The most widely known character in American fiction, Col. Mulberry Sellers, is again introduced to readers in an original and delightful romance, replete with Mark Twain's whimsical humor.
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The American Claimant
Mark Twain – A Biographical Primer
The American Claimant
The Weather In This Book.
Appendix. Weather For Use In This Book.
The American Claimant, M. Twain
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Mark Twain was the nom de plume of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), an American author who was born on the 30th of November 1835, at Florida, Missouri. His father was a country merchant from Tennessee, who moved soon after his son's birth to Hannibal, Missouri, a little town on the Mississippi. When the boy was only twelve his father died, and thereafter he had to get his education as best he could. Of actual schooling he had little. He learned how to set type, and as a journeyman printer he wandered widely, going even as far east as New York. At seventeen he went back to the Mississippi, determined to become a pilot on a river-steamboat. In his Life on the Mississippi he has recorded graphically his experiences while “learning the river.” But in 1861 the war broke out, and the pilot's occupation was gone. After a brief period of uncertainty the young man started West with his brother, who had been appointed lieutenant-governor of Nevada. He went to the mines for a season, and there he began to write in the local newspapers, adopting the pen name of “Mark Twain,” from a call used in taking soundings on the Mississippi steamboats. He drifted in time to San Francisco, and it was a newspaper of that city which in 1867 supplied the money for him to join a party going on a chartered steamboat to the Mediterranean ports. The letters which he wrote during this voyage were gathered in 1869 into a volume, The Innocents Abroad, and the book immediately won a wide and enduring popularity. This popularity was of service to him when he appeared on the platform with a lecture or rather with an apparently informal talk, rich in admirably delivered anecdote. He edited a daily newspaper in Buffalo for a few months, and in 1870 he married Miss Olivia L. Langdon (d. 1904), removing a year later to Hartford, where he established his home. Roughing It was published in 1872, and in 1874 he collaborated with Charles Dudley Warner in The Gilded Age, from which he made a play, acted many hundred times with John T. Raymond as “Colonel Sellers.” In 1875 he published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the sequel to which, Huckleberry Finn, did not appear until 1884. The result of a second visit to Europe was humorously recorded in A Tramp Abroad (1880), followed in 1882 by a more or less historical romance, The Prince and the Pauper; and a year later came Life on the Mississippi. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the next of his books, was published (in 1884) by a New York firm in which the author was chief partner. This firm prospered for a while, and issued in 1889 Mark Twain's own comic romance, A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court, and in 1892 a less successful novel, The American Claimant. But after a severe struggle the publishing house failed, leaving the author charged with its very heavy debts. After this disaster he issued a third Mississippi Valley novel, The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, in 1894, and in 1896 another historical romance, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, wherein the maid is treated with the utmost sympathy and reverence. He went on a tour round the world, partly to make money by lecturing and partly to get material for another book of travels, published in 1897, and called in America Following the Equator, and in England More Tramps Abroad. From time to time he had collected into volumes his scattered sketches; of these the first, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, appeared in 1867, and the latest, The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg, in 1900. To be recorded also is a volume of essays and literary criticisms, How to Tell a Story (1897). A complete edition of his works was published in twenty-two volumes in 1890-1900 by the American Publishing Company of Hartford. And in this last year, having paid off all the debts of his old firm, he returned to America. By the time he died his books had brought him a considerable fortune. In later years he published a few minor volumes of fiction, and a series of severe and also amusing criticisms of Christian Science (published as a book in 1907), and in 1906 he began an autobiography in the North American Review. He had a great reception in England in 1907, when he went over to receive from Oxford the degree of Doctor of Literature. He died at Redding, Connecticut, on the 21st of April 1910. Of his four daughters only one, who married the Russian pianist Gabrilowitch, survived him. Mark Twain was an outstanding figure for many years as a popular American personality in the world of letters. He is commonly considered as a humorist, and no doubt he is a humorist of a remarkable comic force and of a refreshing fertility. But the books in which his humour is broadly displayed, the travels and the sketches, are not really so significant of his power as the three novels of the Mississippi, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Pudd'nhead Wilson, wherein we have preserved a vanished civilization, peopled with typical figures, and presented with inexorable veracity. There is no lack of humour in them, and there is never a hint of affectation in the writing; indeed, the author, doing spontaneously the work nearest to his hand, was very likely unconscious that he was making a contribution to history. But such Huckleberry Finn is, beyond all question; it is a story of very varied interest, now comic, now almost tragic, frequently poetic, unfailingly truthful, although not always sustained at its highest level. And in these three works of fiction there are not only humour and pathos, character and truth, there is also the largeness of outlook on life such as we find only in the works of the masters. Beneath his fun-making we can discern a man who is fundamentally serious, and whose ethical standards are ever lofty. Like Cervantes at times, Mark Twain reveals a depth of melancholy beneath his playful humour, and like Molière always, he has a deep scorn and a burning detestation of all sorts of sham and pretence, a scorching hatred of humbug and hypocrisy. Like Cervantes and like Molière, he is always sincere and direct.
The Colonel Mulberry Sellers here re-introduced to the public is the same person who appeared as Eschol Sellers in the first edition of the tale entitled "The Gilded Age," years ago, and as Beriah Sellers in the subsequent editions of the same book, and finally as Mulberry Sellers in the drama played afterward by John T. Raymond.
The name was changed from Eschol to Beriah to accommodate an Eschol Sellers who rose up out of the vasty deeps of uncharted space and preferred his request--backed by threat of a libel suit--then went his way appeased, and came no more. In the play Beriah had to be dropped to satisfy another member of the race, and Mulberry was substituted in the hope that the objectors would be tired by that time and let it pass unchallenged. So far it has occupied the field in peace; therefore we chance it again, feeling reasonably safe, this time, under shelter of the statute of limitations.
MARK TWAIN. Hartford, 1891.
No weather will be found in this book. This is an attempt to pull a book through without weather. It being the first attempt of the kind in fictitious literature, it may prove a failure, but it seemed worth the while of some dare-devil person to try it, and the author was in just the mood.
Many a reader who wanted to read a tale through was not able to do it because of delays on account of the weather. Nothing breaks up an author's progress like having to stop every few pages to fuss-up the weather. Thus it is plain that persistent intrusions of weather are bad for both reader and author.
Of course weather is necessary to a narrative of human experience. That is conceded. But it ought to be put where it will not be in the way; where it will not interrupt the flow of the narrative. And it ought to be the ablest weather that can be had, not ignorant, poor-quality, amateur weather. Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article of it. The present author can do only a few trifling ordinary kinds of weather, and he cannot do those very good. So it has seemed wisest to borrow such weather as is necessary for the book from qualified and recognized experts--giving credit, of course. This weather will be found over in the back part of the book, out of the way. See Appendix. The reader is requested to turn over and help himself from time to time as he goes along.
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 Marjorihanks 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, end 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, 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-solutely!" After another silence, he said, as one who, long troubled by clouds, detects a ray of sunshine, "Well, there will be one satisfaction--Simon Lathets 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--ah, 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 illustrioushouse is no more--The Right Honourable, The Most Noble, The Most PuissantSimon Lathers Lord Rossmore having departed this life ("Gone at last--this is unspeakably precious news, my son,") at his seat in the environsof 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 asmoke-house-raising, owing to carelessness on the part of all present,referable to over-confidence and gaiety induced by overplus ofsour-mash--("Extolled be sour-mash, whatever that may be, eh Berkeley?")five days ago, with no scion of our ancient race present to close hiseyes and inter him with the honors due his historic name and loftyrank--in fact, he is on the ice yet, him and his brother--friends took acollection for it. But I shall take immediate occasion to have theirnoble remains shipped to you ("Great heavens!") for interment, with dueceremonies and solemnities, in the family vault or mausoleum of ourhouse. 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 ofour lamented relative, and must of necessity, painful as the duty is,shortly require at the bar of the Lords restitution of these dignitiesand properties, now illegally enjoyed by your titular lordship.With assurance of my distinguished consideration and warm cousinlyregard, 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."
"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--Flint-Picker in the cellars of the War Department. And by George I didn't get it."
"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 flintpicker 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--you--didn'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.
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