The Complete Works of Mark Twain


 
 
Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XLII

The Gilded Age

Chapter XLII


Mr. Buckstone's campaign was brief--much briefer than he supposed it
would be. He began it purposing to win Laura without being won himself;
but his experience was that of all who had fought on that field before
him; he diligently continued his effort to win her, but he presently
found that while as yet he could not feel entirely certain of having won
her, it was very manifest that she had won him. He had made an able
fight, brief as it was, and that at least was to his credit. He was in
good company, now; he walked in a leash of conspicuous captives. These
unfortunates followed Laura helplessly, for whenever she took a prisoner
he remained her slave henceforth. Sometimes they chafed in their
bondage; sometimes they tore themselves free and said their serfdom was
ended; but sooner or later they always came back penitent and worshiping.
Laura pursued her usual course: she encouraged Mr. Buckstone by turns,
and by turns she harassed him; she exalted him to the clouds at one time,
and at another she dragged him down again. She constituted him chief
champion of the Knobs University bill, and he accepted the position, at
first reluctantly, but later as a valued means of serving her--he even
came to look upon it as a piece of great good fortune, since it brought
him into such frequent contact with her.

Through him she learned that the Hon. Mr. Trollop was a bitter enemy of
her bill. He urged her not to attempt to influence Mr. Trollop in any
way, and explained that whatever she might attempt in that direction
would surely be used against her and with damaging effect.

She at first said she knew Mr. Trollop, "and was aware that he had a
Blank-Blank;"--[**Her private figure of speech for Brother--or Son-in-
law]--but Mr. Buckstone said that he was not able to conceive what so
curious a phrase as Blank-Blank might mean, and had no wish to pry into
the matter, since it was probably private, he "would nevertheless venture
the blind assertion that nothing would answer in this particular case and
during this particular session but to be exceedingly wary and keep clear
away from Mr. Trollop; any other course would be fatal."

It seemed that nothing could be done. Laura was seriously troubled.
Everything was looking well, and yet it was plain that one vigorous and
determined enemy might eventually succeed in overthrowing all her plans.
A suggestion came into her mind presently and she said:

"Can't you fight against his great Pension bill and, bring him to terms?"

"Oh, never; he and I are sworn brothers on that measure; we work in
harness and are very loving--I do everything I possibly can for him
there. But I work with might and main against his Immigration bill,
--as pertinaciously and as vindictively, indeed, as he works against our
University. We hate each other through half a conversation and are all
affection through the other half. We understand each other. He is an
admirable worker outside the capitol; he will do more for the Pension
bill than any other man could do; I wish he would make the great speech
on it which he wants to make--and then I would make another and we would
be safe."

"Well if he wants to make a great speech why doesn't he do it?"

Visitors interrupted the conversation and Mr. Buckstone took his leave.
It was not of the least moment to Laura that her question had not been
answered, inasmuch as it concerned a thing which did not interest her;
and yet, human being like, she thought she would have liked to know.
An opportunity occurring presently, she put the same question to another
person and got an answer that satisfied her. She pondered a good while
that night, after she had gone to bed, and when she finally turned over,
to, go to sleep, she had thought out a new scheme. The next evening at
Mrs. Gloverson's party, she said to Mr. Buckstone:

"I want Mr. Trollop to make his great speech on the Pension bill."

"Do you? But you remember I was interrupted, and did not explain
to you--"

"Never mind, I know. You must' make him make that speech. I very.
particularly desire, it."

"Oh, it is easy, to say make him do it, but how am I to make him!"

"It is perfectly easy; I have thought it all out."

She then went into the details. At length Mr. Buckstone said:

"I see now. I can manage it, I am sure. Indeed I wonder he never
thought of it himself--there are no end of precedents. But how is this
going to benefit you, after I have managed it? There is where the
mystery lies."

"But I will take care of that. It will benefit me a great deal."

"I only wish I could see how; it is the oddest freak. You seem to go the
furthest around to get at a thing--but you are in earnest, aren't you?"

"Yes I am, indeed."

"Very well, I will do it--but why not tell me how you imagine it is going
to help you?"

"I will, by and by.--Now there is nobody talking to him. Go straight and
do it, there's a good fellow."

A moment or two later the two sworn friends of the Pension bill were
talking together, earnestly, and seemingly unconscious of the moving
throng about them. They talked an hour, and then Mr. Buckstone came back
and said:

"He hardly fancied it at first, but he fell in love with it after a bit.
And we have made a compact, too. I am to keep his secret and he is to
spare me, in future, when he gets ready to denounce the supporters of the
University bill--and I can easily believe he will keep his word on this
occasion."

A fortnight elapsed, and the University bill had gathered to itself many
friends, meantime. Senator Dilworthy began to think the harvest was
ripe. He conferred with Laura privately. She was able to tell him
exactly how the House would vote. There was a majority--the bill would
pass, unless weak members got frightened at the last, and deserted--a
thing pretty likely to occur. The Senator said:

"I wish we had one more good strong man. Now Trollop ought to be on our
side, for he is a friend of the negro. But be is against us, and is our
bitterest opponent. If he would simply vote No, but keep quiet and not
molest us, I would feel perfectly cheerful and content. But perhaps
there is no use in thinking of that."

"Why I laid a little plan for his benefit two weeks ago. I think he will
be tractable, maybe. He is to come here tonight."

"Look out for him, my child! He means mischief, sure. It is said that
he claims to know of improper practices having been used in the interest
of this bill, and he thinks be sees a chance to make a great sensation
when the bill comes up. Be wary. Be very, very careful, my dear.
Do your very-ablest talking, now. You can convince a man of anything,
when you try. You must convince him that if anything improper has been
done, you at least are ignorant of it and sorry for it. And if you could
only persuade him out of his hostility to the bill, too--but don't overdo
the thing; don't seem too anxious, dear."

"I won't; I'll be ever so careful. I'll talk as sweetly to him as if he
were my own child! You may trust me--indeed you may."

The door-bell rang.

"That is the gentleman now," said Laura. Senator Dilworthy retired to
his study.

Laura welcomed Mr. Trollop, a grave, carefully dressed and very
respectable looking man, with a bald head, standing collar and old
fashioned watch seals.

"Promptness is a virtue, Mr. Trollop, and I perceive that you have it.
You are always prompt with me."

"I always meet my engagements, of every kind, Miss Hawkins."

"It is a quality which is rarer in the world than it has been, I believe.
I wished to see you on business, Mr. Trollop."

"I judged so. What can I do for you?"

"You know my bill--the Knobs University bill?"

"Ah, I believe it is your bill. I had forgotten. Yes, I know the bill."

"Well, would you mind telling me your opinion of it?"

"Indeed, since you seem to ask it without reserve, I am obliged to say
that I do not regard it favorably. I have not seen the bill itself, but
from what I can hear, it--it--well, it has a bad look about it. It--"

"Speak it out--never fear."

"Well, it--they say it contemplates a fraud upon the government."

"Well?" said Laura tranquilly.

"Well! I say 'Well?' too."

"Well, suppose it were a fraud--which I feel able to deny--would it be
the first one?"

"You take a body's breath away! Would you--did you wish me to vote for
it? Was that what you wanted to see me about?"

"Your instinct is correct. I did want you--I do want you to vote for
it."

"Vote for a fr--for a measure which is generally believed to be at least
questionable? I am afraid we cannot come to an understanding, Miss
Hawkins."

"No, I am afraid not--if you have resumed your principles, Mr. Trollop."

"Did you send for we merely to insult me? It is time for me to take my
leave, Miss Hawkins."

"No-wait a moment. Don't be offended at a trifle. Do not be offish and
unsociable. The Steamship Subsidy bill was a fraud on the government.
You voted for it, Mr. Trollop, though you always opposed the measure
until after you had an interview one evening with a certain Mrs. McCarter
at her house. She was my agent. She was acting for me. Ah, that is
right--sit down again. You can be sociable, easily enough if you have a
mind to. Well? I am waiting. Have you nothing to say?"

"Miss Hawkins, I voted for that bill because when I came to examine into
it--"

"Ah yes. When you came to examine into it. Well, I only want you to
examine into my bill. Mr. Trollop, you would not sell your vote on that
subsidy bill--which was perfectly right--but you accepted of some of the
stock, with the understanding that it was to stand in your brother-in-
law's name."

"There is no pr--I mean, this is, utterly groundless, Miss Hawkins." But
the gentleman seemed somewhat uneasy, nevertheless.

"Well, not entirely so, perhaps. I and a person whom we will call Miss
Blank (never mind the real name,) were in a closet at your elbow all the
while."

Mr. Trollop winced--then he said with dignity:

"Miss Hawkins is it possible that you were capable of such a thing as
that?"

"It was bad; I confess that. It was bad. Almost as bad as selling one's
vote for--but I forget; you did not sell your vote--you only accepted a
little trifle, a small token of esteem, for your brother-in-law. Oh, let
us come out and be frank with each other: I know you, Mr. Trollop.
I have met you on business three or four times; true, I never offered to
corrupt your principles--never hinted such a thing; but always when I had
finished sounding you, I manipulated you through an agent. Let us be
frank. Wear this comely disguise of virtue before the public--it will
count there; but here it is out of place. My dear sir, by and by there
is going to be an investigation into that National Internal Improvement
Directors' Relief Measure of a few years ago, and you know very well that
you will be a crippled man, as likely as not, when it is completed."

"It cannot be shown that a man is a knave merely for owning that stock.
I am not distressed about the National Improvement Relief Measure."

"Oh indeed I am not trying to distress you. I only wished, to make good
my assertion that I knew you. Several of you gentlemen bought of that
stack (without paying a penny down) received dividends from it, (think of
the happy idea of receiving dividends, and very large ones, too, from
stock one hasn't paid for!) and all the while your names never appeared
in the transaction; if ever you took the stock at all, you took it in
other people's names. Now you see, you had to know one of two things;
namely, you either knew that the idea of all this preposterous generosity
was to bribe you into future legislative friendship, or you didn't know
it. That is to say, you had to be either a knave or a--well, a fool--
there was no middle ground. You are not a fool, Mr. Trollop."

"Miss Hawking you flatter me. But seriously, you do not forget that some
of the best and purest men in Congress took that stock in that way?"

"Did Senator Bland?"

"Well, no--I believe not."

"Of course you believe not. Do you suppose he was ever approached, on
the subject?"

"Perhaps not."

"If you had approached him, for instance, fortified with the fact that
some of the best men in Congress, and the purest, etc., etc.; what would
have been the result?"

"Well, what WOULD have been the result?"

"He would have shown you the door! For Mr. Blank is neither a knave nor
a fool. There are other men in the Senate and the House whom no one
would have been hardy enough to approach with that Relief Stock in that
peculiarly generous way, but they are not of the class that you regard as
the best and purest. No, I say I know you Mr. Trollop. That is to say,
one may suggest a thing to Mr. Trollop which it would not do to suggest
to Mr. Blank. Mr. Trollop, you are pledged to support the Indigent
Congressmen's Retroactive Appropriation which is to come up, either in
this or the next session. You do not deny that, even in public. The man
that will vote for that bill will break the eighth commandment in any
other way, sir!"

"But he will not vote for your corrupt measure, nevertheless, madam!"
exclaimed Mr. Trollop, rising from his seat in a passion.

"Ah, but he will. Sit down again, and let me explain why. Oh, come,
don't behave so. It is very unpleasant. Now be good, and you shall
have, the missing page of your great speech. Here it is!"--and she
displayed a sheet of manuscript.

Mr. Trollop turned immediately back from the threshold. It might have
been gladness that flashed into his face; it might have been something
else; but at any rate there was much astonishment mixed with it.

"Good! Where did you get it? Give it me!"

"Now there is no hurry. Sit down; sit down and let us talk and be
friendly."

The gentleman wavered. Then he said:

"No, this is only a subterfuge. I will go. It is not the missing page."

Laura tore off a couple of lines from the bottom of the sheet.

"Now," she said, "you will know whether this is the handwriting or not.
You know it is the handwriting. Now if you will listen, you will know
that this must be the list of statistics which was to be the 'nub' of
your great effort, and the accompanying blast the beginning of the burst
of eloquence which was continued on the next page--and you will recognize
that there was where you broke down."

She read the page. Mr. Trollop said:

"This is perfectly astounding. Still, what is all this to me? It is
nothing. It does not concern me. The speech is made, and there an end.
I did break down for a moment, and in a rather uncomfortable place, since
I had led up to those statistics with some grandeur; the hiatus was
pleasanter to the House and the galleries than it was to me. But it is
no matter now. A week has passed; the jests about it ceased three or
four days ago. The, whole thing is a matter of indifference to me, Miss
Hawkins."

"But you apologized; and promised the statistics for next day. Why
didn't you keep your promise."

"The matter was not of sufficient consequence. The time was gone by to
produce an effect with them."

"But I hear that other friends of the Soldiers' Pension Bill desire them
very much. I think you ought to let them have them."

"Miss Hawkins, this silly blunder of my copyist evidently has more
interest for you than it has for me. I will send my private secretary to
you and let him discuss the subject with you at length."

"Did he copy your speech for you?"

"Of course he did. Why all these questions? Tell me--how did you get
hold of that page of manuscript? That is the only thing that stirs a
passing interest in my mind."

"I'm coming to that." Then she said, much as if she were talking to
herself: "It does seem like taking a deal of unnecessary pains, for a
body to hire another body to construct a great speech for him and then go
and get still another body to copy it before it can be read in the
House."

"Miss Hawkins, what do yo mean by such talk as that?"

"Why I am sure I mean no harm--no harm to anybody in the world. I am
certain that I overheard the Hon. Mr. Buckstone either promise to write
your great speech for you or else get some other competent person to do
it."

"This is perfectly absurd, madam, perfectly absurd!" and Mr. Trollop
affected a laugh of derision.

"Why, the thing has occurred before now. I mean that I have heard that
Congressmen have sometimes hired literary grubs to build speeches for
them.--Now didn't I overhear a conversation like that I spoke of?"

"Pshaw! Why of course you may have overheard some such jesting nonsense.
But would one be in earnest about so farcical a thing?"

"Well if it was only a joke, why did you make a serious matter of it?
Why did you get the speech written for you, and then read it in the House
without ever having it copied?"

Mr. Trollop did not laugh this time; he seemed seriously perplexed. He
said:

"Come, play out your jest, Miss Hawkins. I can't understand what you are
contriving--but it seems to entertain you--so please, go on."

"I will, I assure you; but I hope to make the matter entertaining to you,
too. Your private secretary never copied your speech."

"Indeed? Really you seem to know my affairs better than I do myself."

"I believe I do. You can't name your own amanuensis, Mr. Trollop."

"That is sad, indeed. Perhaps Miss Hawkins can?"

"Yes, I can. I wrote your speech myself, and you read it from my
manuscript. There, now!"

Mr. Trollop did not spring to his feet and smite his brow with his hand
while a cold sweat broke out all over him and the color forsook his face
--no, he only said, "Good God!" and looked greatly astonished.

Laura handed him her commonplace-book and called his attention to the
fact that the handwriting there and the handwriting of this speech were
the same. He was shortly convinced. He laid the book aside and said,
composedly:

"Well, the wonderful tragedy is done, and it transpires that I am
indebted to you for my late eloquence. What of it? What was all this
for and what does it amount to after all? What do you propose to do
about it?"

"Oh nothing. It is only a bit of pleasantry. When I overheard that
conversation I took an early opportunity to ask Mr. Buckstone if he knew
of anybody who might want a speech written--I had a friend, and so forth
and so on. I was the friend, myself; I thought I might do you a good
turn then and depend on you to do me one by and by. I never let Mr.
Buckstone have the speech till the last moment, and when you hurried off
to the House with it, you did not know there was a missing page, of
course, but I did.

"And now perhaps you think that if I refuse to support your bill, you
will make a grand exposure?"

"Well I had not thought of that. I only kept back the page for the mere
fun of the thing; but since you mention it, I don't know but I might do
something if I were angry."

"My dear Miss Hawkins, if you were to give out that you composed my
speech, you know very well that people would say it was only your
raillery, your fondness for putting a victim in the pillory and amusing
the public at his expense. It is too flimsy, Miss Hawkins, for a person
of your fine inventive talent--contrive an abler device than that.
Come!"

"It is easily done, Mr. Trollop. I will hire a man, and pin this page on
his breast, and label it, 'The Missing Fragment of the Hon. Mr. Trollop's
Great Speech--which speech was written and composed by Miss Laura Hawkins
under a secret understanding for one hundred dollars--and the money has
not been paid.' And I will pin round about it notes in my handwriting,
which I will procure from prominent friends of mine for the occasion;
also your printed speech in the Globe, showing the connection between its
bracketed hiatus and my Fragment; and I give you my word of honor that I
will stand that human bulletin board in the rotunda of the capitol and
make him stay there a week! You see you are premature, Mr. Trollop, the
wonderful tragedy is not done yet, by any means. Come, now, doesn't it
improve?"

Mr Trollop opened his eyes rather widely at this novel aspect of the
case. He got up and walked the floor and gave himself a moment for
reflection. Then he stopped and studied Laura's face a while, and ended
by saying:

"Well, I am obliged to believe yon would be reckless enough to do that."

"Then don't put me to the test, Mr. Trollop. But let's drop the matter.
I have had my joke and you've borne the infliction becomingly enough.
It spoils a jest to harp on it after one has had one's laugh. I would
much rather talk about my bill."

"So would I, now, my clandestine amanuensis. Compared with some other
subjects, even your bill is a pleasant topic to discuss."

"Very good indeed! I thought. I could persuade you. Now I am sure you
will be generous to the poor negro and vote for that bill."

"Yes, I feel more tenderly toward the oppressed colored man than I did.
Shall we bury the hatchet and be good friends and respect each other's
little secrets, on condition that I vote Aye on the measure?"

"With all my heart, Mr. Trollop. I give you my word of that."

"It is a bargain. But isn't there something else you could give me,
too?"

Laura looked at him inquiringly a moment, and then she comprehended.

"Oh, yes! You may have it now. I haven't any, more use for it." She
picked up the page of manuscript, but she reconsidered her intention of
handing it to him, and said, "But never mind; I will keep it close; no
one shall see it; you shall have it as soon as your vote is recorded."

Mr. Trollop looked disappointed. But presently made his adieux, and had
got as far as the hall, when something occurred to Laura. She said to
herself, "I don't simply want his vote under compulsion--he might vote
aye, but work against the bill in secret, for revenge; that man is
unscrupulous enough to do anything. I must have his hearty co-operation
as well as his vote. There is only one way to get that."

She called him back, and said:

"I value your vote, Mr. Trollop, but I value your influence more. You
are able to help a measure along in many ways, if you choose. I want to
ask you to work for the bill as well as vote for it."

"It takes so much of one's time, Miss Hawkins--and time is money, you
know."

"Yes, I know it is--especially in Congress. Now there is no use in you
and I dealing in pretenses and going at matters in round-about ways.
We know each other--disguises are nonsense. Let us be plain. I will
make it an object to you to work for the bill."

"Don't make it unnecessarily plain, please. There are little proprieties
that are best preserved. What do you propose?"

"Well, this." She mentioned the names of several prominent Congressmen.

"Now," said she, "these gentlemen are to vote and work for the bill,
simply out of love for the negro--and out of pure generosity I have put
in a relative of each as a member of the University incorporation. They
will handle a million or so of money, officially, but will receive no
salaries. A larger number of statesmen are to, vote and work for the
bill--also out of love for the negro--gentlemen of but moderate
influence, these--and out of pure generosity I am to see that relatives
of theirs have positions in the University, with salaries, and good ones,
too. You will vote and work for the bill, from mere affection for the
negro, and I desire to testify my gratitude becomingly. Make free
choice. Have you any friend whom you would like to present with a
salaried or unsalaried position in our institution?"

"Well, I have a brother-in-law--"

"That same old brother-in-law, you good unselfish provider! I have heard
of him often, through my agents. How regularly he does 'turn up,' to be
sure. He could deal with those millions virtuously, and withal with
ability, too--but of course you would rather he had a salaried position?"

"Oh, no," said the gentleman, facetiously, "we are very humble, very
humble in our desires; we want no money; we labor solely, for our country
and require no reward but the luxury of an applauding conscience. Make
him one of those poor hard working unsalaried corporators and let him do
every body good with those millions--and go hungry himself! I will try
to exert a little influence in favor of the bill."

Arrived at home, Mr. Trollop sat down and thought it all over--something
after this fashion: it is about the shape it might have taken if he had
spoken it aloud.

"My reputation is getting a little damaged, and I meant to clear it up
brilliantly with an exposure of this bill at the supreme moment, and ride
back into Congress on the eclat of it; and if I had that bit of
manuscript, I would do it yet. It would be more money in my pocket in
the end, than my brother-in-law will get out of that incorporatorship,
fat as it is. But that sheet of paper is out of my reach--she will never
let that get out of her hands. And what a mountain it is! It blocks up
my road, completely. She was going to hand it to me, once. Why didn't
she! Must be a deep woman. Deep devil! That is what she is;
a beautiful devil--and perfectly fearless, too. The idea of her pinning
that paper on a man and standing him up in the rotunda looks absurd at a
first glance. But she would do it! She is capable of doing anything.
I went there hoping she would try to bribe me--good solid capital that
would be in the exposure. Well, my prayer was answered; she did try to
bribe me; and I made the best of a bad bargain and let her. I am check-
mated. I must contrive something fresh to get back to Congress on.
Very well; a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; I will work for
the bill--the incorporatorship will be a very good thing."

As soon as Mr. Trollop had taken his leave, Laura ran to Senator
Dilworthy and began to speak, but he interrupted her and said
distressfully, without even turning from his writing to look at her:

"Only half an hour! You gave it up early, child. However, it was best,
it was best--I'm sure it was best--and safest."

"Give it up! I!"

The Senator sprang up, all aglow:

"My child, you can't mean that you--"

"I've made him promise on honor to think about a compromise tonight and
come and tell me his decision in the morning."

"Good! There's hope yet that--"

Nonsense, uncle. I've made him engage to let the Tennessee Land bill
utterly alone!"

"Impossible! You--"

"I've made him promise to vote with us!"

"INCREDIBLE! Abso--"

"I've made him swear that he'll work for us!"

"PRE - - - POSTEROUS!--Utterly pre--break a window, child, before I
suffocate!"

"No matter, it's true anyway. Now we can march into Congress with drums
beating and colors flying!"

"Well--well--well. I'm sadly bewildered, sadly bewildered. I can't
understand it at all--the most extraordinary woman that ever--it's a
great day, it's a great day. There--there--let me put my hand in
benediction on this precious head. Ah, my child, the poor negro will
bless--"

"Oh bother the poor negro, uncle! Put it in your speech. Good-night,
good-bye--we'll marshal our forces and march with the dawn!"

Laura reflected a while, when she was alone, and then fell to laughing,
peacefully.

"Everybody works for me,"--so ran her thought. "It was a good idea to
make Buckstone lead Mr. Trollop on to get a great speech written for him;
and it was a happy part of the same idea for me to copy the speech after
Mr. Buckstone had written it, and then keep back a page. Mr. B. was
very complimentary to me when Trollop's break-down in the House showed
him the object of my mysterious scheme; I think he will say, still finer
things when I tell him the triumph the sequel to it has gained for us.

"But what a coward the man was, to believe I would have exposed that page
in the rotunda, and so exposed myself. However, I don't know--I don't
know. I will think a moment. Suppose he voted no; suppose the bill
failed; that is to suppose this stupendous game lost forever, that I have
played so desperately for; suppose people came around pitying me--odious!
And he could have saved me by his single voice. Yes, I would have
exposed him! What would I care for the talk that that would have made
about me when I was gone to Europe with Selby and all the world was busy
with my history and my dishonor? It would be almost happiness to spite
somebody at such a time."

< Back
Forward >












Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors


Mark Twain. Copyright 2008, mtwain.com
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.