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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XXX

The Gilded Age

Chapter XXX


Once more Louise had good news from her Washington--Senator Dilworthy was
going to sell the Tennessee Land to the government! Louise told Laura in
confidence. She had told her parents, too, and also several bosom
friends; but all of these people had simply looked sad when they heard
the news, except Laura. Laura's face suddenly brightened under it--only
for an instant, it is true, but poor Louise was grateful for even that
fleeting ray of encouragement. When next Laura was alone, she fell into
a train of thought something like this:

If the Senator has really taken hold of this matter, I may look for that
invitation to his house at, any moment. I am perishing to go! I do long
to know whether I am only simply a large-sized pigmy among these pigmies
here, who tumble over so easily when one strikes them, or whether I am
really--." Her thoughts drifted into other channels, for a season.
"Then she continued:--"He said I could be useful in the great cause of
philanthropy, and help in the blessed work of uplifting the poor and the
ignorant, if he found it feasible to take hold of our Land. Well, that
is neither here nor there; what I want, is to go to Washington and find
out what I am. I want money, too; and if one may judge by what she
hears, there are chances there for a--." For a fascinating woman, she
was going to say, perhaps, but she did not.

Along in the fall the invitation came, sure enough. It came officially
through brother Washington, the private Secretary, who appended a
postscript that was brimming with delight over the prospect of seeing the
Duchess again. He said it would be happiness enough to look upon her
face once more--it would be almost too much happiness when to it was
added the fact that she would bring messages with her that were fresh
from Louise's lips.

In Washington's letter were several important enclosures. For instance,
there was the Senator's check for $2,000--"to buy suitable clothing in
New York with!" It was a loan to be refunded when the Land was sold.
Two thousand--this was fine indeed. Louise's father was called rich, but
Laura doubted if Louise had ever had $400 worth of new clothing at one
time in her life. With the check came two through tickets--good on the
railroad from Hawkeye to Washington via New York--and they were "dead-
head" tickets, too, which had beep given to Senator Dilworthy by the
railway companies. Senators and representatives were paid thousands of
dollars by the government for traveling expenses, but they always
traveled "deadhead" both ways, and then did as any honorable, high-minded
men would naturally do--declined to receive the mileage tendered them by
the government. The Senator had plenty of railway passes, and could.
easily spare two to Laura--one for herself and one for a male escort.
Washington suggested that she get some old friend of the family to come
with her, and said the Senator would "deadhead" him home again as soon as
he had grown tired, of the sights of the capital. Laura thought the
thing over. At first she was pleased with the idea, but presently she
began to feel differently about it. Finally she said, "No, our staid,
steady-going Hawkeye friends' notions and mine differ about some things--
they respect me, now, and I respect them--better leave it so--I will go
alone; I am not afraid to travel by myself." And so communing with
herself, she left the house for an afternoon walk.

Almost at the door she met Col. Sellers. She told him about her
invitation to Washington.

"Bless me!" said the Colonel. "I have about made up my mind to go there
myself. You see we've got to get another appropriation through, and the
Company want me to come east and put it through Congress. Harry's there,
and he'll do what he can, of course; and Harry's a good fellow and always
does the very best he knows how, but then he's young--rather young for
some parts of such work, you know--and besides he talks too much, talks a
good deal too much; and sometimes he appears to be a little bit
visionary, too, I think the worst thing in the world for a business man.
A man like that always exposes his cards, sooner or later. This sort of
thing wants an old, quiet, steady hand--wants an old cool head, you know,
that knows men, through and through, and is used to large operations.
I'm expecting my salary, and also some dividends from the company, and if
they get along in time, I'll go along with you Laura--take you under my
wing--you mustn't travel alone. Lord I wish I had the money right now.
--But there'll be plenty soon--plenty."

Laura reasoned with herself that if the kindly, simple-hearted Colonel
was going anyhow, what could she gain by traveling alone and throwing
away his company? So she told him she accepted his offer gladly,
gratefully. She said it would be the greatest of favors if he would go
with her and protect her--not at his own expense as far as railway fares
were concerned, of course; she could not expect him to put himself to so
much trouble for her and pay his fare besides. But he wouldn't hear of
her paying his fare--it would be only a pleasure to him to serve her.
Laura insisted on furnishing the tickets; and finally, when argument
failed, she said the tickets cost neither her nor any one else a cent--
she had two of them--she needed but one--and if he would not take the
other she would not go with him. That settled the matter. He took the
ticket. Laura was glad that she had the check for new clothing, for she
felt very certain of being able to get the Colonel to borrow a little of
the money to pay hotel bills with, here and there.

She wrote Washington to look for her and Col. Sellers toward the end of
November; and at about the time set the two travelers arrived safe in the
capital of the nation, sure enough.

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