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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XLVIII

The Gilded Age

Chapter XLVIII


It had been a bad winter, somehow, for the firm of Pennybacker, Bigler
and Small. These celebrated contractors usually made more money during
the session of the legislature at Harrisburg than upon all their summer
work, and this winter had been unfruitful. It was unaccountable to
Bigler.

"You see, Mr. Bolton," he said, and Philip was present at the
conversation, "it puts us all out. It looks as if politics was played
out. We'd counted on the year of Simon's re-election. And, now, he's
reelected, and I've yet to see the first man who's the better for it."

"You don't mean to say," asked Philip, "that he went in without paying
anything?"

"Not a cent, not a dash cent, as I can hear," repeated Mr. Bigler,
indignantly. "I call it a swindle on the state. How it was done gets
me. I never saw such a tight time for money in Harrisburg."

"Were there no combinations, no railroad jobs, no mining schemes put
through in connection with the election?

"Not that I knew," said Bigler, shaking his head in disgust. "In fact it
was openly said, that there was no money in the election. It's perfectly
unheard of."

"Perhaps," suggested Philip, "it was effected on what the insurance
companies call the 'endowment,' or the 'paid up' plan, by which a policy
is secured after a certain time without further payment."

"You think then," said Mr. Bolton smiling, "that a liberal and sagacious
politician might own a legislature after a time, and not be bothered with
keeping up his payments?"

"Whatever it is," interrupted Mr. Bigler, "it's devilish ingenious and
goes ahead of my calculations; it's cleaned me out, when I thought we had
a dead sure thing. I tell you what it is, gentlemen, I shall go in for
reform. Things have got pretty mixed when a legislature will give away a
United States senatorship."

It was melancholy, but Mr. Bigler was not a man to be crushed by one
misfortune, or to lose his confidence in human nature, on one exhibition
of apparent honesty. He was already on his feet again, or would be if
Mr. Bolton could tide him over shoal water for ninety days.

"We've got something with money in it," he explained to Mr. Bolton,
"got hold of it by good luck. We've got the entire contract for Dobson's
Patent Pavement for the city of Mobile. See here."

Mr. Bigler made some figures; contract so; much, cost of work and
materials so much, profits so much. At the end of three months the city
would owe the company three hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars-two
hundred thousand of that would be profits. The whole job was worth at
least a million to the company--it might be more. There could be no
mistake in these figures; here was the contract, Mr. Bolton knew what
materials were worth and what the labor would cost.

Mr. Bolton knew perfectly well from sore experience that there was always
a mistake in figures when Bigler or Small made them, and he knew that he
ought to send the fellow about his business. Instead of that, he let him
talk.

They only wanted to raise fifty thousand dollars to carry on the
contract--that expended they would have city bonds. Mr. Bolton said he
hadn't the money. But Bigler could raise it on his name. Mr. Bolton
said he had no right to put his family to that risk. But the entire
contract could be assigned to him--the security was ample--it was a
fortune to him if it was forfeited. Besides Mr. Bigler had been
unfortunate, he didn't know where to look for the necessaries of life for
his family. If he could only have one more chance, he was sure he could
right himself. He begged for it.

And Mr. Bolton yielded. He could never refuse such appeals. If he had
befriended a man once and been cheated by him, that man appeared to have
a claim upon him forever. He shrank, however, from telling his wife what
he had done on this occasion, for he knew that if any person was more
odious than Small to his family it was Bigler.

"Philip tells me," Mrs. Bolton said that evening, "that the man Bigler
has been with thee again to-day. I hope thee will have nothing more to
do with him."

He has been very unfortunate," replied Mr. Bolton, uneasily.

"He is always unfortunate, and he is always getting thee into trouble.
But thee didn't listen to him again?"

"Well, mother, his family is in want, and I lent him my name--but I took
ample security. The worst that can happen will be a little
inconvenience."

Mrs. Bolton looked grave and anxious, but she did not complain or
remonstrate; she knew what a "little inconvenience" meant, but she knew
there was no help for it. If Mr. Bolton had been on his way to market to
buy a dinner for his family with the only dollar he had in the world in
his pocket, he would have given it to a chance beggar who asked him for
it. Mrs. Bolton only asked (and the question showed that she was no mere
provident than her husband where her heart was interested),

"But has thee provided money for Philip to use in opening the coal mine?"

"Yes, I have set apart as much as it ought to cost to open the mine,
as much as we can afford to lose if no coal is found. Philip has the
control of it, as equal partner in the venture, deducting the capital
invested. He has great confidence in his success, and I hope for his
sake he won't be disappointed."

Philip could not but feel that he was treated very much like one of the
Bolton-family--by all except Ruth. His mother, when he went home after
his recovery from his accident, had affected to be very jealous of Mrs.
Bolton, about whom and Ruth she asked a thousand questions--
an affectation of jealousy which no doubt concealed a real heartache,
which comes to every mother when her son goes out into the world and
forms new ties. And to Mrs. Sterling; a widow, living on a small income
in a remote Massachusetts village, Philadelphia was a city of many
splendors. All its inhabitants seemed highly favored, dwelling in ease
and surrounded by superior advantages. Some of her neighbors had
relations living in Philadelphia, and it seemed to them somehow a
guarantee of respectability to have relations in Philadelphia.
Mrs. Sterling was not sorry to have Philip make his way among such well-
to-do people, and she was sure that no good fortune could be too good for
his deserts.

"So, sir," said Ruth, when Philip came from New York, "you have been
assisting in a pretty tragedy. I saw your name in the papers. Is this
woman a specimen of your western friends?"

"My only assistance," replied Philip, a little annoyed, was in trying to
keep Harry out of a bad scrape, and I failed after all. He walked into
her trap, and he has been punished for it. I'm going to take him up to
Ilium to see if he won't work steadily at one thing, and quit his
nonsense."

"Is she as beautiful as the newspapers say she is?"

"I don't know, she has a kind of beauty--she is not like--'

"Not like Alice?"

"Well, she is brilliant; she was called the handsomest woman in
Washington--dashing, you know, and sarcastic and witty. Ruth, do you
believe a woman ever becomes a devil?"

"Men do, and I don't know why women shouldn't. But I never saw one."

"Well, Laura Hawkins comes very near it. But it is dreadful to think of
her fate."

"Why, do you suppose they will hang a woman? Do you suppose they will be
so barbarous as that?"

"I wasn't thinking of that--it's doubtful if a New York jury would find a
woman guilty of any such crime. But to think of her life if she is
acquitted."

"It is dreadful," said Ruth, thoughtfully, "but the worst of it is that
you men do not want women educated to do anything, to be able to earn an
honest living by their own exertions. They are educated as if they were
always to be petted and supported, and there was never to be any such
thing as misfortune. I suppose, now, that you would all choose to have
me stay idly at home, and give up my profession."

"Oh, no," said Philip, earnestly, "I respect your resolution. But,
Ruth, do you think you would be happier or do more good in following your
profession than in having a home of your own?"

"What is to hinder having a home of my, own?"

"Nothing, perhaps, only you never would be in it--you would be away day
and night, if you had any practice; and what sort of a home would that
make for your husband?"

"What sort of a home is it for the wife whose husband is always away
riding about in his doctor's gig?"

"Ah, you know that is not fair. The woman makes the home."

Philip and Ruth often had this sort of discussion, to which Philip was
always trying to give a personal turn. He was now about to go to Ilium
for the season, and he did not like to go without some assurance from
Ruth that she might perhaps love him some day; when he was worthy of it,
and when he could offer her something better than a partnership in his
poverty.

"I should work with a great deal better heart, Ruth," he said the morning
he was taking leave, "if I knew you cared for me a little."

Ruth was looking down; the color came faintly to her cheeks, and she
hesitated. She needn't be looking down, he thought, for she was ever so
much shorter than tall Philip.

"It's not much of a place, Ilium," Philip went on, as if a little
geographical remark would fit in here as well as anything else, "and I
shall have plenty of time to think over the responsibility I have taken,
and--" his observation did not seem to be coming out any where.

But Ruth looked up, and there was a light in her eyes that quickened
Phil's pulse. She took his hand, and said with serious sweetness:

"Thee mustn't lose heart, Philip." And then she added, in another mood,
"Thee knows I graduate in the summer and shall have my diploma. And if
any thing happens--mines explode sometimes--thee can send for me.
Farewell."

The opening of the Ilium coal mine was begun with energy, but without
many omens of success. Philip was running a tunnel into the breast of
the mountain, in faith that the coal stratum ran there as it ought to.
How far he must go in he believed he knew, but no one could tell exactly.
Some of the miners said that they should probably go through the
mountain, and that the hole could be used for a railway tunnel. The
mining camp was a busy place at any rate. Quite a settlement of board
and log shanties had gone up, with a blacksmith shop, a small machine
shop, and a temporary store for supplying the wants of the workmen.
Philip and Harry pitched a commodious tent, and lived in the full
enjoyment of the free life.

There is no difficulty in digging a bole in the ground, if you have money
enough to pay for the digging, but those who try this sort of work are
always surprised at the large amount of money necessary to make a small
hole. The earth is never willing to yield one product, hidden in her
bosom, without an equivalent for it. And when a person asks of her coal,
she is quite apt to require gold in exchange.

It was exciting work for all concerned in it. As the tunnel advanced
into the rock every day promised to be the golden day. This very blast
might disclose the treasure.

The work went on week after week, and at length during the night as well
as the daytime. Gangs relieved each other, and the tunnel was every
hour, inch by inch and foot by foot, crawling into the mountain. Philip
was on the stretch of hope and excitement. Every pay day he saw his
funds melting away, and still there was only the faintest show of what
the miners call "signs."

The life suited Harry, whose buoyant hopefulness was never disturbed.
He made endless calculations, which nobody could understand, of the
probable position of the vein. He stood about among the workmen with the
busiest air. When he was down at Ilium he called himself the engineer of
the works, and he used to spend hours smoking his pipe with the Dutch
landlord on the hotel porch, and astonishing the idlers there with the
stories of his railroad operations in Missouri. He talked with the
landlord, too, about enlarging his hotel, and about buying some village
lots, in the prospect of a rise, when the mine was opened. He taught the
Dutchman how to mix a great many cooling drinks for the summer time, and
had a bill at the hotel, the growing length of which Mr. Dusenheimer
contemplated with pleasant anticipations. Mr. Brierly was a very useful
and cheering person wherever he went.

Midsummer arrived: Philip could report to Mr. Bolton only progress, and
this was not a cheerful message for him to send to Philadelphia in reply
to inquiries that he thought became more and more anxious. Philip
himself was a prey to the constant fear that the money would give out
before the coal was struck.

At this time Harry was summoned to New York, to attend the trial of Laura
Hawkins. It was possible that Philip would have to go also, her lawyer
wrote, but they hoped for a postponement. There was important evidence
that they could not yet obtain, and he hoped the judge would not force
them to a trial unprepared. There were many reasons for a delay, reasons
which of course are never mentioned, but which it would seem that a New
York judge sometimes must understand, when he grants a postponement upon
a motion that seems to the public altogether inadequate.

Harry went, but he soon came back. The trial was put off. Every week we
can gain, said the learned counsel, Braham, improves our chances. The
popular rage never lasts long.

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