
themselves for letting him beguile them with fine speeches, but it was
too late, now--they agreed to hang him another time--such time as
Providence should appoint.


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