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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XXXI

The Gilded Age

Chapter XXXI



             She the, gracious lady, yet no paines did spare
             To doe him ease, or doe him remedy:
             Many restoratives of vertues rare
             And costly cordialles she did apply,
             To mitigate his stubborne malady.
                                        Spenser's Faerie Queens.

Mr. Henry Brierly was exceedingly busy in New York, so he wrote Col.
Sellers, but he would drop everything and go to Washington.

The Colonel believed that Harry was the prince of lobbyists, a little too
sanguine, may be, and given to speculation, but, then, he knew everybody;
the Columbus River navigation scheme was, got through almost entirely by
his aid. He was needed now to help through another scheme, a benevolent
scheme in which Col. Sellers, through the Hawkinses, had a deep interest.

"I don't care, you know," he wrote to Harry, "so much about the niggroes.
But if the government will buy this land, it will set up the Hawkins
family--make Laura an heiress--and I shouldn't wonder if Beriah Sellers
would set up his carriage again. Dilworthy looks at it different,
of course. He's all for philanthropy, for benefiting the colored race.
There's old Balsam, was in the Interior--used to be the Rev. Orson Balsam
of Iowa--he's made the riffle on the Injun; great Injun pacificator and
land dealer. Balaam'a got the Injun to himself, and I suppose that
Senator Dilworthy feels that there is nothing left him but the colored
man. I do rechon he is the best friend the colored man has got in
Washington."

Though Harry was in a hurry to reach Washington, he stopped in
Philadelphia; and prolonged his visit day after day, greatly to the
detriment of his business both in New York and Washington. The society
at the Bolton's might have been a valid excuse for neglecting business
much more important than his. Philip was there; he was a partner with
Mr. Bolton now in the new coal venture, concerning which there was much
to be arranged in preparation for the Spring work, and Philip lingered
week after week in the hospitable house. Alice was making a winter
visit. Ruth only went to town twice a week to attend lectures, and the
household was quite to Mr. Bolton's taste, for he liked the cheer of
company and something going on evenings. Harry was cordially asked to
bring his traveling-bag there, and he did not need urging to do so.
Not even the thought of seeing Laura at the capital made him restless in
the society of the two young ladies; two birds in hand are worth one in
the bush certainly.

Philip was at home--he sometimes wished he were not so much so. He felt
that too much or not enough was taken for granted. Ruth had met him,
when he first came, with a cordial frankness, and her manner continued
entirely unrestrained. She neither sought his company nor avoided it,
and this perfectly level treatment irritated him more than any other
could have done. It was impossible to advance much in love-making with
one who offered no obstacles, had no concealments and no embarrassments,
and whom any approach to sentimentality would be quite likely to set into
a fit of laughter.

"Why, Phil," she would say, "what puts you in the dumps to day? You are
as solemn as the upper bench in Meeting. I shall have to call Alice to
raise your spirits; my presence seems to depress you."

It's not your presence, but your absence when you are present," began
Philip, dolefully, with the idea that he was saying a rather deep thing.
"But you won't understand me."

"No, I confess I cannot. If you really are so low, as to think I am
absent when I am present, it's a frightful case of aberration; I shall
ask father to bring out Dr. Jackson. Does Alice appear to be present
when she is absent?"

"Alice has some human feeling, anyway. She cares for something besides
musty books and dry bones. I think, Ruth, when I die," said Philip,
intending to be very grim and sarcastic, "I'll leave you my skeleton.
You might like that."

"It might be more cheerful than you are at times," Ruth replied with a
laugh. "But you mustn't do it without consulting Alice. She might not.
like it."

"I don't know why you should bring Alice up on every occasion. Do you
think I am in love with her?"

"Bless you, no. It never entered my head. Are you? The thought of
Philip Sterling in love is too comical. I thought you were only in love
with the Ilium coal mine, which you and father talk about half the time."

This is a specimen of Philip's wooing. Confound the girl, he would say
to himself, why does she never tease Harry and that young Shepley who
comes here?

How differently Alice treated him. She at least never mocked him, and it
was a relief to talk with one who had some sympathy with him. And he did
talk to her, by the hour, about Ruth. The blundering fellow poured all
his doubts and anxieties into her ear, as if she had been the impassive
occupant of one of those little wooden confessionals in the Cathedral on
Logan Square. Has, a confessor, if she is young and pretty, any feeling?
Does it mend the matter by calling her your sister?

Philip called Alice his good sister, and talked to her about love and
marriage, meaning Ruth, as if sisters could by no possibility have any
personal concern in such things. Did Ruth ever speak of him? Did she
think Ruth cared for him? Did Ruth care for anybody at Fallkill? Did
she care for anything except her profession? And so on.

Alice was loyal to Ruth, and if she knew anything she did not betray her
friend. She did not, at any rate, give Philip too much encouragement.
What woman, under the circumstances, would?

"I can tell you one thing, Philip," she said, "if ever Ruth Bolton loves,
it will be with her whole soul, in a depth of passion that will sweep
everything before it and surprise even herself."

A remark that did not much console Philip, who imagined that only some
grand heroism could unlock the sweetness of such a heart; and Philip
feared that he wasn't a hero. He did not know out of what materials a
woman can construct a hero, when she is in the creative mood.

Harry skipped into this society with his usual lightness and gaiety.
His good nature was inexhaustible, and though he liked to relate his own
exploits, he had a little tact in adapting himself to the tastes of his
hearers. He was not long in finding out that Alice liked to hear about
Philip, and Harry launched out into the career of his friend in the West,
with a prodigality of invention that would have astonished the chief
actor. He was the most generous fellow in the world, and picturesque
conversation was the one thing in which he never was bankrupt. With Mr.
Bolton be was the serious man of business, enjoying the confidence of
many of the monied men in New York, whom Mr. Bolton knew, and engaged
with them in railway schemes and government contracts. Philip, who had
so long known Harry, never could make up his mind that Harry did not
himself believe that he was a chief actor in all these large operations
of which he talked so much.

Harry did not neglect to endeavor to make himself agreeable to Mrs.
Bolton, by paying great attention to the children, and by professing the
warmest interest in the Friends' faith. It always seemed to him the most
peaceful religion; he thought it must be much easier to live by an
internal light than by a lot of outward rules; he had a dear Quaker aunt
in Providence of whom Mrs. Bolton constantly reminded him. He insisted
upon going with Mrs. Bolton and the children to the Friends Meeting on
First Day, when Ruth and Alice and Philip, "world's people," went to a
church in town, and he sat through the hour of silence with his hat on,
in most exemplary patience. In short, this amazing actor succeeded so
well with Mrs. Bolton, that she said to Philip one day,

"Thy friend, Henry Brierly, appears to be a very worldly minded young
man. Does he believe in anything?"

"Oh, yes," said Philip laughing, "he believes in more things than any
other person I ever saw."

To Ruth, Harry seemed to be very congenial. He was never moody for one
thing, but lent himself with alacrity to whatever her fancy was. He was
gay or grave as the need might be. No one apparently could enter more
fully into her plans for an independent career.

"My father," said Harry, "was bred a physician, and practiced a little
before he went into Wall street. I always had a leaning to the study.
There was a skeleton hanging in the closet of my father's study when I
was a boy, that I used to dress up in old clothes. Oh, I got quite
familiar with the human frame."

"You must have," said Philip. "Was that where you learned to play the
bones? He is a master of those musical instruments, Ruth; he plays well
enough to go on the stage."

"Philip hates science of any kind, and steady application," retorted
Harry. He didn't fancy Philip's banter, and when the latter had gone
out, and Ruth asked,

"Why don't you take up medicine, Mr. Brierly?"

Harry said, "I have it in mind. I believe I would begin attending
lectures this winter if it weren't for being wanted in Washington. But
medicine is particularly women's province."

"Why so?" asked Ruth, rather amused.

"Well, the treatment of disease is a good deal a matter of sympathy.
A woman's intuition is better than a man's. Nobody knows anything,
really, you know, and a woman can guess a good deal nearer than a man."

"You are very complimentary to my sex."

"But," said Harry frankly; "I should want to choose my doctor; an ugly
woman would ruin me, the disease would be sure to strike in and kill me
at sight of her. I think a pretty physician, with engaging manners,
would coax a fellow to live through almost anything."

"I am afraid you are a scoffer, Mr. Brierly."

"On the contrary, I am quite sincere. Wasn't it old what's his name?
that said only the beautiful is useful?"

Whether Ruth was anything more than diverted with Harry's company; Philip
could not determine. He scorned at any rate to advance his own interest
by any disparaging communications about Harry, both because he could not
help liking the fellow himself, and because he may have known that he
could not more surely create a sympathy for him in Ruth's mind. That
Ruth was in no danger of any serious impression he felt pretty sure,
felt certain of it when he reflected upon her severe occupation with her
profession. Hang it, he would say to himself, she is nothing but pure
intellect anyway. And he only felt uncertain of it when she was in one
of her moods of raillery, with mocking mischief in her eyes. At such
times she seemed to prefer Harry's society to his. When Philip was
miserable about this, he always took refuge with Alice, who was never
moody, and who generally laughed him out of his sentimental nonsense.
He felt at his ease with Alice, and was never in want of something to
talk about; and he could not account for the fact that he was so often
dull with Ruth, with whom, of all persons in the world, he wanted to
appear at his best.

Harry was entirely satisfied with his own situation. A bird of passage
is always at its ease, having no house to build, and no responsibility.
He talked freely with Philip about Ruth, an almighty fine girl, he said,
but what the deuce she wanted to study medicine for, he couldn't see.

There was a concert one night at the Musical Fund Hall and the four had
arranged to go in and return by the Germantown cars. It was Philip's
plan, who had engaged the seats, and promised himself an evening with
Ruth, walking with her, sitting by her in the hall, and enjoying the
feeling of protecting that a man always has of a woman in a public place.
He was fond of music, too, in a sympathetic way; at least, he knew that
Ruth's delight in it would be enough for him.

Perhaps he meant to take advantage of the occasion to say some very
serious things. His love for Ruth was no secret to Mrs. Bolton, and he
felt almost sure that he should have no opposition in the family. Mrs.
Bolton had been cautious in what she said, but Philip inferred everything
from her reply to his own questions, one day, "Has thee ever spoken thy
mind to Ruth?"

Why shouldn't he speak his mind, and end his doubts? Ruth had been more
tricksy than usual that day, and in a flow of spirits quite inconsistent,
it would seem, in a young lady devoted to grave studies.

Had Ruth a premonition of Philip's intention, in his manner? It may be,
for when the girls came down stairs, ready to walk to the cars; and met
Philip and Harry in the hall, Ruth said, laughing,

"The two tallest must walk together" and before Philip knew how it
happened Ruth had taken Harry's arm, and his evening was spoiled. He had
too much politeness and good sense and kindness to show in his manner
that he was hit. So he said to Harry,

"That's your disadvantage in being short." And he gave Alice no reason
to feel during the evening that she would not have been his first choice
for the excursion. But he was none the less chagrined, and not a little
angry at the turn the affair took.

The Hall was crowded with the fashion of the town. The concert was one
of those fragmentary drearinesses that people endure because they are
fashionable; tours de force on the piano, and fragments from operas,
which have no meaning without the setting, with weary pauses of waiting
between; there is the comic basso who is so amusing and on such familiar
terms with the audience, and always sings the Barber; the attitudinizing
tenor, with his languishing "Oh, Summer Night;" the soprano with her
"Batti Batti," who warbles and trills and runs and fetches her breath,
and ends with a noble scream that brings down a tempest of applause in
the midst of which she backs off the stage smiling and bowing. It was
this sort of concert, and Philip was thinking that it was the most stupid
one he ever sat through, when just as the soprano was in the midst of
that touching ballad, "Comin' thro' the Rye" (the soprano always sings
"Comin' thro' the Rye" on an encore)--the Black Swan used to make it
irresistible, Philip remembered, with her arch, "If a body kiss a body"
there was a cry of "Fire!"

The hall is long and narrow, and there is only one place of egress.
Instantly the audience was on its feet, and a rush began for the door.
Men shouted, women screamed, and panic seized the swaying mass.
A second's thought would have convinced every one that getting out was
impossible, and that the only effect of a rush would be to crash people
to death. But a second's thought was not given. A few cried:

"Sit down, sit down," but the mass was turned towards the door. Women
were down and trampled on in the aisles, and stout men, utterly lost to
self-control, were mounting the benches, as if to run a race over the
mass to the entrance.

Philip who had forced the girls to keep their seats saw, in a flash, the
new danger, and sprang to avert it. In a second more those infuriated
men would be over the benches and crushing Ruth and Alice under their
boots. He leaped upon the bench in front of them and struck out before
him with all his might, felling one man who was rushing on him, and
checking for an instant the movement, or rather parting it, and causing
it to flow on either side of him. But it was only for an instant; the
pressure behind was too great, and, the next Philip was dashed backwards
over the seat.

And yet that instant of arrest had probably saved the girls, for as
Philip fell, the orchestra struck up "Yankee Doodle" in the liveliest
manner. The familiar tune caught the ear of the mass, which paused in
wonder, and gave the conductor's voice a chance to be heard--"It's a
false alarm!"

The tumult was over in a minute, and the next, laughter was heard, and
not a few said, "I knew it wasn't anything." "What fools people are at
such a time."

The concert was over, however. A good many people were hurt, some of
them seriously, and among them Philip Sterling was found bent across the
seat, insensible, with his left arm hanging limp and a bleeding wound on
his head.

When he was carried into the air he revived, and said it was nothing.
A surgeon was called, and it was thought best to drive at once to the
Bolton's, the surgeon supporting Philip, who did not speak the whole way.
His arm was set and his head dressed, and the surgeon said he would come
round all right in his mind by morning; he was very weak. Alice who was
not much frightened while the panic lasted in the hall, was very much
unnerved by seeing Philip so pale and bloody. Ruth assisted the surgeon
with the utmost coolness and with skillful hands helped to dress Philip's
wounds. And there was a certain intentness and fierce energy in what she
did that might have revealed something to Philip if he had been in his
senses.

But he was not, or he would not have murmured "Let Alice do it, she is
not too tall."

It was Ruth's first case.

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