Mark Twain.

The gilded age; a tale of today (Volume 2) online

. (page 1 of 20)
Online LibraryMark TwainThe gilded age; a tale of today (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Author's National tbttimt







(Samuel L. Clemens)





Entered according to Act of Congress, In the year 1873, by

In the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

Copyright, 1899

Copyright, 1901

In renewal




MR. BUCKSTONE . . . . W. T. S>*edlej Frcnuisfneca

"MISS LAURA AIN'T DAH, SAH". W. T. SmedUy . . 164


SUMED TO ASHES . . . . W. T. SmcdUy . . $17




Lo, swicbe sleightes and subtiltees

In women ben; for ay as besy as bees

Ben they us sely men for to deceive,

And from a sothe wol they ever weive.*


WASHINGTON'S delight in his beautiful sister
was measureless. He said that she had always
been the queenliest creature in the land, but that she
was only commonplace before, compared to what
she was now, so extraordinary was the improvement
wrought by rich fashionable attire.

*' But your criticisms are too full of brotherly
partiality to be depended on, Washington. Other
people will judge differently.'*

44 Indeed they won't. You'll see. There will
never be a woman in Washington that can compare
with you. You'll be famous within a fortnight,
Laura. Everybody will want to know you. You
wait you'll see."

Laura wished in her heart that the prophecy might

See publishers' note, Volume I.


6 The Gilded Age

come true ; and privately she even believed it might
for she had brought all the women whom she had
seen since she left home under sharp inspection,
and the result had not been unsatisfactory to her.

During a week or two Washington drove about
the city every day with her and familiarized her with
all of its salient features. She was beginning to feel
very much at home with the town itself, and she was
also fast acquiring ease with the distinguished people
she met at the Dilworthy table, and losing what little
of country timidity she had brought with her from
Hawkeye. She noticed with secret pleasure the
little start of admiration that always manifested itself
in the faces of the guests when she entered the
drawing - room arrayed in evening costume ; she
took comforting note of the fact that these guests
directed a very liberal share of their conversation
toward her; she observed with surprise, that famous
statesmen and soldiers did not talk like gods, as a
general thing, but said rather commonplace things
for the most part; and she was filled with gratifica-
tion to discover that she, on the contrary, was
making a good many shrewd speeches and now and
then a really brilliant one, and, furthermore, that they
were beginning to be repeated in social circles about
the town.

Congress began its sittings, and every day or two
Washington escorted her to the galleries set apart
for lady members of the households of Senators and
Representatives. Here was a larger field and a

The Gilded Age 7

wider competition, but still she saw that many eyes
were uplifted toward her face, and that first one
person and then another called a neighbor's atten-
tion to her; she was not too dull to perceive that
the speeches of some of the younger statesmen were
delivered about as much and perhaps more at her
than to the presiding officer ; and she was not sorry
to see that the dapper young Senator from Iowa
came at once and stood in the open space before the
president's desk to exhibit his feet as soon as she
entered the gallery, whereas she had early learned
from common report that his usual custom was to
prop them on his desk and enjoy them himself with
a selfish disregard of other people's longings.

Invitations began to flow in upon her, and soon
she was fairly " in society." "The season " was
now in full bloom, and the first select reception was
at hand that is to say, a reception confined to
invited guests.

Senator Dilworthy had become well convinced,
by this time, that his judgment of the country-bred
Missouri girl had not deceived him it was plain
that she was going to be a peerless missionary in the
field of labor he designed her for, and therefore it
would be perfectly safe and likewise judicious to
send her forth well panoplied for her work. So he
had added new and still richer costumes to her
wardrobe, and assisted their attractions with costly
jewelry loans on the future land sale.

This first select reception took place at a cabinet

8 The Gilded Age

minister's or, rather, a cabinet secretary's man-
sion. When Laura and the Senator arrived, about
half past nine or ten in the evening, the place was
already pretty well crowded, and the white-gloved
negro servant at the door was still receiving streams
of guests. The drawing-rooms were brilliant with
gaslight, and as hot as ovens. The host and hostess
stood just within the door of entrance. Laura was
presented, and then she passed on into the mael-
strom of bejeweled and richly attired low-necked
ladies and white-kid-gloved and steel - pen - coated
gentlemen; and wherever she moved she was fol-
lowed by a buzz of admiration that was grateful to
all her senses so grateful, indeed, that her white
face was tinged and its beauty heightened by a per-
ceptible suffusion of color. She caught such re-
marks as, "Who is she?" "Superb woman!"
"That is the new beauty from the West," etc., etc.

Whenever she halted, she was presently sur-
rounded by Ministers, Generals, Congressmen, and
all manner of aristocratic people. Introductions
followed, and then the usual original question,
"How do you like Washington, Miss Hawkins?"
supplemented by that other usual original question,
"Is this your first visit?"

These two exciting topics being exhausted, con-
versation generally drifted into calmer channels,
only to be interrupted at frequent intervals by new
introductions and new inquiries as to how Laura
liked the capital and whether it was her first visit or

The Gilded Age 9

not. And thus for an hour or more the Duchess
moved through the crush in a rapture of happiness,
for her doubts were dead and gone, now she knew
she could conquer here. A familiar face appeared
in the midst of the multitude, and Harry Brierly
fought his difficult way to her side, his eyes shouting
their gratification, so to speak:

"Oh, this is a happiness! Tell me, my dear
Miss Hawkins "

" Sh ! I know what you are going to ask. I do
like Washington I like it ever so much!"

"No, but I was going to ask "

" Yes, I am coming to it, coming to it as fast as
I can. It is my first visit. I think you should
know that yourself."

And straightway a wave of the crowd swept her
beyond his reach.

"Now what can the girl mean? Of course she
likes Washington I'm not such a dummy as to
have to ask her that. And as to its being her first
visit, why ! hang it, she knows that I knew it was.
Does she think I have turned idiot? Curious girl,
anyway. But how they do swarm about her I She
is the reigning belle of Washington after this night.
She'll know five hundred of the heaviest guns in the
town before this night's nonsense is over. And this
isn't even the beginning. Just as I used to say
she'll be a card in the matter of yes, sir/ She
shall turn the men's heads and I'll turn the women's !
What a team that will be in politics here. I wouldn't

10 The Gilded Age

take a quarter of a million for what I can do in this
present session no, indeed, I wouldn't. Now,
here I don't altogether like this. That insignifi-
cant secretary of legation is why, she's smiling on
him as if he and now on the Admiral ! Now she's
illuminating that stuffy Congressman from Massa-
chusetts vulgar, ungrammatical shovel-maker
greasy knave of spades. I don't like this sort of
thing. She doesn't appear to be much distressed
about me she hasn't looked this way once. All
right, my bird of Paradise, if it suits you, go on.
But I think I know your sex. /'// go to smiling
around a little, too, and see what effect that will have
on you."

And he did "smile around a little," and got as
near to her as he could to watch the effect, but the
scheme was a failure he could not get her atten-
tion. She seemed wholly unconscious of him, and
so he could not flirt with any spirit ; he could only
talk disjointedly ; he could not keep his eyes on the
charmers he talked to ; he grew irritable, jealous,
and very unhappy. He gave up his enterprise,
leaned his shoulder against a fluted pilaster and
pouted while he kept watch upon Laura's every
movement. His other shoulder stole the bloom
from many a lovely cheek that brushed him in the
surging crush, but he noted it not. He was too
busy cursing himself inwardly for being an egotistical
imbecile. An hour ago he had thought to take this
country lass under his protection and show her

The Gilded Age 11

"life" and enjoy her wonder and delight and
here she was, immersed in the marvel up to her
eyes, and just a trifle more at home in it than he
was himself. And now his angry comments ran on
again :

" Now she's sweetening old Brother Balaam; and
he well, he is inviting her to the Congressional
prayer-meeting, no doubt better let old Dilworthy
alone to see that she doesn't overlook that. And
now its Splurge of New York ; and now its Batters
of New Hampshire and now the Vice- President !
Well, I may as well adjourn. I've got enough."

But he hadn't. He got as far as the door and
then struggled back to take one more look, hating
himself all the while for his weakness.

Toward midnight, when supper was announced,
the crowd thronged to the supper room, where a
long table was decked out with what seemed a rare
repast, but which consisted of things better calcu-
lated to feast the eye than the appetite. The ladies
were soon seated in files along the wall, and in
groups here and there, and the colored waiters filled
the plates and glasses, and the male guests moved
hither and thither conveying them to the privileged

Harry took an ice and stood up by the table with
other gentlemen, and listened to the buzz of conver-
sation while he ate.

From these remarks he learned a good deal about
Laura that was news to him. For instance, that she

12 The Gilded Age

was of a distinguished Western family ; that she was
highly educated ; that she was very rich and a great
landed heiress; that she was not a professor of
religion, and yet was a Christian in the truest and
best sense of the word, for her whole heart was de-
voted to the accomplishment of a great and noble
enterprise none other than the sacrificing of her
landed estates to the uplifting of the down-trodden
negro and the turning of his erring feet into the way
of light and righteousness. Harry observed that as
soon as one listener had absorbed the story, he
turned about and delivered it to his next neighbor,
and the latter individual straightway passed it on.
And thus he saw it travel the round of the gentle-
men and overflow rearward among the ladies. He
could not trace it backward to its fountain-head, and
so he could not tell who it was that started it.

One thing annoyed Harry a great deal ; and that
was the reflection that he might have been in
Washington days and days ago and thrown his
fascinations about Laura with permanent effect while
she was new and strange to the capital, instead of
dawdling in Philadelphia to no purpose. He feared
he had " missed a trick," as he expressed it.

He only found one little opportunity of speaking
again with Laura before the evening's festivities
ended, and then, for the first time in years, his airy
self-complacency failed him, his tongue's easy con-
fidence forsook it in a great measure, and he was
conscious of an unheroic timidity. He was glad to

The Gilded Age 13

get away and find a place where he could despise
himself in private and try to grow his clipped plumes

When Laura reached home she was tired but
exultant, and Senator Dilworthy was pleased and
satisfied. He called Laura " my daughter," next
morning, and gave her some "pin money," as he
termed it, and she sent a hundred and fifty dollars
of it to her mother and loaned a trifle to Colonel
Sellers. Then the Senator had a long private con-
ference with Laura, and unfolded certain plans of
his for the good of the country, and religion, and
the poor, and temperance, and showed her how she
could assist him in developing these worthy and
noble enterprises.




Itancan Ihduhomni eciyapi, Itancan Tohanokihi-eca eciyapi, I tan-
can lapiwaxte eciyapi, he hunkakewicaye cin etanhan otonwe kin cax-
totipi; nakun Akicita Wicaxta-ceji-skuya, Akicita Anogite, AkiciU

)>e richeste wifmen alle: }>at were in londe,
and )>ere hehere monnen dohtere. . . .
}>ere wes moni pal hende: on faire }>&. uolke.
]>ar was mochel honde : of manicunnes londe,
for ech wende to beon: betere ]>an ojer.

LAURA soon discovered that there were three
distinct aristocracies in Washington. One of
these (nicknamed the Antiques), consisted of culti-
vated, high-bred old families who looked back with
pride upon an ancestry that had been always great
in the nation's councils and its wars from the birth
of the republic downward. Into this select circle it
was difficult to gain admission. No. 2 was the
aristocracy of the middle ground of which, more
anon. No. 3 lay beyond ; of it we will say a word
here. We will call it the Aristocracy of the Par-
venus as, indeed, the general public did. Official

The Gilded Age 15

position, no matter how obtained, entitled a man to
a place in it, and carried his family with him, no
matter whence they sprang. Great wealth gave a
man a still higher and nobler place in it than did
official position. If this wealth had been acquired
by conspicuous ingenuity, with just a pleasant little
spice of illegality about it, all the better. This
aristocracy was "fast," and not averse to ostenta-
tion. The aristocracy of the Antiques ignored the
aristocracy of the Parvenus ; the Parvenus laughed
at the Antiques (and secretly envied them).

There were certain important ' ' society ' ' customs
which one in Laura's position needed to understand.
For instance, when a lady of any prominence comes
to one of our cities and takes up her residence, all the
ladies of her grade favor her in turn with an initial
call, giving their cards to the servant at the door by
way of introduction. They come singly, sometimes ;
sometimes in couples; and always in elaborate
full dress. They talk two minutes and a quarter and
then go. If the lady receiving the call desires a
further acquaintance, she must return the visit within
two weeks ; to neglect it beyond that time means
** let the matter drop." But if she does return the
visit within two weeks, it then becomes the othei
party's privilege to continue the acquaintance or
drop it. She signifies her willingness to continue it
by calling again any time within twelve months;
after that, if the parties go on calling upon each
other once a year, in our large cities, that is suffi-

16 The Gilded Age

cient, and the acquaintanceship holds good. The
thing goes along smoothly, now. The annual visits
are made and returned with peaceful regularity and
bland satisfaction, although it is not necessary that
the two ladies shall actually see each other oftener
than once every few years. Their cards preserve
the intimacy and keep the acquaintanceship intact.

For instance, Mrs. A. pays her annual visit, sits
in her carriage and sends in her card with the lower
right-hand corner turned down, which signifies that
she has "called in person;" Mrs. B. sends down
word that she is " engaged " or " wishes to be ex-
cused " or if she is a Parvenu and low-bred, she
perhaps sends word that she is "not at home."
Very good ; Mrs. A. drives on happy and content.
If Mrs. A.'s daughter marries, or a child is born to
the family, Mrs. B. calls, sends in her card with the
upper left-hand corner turned down, and then goes
along about her affairs for that inverted corner
means "Congratulations." If Mrs. B.'s husband
falls down stairs and breaks his neck, Mrs. A. calls,
leaves her card with the upper right-hand corner
turned down, and then takes her departure; this
corner means " Condolence." It is very necessary
to get the corners right, else one may unintentionally
condole with a friend on a wedding or congratulate
her upon a funeral. If either lady is about to leave
the city, she goes to the other's house and leaves
her card with "P. P. C." engraved under the name
which signifies, " Pay Parting Call." But enough

The Gilded Age 17

of etiquette. Laura was early instructed in the
mysteries of society life by a competent mentor, and
thus was preserved from troublesome mistakes.

The first fashionable call she received from a
member of the ancient nobility, otherwise the
Antiques, was of a pattern with all she received
from that limb of the aristocracy afterward. This
call was paid by Mrs. Major-General Fulke-Fulkerson
and daughter. They drove up at one in the after-
noon in a rather antiquated vehicle with a faded coat
of arms on the panels, an aged white- wooled negro
coachman on the box and a younger darkey beside
him the footman. Both of these servants were
dressed in dull brown livery that had seen consider-
able service.

The ladies entered the drawing-room in full char-
acter ; that is to say, with Elizabethan stateliness on
the part of the dowager, and an easy grace and
dignity on the part of the young lady that had a
nameless something about it that suggested conscious
superiority. The dresses of both ladies were exceed-
ingly rich as to material, but as notably modest as to
color and ornament. All parties having seated them-
selves, the dowager delivered herself of a remark
that was not unusual in its form, and yet it came
from her lips with the impressiveness of Scripture:

44 The weather has been unpropitious of late, Miss

44 It has, indeed," said Laura. "The climate
seems to be variable."

18 The Gilded Age

" It is its nature of old, here," said the daughter
stating it apparently as a fact, only, and by her
manner waving aside all personal responsibility on
account of it. " Is it not so, mamma?"

" Quite so, my child. Do you like winter, Miss
Hawkins?" She said " like " as if she had an idea
that its dictionary meaning was " approve of."

"Not as well as summer though I think all
seasons have their charms."

" It is a very just remark. The general held
similar views. He considered snow in winter proper ;
sultriness in summer legitimate ; frosts in the autumn
the same, and rains in spring not objectionable. He
was not an exacting man. And I call to mind now
that he always admired thunder. You remember,
child, your father always admired thunder?"

"He adored it."

** No doubt it reminded him of battle," said Laura.

*'Yes, I think perhaps it did. He had a great
respect for Nature. He often said there was some-
thing striking about the ocean. You remember his
saying that, daughter?"

" Yes, often, mother. I remember it very well."

"And hurricanes. He took a great interest in
hurricanes. And animals. Dogs, especially hunt-
ing dogs. Also comets. I think we all have our
predilections. I think it is this that gives variety to
our tastes." Laura coincided with this view. " Do
you find it hard and lonely to be so far from your
home and friends, Miss Hawkins?"

The Gilded Age 19

" I do find it depressing sometimes, but then there
is so much about me here that is novel and interest-
ing that my days are made up more of sunshine
than shadow."

"Washington is not a dull city in the season,"
said the young lady. "We have some very good
society indeed, and one need not be at a loss for
means to pass the time pleasantly. Are you fond
of watering places, Miss Hawkins?"

" I have really had no experience of them, but I
have always felt a strong desire to see something of
fashionable watering-place life."

"We of Washington are unfortunately situated
in that respect," said the dowager. " It is a tedious
distance to Newport. But there is no help for it."

Laura said to herself, " Long Branch and Cape
May are nearer than Newport; doubtless these
places are low; I'll feel my way a little and see."
Then she said aloud :

" Why, I thought that Long Branch "

There was no need to " feel " any further there
was that in both faces before her which made that
truth apparent. The dowager said :

"Nobody goes there , Miss Hawkins at least,
only persons of no position in society. And the
President." She added that with tranquillity.

"Newport is damp, and cold, and windy, and
excessively disagreeable," said the daughter, "but
it is very select. One cannot be fastidious about
minor matters when one has no choice."


20 The Gilded Age

The visit had spun out nearly three minutes, now.
Both ladies rose with grave dignity, conferred upon
Laura a formal invitation to call, and then retired
from the conference. Laura remained in the draw-
ing-room and left them to pilot themselves out of
the house an inhospitable thing, it seemed to her,
but then she was following her instructions. She
stood, steeped in reverie, a while, and then she said :

"I think I could always enjoy icebergs as
scenery but not as company."

Still, she knew these two people by reputation,
and was aware that they were not icebergs when they
were in their own waters and amid their legitimate
surroundings, but on the contrary were people
to be respected for their stainless characters and
esteemed for their social virtues and their benevolent
impulses. She thought it a pity that they had to be
such changed and dreary creatures on occasions of

The first call Laura received from the other ex-
tremity of the Washington aristocracy followed close
upon the heels of the one we have just been de-
scribing. The callers this time were the Hon. Mrs.
Oliver Higgins, the Hon. Mrs. Patrique OreiHe"
(pronounced O-retay), Miss Bridget (pronounced
Breezhay) Oreille" , Mrs. Peter Gashly, Miss Gashly,
and Miss Emmeline Gashly.

The three carriages arrived at the same moment
from different directions. They were new and won-
derfully shiny, and the brasses on the harness were

The Gilded Age 21

highly polished and bore complicated monograms.
There were showy coats of arms, too, with Latin
mottoes. The coachmen and footmen were clad in
bright new livery, of striking colors, and they had
black rosettes with shaving-brushes projecting above
them, on the sides of their stove-pipe hats.

When the visitors swept into the drawing-room
they filled the place with a suffocating sweetness
procured at the perfumer's. Their costumes, as to
architecture, were the latest fashion intensified ; they
were rainbow-hued ; they were hung with jewels
chiefly diamonds. It would have been plain to any
eye that it had cost something to upholster these

The Hon. Mrs. Oliver Higgins was the wife of a
delegate from a distant Territory a gentleman who
had kept the principal "saloon," and sold the best
whisky in the principal village in his wilderness, and
so, of course, was recognized as the first man of his
commonwealth and its fittest representative. He
was a man of paramount influence at home, for he
was public-spirited, he was chief of the fire depart-
ment, he had an admirable command of profane
language, and had killed several "parties," His
shirt fronts were always immaculate; his boots
daintily polished, and no man could lift a foot and
fire a dead shot at a stray speck of dirt on it with a
white handkerchief with a finer grace than he ; his
watch chain weighed a pound ; the gold in his finger
ring was worth forty-five dollars; he wore a dia-

22 The Gilded Age

mond cluster-pin, and he parted his hair behind. He
had always been regarded as the most elegant gentle-
man in his Territory, and it was conceded by all that
no man thereabouts was anywhere near his equal in
the telling of an obscene story, except the venerable
white-haired governor himself. The Hon. Higgins
had not come to serve his country in Washington
for nothing. The appropriation which he had en-
gineered through Congress for the maintenance of

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryMark TwainThe gilded age; a tale of today (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 20)