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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XXVI

The Gilded Age

Chapter XXVI


Rumors of Ruth's frivolity and worldliness at Fallkill traveled to
Philadelphia in due time, and occasioned no little undertalk among the
Bolton relatives.

Hannah Shoecraft told another, cousin that, for her part, she never
believed that Ruth had so much more "mind" than other people; and Cousin
Hulda added that she always thought Ruth was fond of admiration, and that
was the reason she was unwilling to wear plain clothes and attend
Meeting. The story that Ruth was "engaged" to a young gentleman of
fortune in Fallkill came with the other news, and helped to give point to
the little satirical remarks that went round about Ruth's desire to be a
doctor!

Margaret Bolton was too wise to be either surprised or alarmed by these
rumors. They might be true; she knew a woman's nature too well to think
them improbable, but she also knew how steadfast Ruth was in her
purposes, and that, as a brook breaks into ripples and eddies and dances
and sports by the way, and yet keeps on to the sea, it was in Ruth's
nature to give back cheerful answer to the solicitations of friendliness
and pleasure, to appear idly delaying even, and sporting in the sunshine,
while the current of her resolution flowed steadily on.

That Ruth had this delight in the mere surface play of life that she
could, for instance, be interested in that somewhat serious by-play
called "flirtation," or take any delight in the exercise of those little
arts of pleasing and winning which are none the less genuine and charming
because they are not intellectual, Ruth, herself, had never suspected
until she went to Fallkill. She had believed it her duty to subdue her
gaiety of temperament, and let nothing divert her from what are called
serious pursuits: In her limited experience she brought everything to the
judgment of her own conscience, and settled the affairs of all the world
in her own serene judgment hall. Perhaps her mother saw this, and saw
also that there was nothing in the Friends' society to prevent her from
growing more and more opinionated.

When Ruth returned to Philadelphia, it must be confessed--though it would
not have been by her--that a medical career did seem a little less
necessary for her than formerly; and coming back in a glow of triumph, as
it were, and in the consciousness of the freedom and life in a lively
society and in new and sympathetic friendship, she anticipated pleasure
in an attempt to break up the stiffness and levelness of the society at
home, and infusing into it something of the motion and sparkle which were
so agreeable at Fallkill. She expected visits from her new friends, she
would have company, the new books and the periodicals about which all the
world was talking, and, in short, she would have life.

For a little while she lived in this atmosphere which she had brought
with her. Her mother was delighted with this change in her, with the
improvement in her health and the interest she exhibited in home affairs.
Her father enjoyed the society of his favorite daughter as he did few
things besides; he liked her mirthful and teasing ways, and not less a
keen battle over something she had read. He had been a great reader all
his life, and a remarkable memory had stored his mind with encyclopaedic
information. It was one of Ruth's delights to cram herself with some out
of the way subject and endeavor to catch her father; but she almost
always failed. Mr. Bolton liked company, a house full of it, and the
mirth of young people, and he would have willingly entered into any
revolutionary plans Ruth might have suggested in relation to Friends'
society.

But custom and the fixed order are stronger than the most enthusiastic
and rebellious young lady, as Ruth very soon found. In spite of all her
brave efforts, her frequent correspondence, and her determined animation,
her books and her music, she found herself settling into the clutches of
the old monotony, and as she realized the hopelessness of her endeavors,
the medical scheme took new hold of her, and seemed to her the only
method of escape.

"Mother, thee does not know how different it is in Fallkill, how much
more interesting the people are one meets, how much more life there is."

"But thee will find the world, child, pretty much all the same, when thee
knows it better. I thought once as thee does now, and had as little
thought of being a Friend as thee has. Perhaps when thee has seen more,
thee will better appreciate a quiet life."

"Thee married young. I shall not marry young, and perhaps not at all,"
said Ruth, with a look of vast experience.

"Perhaps thee doesn't know thee own mind; I have known persons of thy
age who did not. Did thee see anybody whom thee would like to live with
always in Fallkill?"

"Not always," replied Ruth with a little laugh. "Mother, I think I
wouldn't say 'always' to any one until I have a profession and am as
independent as he is. Then my love would be a free act, and not in any
way a necessity."

Margaret Bolton smiled at this new-fangled philosophy. "Thee will find
that love, Ruth, is a thing thee won't reason about, when it comes, nor
make any bargains about. Thee wrote that Philip Sterling was at
Fallkill."

"Yes, and Henry Brierly, a friend of his; a very amusing young fellow and
not so serious-minded as Philip, but a bit of a fop maybe."

"And thee preferred the fop to the serious-minded?"

"I didn't prefer anybody; but Henry Brierly was good company, which
Philip wasn't always."

"Did thee know thee father had been in correspondence with Philip?"

Ruth looked up surprised and with a plain question in her eyes.

"Oh, it's not about thee."

"What then?" and if there was any shade of disappointment in her tone,
probably Ruth herself did not know it.

"It's about some land up in the country. That man Bigler has got father
into another speculation."

"That odious man! Why will father have anything to do with him? Is it
that railroad?"

"Yes. Father advanced money and took land as security, and whatever has
gone with the money and the bonds, he has on his hands a large tract of
wild land."

"And what has Philip to do with that?"

"It has good timber, if it could ever be got out, and father says that
there must be coal in it; it's in a coal region. He wants Philip to
survey it, and examine it for indications of coal."

"It's another of father's fortunes, I suppose," said Ruth. "He has put
away so many fortunes for us that I'm afraid we never shall find them."

Ruth was interested in it nevertheless, and perhaps mainly because Philip
was to be connected with the enterprise. Mr. Bigler came to dinner with
her father next day, and talked a great deal about Mr. Bolton's
magnificent tract of land, extolled the sagacity that led him to secure
such a property, and led the talk along to another railroad which would
open a northern communication to this very land.

"Pennybacker says it's full of coal, he's no doubt of it, and a railroad
to strike the Erie would make it a fortune."

"Suppose you take the land and work the thing up, Mr. Bigler; you may
have the tract for three dollars an acre."

"You'd throw it away, then," replied Mr. Bigler, "and I'm not the man to
take advantage of a friend. But if you'll put a mortgage on it for the
northern road, I wouldn't mind taking an interest, if Pennybacker is
willing; but Pennybacker, you know, don't go much on land, he sticks to
the legislature." And Mr. Bigler laughed.

When Mr. Bigler had gone, Ruth asked her father about Philip's connection
with the land scheme.

"There's nothing definite," said Mr. Bolton. "Philip is showing aptitude
for his profession. I hear the best reports of him in New York, though
those sharpers don't 'intend to do anything but use him. I've written
and offered him employment in surveying and examining the land. We want
to know what it is. And if there is anything in it that his enterprise
can dig out, he shall have an interest. I should be glad to give the
young fellow a lift."

All his life Eli Bolton had been giving young fellows a lift, and
shouldering the loses when things turned out unfortunately. His ledger,
take-it-altogether, would not show a balance on the right side; but
perhaps the losses on his books will turn out to be credits in a world
where accounts are kept on a different basis. The left hand of the
ledger will appear the right, looked at from the other side.

Philip, wrote to Ruth rather a comical account of the bursting up of the
city of Napoleon and the navigation improvement scheme, of Harry's flight
and the Colonel's discomfiture. Harry left in such a hurry that he
hadn't even time to bid Miss Laura Hawkins good-bye, but he had no doubt
that Harry would console himself with the next pretty face he saw--
a remark which was thrown in for Ruth's benefit. Col. Sellers had in all
probability, by this time, some other equally brilliant speculation in
his brain.

As to the railroad, Philip had made up his mind that it was merely kept
on foot for speculative purposes in Wall street, and he was about to quit
it. Would Ruth be glad to hear, he wondered, that he was coming East?
For he was coming, in spite of a letter from Harry in New York, advising
him to hold on until he had made some arrangements in regard to
contracts, he to be a little careful about Sellers, who was somewhat
visionary, Harry said.

The summer went on without much excitement for Ruth. She kept up a
correspondence with Alice, who promised a visit in the fall, she read,
she earnestly tried to interest herself in home affairs and such people
as came to the house; but she found herself falling more and more into
reveries, and growing weary of things as they were. She felt that
everybody might become in time like two relatives from a Shaker
establishment in Ohio, who visited the Boltons about this time, a father
and son, clad exactly alike, and alike in manners. The son; however,
who was not of age, was more unworldly and sanctimonious than his father;
he always addressed his parent as "Brother Plum," and bore himself,
altogether in such a superior manner that Ruth longed to put bent pins in
his chair. Both father and son wore the long, single breasted collarless
coats of their society, without buttons, before or behind, but with a row
of hooks and eyes on either side in front. It was Ruth's suggestion that
the coats would be improved by a single hook and eye sewed on in the
small of the back where the buttons usually are.

Amusing as this Shaker caricature of the Friends was, it oppressed Ruth
beyond measure; and increased her feeling of being stifled.

It was a most unreasonable feeling. No home could be pleasanter than
Ruth's. The house, a little out of the city; was one of those elegant
country residences which so much charm visitors to the suburbs of
Philadelphia. A modern dwelling and luxurious in everything that wealth
could suggest for comfort, it stood in the midst of exquisitely kept
lawns, with groups of trees, parterres of flowers massed in colors, with
greenhouse, grapery and garden; and on one side, the garden sloped away
in undulations to a shallow brook that ran over a pebbly bottom and sang
under forest trees. The country about teas the perfection of cultivated
landscape, dotted with cottages, and stately mansions of Revolutionary
date, and sweet as an English country-side, whether seen in the soft
bloom of May or in the mellow ripeness of late October.

It needed only the peace of the mind within, to make it a paradise.
One riding by on the Old Germantown road, and seeing a young girl
swinging in the hammock on the piazza and, intent upon some volume of old
poetry or the latest novel, would no doubt have envied a life so idyllic.
He could not have imagined that the young girl was reading a volume of
reports of clinics and longing to be elsewhere.

Ruth could not have been more discontented if all the wealth about her
had been as unsubstantial as a dream. Perhaps she so thought it.

"I feel," she once said to her father, "as if I were living in a house of
cards."

"And thee would like to turn it into a hospital?"

"No. But tell me father," continued Ruth, not to be put off, "is thee
still going on with that Bigler and those other men who come here and
entice thee?"

Mr. Bolton smiled, as men do when they talk with women about "business"
"Such men have their uses, Ruth. They keep the world active, and I owe a
great many of my best operations to such men. Who knows, Ruth, but this
new land purchase, which I confess I yielded a little too much to Bigler
in, may not turn out a fortune for thee and the rest of the children?"

"Ah, father, thee sees every thing in a rose-colored light. I do believe
thee wouldn't have so readily allowed me to begin the study of medicine,
if it hadn't had the novelty of an experiment to thee."

"And is thee satisfied with it?"

"If thee means, if I have had enough of it, no. I just begin to see what
I can do in it, and what a noble profession it is for a woman. Would
thee have me sit here like a bird on a bough and wait for somebody to
come and put me in a cage?"

Mr. Bolton was not sorry to divert the talk from his own affairs, and he
did not think it worth while to tell his family of a performance that
very day which was entirely characteristic of him.

Ruth might well say that she felt as if she were living in a house of
cards, although the Bolton household had no idea of the number of perils
that hovered over them, any more than thousands of families in America
have of the business risks and contingences upon which their prosperity
and luxury hang.

A sudden call upon Mr. Bolton for a large sum of money, which must be
forthcoming at once, had found him in the midst of a dozen ventures, from
no one of which a dollar could be realized. It was in vain that he
applied to his business acquaintances and friends; it was a period of
sudden panic and no money. "A hundred thousand! Mr. Bolton," said
Plumly. "Good God, if you should ask me for ten, I shouldn't know where
to get it."

And yet that day Mr. Small (Pennybacker, Bigler and Small) came to Mr.
Bolton with a piteous story of ruin in a coal operation, if he could not
raise ten thousand dollars. Only ten, and he was sure of a fortune.
Without it he was a beggar. Mr. Bolton had already Small's notes for a
large amount in his safe, labeled "doubtful;" he had helped him again and
again, and always with the same result. But Mr. Small spoke with a
faltering voice of his family, his daughter in school, his wife ignorant
of his calamity, and drew such a picture of their agony, that Mr. Bolton
put by his own more pressing necessity, and devoted the day to scraping
together, here and there, ten thousand dollars for this brazen beggar,
who had never kept a promise to him nor paid a debt.

Beautiful credit! The foundation of modern society. Who shall say that
this is not the golden age of mutual trust, of unlimited reliance upon
human promises? That is a peculiar condition of society which enables a
whole nation to instantly recognize point and meaning in the familiar
newspaper anecdote, which puts into the mouth of a distinguished
speculator in lands and mines this remark:--"I wasn't worth a cent two
years ago, and now I owe two millions of dollars."

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