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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XLVI

The Gilded Age

Chapter XLVI


Philip left the capitol and walked up Pennsylvania Avenue in company with
Senator Dilworthy. It was a bright spring morning, the air was soft and
inspiring; in the deepening wayside green, the pink flush of the
blossoming peach trees, the soft suffusion on the heights of Arlington,
and the breath of the warm south wind was apparent, the annual miracle of
the resurrection of the earth.

The Senator took off his hat and seemed to open his soul to the sweet
influences of the morning. After the heat and noise of the chamber,
under its dull gas-illuminated glass canopy, and the all night struggle
of passion and feverish excitement there, the open, tranquil world seemed
like Heaven. The Senator was not in an exultant mood, but rather in a
condition of holy joy, befitting a Christian statesman whose benevolent
plans Providence has made its own and stamped with approval. The great
battle had been fought, but the measure had still to encounter the
scrutiny of the Senate, and Providence sometimes acts differently in the
two Houses. Still the Senator was tranquil, for he knew that there is an
esprit de corps in the Senate which does not exist in the House, the
effect of which is to make the members complaisant towards the projects
of each other, and to extend a mutual aid which in a more vulgar body
would be called "log-rolling."

"It is, under Providence, a good night's work, Mr. Sterling. The
government has founded an institution which will remove half the
difficulty from the southern problem. And it is a good thing for the
Hawkins heirs, a very good thing. Laura will be almost a millionaire."

"Do you think, Mr. Dilworthy, that the Hawkinses will get much of the
money?" asked Philip innocently, remembering the fate of the Columbus
River appropriation.

The Senator looked at his companion scrutinizingly for a moment to see if
he meant any thing personal, and then replied,

"Undoubtedly, undoubtedly. I have had their interests greatly at heart.
There will of course be a few expenses, but the widow and orphans will
realize all that Mr. Hawkins, dreamed of for them."

The birds were singing as they crossed the Presidential Square, now
bright with its green turf and tender foliage. After the two had gained
the steps of the Senator's house they stood a moment, looking upon the
lovely prospect:

"It is like the peace of God," said the Senator devoutly.

Entering the house, the Senator called a servant and said, "Tell Miss
Laura that we are waiting to see her. I ought to have sent a messenger
on horseback half an hour ago," he added to Philip, "she will be
transported with our victory. You must stop to breakfast, and see the
excitement." The servant soon came back, with a wondering look and
reported,

"Miss Laura ain't dah, sah. I reckon she hain't been dah all night!"

The Senator and Philip both started up. In Laura's room there were the
marks of a confused and hasty departure, drawers half open, little
articles strewn on the floor. The bed had not been disturbed. Upon
inquiry it appeared that Laura had not been at dinner, excusing herself
to Mrs. Dilworthy on the plea of a violent headache; that she made a
request to the servants that she might not be disturbed.

The Senator was astounded. Philip thought at once of Col. Selby. Could
Laura have run away with him? The Senator thought not. In fact it could
not be. Gen. Leffenwell, the member from New Orleans, had casually told
him at the house last night that Selby and his family went to New York
yesterday morning and were to sail for Europe to-day.

Philip had another idea which, he did not mention. He seized his hat,
and saying that he would go and see what he could learn, ran to the
lodgings of Harry; whom he had not seen since yesterday afternoon, when
he left him to go to the House.

Harry was not in. He had gone out with a hand-bag before six o'clock
yesterday, saying that he had to go to New York, but should return next
day. In Harry's-room on the table Philip found this note:

         "Dear Mr. Brierly:--Can you meet me at the six o'clock train,
         and be my escort to New York? I have to go about this
         University bill, the vote of an absent member we must have
         here, Senator Dilworthy cannot go.
                                             Yours, L. H."

"Confound it," said Phillip, "the noodle has fallen into her trap. And
she promised she would let him alone."

He only stopped to send a note to Senator Dilworthy, telling him what he
had found, and that he should go at once to New York, and then hastened
to the railway station. He had to wait an hour for a train, and when it
did start it seemed to go at a snail's pace.

Philip was devoured with anxiety. Where could they, have gone? What was
Laura's object in taking Harry? Had the flight anything to do with
Selby? Would Harry be such a fool as to be dragged into some public
scandal?

It seemed as if the train would never reach Baltimore. Then there was a
long delay at Havre de Grace. A hot box had to be cooled at Wilmington.
Would it never get on? Only in passing around the city of Philadelphia
did the train not seem to go slow. Philip stood upon the platform and
watched for the Boltons' house, fancied he could distinguish its roof
among the trees, and wondered how Ruth would feel if she knew he was so
near her.

Then came Jersey, everlasting Jersey, stupid irritating Jersey, where the
passengers are always asking which line they are on, and where they are
to come out, and whether they have yet reached Elizabeth. Launched into
Jersey, one has a vague notion that he is on many lines and no one in
particular, and that he is liable at any moment to come to Elizabeth.
He has no notion what Elizabeth is, and always resolves that the next
time he goes that way, he will look out of the window and see what it is
like; but he never does. Or if he does, he probably finds that it is
Princeton or something of that sort. He gets annoyed, and never can see
the use of having different names for stations in Jersey. By and by.
there is Newark, three or four Newarks apparently; then marshes; then
long rock cuttings devoted to the advertisements of 'patent medicines and
ready-made, clothing, and New York tonics for Jersey agues, and Jersey
City is reached.

On the ferry-boat Philip bought an evening paper from a boy crying
"'Ere's the Evening Gram, all about the murder," and with breathless
haste--ran his eyes over the following:

                            SHOCKING MURDER!!!

     TRAGEDY IN HIGH LIFE!! A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN SHOOTS A DISTINGUISHED
     CONFEDERATE SOLDIER AT THE SOUTHERN HOTEL!!! JEALOUSY THE CAUSE!!!

     This morning occurred another of those shocking murders which have
     become the almost daily food of the newspapers, the direct result of
     the socialistic doctrines and woman's rights agitations, which have
     made every woman the avenger of her own wrongs, and all society the
     hunting ground for her victims.

     About nine o'clock a lady deliberately shot a man dead in the public
     parlor of the Southern Hotel, coolly remarking, as she threw down
     her revolver and permitted herself to be taken into custody, "He
     brought it on himself." Our reporters were immediately dispatched
     to the scene of the tragedy, and gathered the following particulars.

     Yesterday afternoon arrived at the hotel from Washington, Col.
     George Selby and family, who had taken passage and were to sail at
     noon to-day in the steamer Scotia for England. The Colonel was a
     handsome man about forty, a gentleman Of wealth and high social
     position, a resident of New Orleans. He served with distinction in
     the confederate army, and received a wound in the leg from which he
     has never entirely recovered, being obliged to use a cane in
     locomotion.

     This morning at about nine o'clock, a lady, accompanied by a
     gentleman, called at the office Of the hotel and asked for Col.
     Selby. The Colonel was at breakfast. Would the clerk tell him that
     a lady and gentleman wished to see him for a moment in the parlor?
     The clerk says that the gentleman asked her, "What do you want to
     see him for?" and that she replied, "He is going to Europe, and I
     ought to just say good by."

     Col. Selby was informed; and the lady and gentleman were shown to
     the parlor, in which were at the time three or four other persons.
     Five minutes after two shots were fired in quick succession, and
     there was a rush to the parlor from which the reports came.

     Col. Selby was found lying on the floor, bleeding, but not dead.
     Two gentlemen, who had just come in, had seized the lady, who made
     no resistance, and she was at once given in charge of a police
     officer who arrived. The persons who were in the parlor agree
     substantially as to what occurred. They had happened to be looking
     towards the door when the man--Col. Selby--entered with his cane,
     and they looked at him, because he stopped as if surprised and
     frightened, and made a backward movement. At the same moment the
     lady in the bonnet advanced towards him and said something like,
     "George, will you go with me?" He replied, throwing up his hand and
     retreating, "My God I can't, don't fire," and the next instants two
     shots were heard and he fell. The lady appeared to be beside
     herself with rage or excitement, and trembled very much when the
     gentlemen took hold of her; it was to them she said, "He brought it
     on himself."

     Col. Selby was carried at once to his room and Dr. Puffer, the
     eminent surgeon was sent for. It was found that he was shot through
     the breast and through the abdomen. Other aid was summoned, but the
     wounds were mortal, and Col Selby expired in an hour, in pain, but
     his mind was clear to the last and he made a full deposition. The
     substance of it was that his murderess is a Miss Laura Hawkins, whom
     he had known at Washington as a lobbyist and had some business with
     her. She had followed him with her attentions and solicitations,
     and had endeavored to make him desert his wife and go to Europe with
     her. When he resisted and avoided her she had threatened him. Only
     the day before he left Washington she had declared that he should
     never go out of the city alive without her.

     It seems to have been a deliberate and premeditated murder, the
     woman following him to Washington on purpose to commit it.

     We learn that the, murderess, who is a woman of dazzling and
     transcendent beauty and about twenty six or seven, is a niece of
     Senator Dilworthy at whose house she has been spending the winter.
     She belongs to a high Southern family, and has the reputation of
     being an heiress. Like some other great beauties and belles in
     Washington however there have been whispers that she had something
     to do with the lobby. If we mistake not we have heard her name
     mentioned in connection with the sale of the Tennessee Lands to the
     Knobs University, the bill for which passed the House last night.

     Her companion is Mr. Harry Brierly, a New York dandy, who has been
     in Washington. His connection with her and with this tragedy is not
     known, but he was also taken into custody, and will be detained at
     least as a witness.

     P. S. One of the persons present in the parlor says that after
     Laura Hawkins had fired twice, she turned the pistol towards
     herself, but that Brierly sprung and caught it from her hand, and
     that it was he who threw it on the floor.

     Further particulars with full biographies of all the parties in our
     next edition.

Philip hastened at once to the Southern Hotel, where he found still a
great state of excitement, and a thousand different and exaggerated
stories passing from mouth to mouth. The witnesses of the event had told
it over so many time that they had worked it up into a most dramatic
scene, and embellished it with whatever could heighten its awfulness.
Outsiders had taken up invention also. The Colonel's wife had gone
insane, they said. The children had rushed into the parlor and rolled
themselves in their father's blood. The hotel clerk said that he noticed
there was murder in the woman's eye when he saw her. A person who had
met the woman on the stairs felt a creeping sensation. Some thought
Brierly was an accomplice, and that he had set the woman on to kill his
rival. Some said the woman showed the calmness and indifference of
insanity.

Philip learned that Harry and Laura had both been taken to the city
prison, and he went there; but he was not admitted. Not being a
newspaper reporter, he could not see either of them that night; but the
officer questioned him suspiciously and asked him who he was. He might
perhaps see Brierly in the morning.

The latest editions of the evening papers had the result of the inquest.
It was a plain enough case for the jury, but they sat over it a long
time, listening to the wrangling of the physicians. Dr. Puffer insisted
that the man died from the effects of the wound in the chest. Dr. Dobb
as strongly insisted that the wound in the abdomen caused death. Dr.
Golightly suggested that in his opinion death ensued from a complication
of the two wounds and perhaps other causes. He examined the table
waiter, as to whether Col. Selby ate any breakfast, and what he ate, and
if he had any appetite.

The jury finally threw themselves back upon the indisputable fact that
Selby was dead, that either wound would have killed him (admitted by the
doctors), and rendered a verdict that he died from pistol-shot wounds
inflicted by a pistol in the hands of Laura Hawkins.

The morning papers blazed with big type, and overflowed with details of
the murder. The accounts in the evening papers were only the premonitory
drops to this mighty shower. The scene was dramatically worked up in
column after column. There were sketches, biographical and historical.
There were long "specials" from Washington, giving a full history of
Laura's career there, with the names of men with whom she was said to be
intimate, a description of Senator Dilworthy's residence and of his
family, and of Laura's room in his house, and a sketch of the Senator's
appearance and what he said. There was a great deal about her beauty,
her accomplishments and her brilliant position in society, and her
doubtful position in society. There was also an interview with Col.
Sellers and another with Washington Hawkins, the brother of the
murderess. One journal had a long dispatch from Hawkeye, reporting the
excitement in that quiet village and the reception of the awful
intelligence.

All the parties had been "interviewed." There were reports of
conversations with the clerk at the hotel; with the call-boy; with the
waiter at table with all the witnesses, with the policeman, with the
landlord (who wanted it understood that nothing of that sort had ever
happened in his house before, although it had always been frequented by
the best Southern society,) and with Mrs. Col. Selby. There were
diagrams illustrating the scene of the shooting, and views of the hotel
and street, and portraits of the parties. There were three minute and
different statements from the doctors about the wounds, so technically
worded that nobody could understand them. Harry and Laura had also been
"interviewed" and there was a statement from Philip himself, which a
reporter had knocked him up out of bed at midnight to give, though how he
found him, Philip never could conjecture.

What some of the journals lacked in suitable length for the occasion,
they made up in encyclopaedic information about other similar murders and
shootings.

The statement from Laura was not full, in fact it was fragmentary, and
consisted of nine parts of, the reporter's valuable observations to one
of Laura's, and it was, as the reporter significantly remarked,
"incoherent", but it appeared that Laura claimed to be Selby's wife,
or to have been his wife, that he had deserted her and betrayed her, and
that she was going to follow him to Europe. When the reporter asked:

"What made you shoot him Miss. Hawkins?"

Laura's only reply was, very simply,

"Did I shoot him? Do they say I shot him?". And she would say no more.

The news of the murder was made the excitement of the day. Talk of it
filled the town. The facts reported were scrutinized, the standing of
the parties was discussed, the dozen different theories of the motive,
broached in the newspapers, were disputed over.

During the night subtle electricity had carried the tale over all the
wires of the continent and under the sea; and in all villages and towns
of the Union, from the. Atlantic to the territories, and away up and
down the Pacific slope, and as far as London and Paris and Berlin, that
morning the name of Laura Hawkins was spoken by millions and millions of
people, while the owner of it--the sweet child of years ago, the
beautiful queen of Washington drawing rooms--sat shivering on her cot-bed
in the darkness of a damp cell in the Tombs.

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