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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XVII

The Gilded Age

Chapter XVII

         ----"We have view'd it,
         And measur'd it within all, by the scale
         The richest tract of land, love, in the kingdom!
         There will be made seventeen or eighteeen millions,
         Or more, as't may be handled!
                             The Devil is an Ass.

Nobody dressed more like an engineer than Mr. Henry Brierly. The
completeness of his appointments was the envy of the corps, and the gay
fellow himself was the admiration of the camp servants, axemen, teamsters
and cooks.

"I reckon you didn't git them boots no wher's this side o' Sent Louis?"
queried the tall Missouri youth who acted as commissariy's assistant.

"No, New York."

"Yas, I've heern o' New York," continued the butternut lad, attentively
studying each item of Harry's dress, and endeavoring to cover his design
with interesting conversation. "'N there's Massachusetts.",

"It's not far off."

"I've heern Massachusetts was a-----of a place. Les, see, what state's
Massachusetts in?"

"Massachusetts," kindly replied Harry, "is in the state of Boston."

"Abolish'n wan't it? They must a cost right smart," referring to the

Harry shouldered his rod and went to the field, tramped over the prairie
by day, and figured up results at night, with the utmost cheerfulness and
industry, and plotted the line on the profile paper, without, however,
the least idea of engineering practical or theoretical. Perhaps there
was not a great deal of scientific knowledge in the entire corps, nor was
very much needed. They were making, what is called a preliminary survey,
and the chief object of a preliminary survey was to get up an excitement
about the road, to interest every town in that part of the state in it,
under the belief that the road would run through it, and to get the aid
of every planter upon the prospect that a station would be on his land.

Mr. Jeff Thompson was the most popular engineer who could be found for
this work. He did not bother himself much about details or
practicabilities of location, but ran merrily along, sighting from the
top of one divide to the top of another, and striking "plumb" every town
site and big plantation within twenty or thirty miles of his route. In
his own language he "just went booming."

This course gave Harry an opportunity, as he said, to learn the practical
details of engineering, and it gave Philip a chance to see the country,
and to judge for himself what prospect of a fortune it offered. Both he
and Harry got the "refusal" of more than one plantation as they went
along, and wrote urgent letters to their eastern correspondents, upon the
beauty of the land and the certainty that it would quadruple in value as
soon as the road was finally located. It seemed strange to them that
capitalists did not flock out there and secure this land.

They had not been in the field over two weeks when Harry wrote to his
friend Col. Sellers that he'd better be on the move, for the line was
certain to go to Stone's Landing. Any one who looked at the line on the
map, as it was laid down from day to day, would have been uncertain which
way it was going; but Jeff had declared that in his judgment the only
practicable route from the point they then stood on was to follow the
divide to Stone's Landing, and it was generally understood that that town
would be the next one hit.

"We'll make it, boys," said the chief, "if we have to go in a balloon."

And make it they did In less than a week, this indomitable engineer had
carried his moving caravan over slues and branches, across bottoms and
along divides, and pitched his tents in the very heart of the city of
Stone's Landing.

"Well, I'll be dashed," was heard the cheery voice of Mr. Thompson, as he
stepped outside the tent door at sunrise next morning. "If this don't
get me. I say, yon, Grayson, get out your sighting iron and see if you
can find old Sellers' town. Blame me if we wouldn't have run plumb by it
if twilight had held on a little longer. Oh! Sterling, Brierly, get up
and see the city. There's a steamboat just coming round the bend." And
Jeff roared with laughter. "The mayor'll be round here to breakfast."

The fellows turned out of the tents, rubbing their eyes, and stared about
them. They were camped on the second bench of the narrow bottom of a
crooked, sluggish stream, that was some five rods wide in the present
good stage of water. Before them were a dozen log cabins, with stick and
mud chimneys, irregularly disposed on either side of a not very well
defined road, which did not seem to know its own mind exactly, and, after
straggling through the town, wandered off over the rolling prairie in an
uncertain way, as if it had started for nowhere and was quite likely to
reach its destination. Just as it left the town, however, it was cheered
and assisted by a guide-board, upon which was the legend "10 Mils to

The road had never been made except by the travel over it, and at this
season--the rainy June--it was a way of ruts cut in the black soil, and
of fathomless mud-holes. In the principal street of the city, it had
received more attention; for hogs; great and small, rooted about in it
and wallowed in it, turning the street into a liquid quagmire which could
only be crossed on pieces of plank thrown here and there.

About the chief cabin, which was the store and grocery of this mart of
trade, the mud was more liquid than elsewhere, and the rude platform in
front of it and the dry-goods boxes mounted thereon were places of refuge
for all the loafers of the place. Down by the stream was a dilapidated
building which served for a hemp warehouse, and a shaky wharf extended
out from it, into the water. In fact a flat-boat was there moored by it,
it's setting poles lying across the gunwales. Above the town the stream
was crossed by a crazy wooden bridge, the supports of which leaned all
ways in the soggy soil; the absence of a plank here and there in the
flooring made the crossing of the bridge faster than a walk an offense
not necessary to be prohibited by law.

"This, gentlemen," said Jeff, "is Columbus River, alias Goose Run. If it
was widened, and deepened, and straightened, and made, long enough, it
would be one of the finest rivers in the western country."

As the sun rose and sent his level beams along the stream, the thin
stratum of mist, or malaria, rose also and dispersed, but the light was
not able to enliven the dull water nor give any hint of its apparently
fathomless depth. Venerable mud-turtles crawled up and roosted upon the
old logs in the stream, their backs glistening in the sun, the first
inhabitants of the metropolis to begin the active business of the day.

It was not long, however, before smoke began to issue from the city
chimnies; and before the engineers, had finished their breakfast they
were the object of the curious inspection of six or eight boys and men,
who lounged into the camp and gazed about them with languid interest,
their hands in their pockets every one.

"Good morning; gentlemen," called out the chief engineer, from the table.

"Good mawning," drawled out the spokesman of the party. "I allow thish-
yers the railroad, I heern it was a-comin'."

"Yes, this is the railroad; all but the rails and the ironhorse."

"I reckon you kin git all the rails you want oaten my white oak timber
over, thar," replied the first speaker, who appeared to be a man of
property and willing to strike up a trade.

"You'll have to negotiate with the contractors about the rails, sir,"
said Jeff; "here's Mr. Brierly, I've no doubt would like to buy your
rails when the time comes."

"O," said the man, "I thought maybe you'd fetch the whole bilin along
with you. But if you want rails, I've got em, haint I Eph."

"Heaps," said Eph, without taking his eyes off the group at the table.

"Well," said Mr. Thompson, rising from his seat and moving towards his
tent, "the railroad has come to Stone's Landing, sure; I move we take a
drink on it all round."

The proposal met with universal favor. Jeff gave prosperity to Stone's
Landing and navigation to Goose Run, and the toast was washed down with
gusto, in the simple fluid of corn; and with the return compliment that a
rail road was a good thing, and that Jeff Thompson was no slouch.

About ten o'clock a horse and wagon was descried making a slow approach
to the camp over the prairie. As it drew near, the wagon was seen to
contain a portly gentleman, who hitched impatiently forward on his seat,
shook the reins and gently touched up his horse, in the vain attempt to
communicate his own energy to that dull beast, and looked eagerly at the
tents. When the conveyance at length drew up to Mr. Thompson's door,
the gentleman descended with great deliberation, straightened himself up,
rubbed his hands, and beaming satisfaction from every part of his radiant
frame, advanced to the group that was gathered to welcome him, and which
had saluted him by name as soon as he came within hearing.

"Welcome to Napoleon, gentlemen, welcome. I am proud to see you here
Mr. Thompson. You are, looking well Mr. Sterling. This is the country,
sir. Right glad to see you Mr. Brierly. You got that basket of
champagne? No? Those blasted river thieves! I'll never send anything
more by 'em. The best brand, Roederer. The last I had in my cellar,
from a lot sent me by Sir George Gore--took him out on a buffalo hunt,
when he visited our, country. Is always sending me some trifle. You
haven't looked about any yet, gentlemen? It's in the rough yet, in the
rough. Those buildings will all have to come down. That's the place for
the public square, Court House, hotels, churches, jail--all that sort of
thing. About where we stand, the deepo. How does that strike your
engineering eye, Mr. Thompson? Down yonder the business streets, running
to the wharves. The University up there, on rising ground, sightly
place, see the river for miles. That's Columbus river, only forty-nine
miles to the Missouri. You see what it is, placid, steady, no current to
interfere with navigation, wants widening in places and dredging, dredge
out the harbor and raise a levee in front of the town; made by nature on
purpose for a mart. Look at all this country, not another building
within ten miles, no other navigable stream, lay of the land points right
here; hemp, tobacco, corn, must come here. The railroad will do it,
Napoleon won't know itself in a year."

"Don't now evidently," said Philip aside to Harry. "Have you breakfasted

"Hastily. Cup of coffee. Can't trust any coffee I don't import myself.
But I put up a basket of provisions,--wife would put in a few delicacies,
women always will, and a half dozen of that Burgundy, I was telling you
of Mr. Briefly. By the way, you never got to dine with me." And the
Colonel strode away to the wagon and looked under the seat for the

Apparently it was not there. For the Colonel raised up the flap, looked
in front and behind, and then exclaimed,

"Confound it. That comes of not doing a thing yourself. I trusted to
the women folks to set that basket in the wagon, and it ain't there."

The camp cook speedily prepared a savory breakfast for the Colonel,
broiled chicken, eggs, corn-bread, and coffee, to which he did ample
justice, and topped off with a drop of Old Bourbon, from Mr. Thompson's
private store, a brand which he said he knew well, he should think it
came from his own sideboard.

While the engineer corps went to the field, to run back a couple of miles
and ascertain, approximately, if a road could ever get down to the
Landing, and to sight ahead across the Run, and see if it could ever get
out again, Col. Sellers and Harry sat down and began to roughly map out
the city of Napoleon on a large piece of drawing paper.

"I've got the refusal of a mile square here," said the Colonel, "in our
names, for a year, with a quarter interest reserved for the four owners."

They laid out the town liberally, not lacking room, leaving space for the
railroad to come in, and for the river as it was to be when improved.

The engineers reported that the railroad could come in, by taking a
little sweep and crossing the stream on a high bridge, but the grades
would be steep. Col. Sellers said he didn't care so much about the
grades, if the road could only be made to reach the elevators on the
river. The next day Mr. Thompson made a hasty survey of the stream for a
mile or two, so that the Colonel and Harry were enabled to show on their
map how nobly that would accommodate the city. Jeff took a little
writing from the Colonel and Harry for a prospective share but Philip
declined to join in, saying that he had no money, and didn't want to make
engagements he couldn't fulfill.

The next morning the camp moved on, followed till it was out of sight by
the listless eyes of the group in front of the store, one of whom
remarked that, "he'd be doggoned if he ever expected to see that railroad
any mo'."

Harry went with the Colonel to Hawkeye to complete their arrangements, a
part of which was the preparation of a petition to congress for the
improvement of the navigation of Columbus River.

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