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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XXVII

The Gilded Age

Chapter XXVII


It was a hard blow to poor Sellers to see the work on his darling
enterprise stop, and the noise and bustle and confusion that had been
such refreshment to his soul, sicken and die out. It was hard to come
down to humdrum ordinary life again after being a General Superintendent
and the most conspicuous man in the community. It was sad to see his
name disappear from the newspapers; sadder still to see it resurrected at
intervals, shorn of its aforetime gaudy gear of compliments and clothed
on with rhetorical tar and feathers.

But his friends suffered more on his account than he did. He was a cork
that could not be kept under the water many moments at a time.

He had to bolster up his wife's spirits every now and then. On one of
these occasions he said:

"It's all right, my dear, all right; it will all come right in a little
while. There's $200,000 coming, and that will set things booming again:
Harry seems to be having some difficulty, but that's to be expected--you
can't move these big operations to the tune of Fisher's Hornpipe, you
know. But Harry will get it started along presently, and then you'll
see! I expect the news every day now."

"But Beriah, you've been expecting it every day, all along, haven't you?"

"Well, yes; yes--I don't know but I have. But anyway, the longer it's
delayed, the nearer it grows to the time when it will start--same as
every day you live brings you nearer to--nearer--"

"The grave?"

"Well, no--not that exactly; but you can't understand these things, Polly
dear--women haven't much head for business, you know. You make yourself
perfectly comfortable, old lady, and you'll see how we'll trot this right
along. Why bless you, let the appropriation lag, if it wants to--that's
no great matter--there's a bigger thing than that."

"Bigger than $200,000, Beriah?"

"Bigger, child?--why, what's $200,000? Pocket money! Mere pocket money!
Look at the railroad! Did you forget the railroad? It ain't many months
till spring; it will be coming right along, and the railroad swimming
right along behind it. Where'll it be by the middle of summer? Just
stop and fancy a moment--just think a little--don't anything suggest
itself? Bless your heart, you dear women live right in the present all
the time--but a man, why a man lives----

"In the future, Beriah? But don't we live in the future most too much,
Beriah? We do somehow seem to manage to live on next year's crop of corn
and potatoes as a general thing while this year is still dragging along,
but sometimes it's not a robust diet,--Beriah. But don't look that way,
dear--don't mind what I say. I don't mean to fret, I don't mean to
worry; and I don't, once a month, do I, dear? But when I get a little
low and feel bad, I get a bit troubled and worrisome, but it don't mean
anything in the world. It passes right away. I know you're doing all
you can, and I don't want to seem repining and ungrateful--for I'm not,
Beriah--you know I'm not, don't you?"

"Lord bless you, child, I know you are the very best little woman that
ever lived--that ever lived on the whole face of the Earth! And I know
that I would be a dog not to work for you and think for you and scheme
for you with all my might. And I'll bring things all right yet, honey--
cheer up and don't you fear. The railroad----"

"Oh, I had forgotten the railroad, dear, but when a body gets blue, a
body forgets everything. Yes, the railroad--tell me about the railroad."

"Aha, my girl, don't you see? Things ain't so dark, are they? Now I
didn't forget the railroad. Now just think for a moment--just figure up
a little on the future dead moral certainties. For instance, call this
waiter St. Louis.

"And we'll lay this fork (representing the railroad) from St. Louis to
this potato, which is Slouchburg:

"Then with this carving knife we'll continue the railroad from Slouchburg
to Doodleville, shown by the black pepper:

"Then we run along the--yes--the comb--to the tumbler that's Brimstone:

"Thence by the pipe to Belshazzar, which is the salt-cellar:

"Thence to, to--that quill--Catfish--hand me the pincushion, Marie
Antoinette:

"Thence right along these shears to this horse, Babylon:

"Then by the spoon to Bloody Run--thank you, the ink:

"Thence to Hail Columbia--snuffers, Polly, please move that cup and
saucer close up, that's Hail Columbia:

"Then--let me open my knife--to Hark-from-the-Tomb, where we'll put the
candle-stick--only a little distance from Hail Columbia to Hark-from-the-
Tomb--down-grade all the way.

"And there we strike Columbus River--pass me two or throe skeins of
thread to stand for the river; the sugar bowl will do for Hawkeye, and
the rat trap for Stone's Landing-Napoleon, I mean--and you can see how
much better Napoleon is located than Hawkeye. Now here you are with your
railroad complete, and showing its continuation to Hallelujah and thence
to Corruptionville.

"Now then-them you are! It's a beautiful road, beautiful. Jeff Thompson
can out-engineer any civil engineer that ever sighted through an aneroid,
or a theodolite, or whatever they call it--he calls it sometimes one and
sometimes the other just whichever levels off his sentence neatest, I
reckon. But ain't it a ripping toad, though? I tell you, it'll make a
stir when it gets along. Just see what a country it goes through.
There's your onions at Slouchburg--noblest onion country that graces
God's footstool; and there's your turnip country all around Doodleville--
bless my life, what fortunes are going to be made there when they get
that contrivance perfected for extracting olive oil out of turnips--if
there's any in them; and I reckon there is, because Congress has made an
appropriation of money to test the thing, and they wouldn't have done
that just on conjecture, of course. And now we come to the Brimstone
region--cattle raised there till you can't rest--and corn, and all that
sort of thing. Then you've got a little stretch along through Belshazzar
that don't produce anything now--at least nothing but rocks--but
irrigation will fetch it. Then from Catfish to Babylon it's a little
swampy, but there's dead loads of peat down under there somewhere. Next
is the Bloody Run and Hail Columbia country--tobacco enough can be raised
there to support two such railroads. Next is the sassparilla region.
I reckon there's enough of that truck along in there on the line of the
pocket-knife, from Hail Columbia to Hark-from-the Tomb to fat up all the
consumptives in all the hospitals from Halifax to the Holy Land. It just
grows like weeds! I've got a little belt of sassparilla land in there
just tucked away unobstrusively waiting for my little Universal
Expectorant to get into shape in my head. And I'll fix that, you know.
One of these days I'll have all the nations of the earth expecto--"

"But Beriah, dear--"

"Don't interrupt me; Polly--I don't want you to lose the run of the map--
well, take your toy-horse, James Fitz-James, if you must have it--and run
along with you. Here, now--the soap will do for Babylon. Let me see--
where was I? Oh yes--now we run down to Stone's Lan--Napoleon--now we
run down to Napoleon. Beautiful road. Look at that, now. Perfectly
straight line-straight as the way to the grave. And see where it leaves
Hawkeye-clear out in the cold, my dear, clear out in the cold. That
town's as bound to die as--well if I owned it I'd get its obituary ready,
now, and notify the mourners. Polly, mark my words--in three years from
this, Hawkeye'll be a howling wilderness. You'll see. And just look at
that river--noblest stream that meanders over the thirsty earth!--
calmest, gentlest artery that refreshes her weary bosom! Railroad goes
all over it and all through it--wades right along on stilts. Seventeen
bridges in three miles and a half-forty-nine bridges from Hark-from-the-
Tomb to Stone's Landing altogether--forty nine bridges, and culverts
enough to culvert creation itself! Hadn't skeins of thread enough to
represent them all--but you get an idea--perfect trestle-work of bridges
for seventy two miles: Jeff Thompson and I fixed all that, you know; he's
to get the contracts and I'm to put them through on the divide. Just
oceans of money in those bridges. It's the only part of the railroad I'm
interested in,--down along the line--and it's all I want, too. It's
enough, I should judge. Now here we are at Napoleon. Good enough country
plenty good enough--all it wants is population. That's all right--that
will come. And it's no bad country now for calmness and solitude, I can
tell you--though there's no money in that, of course. No money, but a
man wants rest, a man wants peace--a man don't want to rip and tear
around all the time. And here we go, now, just as straight as a string
for Hallelujah--it's a beautiful angle--handsome up grade all the way--
and then away you go to Corruptionville, the gaudiest country for early
carrots and cauliflowers that ever--good missionary field, too. There
ain't such another missionary field outside the jungles of Central
Africa. And patriotic?--why they named it after Congress itself. Oh,
I warn you, my dear, there's a good time coming, and it'll be right along
before you know what you're about, too. That railroad's fetching it.
You see what it is as far as I've got, and if I had enough bottles and
soap and boot-jacks and such things to carry it along to where it joins
onto the Union Pacific, fourteen hundred miles from here, I should
exhibit to you in that little internal improvement a spectacle of
inconceivable sublimity. So, don't you see? We've got the rail road to
fall back on; and in the meantime, what are we worrying about that
$200,000 appropriation for? That's all right. I'd be willing to bet
anything that the very next letter that comes from Harry will--"

The eldest boy entered just in the nick of time and brought a letter,
warm from the post-office.

"Things do look bright, after all, Beriah. I'm sorry I was blue, but it
did seem as if everything had been going against us for whole ages. Open
the letter--open it quick, and let's know all about it before we stir out
of our places. I am all in a fidget to know what it says."

The letter was opened, without any unnecessary delay.


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