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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XXXV

The Gilded Age

Chapter XXXV


Laura went down stairs, knocked at/the study door, and entered, scarcely
waiting for the response. Senator Dilworthy was alone--with an open
Bible in his hand, upside down. Laura smiled, and said, forgetting her
acquired correctness of speech,

"It is only me."

"Ah, come in, sit down," and the Senator closed the book and laid it
down. "I wanted to see you. Time to report progress from the committee
of the whole," and the Senator beamed with his own congressional wit.

"In the committee of the whole things are working very well. We have
made ever so much progress in a week. I believe that you and I together
could run this government beautifully, uncle."

The Senator beamed again. He liked to be called "uncle" by this
beautiful woman.

"Did you see Hopperson last night after the congressional prayer
meeting?"

"Yes. He came. He's a kind of--"

"Eh? he is one of my friends, Laura. He's a fine man, a very fine man.
I don't know any man in congress I'd sooner go to for help in any
Christian work. What did he say?"

"Oh, he beat around a little. He said he should like to help the negro,
his heart went out to the negro, and all that--plenty of them say that
but he was a little afraid of the Tennessee Land bill; if Senator
Dilworthy wasn't in it, he should suspect there was a fraud on the
government."

"He said that, did he?"

"Yes. And he said he felt he couldn't vote for it. He was shy."

"Not shy, child, cautious. He's a very cautious man. I have been with
him a great deal on conference committees. He wants reasons, good ones.
Didn't you show him he was in error about the bill?"

"I did. I went over the whole thing. I had to tell him some of the side
arrangements, some of the--"

"You didn't mention me?"

"Oh, no. I told him you were daft about the negro and the philanthropy
part of it, as you are."

"Daft is a little strong, Laura. But you know that I wouldn't touch this
bill if it were not for the public good, and for the good of the colored
race; much as I am interested in the heirs of this property, and would
like to have them succeed."

Laura looked a little incredulous, and the Senator proceeded.

"Don't misunderstand me, I don't deny that it is for the interest of all
of us that this bill should go through, and it will. I have no
concealments from you. But I have one principle in my public life, which
I should like you to keep in mind; it has always been my guide. I never
push a private interest if it is not Justified and ennobled by some
larger public good. I doubt Christian would be justified in working for
his own salvation if it was not to aid in the salvation of his fellow
men."

The Senator spoke with feeling, and then added,

"I hope you showed Hopperson that our motives were pure?"

"Yes, and he seemed to have a new light on the measure: I think will vote
for it."

"I hope so; his name will give tone and strength to it. I knew you would
only have to show him that it was just and pure, in order to secure his
cordial support."

"I think I convinced him. Yes, I am perfectly sure he will vote right
now."

"That's good, that's good," said the Senator; smiling, and rubbing his
hands. "Is there anything more?"

"You'll find some changes in that I guess," handing the Senator a printed
list of names. "Those checked off are all right."

"Ah--'m--'m," running his eye down the list. "That's encouraging. What
is the 'C' before some of the names, and the 'B. B.'?"

"Those are my private marks. That 'C' stands for 'convinced,' with
argument. The 'B. B.' is a general sign for a relative. You see it
stands before three of the Hon. Committee. I expect to see the chairman
of the committee to-day, Mr. Buckstone."

"So, you must, he ought to be seen without any delay. Buckstone is a
worldly sort of a fellow, but he has charitable impulses. If we secure
him we shall have a favorable report by the committee, and it will be a
great thing to be able to state that fact quietly where it will do good."

"Oh, I saw Senator Balloon"

"He will help us, I suppose? Balloon is a whole-hearted fellow. I can't
help loving that man, for all his drollery and waggishness. He puts on
an air of levity sometimes, but there aint a man in the senate knows the
scriptures as he does. He did not make any objections?"

"Not exactly, he said--shall I tell you what he said?" asked Laura
glancing furtively at him.

"Certainly."

"He said he had no doubt it was a good thing; if Senator Dilworthy was in
it, it would pay to look into it."

The Senator laughed, but rather feebly, and said, "Balloon is always full
of his jokes."

"I explained it to him. He said it was all right, he only wanted a word
with you,", continued Laura. "He is a handsome old gentleman, and he is
gallant for an old man."

"My daughter," said the Senator, with a grave look, "I trust there was
nothing free in his manner?"

"Free?" repeated Laura, with indignation in her face. "With me!"

"There, there, child. I meant nothing, Balloon talks a little freely
sometimes, with men. But he is right at heart. His term expires next
year and I fear we shall lose him."

"He seemed to be packing the day I was there. His rooms were full of dry
goods boxes, into which his servant was crowding all manner of old
clothes and stuff: I suppose he will paint 'Pub. Docs' on them and frank
them home. That's good economy, isn't it?"

"Yes, yes, but child, all Congressmen do that. It may not be strictly
honest, indeed it is not unless he had some public documents mixed in
with the clothes."

"It's a funny world. Good-bye, uncle. I'm going to see that chairman."

And humming a cheery opera air, she departed to her room to dress for
going out. Before she did that, however, she took out her note book and
was soon deep in its contents; marking, dashing, erasing, figuring, and
talking to herself.

"Free! I wonder what Dilworthy does think of me anyway? One . . .
two. . .eight . . . seventeen . . . twenty-one,. . 'm'm . . .
it takes a heap for a majority. Wouldn't Dilworthy open his eyes if he
knew some of the things Balloon did say to me. There. . . .
Hopperson's influence ought to count twenty . . . the sanctimonious
old curmudgeon. Son-in-law. . . . sinecure in the negro institution
. . . .That about gauges him . . . The three committeemen . . . .
sons-in-law. Nothing like a son-in-law here in Washington or a brother-
in-law . . . And everybody has 'em . . .Let's see: . . . sixty-
one. . . . with places . . . twenty-five . . . persuaded--it is
getting on; . . . . we'll have two-thirds of Congress in time . . .
Dilworthy must surely know I understand him. Uncle Dilworthy . . . .
Uncle Balloon!--Tells very amusing stories . . . when ladies are not
present . . . I should think so . . . .'m . . . 'm. Eighty-five.
There. I must find that chairman. Queer. . . . Buckstone acts . .
Seemed to be in love . . . . . I was sure of it. He promised to
come here. . . and he hasn't. . . Strange. Very strange . . . .
I must chance to meet him to-day."

Laura dressed and went out, thinking she was perhaps too early for Mr.
Buckstone to come from the house, but as he lodged near the bookstore she
would drop in there and keep a look out for him.

While Laura is on her errand to find Mr. Buckstone, it may not be out of
the way to remark that she knew quite as much of Washington life as
Senator Dilworthy gave her credit for, and more than she thought proper
to tell him. She was acquainted by this time with a good many of the
young fellows of Newspaper Row; and exchanged gossip with them to their
mutual advantage.

They were always talking in the Row, everlastingly gossiping, bantering
and sarcastically praising things, and going on in a style which was a
curious commingling of earnest and persiflage. Col. Sellers liked this
talk amazingly, though he was sometimes a little at sea in it--and
perhaps that didn't lessen the relish of the conversation to the
correspondents.

It seems that they had got hold of the dry-goods box packing story about
Balloon, one day, and were talking it over when the Colonel came in.
The Colonel wanted to know all about it, and Hicks told him. And then
Hicks went on, with a serious air,

"Colonel, if you register a letter, it means that it is of value, doesn't
it? And if you pay fifteen cents for registering it, the government will
have to take extra care of it and even pay you back its full value if it
is lost. Isn't that so?"

"Yes. I suppose it's so.".

"Well Senator Balloon put fifteen cents worth of stamps on each of those
seven huge boxes of old clothes, and shipped that ton of second-hand
rubbish, old boots and pantaloons and what not through the mails as
registered matter! It was an ingenious thing and it had a genuine touch
of humor about it, too. I think there is more real: talent among our
public men of to-day than there was among those of old times--a far more
fertile fancy, a much happier ingenuity. Now, Colonel, can you picture
Jefferson, or Washington or John Adams franking their wardrobes through
the mails and adding the facetious idea of making the government
responsible for the cargo for the sum of one dollar and five cents?
Statesmen were dull creatures in those days. I have a much greater
admiration for Senator Balloon."

"Yes, Balloon is a man of parts, there is no denying it"

"I think so. He is spoken of for the post of Minister to China, or
Austria, and I hope will be appointed. What we want abroad is good
examples of the national character.

"John Jay and Benjamin Franklin were well enough in their day, but the
nation has made progress since then. Balloon is a man we know and can
depend on to be true to himself."

"Yes, and Balloon has had a good deal of public experience. He is an old
friend of mine. He was governor of one of the territories a while, and
was very satisfactory."

"Indeed he was. He was ex-officio Indian agent, too. Many a man would
have taken the Indian appropriation and devoted the money to feeding and
clothing the helpless savages, whose land had been taken from them by the
white man in the interests of civilization; but Balloon knew their needs
better. He built a government saw-mill on the reservation with the
money, and the lumber sold for enormous prices--a relative of his did all
the work free of charge--that is to say he charged nothing more than the
lumber world bring." "But the poor Injuns--not that I care much for
Injuns--what did he do for them?"

"Gave them the outside slabs to fence in the reservation with. Governor
Balloon was nothing less than a father to the poor Indians. But Balloon
is not alone, we have many truly noble statesmen in our country's service
like Balloon. The Senate is full of them. Don't you think so Colonel?"

"Well, I dunno. I honor my country's public servants as much as any one
can. I meet them, Sir, every day, and the more I see of them the more I
esteem them and the more grateful I am that our institutions give us the
opportunity of securing their services. Few lands are so blest."

"That is true, Colonel. To be sure you can buy now and then a Senator or
a Representative but they do not know it is wrong, and so they are not
ashamed of it. They are gentle, and confiding and childlike, and in my
opinion these are qualities that ennoble them far more than any amount of
sinful sagacity could. I quite agree with you, Col. Sellers."

"Well"--hesitated the, Colonel--"I am afraid some of them do buy their
seats--yes, I am afraid they do--but as Senator Dilworthy himself said to
me, it is sinful,--it is very wrong--it is shameful; Heaven protect me
from such a charge. That is what Dilworthy said. And yet when you come
to look at it you cannot deny that we would have to go without the
services of some of our ablest men, sir, if the country were opposed to--
to--bribery. It is a harsh term. I do not like to use it."

The Colonel interrupted himself at this point to meet an engagement with
the Austrian minister, and took his leave with his usual courtly bow.

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