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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter LVII

The Gilded Age

Chapter LVII


The momentous day was at hand--a day that promised to make or mar the
fortunes of Hawkins family for all time. Washington Hawkins and Col.
Sellers were both up early, for neither of them could sleep. Congress
was expiring, and was passing bill after bill as if they were gasps and
each likely to be its last. The University was on file for its third
reading this day, and to-morrow Washington would be a millionaire and
Sellers no longer, impecunious but this day, also, or at farthest the
next, the jury in Laura's Case would come to a decision of some kind or
other--they would find her guilty, Washington secretly feared, and then
the care and the trouble would all come back again, and these would be
wearing months of besieging judges for new trials; on this day, also, the
re-election of Mr. Dilworthy to the Senate would take place. So
Washington's mind was in a state of turmoil; there were more interests at
stake than it could handle with serenity. He exulted when he thought of
his millions; he was filled with dread when he thought of Laura. But
Sellers was excited and happy. He said:

"Everything is going right, everything's going perfectly right. Pretty
soon the telegrams will begin to rattle in, and then you'll see, my boy.
Let the jury do what they please; what difference is it going to make?
To-morrow we can send a million to New York and set the lawyers at work
on the judges; bless your heart they will go before judge after judge and
exhort and beseech and pray and shed tears. They always do; and they
always win, too. And they will win this time. They will get a writ of
habeas corpus, and a stay of proceedings, and a supersedeas, and a new
trial and a nolle prosequi, and there you are! That's the routine, and
it's no trick at all to a New York lawyer. That's the regular routine
--everything's red tape and routine in the law, you see; it's all Greek
to you, of course, but to a man who is acquainted with those things it's
mere--I'll explain it to you sometime. Everything's going to glide right
along easy and comfortable now. You'll see, Washington, you'll see how
it will be. And then, let me think ..... Dilwortby will be elected
to-day, and by day, after to-morrow night be will be in New York ready to
put in his shovel--and you haven't lived in Washington all this time not
to know that the people who walk right by a Senator whose term is up
without hardly seeing him will be down at the deepo to say 'Welcome back
and God bless you; Senator, I'm glad to see yon, sir!' when he comes
along back re-elected, you know. Well, you see, his influence was
naturally running low when he left here, but now he has got a new six-
years' start, and his suggestions will simply just weigh a couple of tons
a-piece day after tomorrow. Lord bless you he could rattle through that
habeas corpus and supersedeas and all those things for Laura all by
himself if he wanted to, when he gets back."

"I hadn't thought of that," said Washington, brightening, but it is so.
A newly-elected Senator is a power, I know that."

"Yes indeed he is.--Why it, is just human nature. Look at me. When we
first carne here, I was Mr. Sellers, and Major Sellers, Captain Sellers,
but nobody could ever get it right, somehow; but the minute our bill
went, through the House, I was Col. Sellers every time. And nobody could
do enough for me, and whatever I said was wonderful, Sir, it was always
wonderful; I never seemed to say any flat things at all. It was Colonel,
won't you come and dine with us; and Colonel why don't we ever see you at
our house; and the Colonel says this; and the Colonel says that; and we
know such-and-such is so-and-so because my husband heard Col. Sellers say
so. Don't you see? Well, the Senate adjourned and left our bill high,
and dry, and I'll be hanged if I warn't Old Sellers from that day, till
our bill passed the House again last week. Now I'm the Colonel again;
and if I were to eat all the dinners I am invited to, I reckon I'd wear
my teeth down level with my gums in a couple of weeks."

"Well I do wonder what you will be to-morrow; Colonel, after the
President signs the bill!"

"General, sir?--General, without a doubt. Yes, sir, tomorrow it will be
General, let me congratulate you, sir; General, you've done a great work,
sir;--you've done a great work for the niggro; Gentlemen allow me the
honor to introduce my friend General Sellers, the humane friend of the
niggro. Lord bless me; you'll' see the newspapers say, General Sellers
and servants arrived in the city last night and is stopping at the Fifth
Avenue; and General Sellers has accepted a reception and banquet by the
Cosmopolitan Club; you'll see the General's opinions quoted, too--
and what the General has to say about the propriety of a new trial and
a habeas corpus for the unfortunate Miss Hawkins will not be without
weight in influential quarters, I can tell you."

"And I want to be the first to shake your faithful old hand and salute
you with your new honors, and I want to do it now--General!" said
Washington, suiting the action to the word, and accompanying it with all
the meaning that a cordial grasp and eloquent eyes could give it.

The Colonel was touched; he was pleased and proud, too; his face answered
for that.

Not very long after breakfast the telegrams began to arrive. The first
was from Braham, and ran thus:

     "We feel certain that the verdict will be rendered to-day. Be it
     good or bad, let it find us ready to make the next move instantly,
     whatever it may be:"

That's the right talk," said Sellers. That Graham's a wonderful man.
He was the only man there that really understood me; he told me so
himself, afterwards."

The next telegram was from Mr. Dilworthy:

     "I have not only brought over the Great Invincible, but through him
     a dozen more of the opposition. Shall be re-elected to-day by an
     overwhelming majority."

"Good again!" said the Colonel. "That man's talent for organization is
something marvelous. He wanted me to go out there and engineer that
thing, but I said, No, Dilworthy, I must be on hand here,--both on
Laura's account and the bill's--but you've no trifling genius for
organization yourself, said I--and I was right. You go ahead, said I--
you can fix it--and so he has. But I claim no credit for that--if I
stiffened up his back-bone a little, I simply put him in the way to make
his fight--didn't undertake it myself. He has captured Noble--.
I consider that a splendid piece of diplomacy--Splendid, Sir!"

By and by came another dispatch from New York:

"Jury still out. Laura calm and firm as a statue. The report that the
jury have brought her in guilty is false and premature."

"Premature!" gasped Washington, turning white. "Then they all expect
that sort of a verdict, when it comes in."

And so did he; but he had not had courage enough to put it into words.
He had been preparing himself for the worst, but after all his
preparation the bare suggestion of the possibility of such a verdict
struck him cold as death.

The friends grew impatient, now; the telegrams did not come fast enough:
even the lightning could not keep up with their anxieties. They walked
the floor talking disjointedly and listening for the door-bell. Telegram
after telegram came. Still no result. By and by there was one which
contained a single line:

"Court now coming in after brief recess to hear verdict. Jury ready."

"Oh, I wish they would finish!" said Washington. "This suspense is
killing me by inches!"

Then came another telegram:

"Another hitch somewhere. Jury want a little more time and further
instructions."

"Well, well, well, this is trying," said the Colonel. And after a pause,
"No dispatch from Dilworthy for two hours, now. Even a dispatch from him
would be better than nothing, just to vary this thing."

They waited twenty minutes. It seemed twenty hours.

"Come!" said Washington. "I can't wait for the telegraph boy to come all
the way up here. Let's go down to Newspaper Row--meet him on the way."

While they were passing along the Avenue, they saw someone putting up a
great display-sheet on the bulletin board of a newspaper office, and an
eager crowd of men was collecting abort the place. Washington and the
Colonel ran to the spot and read this:

"Tremendous Sensation! Startling news from Saint's Rest! On first ballot
for U. S. Senator, when voting was about to begin, Mr. Noble rose in his
place and drew forth a package, walked forward and laid it on the
Speaker's desk, saying, 'This contains $7,000 in bank bills and was given
me by Senator Dilworthy in his bed-chamber at midnight last night to buy
--my vote for him--I wish the Speaker to count the money and retain it to
pay the expense of prosecuting this infamous traitor for bribery. The
whole legislature was stricken speechless with dismay and astonishment.
Noble further said that there were fifty members present with money in
their pockets, placed there by Dilworthy to buy their votes. Amidst
unparalleled excitement the ballot was now taken, and J. W. Smith elected
U. S. Senator; Dilworthy receiving not one vote! Noble promises damaging
exposures concerning Dilworthy and certain measures of his now pending in
Congress.

"Good heavens and earth!" exclaimed the Colonel.

"To the Capitol!" said Washington. "Fly!"

And they did fly. Long before they got there the newsboys were running
ahead of them with Extras, hot from the press, announcing the astounding
news.

Arrived in the gallery of the Senate, the friends saw a curious spectacle
very Senator held an Extra in his hand and looked as interested as if it
contained news of the destruction of the earth. Not a single member was
paying the least attention to the business of the hour.

The Secretary, in a loud voice, was just beginning to read the title of a
bill:

"House-Bill--No.4,231,--An-Act-to-Found-and-Incorporate-the Knobs-
Industrial-University!--Read-first-and-second-time-considered-in-
committee-of-the-whole-ordered-engrossed and-passed-to-third-reading-and-
final passage!"

The President--"Third reading of the bill!"

The two friends shook in their shoes. Senators threw down their extras
and snatched a word or two with each other in whispers. Then the gavel
rapped to command silence while the names were called on the ayes and
nays. Washington grew paler and paler, weaker and weaker while the
lagging list progressed; and when it was finished, his head fell
helplessly forward on his arms. The fight was fought, the long struggle
was over, and he was a pauper. Not a man had voted for the bill!

Col. Sellers was bewildered and well nigh paralyzed, himself. But no man
could long consider his own troubles in the presence of such suffering as
Washington's. He got him up and supported him--almost carried him
indeed--out of the building and into a carriage. All the way home
Washington lay with his face against the Colonel's shoulder and merely
groaned and wept. The Colonel tried as well as he could under the dreary
circumstances to hearten him a little, but it was of no use. Washington
was past all hope of cheer, now. He only said:

"Oh, it is all over--it is all over for good, Colonel. We must beg our
bread, now. We never can get up again. It was our last chance, and it
is gone. They will hang Laura! My God they will hang her! Nothing can
save the poor girl now. Oh, I wish with all my soul they would hang me
instead!"

Arrived at home, Washington fell into a chair and buried his face in his
hands and gave full way to his misery. The Colonel did not know where to
turn nor what to do. The servant maid knocked at the door and passed in
a telegram, saying it had come while they were gone.

The Colonel tore it open and read with the voice of a man-of-war's
broadside:

"VERDICT OF JURY, NOT GUILTY AND LAURA IS FREE!"


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