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The American Claimant is an 1892 novel by American humorist and writer Mark Twain. Twain wrote the novel with the help of phonographic dictation, the first author (according to Twain himself) to do so. This was also (according to Twain) an attempt to write a book without mention of the weather, the first of its kind in fictitious literature. Indeed, all the weather is contained in an appendix, at the back of the book, which the reader is encouraged to turn to from time to time.
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It is a matchless morning in rural England. On a fair hill we see a majestic pile, the ivied walls and towers of Cholmondeley Castle, huge relic and witness of the baronial grandeurs of the Middle Ages. This is one of the seats of the Earl of Rossmore, K. G., G. C. B., K. C. M. G., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., who possesses twenty-two thousand acres of English land, owns a parish in London with two thousand houses on its lease-roll, and struggles comfortably along on an income of two hundred thousand pounds a year. The father and founder of this proud old line was William the Conqueror his very self; the mother of it was not inventoried in history by name, she being merely a random episode and inconsequential, like the tanner’s daughter of Falaise.
In a breakfast room of the castle on this breezy fine morning there are two persons and the cooling remains of a deserted meal. One of these persons is the old lord, tall, erect, square-shouldered, white-haired, stern-browed, a man who shows character in every feature, attitude, and movement, and carries his seventy years as easily as most men carry fifty. The other person is his only son and heir, a dreamy-eyed young fellow, who looks about twenty-six but is nearer thirty. Candor, kindliness, honesty, sincerity, simplicity, modesty – it is easy to see that these are cardinal traits of his character; and so when you have clothed him in the formidable components of his name, you somehow seem to be contemplating a lamb in armor: his name and style being the Honourable Kirkcudbright Llanover Marjoribanks Sellers Viscount Berkeley, of Cholmondeley Castle, Warwickshire. (Pronounced K’koobry Thlanover Marshbanks Sellers Vycount Barkly, of Chumly Castle, Warrikshr.) He is standing by a great window, in an attitude suggestive of respectful attention to what his father is saying and equally respectful dissent from the positions and arguments offered. The father walks the floor as he talks, and his talk shows that his temper is away up toward summer heat.
“Soft-spirited as you are, Berkeley, I am quite aware that when you have once made up your mind to do a thing which your ideas of honor and justice require you to do, argument and reason are (for the time being) wasted upon you – yes, and ridicule; persuasion, supplication, and command as well. To my mind—”
“Father, if you will look at it without prejudice, without passion, you must concede that I am not doing a rash thing, a thoughtless, wilful thing, with nothing substantial behind it to justify it. I did not create the American claimant to the earldom of Rossmore; I did not hunt for him, did not find him, did not obtrude him upon your notice. He found himself, he injected himself into our lives—”
“And has made mine a purgatory for ten years with his tiresome letters, his wordy reasonings, his acres of tedious evidence—”
“Which you would never read, would never consent to read. Yet in common fairness he was entitled to a hearing. That hearing would either prove he was the rightful earl – in which case our course would be plain – or it would prove that he wasn’t – in which case our course would be equally plain. I have read his evidences, my lord. I have conned them well, studied them patiently and thoroughly. The chain seems to be complete, no important link wanting. I believe he is the rightful earl.”“And I a usurper – a nameless pauper, a tramp! Consider what you are saying, sir.”
“Father, if he is the rightful earl, would you, could you – that fact being established – consent to keep his titles and his properties from him a day, an hour, a minute?”
“You are talking nonsense – nonsense – lurid idiotcy! Now, listen to me. I will make a confession – if you wish to call it by that name. I did not read those evidences because I had no occasion to – I was made familiar with them in the time of this claimant’s father and of my own father forty years ago. This fellow’s predecessors have kept mine more or less familiar with them for close upon a hundred and fifty years. The truth is, the rightful heir did go to America, with the Fairfax heir or about the same time – but disappeared – somewhere in the wilds of Virginia, got married, and began to breed savages for the Claimant market; wrote no letters home; was supposed to be dead; his younger brother softly took possession; presently the American did die, and straightway his eldest product put in his claim – by letter – letter still in existence – and died before the uncle in possession found time – or maybe inclination – to answer. The infant son of that eldest product grew up – long interval, you see – and he took to writing letters and furnishing evidences. Well, successor after successor has done the same, down to the present idiot. It was a succession of paupers; not one of them was ever able to pay his passage to England or institute suit. The Fairfaxes kept their lordship alive, and so they have never lost it to this day, although they live in Maryland; their friend lost his by his own neglect. You perceive now, that the facts in this case bring us to precisely this result: morally the American tramp is rightful earl of Rossmore; legally he has no more right than his dog. There now – are you satisfied?”
There was a pause, then the son glanced at the crest carved in the great oaken mantel and said, with a regretful note in his voice:
“Since the introduction of heraldic symbols – the motto of this house has been Suum cuique – to every man his own. By your own intrepidly frank confession, my lord, it is become a sarcasm: If Simon Lathers—”
“Keep that exasperating name to yourself! For ten years it has pestered my eye – and tortured my ear; till at last my very footfalls time themselves to the brain-racking rhythm of Simon Lathers! – Simon Lathers! – Simon Lathers! And now, to make its presence in my soul eternal, immortal, imperishable, you have resolved to – to – what is it you have resolved to do?”“To go to Simon Lathers, in America, and change places with him.” “What? Deliver the reversion of the earldom into his hands?” “That is my purpose.” “Make this tremendous surrender without even trying the fantastic case in the Lords?” “Ye-s—” with hesitation and some embarrassment.
“By all that is amazing, I believe you are insane, my son. See here – have you been training with that ass again – that radical, if you prefer the term, though the words are synonymous – Lord Tanzy, of Tollmache?”The son did not reply, and the old lord continued:
“Yes, you confess. That puppy, that shame to his birth and caste, who holds all hereditary lordships and privilege to be usurpation, all nobility a tinsel sham, all aristocratic institutions a fraud, all inequalities in rank a legalized crime and an infamy, and no bread honest bread that a man doesn’t earn by his own work – work, pah!” – and the old patrician brushed imaginary labor-dirt from his white hands. “You have come to hold just those opinions yourself, I suppose,” he added with a sneer.A faint flush in the younger man’s cheek told that the shot had hit and hurt; but he answered with dignity:
“I have. I say it without shame – I feel none. And now my reason for resolving to renounce my heirship without resistance is explained. I wish to retire from what to me is a false existence, a false position, and begin my life over again – begin it right – begin it on the level of mere manhood, unassisted by factitious aids, and succeed or fail by pure merit or the want of it. I will go to America, where all men are equal and all have an equal chance; I will live or die, sink or swim, win or lose as just a man – that alone, and not a single helping gaud or fiction back of it.”
“Hear, hear!” The two men looked each other steadily in the eye a moment or two, then the elder one added, musingly, “Ab-so-lutely cra-zy – ab-so-lutely!” After another silence, he said, as one who, long troubled by clouds, detects a ray of sunshine, “Well, there will be one satisfaction – Simon Lathers will come here to enter into his own, and I will drown him in the horsepond. That poor devil – always so humble in his letters, so pitiful, so deferential; so steeped in reverence for our great line and lofty station; so anxious to placate us, so prayerful for recognition as a relative, a bearer in his veins of our sacred blood – and withal so poor, so needy, so threadbare and pauper-shod as to raiment, so despised, so laughed at for his silly claimantship by the lewd American scum around him – ach, the vulgar, crawling, insufferable tramp! To read one of his cringing, nauseating letters – well?”
This to a splendid flunkey, all in inflamed plush and buttons and knee-breeches as to his trunk, and a glinting white frost-work of ground-glass paste as to his head, who stood with his heels together and the upper half of him bent forward, a salver in his hands: “The letters, my lord.”My lord took them, and the servant disappeared.
“Among the rest, an American letter. From the tramp, of course. Jove, but here’s a change! No brown paper envelope this time, filched from a shop, and carrying the shop’s advertisement in the corner. Oh, no, a proper enough envelope – with a most ostentatiously broad mourning border – for his cat, perhaps, since he was a bachelor – and fastened with red wax – a batch of it as big as a half-crown – and – and – our crest for a seal! – motto and all. And the ignorant, sprawling hand is gone; he sports a secretary, evidently – a secretary with a most confident swing and flourish to his pen. Oh indeed, our fortunes are improving over there – our meek tramp has undergone a metamorphosis.”“Read it, my lord, please.” “Yes, this time I will. For the sake of the cat:” 14,042 SIXTEENTH. STREET, WASHINGTON, May 2. My Lord—
It is my painful duty to announce to you that the head of our illustrious house is no more – The Right Honourable, The Most Noble, The Most Puissant Simon Lathers Lord Rossmore having departed this life (“Gone at last – this is unspeakably precious news, my son”) at his seat in the environs of the hamlet of Duffy’s Corners in the grand old State of Arkansas – and his twin brother with him, both being crushed by a log at a smoke-house-raising, owing to carelessness on the part of all present, referable to overconfidence and gaiety induced by overplus of sour-mash – (“Extolled be sour-mash, whatever that may be, eh Berkeley?”) five days ago, with no scion of our ancient race present to close his eyes and inter him with the honors due his historic name and lofty rank – in fact, he is on the ice yet, him and his brother – friends took a collection for it. But I shall take immediate occasion to have their noble remains shipped to you (“Great heavens!”) for interment, with due ceremonies and solemnities, in the family vault or mausoleum of our house. Meantime I shall put up a pair of hatchments on my house-front, and you will of course do the same at your several seats.
I have also to remind you that by this sad disaster I as sole heir, inherit and become seized of all the titles, honors, lands, and goods of our lamented relative, and must of necessity, painful as the duty is, shortly require at the bar of the Lords restitution of these dignities and properties, now illegally enjoyed by your titular lordship.
With assurance of my distinguished consideration and warm cousinly regard, I remain
Your titular lordship’s Most obedient servant, Mulberry Sellers Earl Rossmore.
“Im-mense! Come, this one’s interesting. Why, Berkeley, his breezy impudence is – is – why, it’s colossal, it’s sublime.”“No, this one doesn’t seem to cringe much.”
“Cringe – why, he doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Hatchments! To commemorate that sniveling tramp and his, fraternal duplicate. And he is going to send me the remains. The late Claimant was a fool, but plainly this new one’s a maniac. What a name! Mulberry Sellers – there’s music for you, Simon Lathers – Mulberry Sellers – Mulberry Sellers – Simon Lathers. Sounds like machinery working and churning. Simon Lathers, Mulberry Sel— Are you going?”“If I have your leave, father.” The old gentleman stood musing some time, after his son was gone. This was his thought:
“He is a good boy, and lovable. Let him take his own course – as it would profit nothing to oppose him – make things worse, in fact. My arguments and his aunt’s persuasions have failed; let us see what America can do for us. Let us see what equality and hard-times can effect for the mental health of a brain-sick young British lord. Going to renounce his lordship and be a man! Yas!”
Colonel Mulberry Sellers – this was some days before he wrote his letter to Lord Rossmore – was seated in his “library,” which was also his “drawing-room” and was also his “picture gallery” and likewise his “work-shop.” Sometimes he called it by one of these names, sometimes by another, according to occasion and circumstance. He was constructing what seemed to be some kind of a frail mechanical toy; and was apparently very much interested in his work. He was a white-headed man, now, but otherwise he was as young, alert, buoyant, visionary and enterprising as ever. His loving old wife sat near by, contentedly knitting and thinking, with a cat asleep in her lap. The room was large, light, and had a comfortable look, in fact a home-like look, though the furniture was of a humble sort and not over abundant, and the knickknacks and things that go to adorn a living-room not plenty and not costly. But there were natural flowers, and there was an abstract and unclassifiable something about the place which betrayed the presence in the house of somebody with a happy taste and an effective touch.
Even the deadly chromos on the walls were somehow without offence; in fact they seemed to belong there and to add an attraction to the room – a fascination, anyway; for whoever got his eye on one of them was like to gaze and suffer till he died – you have seen that kind of pictures. Some of these terrors were landscapes, some libeled the sea, some were ostensible portraits, all were crimes. All the portraits were recognizable as dead Americans of distinction, and yet, through labeling added, by a daring hand, they were all doing duty here as “Earls of Rossmore.” The newest one had left the works as Andrew Jackson, but was doing its best now, as “Simon Lathers Lord Rossmore, Present Earl.” On one wall was a cheap old railroad map of Warwickshire. This had been newly labeled “The Rossmore Estates.” On the opposite wall was another map, and this was the most imposing decoration of the establishment and the first to catch a stranger’s attention, because of its great size. It had once borne simply the title Siberia; but now the word “Future” had been written in front of that word. There were other additions, in red ink – many cities, with great populations set down, scattered over the vast country at points where neither cities nor populations exist to-day. One of these cities, with population placed at 1,500,000, bore the name “Libertyorloffskoizalinski,” and there was a still more populous one, centrally located and marked “Capital,” which bore the name “Freedomolovnaivanovich.”
The “mansion” – the Colonel’s usual name for the house – was a rickety old two-story frame of considerable size, which had been painted, some time or other, but had nearly forgotten it. It was away out in the ragged edge of Washington and had once been somebody’s country place. It had a neglected yard around it, with a paling fence that needed straightening up, in places, and a gate that would stay shut. By the door-post were several modest tin signs. “Col. Mulberry Sellers, Attorney at Law and Claim Agent,” was the principal one. One learned from the others that the Colonel was a Materializer, a Hypnotizer, a Mind-Cure dabbler, and so on. For he was a man who could always find things to do.
A white-headed negro man, with spectacles and damaged white cotton gloves appeared in the presence, made a stately obeisance and announced:
“Marse Washington Hawkins, suh.” “Great Scott! Show him in, Dan’l, show him in.”
The Colonel and his wife were on their feet in a moment, and the next moment were joyfully wringing the hands of a stoutish, discouraged-looking man whose general aspect suggested that he was fifty years old, but whose hair swore to a hundred.
“Well, well, well, Washington, my boy, it is good to look at you again. Sit down, sit down, and make yourself at home. There, now – why, you look perfectly natural; aging a little, just a little, but you’d have known him anywhere, wouldn’t you, Polly?”
“Oh, yes, Berry, he’s just like his pa would have looked if he’d lived. Dear, dear, where have you dropped from? Let me see, how long is it since—” “I should say it’s all of fifteen years, Mrs. Sellers.”“Well, well, how time does get away with us. Yes, and oh, the changes that—”
There was a sudden catch of her voice and a trembling of the lip, the men waiting reverently for her to get command of herself and go on; but after a little struggle she turned away, with her apron to her eyes, and softly disappeared.
“Seeing you made her think of the children, poor thing – dear, dear, they’re all dead but the youngest. But banish care, it’s no time for it now – on with the dance, let joy be unconfined is my motto, whether there’s any dance to dance; or any joy to unconfine – you’ll be the healthier for it every time – every time, Washington – it’s my experience, and I’ve seen a good deal of this world. Come – where have you disappeared to all these years, and are you from there, now, or where are you from?”“I don’t quite think you would ever guess, Colonel. Cherokee Strip.”
“My land!” “Sure as you live.” “You can’t mean it. Actually living out there?”
“Well, yes, if a body may call it that; though it’s a pretty strong term for ’dobies and jackass rabbits, boiled beans and slap-jacks, depression, withered hopes, poverty in all its varieties—”
“Louise out there?” “Yes, and the children.” “Out there now?” “Yes, I couldn’t afford to bring them with me.”
“Oh, I see – you had to come – claim against the government. Make yourself perfectly easy – I’ll take care of that.”“But it isn’t a claim against the government.” “No? Want to be postmaster? That’s all right. Leave it to me. I’ll fix it.” “But it isn’t postmaster – you’re all astray yet.”
“Well, good gracious, Washington, why don’t you come out and tell me what it is? What do you want to be so reserved and distrustful with an old friend like me, for? Don’t you reckon I can keep a se—”“There’s no secret about it – you merely don’t give me a chance to—”
“Now look here, old friend, I know the human race; and I know that when a man comes to Washington, I don’t care if it’s from heaven, let alone Cherokee Strip, it’s because he wants something. And I know that as a rule he’s not going to get it; that he’ll stay and try for another thing and won’t get that; the same luck with the next and the next and the next; and keeps on till he strikes bottom, and is too poor and ashamed to go back, even to Cherokee Strip; and at last his heart breaks – and they take up a collection and bury him. There – don’t interrupt me, I know what I’m talking about. Happy and prosperous in the Far West wasn’t I? You know that. Principal citizen of Hawkeye, looked up to by everybody, kind of an autocrat, actually a kind of an autocrat, Washington. Well, nothing would do but I must go Minister to St. James, the Governor and everybody insisting, you know, and so at last I consented – no getting out of it, had to do it, so here I came. A day too late, Washington. Think of that – what little things change the world’s history – yes, sir, the place had been filled. Well, there I was, you see. I offered to compromise and go to Paris. The President was very sorry and all that, but that place, you see, didn’t belong to the West, so there I was again. There was no help for it, so I had to stoop a little – we all reach the day some time or other when we’ve got to do that, Washington, and it’s not a bad thing for us, either, take it by and large and all around – I had to stoop a little and offer to take Constantinople. Washington, consider this – for it’s perfectly true – within a month I asked for China; within another month I begged for Japan; one year later I was away down, down, down, supplicating with tears and anguish for the bottom office in the gift of the government of the United States – FlintPicker in the cellars of the War Department. And by George I didn’t get it.”“Flint-Picker?”
“Yes. Office established in the time of the Revolution, last century. The musket-flints for the military posts were supplied from the capitol. They do it yet; for although the flint-arm has gone out and the forts have tumbled down, the decree hasn’t been repealed – been overlooked and forgotten, you see – and so the vacancies where old Ticonderoga and others used to stand, still get their six quarts of gun-flints a year just the same.”Washington said musingly after a pause: “How strange it seems – to start for Minister to England at twenty thousand a year and fail for flint-picker at—”
“Three dollars a week. It’s human life, Washington – just an epitome of human ambition, and struggle, and the outcome: you aim for the palace and get drowned in the sewer.”There was another meditative silence. Then Washington said, with earnest compassion in his voice:
“And so, after coming here, against your inclination, to satisfy your sense of patriotic duty and appease a selfish public clamor, you get absolutely nothing for it.”
“Nothing?” The Colonel had to get up and stand, to get room for his amazement to expand. “ Nothing, Washington? I ask you this: to be a perpetual Member and the only Perpetual Member of a Diplomatic Body accredited to the greatest country on earth do you call that nothing?”
It was Washington’s turn to be amazed. He was stricken dumb; but the wide-eyed wonder, the reverent admiration expressed in his face were more eloquent than any words could have been. The Colonel’s wounded spirit was healed and he resumed his seat pleased and content. He leaned forward and said impressively:
“What was due to a man who had become forever conspicuous by an experience without precedent in the history of the world? – a man made permanently and diplomatically sacred, so to speak, by having been connected, temporarily, through solicitation, with every single diplomatic post in the roster of this government, from Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James all the way down to Consul to a guano rock in the Straits of Sunda – salary payable in guano – which disappeared by volcanic convulsion the day before they got down to my name in the list of applicants. Certainly something august enough to be answerable to the size of this unique and memorable experience was my due, and I got it. By the common voice of this community, by acclamation of the people, that mighty utterance which brushes aside laws and legislation, and from whose decrees there is no appeal, I was named Perpetual Member of the Diplomatic Body representing the multifarious sovereignties and civilizations of the globe near the republican court of the United States of America. And they brought me home with a torchlight procession.”
“It is wonderful, Colonel, simply wonderful.” “It’s the loftiest official position in the whole earth.” “I should think so – and the most commanding.”
“You have named the word. Think of it. I frown, and there is war; I smile, and contending nations lay down their arms.”“It is awful. The responsibility, I mean.” “It is nothing. Responsibility is no burden to me; I am used to it; have always been used to it.” “And the work – the work! Do you have to attend all the sittings?”
“Who, I? Does the Emperor of Russia attend the conclaves of the governors of the provinces? He sits at home, and indicates his pleasure.”Washington was silent a moment, then a deep sigh escaped him.
“How proud I was an hour ago; how paltry seems my little promotion now! Colonel, the reason I came to Washington is – I am Congressional Delegate from Cherokee Strip!”The Colonel sprang to his feet and broke out with prodigious enthusiasm:
“Give me your hand, my boy – this is immense news! I congratulate you with all my heart. My prophecies stand confirmed. I always said it was in you. I always said you were born for high distinction and would achieve it. You ask Polly if I didn’t.”Washington was dazed by this most unexpected demonstration.
“Why, Colonel, there’s nothing to it. That little narrow, desolate, unpeopled, oblong streak of grass and gravel, lost in the remote wastes of the vast continent – why, it’s like representing a billiard table – a discarded one.”“Tut-tut, it’s a great, it’s a staving preferment, and just opulent with influence here.”
“Shucks, Colonel, I haven’t even a vote.” “That’s nothing; you can make speeches.” “No, I can’t. The population’s only two hundred—” “That’s all right, that’s all right—”
“And they hadn’t any right to elect me; we’re not even a territory, there’s no Organic Act, the government hasn’t any official knowledge of us whatever.”“Never mind about that; I’ll fix that. I’ll rush the thing through, I’ll get you organized in no time.”
“ Will you, Colonel? – it’s too good of you; but it’s just your old sterling self, the same old ever-faithful friend,” and the grateful tears welled up in Washington’s eyes.
“It’s just as good as done, my boy, just as good as done. Shake hands. We’ll hitch teams together, you and I, and we’ll make things hum!”
Mrs. Sellers returned, now, with her composure restored, and began to ask after Hawkins’s wife, and about his children, and the number of them, and so on, and her examination of the witness resulted in a circumstantial history of the family’s ups and downs and driftings to and fro in the far West during the previous fifteen years. There was a message, now, from out back, and Colonel Sellers went out there in answer to it. Hawkins took this opportunity to ask how the world had been using the Colonel during the past half-generation.
“Oh, it’s been using him just the same; it couldn’t change its way of using him if it wanted to, for he wouldn’t let it.”“I can easily believe that, Mrs. Sellers.” “Yes, you see, he doesn’t change, himself – not the least little bit in the world – he’s always Mulberry Sellers.” “I can see that plain enough.”
“Just the same old scheming, generous, good-hearted, moonshiny, hopeful, no-account failure he always was, and still everybody likes him just as well as if he was the shiningest success.”
“They always did: and it was natural, because he was so obliging and accommodating, and had something about him that made it kind of easy to ask help of him, or favors – you didn’t feel shy, you know, or have that wish-youdidn’t-have-to-try feeling that you have with other people.”
“It’s just so, yet; and a body wonders at it, too, because he’s been shamefully treated, many times, by people that had used him for a ladder to climb up by, and then kicked him down when they didn’t need him any more. For a time you can see he’s hurt, his pride’s wounded, because he shrinks away from that thing and don’t want to talk about it – and so I used to think now he’s learned something and he’ll be more careful hereafter – but laws! in a couple of weeks he’s forgotten all about it, and any selfish tramp out of nobody knows where can come and put up a poor mouth and walk right into his heart with his boots on.”
“It must try your patience pretty sharply sometimes.”
“Oh, no, I’m used to it; and I’d rather have him so than the other way. When I call him a failure, I mean to the world he’s a failure; he isn’t to me. I don’t know as I want him different – much different, anyway. I have to scold him some, snarl at him, you might even call it, but I reckon I’d do that just the same, if he was different – it’s my make. But I’m a good deal less snarly and more contented when he’s a failure than I am when he isn’t.”“Then he isn’t always a failure,” said Hawking, brightening.
“Him? Oh, bless you, no. He makes a strike, as he calls it, from time to time. Then’s my time to fret and fuss. For the money just flies – first come first served. Straight off, he loads up the house with cripples and idiots and stray cats and all the different kinds of poor wrecks that other people don’t want and he does, and then when the poverty comes again I’ve got to clear the most of them out or we’d starve; and that distresses him, and me the same, of course.
“Here’s old Dan’l and old Jinny, that the sheriff sold south one of the times that we got bankrupted before the war – they came wandering back after the peace, worn out and used up on the cotton plantations, helpless, and not another lick of work left in their old hides for the rest of this earthly pilgrimage – and we so pinched, oh so pinched for the very crumbs to keep life in us, and he just flung the door wide, and the way he received them you’d have thought they had come straight down from heaven in answer to prayer. I took him one side and said, ‘Mulberry we can’t have them – we’ve nothing for ourselves – we can’t feed them.’ He looked at me kind of hurt, and said, ‘Turn them out? – and they’ve come to me just as confident and trusting as – as – why Polly, I must have bought that confidence sometime or other a long time ago, and given my note, so to speak – you don’t get such things as a gift – and how am I going to go back on a debt like that? And you see, they’re so poor, and old, and friendless, and—’ But I was ashamed by that time, and shut him off, and somehow felt a new courage in me, and so I said, softly, ‘We’ll keep them – the Lord will provide.’ He was glad, and started to blurt out one of those over-confident speeches of his, but checked himself in time, and said humbly, ‘ I will, anyway.’ It was years and years and years ago. Well, you see those old wrecks are here yet.”“But don’t they do your housework?”
“Laws! The idea. They would if they could, poor old things, and perhaps they think they do do some of it. But it’s a superstition. Dan’l waits on the front door, and sometimes goes on an errand; and sometimes you’ll see one or both of them letting on to dust around in here – but that’s because there’s something they want to hear about and mix their gabble into. And they’re always around at meals, for the same reason. But the fact is, we have to keep a young negro girl just to take care of them, and a negro woman to do the housework and help take care of them.”“Well, they ought to be tolerably happy, I should think.”
“It’s no name for it. They quarrel together pretty much all the time – most always about religion, because Dan’l’s a Dunker Baptist and Jinny’s a shouting Methodist, and Jinny believes in special Providences and Dan’l don’t, because he thinks he’s a kind of a free-thinker – and they play and sing plantation hymns together, and talk and chatter just eternally and forever, and are sincerely fond of each other and think the world of Mulberry, and he puts up patiently with all their spoiled ways and foolishness, and so – ah, well, they’re happy enough if it comes to that. And I don’t mind – I’ve got used to it. I can get used to anything, with Mulberry to help; and the fact is, I don’t much care what happens, so long as he’s spared to me.”“Well, here’s to him, and hoping he’ll make another strike soon.”
“And rake in the lame, the halt and the blind, and turn the house into a hospital again? It’s what he would do. I’ve seen aplenty of that and more. No, Washington, I want his strikes to be mighty moderate ones the rest of the way down the vale.”
“Well, then, big strike or little strike, or no strike at all, here’s hoping he’ll never lack for friends – and I don’t reckon he ever will while there’s people around who know enough to—”
“Him lack for friends!” and she tilted her head up with a frank pride – “why, Washington, you can’t name a man that’s anybody that isn’t fond of him. I’ll tell you privately, that I’ve had Satan’s own time to keep them from appointing him to some office or other. They knew he’d no business with an office, just as well as I did, but he’s the hardest man to refuse anything to, a body ever saw. Mulberry Sellers with an office! laws goodness, you know what that would be like. Why, they’d come from the ends of the earth to see a circus like that. I’d just as lieves be married to Niagara Falls, and done with it.” After a reflective pause she added – having wandered back, in the interval, to the remark that had been her text: “Friends? – oh, indeed, no man ever had more; and such friends: Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Johnston, Longstreet, Lee – many’s the time they’ve sat in that chair you’re sitting in —” Hawkins was out of it instantly, and contemplating it with a reverential surprise, and with the awed sense of having trodden shod upon holy ground—
“ They!” he said. “Oh, indeed, yes, a many and a many a time.”
He continued to gaze at the chair fascinated, magnetized; and for once in his life that continental stretch of dry prairie which stood for his imagination was afire, and across it was marching a slanting flamefront that joined its wide horizons together and smothered the skies with smoke. He was experiencing what one or another drowsing, geographically ignorant alien experiences every day in the year when he turns a dull and indifferent eye out of the car window and it falls upon a certain station-sign which reads “Stratford-on-Avon!” Mrs. Sellers went gossiping comfortably along:
“Oh, they like to hear him talk, especially if their load is getting rather heavy on one shoulder and they want to shift it. He’s all air, you know – breeze, you may say – and he freshens them up; it’s a trip to the country, they say. Many a time he’s made General Grant laugh – and that’s a tidy job, I can tell you, and as for Sheridan, his eye lights up and he listens to Mulberry Sellers the same as if he was artillery. You see, the charm about Mulberry is, he is so catholic and unprejudiced that he fits in anywhere and everywhere. It makes him powerful good company, and as popular as scandal. You go to the White House when the President’s holding a general reception – sometime when Mulberry’s there. Why, dear me, you can’t tell which of them it is that’s holding that reception.”“Well, he certainly is a remarkable man – and he always was. Is he religious?”
“Clear to his marrow – does more thinking and reading on that subject than any other except Russia and Siberia: thrashes around over the whole field, too; nothing bigoted about him.”“What is his religion?”
“He—” She stopped, and was lost for a moment or two in thinking, then she said, with simplicity, “I think he was a Mohammedan or something last week.”
Washington started down town, now, to bring his trunk, for the hospitable Sellerses would listen to no excuses; their house must be his home during the session. The Colonel returned presently and resumed work upon his plaything. It was finished when Washington got back.
“There it is,” said the Colonel, “all finished.” “What is it for, Colonel?” “Oh, it’s just a trifle. Toy to amuse the children.” Washington examined it. “It seems to be a puzzle.”“Yes, that’s what it is. I call it Pigs in the Clover. Put them in – see if you can put them in the pen.” After many failures Washington succeeded, and was as pleased as a child.
“It’s wonderfully ingenious, Colonel, it’s ever so clever and interesting – why, I could play with it all day. What are you going to do with it?”“Oh, nothing. Patent it and throw it aside.” “Don’t you do anything of the kind. There’s money in that thing.” A compassionate look traveled over the Colonel’s countenance, and he said: “Money – yes; pin money: a couple of hundred thousand, perhaps. Not more.” Washington’s eyes blazed. “A couple of hundred thousand dollars! do you call that pin money?”
The colonel rose and tip-toed his way across the room, closed a door that was slightly ajar, tip-toed his way to his seat again, and said, under his breath:“You can keep a secret?”
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