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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter VII

The Gilded Age

Chapter VII


         Via, Pecunia! when she's run and gone
         And fled, and dead, then will I fetch her again
         With aqua vita, out of an old hogshead!
         While there are lees of wine, or dregs of beer,
         I'll never want her! Coin her out of cobwebs,
         Dust, but I'll have her! raise wool upon egg-shells,
         Sir, and make grass grow out of marrow-bones,
         To make her come!
                                        B. Jonson.

Bearing Washington Hawkins and his fortunes, the stage-coach tore out of
Swansea at a fearful gait, with horn tooting gaily and half the town
admiring from doors and windows. But it did not tear any more after it
got to the outskirts; it dragged along stupidly enough, then--till it
came in sight of the next hamlet; and then the bugle tooted gaily again
and again the vehicle went tearing by the horses. This sort of conduct
marked every entry to a station and every exit from it; and so in those
days children grew up with the idea that stage-coaches always tore and
always tooted; but they also grew up with the idea that pirates went into
action in their Sunday clothes, carrying the black flag in one hand and
pistolling people with the other, merely because they were so represented
in the pictures--but these illusions vanished when later years brought
their disenchanting wisdom. They learned then that the stagecoach is but
a poor, plodding, vulgar thing in the solitudes of the highway; and that
the pirate is only a seedy, unfantastic "rough," when he is out of the
pictures.

Toward evening, the stage-coach came thundering into Hawkeye with a
perfectly triumphant ostentation--which was natural and proper, for
Hawkey a was a pretty large town for interior Missouri. Washington,
very stiff and tired and hungry, climbed out, and wondered how he was to
proceed now. But his difficulty was quickly solved. Col. Sellers came
down the street on a run and arrived panting for breath. He said:

"Lord bless you--I'm glad to see you, Washington--perfectly delighted to
see you, my boy! I got your message. Been on the look-out for you.
Heard the stage horn, but had a party I couldn't shake off--man that's
got an enormous thing on hand--wants me to put some capital into it--and
I tell you, my boy, I could do worse, I could do a deal worse. No, now,
let that luggage alone; I'll fix that. Here, Jerry, got anything to do?
All right-shoulder this plunder and follow me. Come along, Washington.
Lord I'm glad to see you! Wife and the children are just perishing to
look at you. Bless you, they won't know you, you've grown so. Folks all
well, I suppose? That's good--glad to hear that. We're always going to
run down and see them, but I'm into so many operations, and they're not
things a man feels like trusting to other people, and so somehow we keep
putting it off. Fortunes in them! Good gracious, it's the country to
pile up wealth in! Here we are--here's where the Sellers dynasty hangs
out. Hump it on the door-step, Jerry--the blackest niggro in the State,
Washington, but got a good heart--mighty likely boy, is Jerry. And now I
suppose you've got to have ten cents, Jerry. That's all right--when a
man works for me--when a man--in the other pocket, I reckon--when a man--
why, where the mischief as that portmonnaie!--when a--well now that's
odd--Oh, now I remember, must have left it at the bank; and b'George I've
left my check-book, too--Polly says I ought to have a nurse--well, no
matter. Let me have a dime, Washington, if you've got--ah, thanks. Now
clear out, Jerry, your complexion has brought on the twilight half an
hour ahead of time. Pretty fair joke--pretty fair. Here he is, Polly!
Washington's come, children! come now, don't eat him up--finish him in
the house. Welcome, my boy, to a mansion that is proud to shelter the
son of the best man that walks on the ground. Si Hawkins has been a good
friend to me, and I believe I can say that whenever I've had a chance to
put him into a good thing I've done it, and done it pretty cheerfully,
too. I put him into that sugar speculation--what a grand thing that was,
if we hadn't held on too long!"

True enough; but holding on too long had utterly ruined both of them;
and the saddest part of it was, that they never had had so much money to
lose before, for Sellers's sale of their mule crop that year in New
Orleans had been a great financial success. If he had kept out of sugar
and gone back home content to stick to mules it would have been a happy
wisdom. As it was, he managed to kill two birds with one stone--that is
to say, he killed the sugar speculation by holding for high rates till he
had to sell at the bottom figure, and that calamity killed the mule that
laid the golden egg--which is but a figurative expression and will be so
understood. Sellers had returned home cheerful but empty-handed, and the
mule business lapsed into other hands. The sale of the Hawkins property
by the Sheriff had followed, and the Hawkins hearts been torn to see
Uncle Dan'l and his wife pass from the auction-block into the hands of a
negro trader and depart for the remote South to be seen no more by the
family. It had seemed like seeing their own flesh and blood sold into
banishment.

Washington was greatly pleased with the Sellers mansion. It was a two-
story-and-a-half brick, and much more stylish than any of its neighbors.
He was borne to the family sitting room in triumph by the swarm of little
Sellerses, the parents following with their arms about each other's
waists.

The whole family were poorly and cheaply dressed; and the clothing,
although neat and clean, showed many evidences of having seen long
service. The Colonel's "stovepipe" hat was napless and shiny with much
polishing, but nevertheless it had an almost convincing expression about
it of having been just purchased new. The rest of his clothing was
napless and shiny, too, but it had the air of being entirely satisfied
with itself and blandly sorry for other people's clothes. It was growing
rather dark in the house, and the evening air was chilly, too. Sellers
said:

"Lay off your overcoat, Washington, and draw up to the stove and make
yourself at home--just consider yourself under your own shingles my boy--
I'll have a fire going, in a jiffy. Light the lamp, Polly, dear, and
let's have things cheerful just as glad to see you, Washington, as if
you'd been lost a century and we'd found you again!"

By this time the Colonel was conveying a lighted match into a poor little
stove. Then he propped the stove door to its place by leaning the poker
against it, for the hinges had retired from business. This door framed
a small square of isinglass, which now warmed up with a faint glow.
Mrs. Sellers lit a cheap, showy lamp, which dissipated a good deal of the
gloom, and then everybody gathered into the light and took the stove into
close companionship.

The children climbed all over Sellers, fondled him, petted him, and were
lavishly petted in return. Out from this tugging, laughing, chattering
disguise of legs and arms and little faces, the Colonel's voice worked
its way and his tireless tongue ran blithely on without interruption;
and the purring little wife, diligent with her knitting, sat near at hand
and looked happy and proud and grateful; and she listened as one who
listens to oracles and, gospels and whose grateful soul is being
refreshed with the bread of life. Bye and bye the children quieted down
to listen; clustered about their father, and resting their elbows on his
legs, they hung upon his words as if he were uttering the music of the
spheres.

A dreary old hair-cloth sofa against the wall; a few damaged chairs; the
small table the lamp stood on; the crippled stove--these things
constituted the furniture of the room. There was no carpet on the floor;
on the wall were occasional square-shaped interruptions of the general
tint of the plaster which betrayed that there used to be pictures in the
house--but there were none now. There were no mantel ornaments, unless
one might bring himself to regard as an ornament a clock which never came
within fifteen strokes of striking the right time, and whose hands always
hitched together at twenty-two minutes past anything and traveled in
company the rest of the way home.

"Remarkable clock!" said Sellers, and got up and wound it. "I've been
offered--well, I wouldn't expect you to believe what I've been offered
for that clock. Old Gov. Hager never sees me but he says, 'Come, now,
Colonel, name your price--I must have that clock!' But my goodness I'd
as soon think of selling my wife. As I was saying to ---- silence in the
court, now, she's begun to strike! You can't talk against her--you have
to just be patient and hold up till she's said her say. Ah well, as I
was saying, when--she's beginning again! Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one,
twenty-two, twen----ah, that's all.--Yes, as I was saying to old Judge--
--go it, old girl, don't mind me.--Now how is that?----isn't that a
good, spirited tone? She can wake the dead! Sleep? Why you might as
well try to sleep in a thunder-factory. Now just listen at that. She'll
strike a hundred and fifty, now, without stopping,--you'll see. There
ain't another clock like that in Christendom."

Washington hoped that this might be true, for the din was distracting--
though the family, one and all, seemed filled with joy; and the more the
clock "buckled down to her work" as the Colonel expressed it, and the
more insupportable the clatter became, the more enchanted they all
appeared to be. When there was silence, Mrs Sellers lifted upon
Washington a face that beamed with a childlike pride, and said:

"It belonged to his grandmother."

The look and the tone were a plain call for admiring surprise, and
therefore Washington said (it was the only thing that offered itself at
the moment:)

"Indeed!"

"Yes, it did, didn't it father!" exclaimed one of the twins. "She was my
great-grandmother--and George's too; wasn't she, father! You never saw
her, but Sis has seen her, when Sis was a baby-didn't you, Sis! Sis has
seen her most a hundred times. She was awful deef--she's dead, now.
Aint she, father!"

All the children chimed in, now, with one general Babel of information
about deceased--nobody offering to read the riot act or seeming to
discountenance the insurrection or disapprove of it in any way--but the
head twin drowned all the turmoil and held his own against the field:

"It's our clock, now--and it's ,got wheels inside of it, and a thing that
flatters every time she strikes--don't it, father! Great-grandmother
died before hardly any of us was born--she was an Old-School Baptist and
had warts all over her--you ask father if she didn't. She had an uncle
once that was bald-headed and used to have fits; he wasn't our uncle,
I don't know what he was to us--some kin or another I reckon--father's
seen him a thousand times--hain't you, father! We used to have a calf
that et apples and just chawed up dishrags like nothing, and if you stay
here you'll see lots of funerals--won't he, Sis! Did you ever see a
house afire? I have! Once me and Jim Terry----"

But Sellers began to speak now, and the storm ceased. He began to tell
about an enormous speculation he was thinking of embarking some capital
in--a speculation which some London bankers had been over to consult with
him about--and soon he was building glittering pyramids of coin, and
Washington was presently growing opulent under the magic of his
eloquence. But at the same time Washington was not able to ignore the
cold entirely. He was nearly as close to the stove as he could get,
and yet he could not persuade himself, that he felt the slightest heat,
notwithstanding the isinglass' door was still gently and serenely
glowing. He tried to get a trifle closer to the stove, and the
consequence was, he tripped the supporting poker and the stove-door
tumbled to the floor. And then there was a revelation--there was nothing
in the stove but a lighted tallow-candle! The poor youth blushed and
felt as if lie must die with shame. But the Colonel was only
disconcerted for a moment--he straightway found his voice again:

"A little idea of my own, Washington--one of the greatest things in the
world! You must write and tell your father about it--don't forget that,
now. I have been reading up some European Scientific reports--friend of
mine, Count Fugier, sent them to me--sends me all sorts of things from
Paris--he thinks the world of me, Fugier does. Well, I saw that the
Academy of France had been testing the properties of heat, and they came
to the conclusion that it was a nonconductor or something like that,
and of course its influence must necessarily be deadly in nervous
organizations with excitable temperaments, especially where there is any
tendency toward rheumatic affections. Bless you I saw in a moment what
was the matter with us, and says I, out goes your fires!--no more slow
torture and certain death for me, sir. What you want is the appearance
of heat, not the heat itself--that's the idea. Well how to do it was the
next thing. I just put my head, to work, pegged away, a couple of days,
and here you are! Rheumatism? Why a man can't any more start a case of
rheumatism in this house than he can shake an opinion out of a mummy!
Stove with a candle in it and a transparent door--that's it--it has been
the salvation of this family. Don't you fail to write your father about
it, Washington. And tell him the idea is mine--I'm no more conceited
than most people, I reckon, but you know it is human nature for a man to
want credit for a thing like that."

Washington said with his blue lips that he would, but he said in his
secret heart that he would promote no such iniquity. He tried to believe
in the healthfulness of the invention, and succeeded tolerably well;
but after all he could not feel that good health in a frozen, body was
any real improvement on the rheumatism.

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