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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter LIX

The Gilded Age

Chapter LIX


When Mr. Noble's bombshell fell, in Senator Dilworthy's camp, the
statesman was disconcerted for a moment. For a moment; that was all.
The next moment he was calmly up and doing. From the centre of our
country to its circumference, nothing was talked of but Mr. Noble's
terrible revelation, and the people were furious. Mind, they were not
furious because bribery was uncommon in our public life, but merely
because here was another case. Perhaps it did not occur to the nation of
good and worthy people that while they continued to sit comfortably at
home and leave the true source of our political power (the "primaries,")
in the hands of saloon-keepers, dog-fanciers and hod-carriers, they could
go on expecting "another" case of this kind, and even dozens and hundreds
of them, and never be disappointed. However, they may have thought that
to sit at home and grumble would some day right the evil.

Yes, the nation was excited, but Senator Dilworthy was calm--what was
left of him after the explosion of the shell. Calm, and up and doing.
What did he do first? What would you do first, after you had tomahawked
your mother at the breakfast table for putting too much sugar in your
coffee? You would "ask for a suspension of public opinion." That is
what Senator Dilworthy did. It is the custom. He got the usual amount
of suspension. Far and wide he was called a thief, a briber, a promoter
of steamship subsidies, railway swindles, robberies of the government in
all possible forms and fashions. Newspapers and everybody else called
him a pious hypocrite, a sleek, oily fraud, a reptile who manipulated
temperance movements, prayer meetings, Sunday schools, public charities,
missionary enterprises, all for his private benefit. And as these
charges were backed up by what seemed to be good and sufficient,
evidence, they were believed with national unanimity.

Then Mr. Dilworthy made another move. He moved instantly to Washington
and "demanded an investigation." Even this could not pass without,
comment. Many papers used language to this effect:

     "Senator Dilworthy's remains have demanded an investigation. This
     sounds fine and bold and innocent; but when we reflect that they
     demand it at the hands of the Senate of the United States, it simply
     becomes matter for derision. One might as well set the gentlemen
     detained in the public prisons to trying each other. This
     investigation is likely to be like all other Senatorial
     investigations--amusing but not useful. Query. Why does the Senate
     still stick to this pompous word, 'Investigation?' One does not
     blindfold one's self in order to investigate an object."

Mr. Dilworthy appeared in his place in the Senate and offered a
resolution appointing a committee to investigate his case. It carried,
of course, and the committee was appointed. Straightway the newspapers
said:

     "Under the guise of appointing a committee to investigate the late
     Mr. Dilworthy, the Senate yesterday appointed a committee to
     investigate his accuser, Mr. Noble. This is the exact spirit and
     meaning of the resolution, and the committee cannot try anybody but
     Mr. Noble without overstepping its authority. That Dilworthy had
     the effrontery to offer such a resolution will surprise no one, and
     that the Senate could entertain it without blushing and pass it
     without shame will surprise no one. We are now reminded of a note
     which we have received from the notorious burglar Murphy, in which
     he finds fault with a statement of ours to the effect that he had
     served one term in the penitentiary and also one in the U. S.
     Senate. He says, 'The latter statement is untrue and does me great
     injustice.' After an unconscious sarcasm like that, further comment
     is unnecessary."

And yet the Senate was roused by the Dilworthy trouble. Many speeches
were made. One Senator (who was accused in the public prints of selling
his chances of re-election to his opponent for $50,000 and had not yet
denied the charge) said that, "the presence in the Capital of such a
creature as this man Noble, to testify against a brother member of their
body, was an insult to the Senate."

Another Senator said, "Let the investigation go on and let it make an
example of this man Noble; let it teach him and men like him that they
could not attack the reputation of a United States-Senator with
impunity."

Another said he was glad the investigation was to be had, for it was high
time that the Senate should crush some cur like this man Noble, and thus
show his kind that it was able and resolved to uphold its ancient
dignity.

A by-stander laughed, at this finely delivered peroration; and said:

"Why, this is the Senator who franked his, baggage home through the mails
last week-registered, at that. However, perhaps he was merely engaged in
'upholding the ancient dignity of the Senate,'--then."

"No, the modern dignity of it," said another by-stander. "It don't
resemble its ancient dignity but it fits its modern style like a glove."

There being no law against making offensive remarks about U. S.
Senators, this conversation, and others like it, continued without let or
hindrance. But our business is with the investigating committee.

Mr. Noble appeared before the Committee of the Senate; and testified to
the following effect:

He said that he was a member of the State legislature of the
Happy-Land-of-Canaan; that on the --- day of ------ he assembled himself
together at the city of Saint's Rest, the capital of the State, along
with his brother legislators; that he was known to be a political enemy
of Mr. Dilworthy and bitterly opposed to his re-election; that Mr.
Dilworthy came to Saint's Rest and reported to be buying pledges of votes
with money; that the said Dilworthy sent for him to come to his room in
the hotel at night, and he went; was introduced to Mr. Dilworthy; called
two or three times afterward at Dilworthy's request--usually after
midnight; Mr. Dilworthy urged him to vote for him Noble declined;
Dilworthy argued; said he was bound to be elected, and could then ruin
him (Noble) if he voted no; said he had every railway and every public
office and stronghold of political power in the State under his thumb,
and could set up or pull down any man he chose; gave instances showing
where and how he had used this power; if Noble would vote for him he
would make him a Representative in Congress; Noble still declined to
vote, and said he did not believe Dilworthy was going to be elected;
Dilworthy showed a list of men who would vote for him--a majority of the
legislature; gave further proofs of his power by telling Noble everything
the opposing party had done or said in secret caucus; claimed that his
spies reported everything to him, and that--

Here a member of the Committee objected that this evidence was irrelevant
and also in opposition to the spirit of the Committee's instructions,
because if these things reflected upon any one it was upon Mr. Dilworthy.
The chairman said, let the person proceed with his statement--the
Committee could exclude evidence that did not bear upon the case.

Mr. Noble continued. He said that his party would cast him out if he
voted for Mr, Dilworthy; Dilwortby said that that would inure to his
benefit because he would then be a recognized friend of his (Dilworthy's)
and he could consistently exalt him politically and make his fortune;
Noble said he was poor, and it was hard to tempt him so; Dilworthy said
he would fix that; he said, "Tell, me what you want, and say you will vote
for me;" Noble could not say; Dilworthy said "I will give you $5,000."

A Committee man said, impatiently, that this stuff was all outside the
case, and valuable time was being wasted; this was all, a plain
reflection upon a brother Senator. The Chairman said it was the quickest
way to proceed, and the evidence need have no weight.

Mr. Noble continued. He said he told Dilworthy that $5,000 was not much
to pay for a man's honor, character and everything that was worth having;
Dilworthy said he was surprised; he considered $5,000 a fortune--for some
men; asked what Noble's figure was; Noble said he could not think $10,000
too little; Dilworthy said it was a great deal too much; he would not do
it for any other man, but he had conceived a liking for Noble, and where
he liked a man his heart yearned to help him; he was aware that Noble was
poor, and had a family to support, and that he bore an unblemished
reputation at home; for such a man and such a man's influence he could do
much, and feel that to help such a man would be an act that would have
its reward; the struggles of the poor always touched him; he believed
that Noble would make a good use of this money and that it would cheer
many a sad heart and needy home; he would give the, $10,000; all he
desired in return was that when the balloting began, Noble should cast
his vote for him and should explain to the legislature that upon looking
into the charges against Mr. Dilworthy of bribery, corruption, and
forwarding stealing measures in Congress he had found them to be base
calumnies upon a man whose motives were pure and whose character was
stainless; he then took from his pocket $2,000 in bank bills and handed
them to Noble, and got another package containing $5,000 out of his trunk
and gave to him also. He----

A Committee man jumped up, and said:

"At last, Mr. Chairman, this shameless person has arrived at the point.
This is sufficient and conclusive. By his own confession he has received
a bribe, and did it deliberately.

"This is a grave offense, and cannot be passed over in silence, sir. By
the terms of our instructions we can now proceed to mete out to him such
punishment as is meet for one who has maliciously brought disrespect upon
a Senator of the United States. We have no need to hear the rest of his
evidence."

The Chairman said it would be better and more regular to proceed with the
investigation according to the usual forms. A note would be made of
Mr. Noble's admission.

Mr. Noble continued. He said that it was now far past midnight; that he
took his leave and went straight to certain legislators, told them
everything, made them count the money, and also told them of the exposure
he would make in joint convention; he made that exposure, as all the
world knew. The rest of the $10,000 was to be paid the day after
Dilworthy was elected.

Senator Dilworthy was now asked to take the stand and tell what he knew
about the man Noble. The Senator wiped his mouth with his handkerchief,
adjusted his white cravat, and said that but for the fact that public
morality required an example, for the warning of future Nobles, he would
beg that in Christian charity this poor misguided creature might be
forgiven and set free. He said that it was but too evident that this
person had approached him in the hope of obtaining a bribe; he had
intruded himself time and again, and always with moving stories of his
poverty. Mr. Dilworthy said that his heart had bled for him--insomuch
that he had several times been on the point of trying to get some one to
do something for him. Some instinct had told him from the beginning that
this was a bad man, an evil-minded man, but his inexperience of such had
blinded him to his real motives, and hence he had never dreamed that his
object was to undermine the purity of a United States Senator.
He regretted that it was plain, now, that such was the man's object and
that punishment could not with safety to the Senate's honor be withheld.
He grieved to say that one of those mysterious dispensations of an
inscrutable Providence which are decreed from time to time by His wisdom
and for His righteous, purposes, had given this conspirator's tale a
color of plausibility,--but this would soon disappear under the clear
light of truth which would now be thrown upon the case.

It so happened, (said the Senator,) that about the time in question, a
poor young friend of mine, living in a distant town of my State, wished
to establish a bank; he asked me to lend him the necessary money; I said
I had no, money just then, but world try to borrow it. The day before
the election a friend said to me that my election expenses must be very
large specially my hotel bills, and offered to lend me some money.
Remembering my young, friend, I said I would like a few thousands now,
and a few more by and by; whereupon he gave me two packages of bills said
to contain $2,000 and $5,000 respectively; I did not open the packages or
count the money; I did not give any note or receipt for the same; I made
no memorandum of the transaction, and neither did my friend. That night
this evil man Noble came troubling me again: I could not rid myself of
him, though my time was very precious. He mentioned my young friend and
said he was very anxious to have the $7000 now to begin his banking
operations with, and could wait a while for the rest. Noble wished to
get the money and take it to him. I finally gave him the two packages of
bills; I took no note or receipt from him, and made no memorandum of the
matter. I no more look for duplicity and deception in another man than I
would look for it in myself. I never thought of this man again until I
was overwhelmed the next day by learning what a shameful use he had made
of the confidence I had reposed in him and the money I had entrusted to
his care. This is all, gentlemen. To the absolute truth of every detail
of my statement I solemnly swear, and I call Him to witness who is the
Truth and the loving Father of all whose lips abhor false speaking; I
pledge my honor as a Senator, that I have spoken but the truth. May God
forgive this wicked man as I do.

Mr. Noble--"Senator Dilworthy, your bank account shows that up to that
day, and even on that very day, you conducted all your financial business
through the medium of checks instead of bills, and so kept careful record
of every moneyed transaction. Why did you deal in bank bills on this
particular occasion?"

The Chairman--"The gentleman will please to remember that the Committee
is conducting this investigation."

Mr. Noble--"Then will the Committee ask the question?"

The Chairman--"The Committee will--when it desires to know."

Mr. Noble--"Which will not be daring this century perhaps."

The Chairman--"Another remark like that, sir, will procure you the
attentions of the Sergeant-at-arms."

Mr. Noble--"D--n the Sergeant-at-arms, and the Committee too!"

Several Committeemen--"Mr. Chairman, this is Contempt!"

Mr. Noble--"Contempt of whom?"

"Of the Committee! Of the Senate of the United States!"

Mr. Noble--"Then I am become the acknowledged representative of a nation.
You know as well as I do that the whole nation hold as much as three-
fifths of the United States Senate in entire contempt.--Three-fifths of
you are Dilworthys."

The Sergeant-at-arms very soon put a quietus upon the observations of the
representative of the nation, and convinced him that he was not, in the
over-free atmosphere of his Happy-Land-of-Canaan:

The statement of Senator Dilworthy naturally carried conviction to the
minds of the committee.--It was close, logical, unanswerable; it bore
many internal evidences of its, truth. For instance, it is customary in
all countries for business men to loan large sums of money in bank bills
instead of checks. It is customary for the lender to make no memorandum
of the transaction. It is customary, for the borrower to receive the
money without making a memorandum of it, or giving a note or a receipt
for it's use--the borrower is not likely to die or forget about it.
It is customary to lend nearly anybody money to start a bank with
especially if you have not the money to lend him and have to borrow it
for the purpose. It is customary to carry large sums of money in bank
bills about your person or in your trunk. It is customary to hand a
large sure in bank bills to a man you have just been introduced to (if he
asks you to do it,) to be conveyed to a distant town and delivered to
another party. It is not customary to make a memorandum of this
transaction; it is not customary for the conveyor to give a note or a
receipt for the money; it is not customary to require that he shall get a
note or a receipt from the man he is to convey it to in the distant town.
It would be at least singular in you to say to the proposed conveyor,
"You might be robbed; I will deposit the money in a bank and send a check
for it to my friend through the mail."

Very well. It being plain that Senator Dilworthy's statement was rigidly
true, and this fact being strengthened by his adding to it the support of
"his honor as a Senator," the Committee rendered a verdict of "Not proven
that a bribe had been offered and accepted." This in a manner exonerated
Noble and let him escape.

The Committee made its report to the Senate, and that body proceeded to
consider its acceptance. One Senator indeed, several Senators--objected
that the Committee had failed of its duty; they had proved this man Noble
guilty of nothing, they had meted out no punishment to him; if the report
were accepted, he would go forth free and scathless, glorying in his
crime, and it would be a tacit admission that any blackguard could insult
the Senate of the United States and conspire against the sacred
reputation of its members with impunity; the Senate owed it to the
upholding of its ancient dignity to make an example of this man Noble--
he should be crushed.

An elderly Senator got up and took another view of the case. This was a
Senator of the worn-out and obsolete pattern; a man still lingering among
the cobwebs of the past, and behind the spirit of the age. He said that
there seemed to be a curious misunderstanding of the case. Gentlemen
seemed exceedingly anxious to preserve and maintain the honor and dignity
of the Senate.

Was this to be done by trying an obscure adventurer for attempting to
trap a Senator into bribing him? Or would not the truer way be to find
out whether the Senator was capable of being entrapped into so shameless
an act, and then try him? Why, of course. Now the whole idea of the
Senate seemed to be to shield the Senator and turn inquiry away from him.
The true way to uphold the honor of the Senate was to have none but
honorable men in its body. If this Senator had yielded to temptation and
had offered a bribe, he was a soiled man and ought to be instantly
expelled; therefore he wanted the Senator tried, and not in the usual
namby-pamby way, but in good earnest. He wanted to know the truth of
this matter. For himself, he believed that the guilt of Senator
Dilworthy was established beyond the shadow of a doubt; and he considered
that in trifling with his case and shirking it the Senate was doing a
shameful and cowardly thing--a thing which suggested that in its
willingness to sit longer in the company of such a man, it was
acknowledging that it was itself of a kind with him and was therefore not
dishonored by his presence. He desired that a rigid examination be made
into Senator Dilworthy's case, and that it be continued clear into the
approaching extra session if need be. There was no dodging this thing
with the lame excuse of want of time.

In reply, an honorable Senator said that he thought it would be as well
to drop the matter and accept the Committee's report. He said with some
jocularity that the more one agitated this thing, the worse it was for
the agitator. He was not able to deny that he believed Senator Dilworthy
to be guilty--but what then? Was it such an extraordinary case? For his
part, even allowing the Senator to be guilty, he did not think his
continued presence during the few remaining days of the Session would
contaminate the Senate to a dreadful degree. [This humorous sally was
received with smiling admiration--notwithstanding it was not wholly new,
having originated with the Massachusetts General in the House a day or
two before, upon the occasion of the proposed expulsion of a member for
selling his vote for money.]

The Senate recognized the fact that it could not be contaminated by
sitting a few days longer with Senator Dilworthy, and so it accepted the
committee's report and dropped the unimportant matter.

Mr. Dilworthy occupied his seat to the last hour of the session. He said
that his people had reposed a trust in him, and it was not for him to
desert them. He would remain at his post till he perished, if need be.

His voice was lifted up and his vote cast for the last time, in support
of an ingenious measure contrived by the General from Massachusetts
whereby the President's salary was proposed to be doubled and every
Congressman paid several thousand dollars extra for work previously done,
under an accepted contract, and already paid for once and receipted for.

Senator Dilworthy was offered a grand ovation by his friends at home, who
said that their affection for him and their confidence in him were in no
wise impaired by the persecutions that had pursued him, and that he was
still good enough for them.

--[The $7,000 left by Mr. Noble with his state legislature was placed in
safe keeping to await the claim of the legitimate owner. Senator
Dilworthy made one little effort through his protege the embryo banker
to recover it, but there being no notes of hand or, other memoranda to
support the claim, it failed. The moral of which is, that when one loans
money to start a bank with, one ought to take the party's written
acknowledgment of the fact.]


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