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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XII

The Gilded Age

Chapter XII

"Oh, it's easy enough to make a fortune," Henry said.

"It seems to be easier than it is, I begin to think," replied Philip.

"Well, why don't you go into something? You'll never dig it out of the
Astor Library."

If there be any place and time in the world where and when it seems easy
to "go into something" it is in Broadway on a spring morning, when one is
walking city-ward, and has before him the long lines of palace-shops with
an occasional spire seen through the soft haze that lies over the lower
town, and hears the roar and hum of its multitudinous traffic.

To the young American, here or elsewhere, the paths to fortune are
innumerable and all open; there is invitation in the air and success in
all his wide horizon. He is embarrassed which to choose, and is not
unlikely to waste years in dallying with his chances, before giving
himself to the serious tug and strain of a single object. He has no
traditions to bind him or guide him, and his impulse is to break away
from the occupation his father has followed, and make a new way for

Philip Sterling used to say that if he should seriously set himself for
ten years to any one of the dozen projects that were in his brain, he
felt that he could be a rich man. He wanted to be rich, he had a sincere
desire for a fortune, but for some unaccountable reason he hesitated
about addressing himself to the narrow work of getting it. He never
walked Broadway, a part of its tide of abundant shifting life, without
feeling something of the flush of wealth, and unconsciously taking the
elastic step of one well-to-do in this prosperous world.

Especially at night in the crowded theatre--Philip was too young to
remember the old Chambers' Street box, where the serious Burton led his
hilarious and pagan crew--in the intervals of the screaming comedy, when
the orchestra scraped and grunted and tooted its dissolute tunes, the
world seemed full of opportunities to Philip, and his heart exulted with
a conscious ability to take any of its prizes he chose to pluck.

Perhaps it was the swimming ease of the acting, on the stage, where
virtue had its reward in three easy acts, perhaps it was the excessive
light of the house, or the music, or the buzz of the excited talk between
acts, perhaps it was youth which believed everything, but for some reason
while Philip was at the theatre he had the utmost confidence in life and
his ready victory in it.

Delightful illusion of paint and tinsel and silk attire, of cheap
sentiment and high and mighty dialogue! Will there not always be rosin
enough for the squeaking fiddle-bow?

Do we not all like the maudlin hero, who is sneaking round the right
entrance, in wait to steal the pretty wife of his rich and tyrannical
neighbor from the paste-board cottage at the left entrance? and when he
advances down to the foot-lights and defiantly informs the audience that,
"he who lays his hand on a woman except in the way of kindness," do we
not all applaud so as to drown the rest of the sentence?

Philip never was fortunate enough to hear what would become of a man who
should lay his hand on a woman with the exception named; but he learned
afterwards that the woman who lays her hand on a man, without any
exception whatsoever, is always acquitted by the jury.

The fact was, though Philip Sterling did not know it, that he wanted
several other things quite as much as he wanted wealth. The modest
fellow would have liked fame thrust upon him for some worthy achievement;
it might be for a book, or for the skillful management of some great
newspaper, or for some daring expedition like that of Lt. Strain or Dr.
Kane. He was unable to decide exactly what it should be. Sometimes he
thought he would like to stand in a conspicuous pulpit and humbly preach
the gospel of repentance; and it even crossed his mind that it would be
noble to give himself to a missionary life to some benighted region,
where the date-palm grows, and the nightingale's voice is in tune, and
the bul-bul sings on the off nights. If he were good enough he would
attach himself to that company of young men in the Theological Seminary,
who were seeing New York life in preparation for the ministry.

Philip was a New England boy and had graduated at Yale; he had not
carried off with him all the learning of that venerable institution, but
he knew some things that were not in the regular course of study. A very
good use of the English language and considerable knowledge of its
literature was one of them; he could sing a song very well, not in time
to be sure, but with enthusiasm; he could make a magnetic speech at a
moment's notice in the class room, the debating society, or upon any
fence or dry-goods box that was convenient; he could lift himself by one
arm, and do the giant swing in the gymnasium; he could strike out from
his left shoulder; he could handle an oar like a professional and pull
stroke in a winning race. Philip had a good appetite, a sunny temper,
and a clear hearty laugh. He had brown hair, hazel eyes set wide apart,
a broad but not high forehead, and a fresh winning face. He was six feet
high, with broad shoulders, long legs and a swinging gait; one of those
loose-jointed, capable fellows, who saunter into the world with a free
air and usually make a stir in whatever company they enter.

After he left college Philip took the advice of friends and read law.
Law seemed to him well enough as a science, but he never could discover a
practical case where it appeared to him worth while to go to law, and all
the clients who stopped with this new clerk in the ante-room of the law
office where he was writing, Philip invariably advised to settle--no
matter how, but settle--greatly to the disgust of his employer, who knew
that justice between man and man could only be attained by the recognized
processes, with the attendant fees. Besides Philip hated the copying of
pleadings, and he was certain that a life of "whereases" and "aforesaids"
and whipping the devil round the stump, would be intolerable.

[Note: these few paragraphs are nearly an autobiography of the life of
Charles Dudley Warner whose contributions to the story start here with
Chapter XII. D.W.]

His pen therefore, and whereas, and not as aforesaid, strayed off into
other scribbling. In an unfortunate hour, he had two or three papers
accepted by first-class magazines, at three dollars the printed page,
and, behold, his vocation was open to him. He would make his mark in

Life has no moment so sweet as that in which a young man believes himself
called into the immortal ranks of the masters of literature. It is such
a noble ambition, that it is a pity it has usually such a shallow

At the time of this history, Philip had gone to New York for a career.
With his talent he thought he should have little difficulty in getting an
editorial position upon a metropolitan newspaper; not that he knew
anything about news paper work, or had the least idea of journalism; he
knew he was not fitted for the technicalities of the subordinate
departments, but he could write leaders with perfect ease, he was sure.
The drudgery of the newspaper office was too distaste ful, and besides it
would be beneath the dignity of a graduate and a successful magazine
writer. He wanted to begin at the top of the ladder.

To his surprise he found that every situation in the editorial department
of the journals was full, always had been full, was always likely to be
full. It seemed to him that the newspaper managers didn't want genius,
but mere plodding and grubbing. Philip therefore read diligently in the
Astor library, planned literary works that should compel attention, and
nursed his genius. He had no friend wise enough to tell him to step into
the Dorking Convention, then in session, make a sketch of the men and
women on the platform, and take it to the editor of the Daily Grapevine,
and see what he could get a line for it.

One day he had an offer from some country friends, who believed in him,
to take charge of a provincial daily newspaper, and he went to consult
Mr. Gringo--Gringo who years ago managed the Atlas--about taking the

"Take it of course," says Gringo, take anything that offers, why not?"

"But they want me to make it an opposition paper."

"Well, make it that. That party is going to succeed, it's going to elect
the next president."

"I don't believe it," said Philip, stoutly, "its wrong in principle, and
it ought not to succeed, but I don't see how I can go for a thing I don't
believe in."

"O, very well," said Gringo, turning away with a shade of contempt,
"you'll find if you are going into literature and newspaper work that you
can't afford a conscience like that."

But Philip did afford it, and he wrote, thanking his friends, and
declining because he said the political scheme would fail, and ought to
fail. And he went back to his books and to his waiting for an opening
large enough for his dignified entrance into the literary world.

It was in this time of rather impatient waiting that Philip was one
morning walking down Broadway with Henry Brierly. He frequently
accompanied Henry part way down town to what the latter called his office
in Broad Street, to which he went, or pretended to go, with regularity
every day. It was evident to the most casual acquaintance that he was a
man of affairs, and that his time was engrossed in the largest sort of
operations, about which there was a mysterious air. His liability to be
suddenly summoned to Washington, or Boston or Montreal or even to
Liverpool was always imminent. He never was so summoned, but none of his
acquaintances would have been surprised to hear any day that he had gone
to Panama or Peoria, or to hear from him that he had bought the Bank of

The two were intimate at that time,--they had been class, mates--and saw
a great deal of each other. Indeed, they lived together in Ninth Street,
in a boarding-house, there, which had the honor of lodging and partially
feeding several other young fellows of like kidney, who have since gone
their several ways into fame or into obscurity.

It was during the morning walk to which reference has been made that
Henry Brierly suddenly said, "Philip, how would you like to go to
St. Jo?"

"I think I should like it of all things," replied Philip, with some
hesitation, "but what for."

"Oh, it's a big operation. We are going, a lot of us, railroad men,
engineers, contractors. You know my uncle is a great railroad man. I've
no doubt I can get you a chance to go if you'll go."

"But in what capacity would I go?"

"Well, I'm going as an engineer. You can go as one."

"I don't know an engine from a coal cart."

"Field engineer, civil engineer. You can begin by carrying a rod, and
putting down the figures. It's easy enough. I'll show you about that.
We'll get Trautwine and some of those books."

"Yes, but what is it for, what is it all about?"

"Why don't you see? We lay out a line, spot the good land, enter it up,
know where the stations are to be, spot them, buy lots; there's heaps of
money in it. We wouldn't engineer long."

"When do you go?" was Philip's next question, after some moments of

"To-morrow. Is that too soon?"

"No, its not too soon. I've been ready to go anywhere for six months.
The fact is, Henry, that I'm about tired of trying to force myself into
things, and am quite willing to try floating with the stream for a while,
and see where I will land. This seems like a providential call; it's
sudden enough."

The two young men who were by this time full of the adventure, went down
to the Wall street office of Henry's uncle and had a talk with that wily
operator. The uncle knew Philip very well, and was pleased with his
frank enthusiasm, and willing enough to give him a trial in the western
venture. It was settled therefore, in the prompt way in which things are
settled in New York, that they would start with the rest of the company
next morning for the west.

On the way up town these adventurers bought books on engineering, and
suits of India-rubber, which they supposed they would need in a new and
probably damp country, and many other things which nobody ever needed

The night was spent in packing up and writing letters, for Philip would
not take such an important step without informing his friends. If they
disapprove, thought he, I've done my duty by letting them know. Happy
youth, that is ready to pack its valise, and start for Cathay on an
hour's notice.

"By the way," calls out Philip from his bed-room, to Henry, "where is
St. Jo.?"

"Why, it's in Missouri somewhere, on the frontier I think. We'll get a

"Never mind the map. We will find the place itself. I was afraid it was
nearer home."

Philip wrote a long letter, first of all, to his mother, full of love and
glowing anticipations of his new opening. He wouldn't bother her with
business details, but he hoped that the day was not far off when she
would see him return, with a moderate fortune, and something to add to
the comfort of her advancing years.

To his uncle he said that he had made an arrangement with some New York
capitalists to go to Missouri, in a land and railroad operation, which
would at least give him a knowledge of the world and not unlikely offer
him a business opening. He knew his uncle would be glad to hear that he
had at last turned his thoughts to a practical matter.

It was to Ruth Bolton that Philip wrote last. He might never see her
again; he went to seek his fortune. He well knew the perils of the
frontier, the savage state of society, the lurking Indians and the
dangers of fever. But there was no real danger to a person who took care
of himself. Might he write to her often and, tell her of his life.
If he returned with a fortune, perhaps and perhaps. If he was
unsuccessful, or if he never returned--perhaps it would be as well.
No time or distance, however, would ever lessen his interest in her. He
would say good-night, but not good-bye.

In the soft beginning of a Spring morning, long before New York had
breakfasted, while yet the air of expectation hung about the wharves of
the metropolis, our young adventurers made their way to the Jersey City
railway station of the Erie road, to begin the long, swinging, crooked
journey, over what a writer of a former day called a causeway of cracked
rails and cows, to the West.

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