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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter LIII

The Gilded Age

Chapter LIII


The session was drawing toward its close. Senator Dilworthy thought he
would run out west and shake hands with his constituents and let them
look at him. The legislature whose duty it would be to re-elect him to
the United States Senate, was already in session. Mr. Dilworthy
considered his re-election certain, but he was a careful, painstaking
man, and if, by visiting his State he could find the opportunity to
persuade a few more legislators to vote for him, he held the journey to
be well worth taking. The University bill was safe, now; he could leave
it without fear; it needed his presence and his watching no longer.
But there was a person in his State legislature who did need watching--
a person who, Senator Dilworthy said, was a narrow, grumbling,
uncomfortable malcontent--a person who was stolidly opposed to reform,
and progress and him,--a person who, he feared, had been bought with
money to combat him, and through him the commonwealth's welfare and its
politics' purity.

"If this person Noble," said Mr. Dilworthy, in a little speech at a
dinner party given him by some of his admirers, "merely desired to
sacrifice me.--I would willingly offer up my political life on the altar
of my dear State's weal, I would be glad and grateful to do it; but when
he makes of me but a cloak to hide his deeper designs, when he proposes
to strike through me at the heart of my beloved State, all the lion in me
is roused--and I say here I stand, solitary and alone, but unflinching,
unquailing, thrice armed with my sacred trust; and whoso passes, to do
evil to this fair domain that looks to me for protection, must do so over
my dead body."

He further said that if this Noble were a pure man, and merely misguided,
he could bear it, but that he should succeed in his wicked designs
through, a base use of money would leave a blot upon his State which
would work untold evil to the morals of the people, and that he would not
suffer; the public morals must not be contaminated. He would seek this
man Noble; he would argue, he would persuade, he would appeal to his
honor.

When he arrived on the ground he found his friends unterrified; they were
standing firmly by him and were full of courage. Noble was working hard,
too, but matters were against him, he was not making much progress.
Mr. Dilworthy took an early opportunity to send for Mr. Noble; he had a
midnight interview with him, and urged him to forsake his evil ways; he
begged him to come again and again, which he did. He finally sent the
man away at 3 o'clock one morning; and when he was gone, Mr. Dilworthy
said to himself,

"I feel a good deal relieved, now, a great deal relieved."

The Senator now turned his attention to matters touching the souls of his
people. He appeared in church; he took a leading part in prayer
meetings; he met and encouraged the temperance societies; he graced the
sewing circles of the ladies with his presence, and even took a needle
now and then and made a stitch or two upon a calico shirt for some poor
Bibleless pagan of the South Seas, and this act enchanted the ladies,
who regarded the garments thus honored as in a manner sanctified.
The Senator wrought in Bible classes, and nothing could keep him away
from the Sunday Schools--neither sickness nor storms nor weariness.
He even traveled a tedious thirty miles in a poor little rickety
stagecoach to comply with the desire of the miserable hamlet of
Cattleville that he would let its Sunday School look upon him.

All the town was assembled at the stage office when he arrived,
two bonfires were burning, and a battery of anvils was popping exultant
broadsides; for a United States Senator was a sort of god in the
understanding of these people who never had seen any creature mightier
than a county judge. To them a United States Senator was a vast, vague
colossus, an awe inspiring unreality.

Next day everybody was at the village church a full half hour before time
for Sunday School to open; ranchmen and farmers had come with their
families from five miles around, all eager to get a glimpse of the great
man--the man who had been to Washington; the man who had seen the
President of the United States, and had even talked with him; the man who
had seen the actual Washington Monument--perhaps touched it with his
hands.

When the Senator arrived the Church was crowded, the windows were full,
the aisles were packed, so was the vestibule, and so indeed was the yard
in front of the building. As he worked his way through to the pulpit on
the arm of the minister and followed by the envied officials of the
village, every neck was stretched and, every eye twisted around
intervening obstructions to get a glimpse. Elderly people directed each
other's attention and, said, "There! that's him, with the grand, noble
forehead!" Boys nudged each other and said, "Hi, Johnny, here he is,
there, that's him, with the peeled head!"

The Senator took his seat in the pulpit, with the minister' on one side
of him and the Superintendent of the Sunday School on the other.
The town dignitaries sat in an impressive row within the altar railings
below. The Sunday School children occupied ten of the front benches.
dressed in their best and most uncomfortable clothes, and with hair
combed and faces too clean to feel natural. So awed were they by the
presence of a living United States Senator, that during three minutes not
a "spit ball" was thrown. After that they began to come to themselves by
degrees, and presently the spell was wholly gone and they were reciting
verses and pulling hair.

The usual Sunday School exercises were hurried through, and then the
minister, got up and bored the house with a speech built on the customary
Sunday School plan; then the Superintendent put in his oar; then the town
dignitaries had their say. They all made complimentary reference to
"their friend the, Senator," and told what a great and illustrious man he
was and what he had done for his country and for religion and temperance,
and exhorted the little boys to be good and diligent and try to become
like him some day. The speakers won the deathless hatred of the house by
these delays, but at last there was an end and hope revived; inspiration
was about to find utterance.

Senator Dilworthy rose and beamed upon the assemblage for a full minute
in silence. Then he smiled with an access of sweetness upon the children
and began:

"My little friends--for I hope that all these bright-faced little people
are my friends and will let me be their friend--my little friends, I have
traveled much, I have been in many cities and many States, everywhere in
our great and noble country, and by the blessing of Providence I have
been permitted to see many gatherings like this--but I am proud, I am
truly proud to say that I never have looked upon so much intelligence,
so much grace, such sweetness of disposition as I see in the charming
young countenances I see before me at this moment. I have been asking
myself as I sat here, Where am I? Am I in some far-off monarchy, looking
upon little princes and princesses? No. Am I in some populous centre of
my own country, where the choicest children of the land have been
selected and brought together as at a fair for a prize? No. Am I in
some strange foreign clime where the children are marvels that we know
not of? No. Then where am I? Yes--where am I? I am in a simple,
remote, unpretending settlement of my own dear State, and these are the
children of the noble and virtuous men who have made me what I am!
My soul is lost in wonder at the thought! And I humbly thank Him to whom
we are but as worms of the dust, that he has been pleased to call me to
serve such men! Earth has no higher, no grander position for me. Let
kings and emperors keep their tinsel crowns, I want them not; my heart is
here!

"Again I thought, Is this a theatre? No. Is it a concert or a gilded
opera? No. Is it some other vain, brilliant, beautiful temple of soul-
staining amusement and hilarity? No. Then what is it? What did my
consciousness reply? I ask you, my little friends, What did my
consciousness reply? It replied, It is the temple of the Lord! Ah,
think of that, now. I could hardly beep the tears back, I was so
grateful. Oh, how beautiful it is to see these ranks of sunny little
faces assembled here to learn the way of life; to learn to be good; to
learn to be useful; to learn to be pious; to learn to be great and
glorious men and women; to learn to be props and pillars of the State and
shining lights in the councils and the households of the nation; to be
bearers of the banner and soldiers of the cross in the rude campaigns of
life, and raptured souls in the happy fields of Paradise hereafter.

"Children, honor your parents and be grateful to them for providing for
you the precious privileges of a Sunday School.

"Now my dear little friends, sit up straight and pretty--there, that's
it--and give me your attention and let me tell you about a poor little
Sunday School scholar I once knew.--He lived in the far west, and his
parents were poor. They could not give him a costly education; but they
were good and wise and they sent him to the Sunday School. He loved the
Sunday School. I hope you love your Sunday School--ah, I see by your
faces that you do! That is right!

"Well, this poor little boy was always in his place when the bell rang,
and he always knew his lesson; for his teachers wanted him to learn and
he loved his teachers dearly. Always love your teachers, my children,
for they love you more than you can know, now. He would not let bad boys
persuade him to go to play on Sunday. There was one little bad boy who
was always trying to persuade him, but he never could.

"So this poor little boy grew up to be a man, and had to go out in the
world, far from home and friends to earn his living. Temptations lay all
about him, and sometimes he was about to yield, but he would think of
some precious lesson he learned in his Sunday School a long time ago, and
that would save him. By and by he was elected to the legislature--Then
he did everything he could for Sunday Schools. He got laws passed for
them; he got Sunday Schools established wherever he could.

"And by and by the people made him governor--and he said it was all owing
to the Sunday School.

"After a while the people elected him a Representative to the Congress of
the United States, and he grew very famous.--Now temptations assailed him
on every hand. People tried to get him to drink wine; to dance, to go to
theatres; they even tried to buy his vote; but no, the memory of his
Sunday School saved him from all harm; he remembered the fate of the bad
little boy who used to try to get him to play on Sunday, and who grew up
and became a drunkard and was hanged. He remembered that, and was glad
he never yielded and played on Sunday.

"Well, at last, what do you think happened? Why the people gave him a
towering, illustrious position, a grand, imposing position. And what do
you think it was? What should you say it was, children? It was Senator
of the United States! That poor little boy that loved his Sunday School
became that man. That man stands before you! All that he is, he owes to
the Sunday School.

"My precious children, love your parents, love your teachers, love your
Sunday School, be pious, be obedient, be honest, be diligent, and then
you will succeed in life and be honored of all men. Above all things,
my children, be honest. Above all things be pure-minded as the snow.
Let us join in prayer."

When Senator Dilworthy departed from Cattleville, he left three dozen
boys behind him arranging a campaign of life whose objective point was
the United States Senate.

When be arrived at the State capital at midnight Mr. Noble came and held
a three-hours' conference with him, and then as he was about leaving
said:

"I've worked hard, and I've got them at last. Six of them haven't got
quite back-bone enough to slew around and come right out for you on the
first ballot to-morrow; but they're going to vote against you on the
first for the sake of appearances, and then come out for you all in a
body on the second--I've fixed all that! By supper time to-morrow you'll
be re-elected. You can go to bed and sleep easy on that."

After Mr. Noble was gone, the Senator said:

"Well, to bring about a complexion of things like this was worth coming
West for."

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