Read CHAPTER XXIX of The Gilded Age, free online book, by Mark Twain, on

Philip Sterling was on his way to Ilium, in the state of Pennsylvania.  Ilium was the railway station nearest to the tract of wild land which Mr. Bolton had commissioned him to examine.

On the last day of the journey as the railway train Philip was on was leaving a large city, a lady timidly entered the drawing-room car, and hesitatingly took a chair that was at the moment unoccupied.  Philip saw from the window that a gentleman had put her upon the car just as it was starting.  In a few moments the conductor entered, and without waiting an explanation, said roughly to the lady,

“Now you can’t sit there.  That seat’s taken.  Go into the other car.”

“I did not intend to take the seat,” said the lady rising, “I only sat down a moment till the conductor should come and give me a seat.”

“There aint any.  Car’s full.  You’ll have to leave.”

“But, sir,” said the lady, appealingly, “I thought ­”

“Can’t help what you thought ­you must go into the other car.”

“The train is going very fast, let me stand here till we stop.”

“The lady can have my seat,” cried Philip, springing up.

The conductor turned towards Philip, and coolly and deliberately surveyed him from head to foot, with contempt in every line of his face, turned his back upon him without a word, and said to the lady,

“Come, I’ve got no time to talk.  You must go now.”

The lady, entirely disconcerted by such rudeness, and frightened, moved towards the door, opened it and stepped out.  The train was swinging along at a rapid rate, jarring from side to side; the step was a long one between the cars and there was no protecting grating.  The lady attempted it, but lost her balance, in the wind and the motion of the car, and fell!  She would inevitably have gone down under the wheels, if Philip, who had swiftly followed her, had not caught her arm and drawn her up.  He then assisted her across, found her a seat, received her bewildered thanks, and returned to his car.

The conductor was still there, taking his tickets, and growling something about imposition.  Philip marched up to him, and burst out with,

“You are a brute, an infernal brute, to treat a woman that way.”

“Perhaps you’d like to make a fuss about it,” sneered the conductor.

Philip’s reply was a blow, given so suddenly and planted so squarely in the conductor’s face, that it sent him reeling over a fat passenger, who was looking up in mild wonder that any one should dare to dispute with a conductor, and against the side of the car.

He recovered himself, reached the bell rope, “Damn you, I’ll learn you,” stepped to the door and called a couple of brakemen, and then, as the speed slackened; roared out,

“Get off this train.”

“I shall not get off.  I have as much right here as you.”

“We’ll see,” said the conductor, advancing with the brakemen.  The passengers protested, and some of them said to each other, “That’s too bad,” as they always do in such cases, but none of them offered to take a hand with Philip.  The men seized him, wrenched him from his seat, dragged him along the aisle, tearing his clothes, thrust him from the car, and, then flung his carpet-bag, overcoat and umbrella after him.  And the train went on.

The conductor, red in the face and puffing from his exertion, swaggered through the car, muttering “Puppy, I’ll learn him.”  The passengers, when he had gone, were loud in their indignation, and talked about signing a protest, but they did nothing more than talk.

The next morning the Hooverville Patriot and Clarion had this “item": ­

SLIGHTUALLY overboard.

“We learn that as the down noon express was leaving H ­ yesterday a lady! (God save the mark) attempted to force herself into the already full palatial car.  Conductor Slum, who is too old a bird to be caught with chaff, courteously informed her that the car was full, and when she insisted on remaining, he persuaded her to go into the car where she belonged.  Thereupon a young sprig, from the East, blustered like a Shanghai rooster, and began to sass the conductor with his chin music.  That gentleman delivered the young aspirant for a muss one of his elegant little left-handers, which so astonished him that he began to feel for his shooter.  Whereupon Mr. Slum gently raised the youth, carried him forth, and set him down just outside the car to cool off.  Whether the young blood has yet made his way out of Bascom’s swamp, we have not learned.  Conductor Slum is one of the most gentlemanly and efficient officers on the road; but he ain’t trifled with, not much.  We learn that the company have put a new engine on the seven o’clock train, and newly upholstered the drawing-room car throughout.  It spares no effort for the comfort of the traveling public.”

Philip never had been before in Bascom’s swamp, and there was nothing inviting in it to detain him.  After the train got out of the way he crawled out of the briars and the mud, and got upon the track.  He was somewhat bruised, but he was too angry to mind that.  He plodded along over the ties in a very hot condition of mind and body.  In the scuffle, his railway check had disappeared, and he grimly wondered, as he noticed the loss, if the company would permit him to walk over their track if they should know he hadn’t a ticket.

Philip had to walk some five miles before he reached a little station, where he could wait for a train, and he had ample time for reflection.  At first he was full of vengeance on the company.  He would sue it.  He would make it pay roundly.  But then it occurred to him that he did not know the name of a witness he could summon, and that a personal fight against a railway corporation was about the most hopeless in the world.  He then thought he would seek out that conductor, lie in wait for him at some station, and thrash him, or get thrashed himself.

But as he got cooler, that did not seem to him a project worthy of a gentleman exactly.  Was it possible for a gentleman to get even with such a fellow as that conductor on the letter’s own plane?  And when he came to this point, he began to ask himself, if he had not acted very much like a fool.  He didn’t regret striking the fellow ­he hoped he had left a mark on him.  But, after all, was that the best way?  Here was he, Philip Sterling, calling himself a gentleman, in a brawl with a vulgar conductor, about a woman he had never seen before.  Why should he have put himself in such a ridiculous position?  Wasn’t it enough to have offered the lady his seat, to have rescued her from an accident, perhaps from death?  Suppose he had simply said to the conductor, “Sir, your conduct is brutal, I shall report you.”  The passengers, who saw the affair, might have joined in a report against the conductor, and he might really have accomplished something.  And, now!  Philip looked at leis torn clothes, and thought with disgust of his haste in getting into a fight with such an autocrat.

At the little station where Philip waited for the next train, he met a man ­who turned out to be a justice of the peace in that neighborhood, and told him his adventure.  He was a kindly sort of man, and seemed very much interested.

Dumem,” said he, when he had heard the story.

“Do you think any thing can be done, sir?”

“Wal, I guess tain’t no use.  I hain’t a mite of doubt of every word you say.  But suin’s no use.  The railroad company owns all these people along here, and the judges on the bench too.  Spiled your clothes!  Wal, ‘least said’s soonest mended.’  You haint no chance with the company.”

When next morning, he read the humorous account in the Patriot and Clarion, he saw still more clearly what chance he would have had before the public in a fight with the railroad company.

Still Philip’s conscience told him that it was his plain duty to carry the matter into the courts, even with the certainty of defeat.  He confessed that neither he nor any citizen had a right to consult his own feelings or conscience in a case where a law of the land had been violated before his own eyes.  He confessed that every citizen’s first duty in such case is to put aside his own business and devote his time and his best efforts to seeing that the infraction is promptly punished; and he knew that no country can be well governed unless its citizens as a body keep religiously before their minds that they are the guardians of the law, and that the law officers are only the machinery for its execution, nothing more.  As a finality he was obliged to confess that he was a bad citizen, and also that the general laxity of the time, and the absence of a sense of duty toward any part of the community but the individual himself were ingrained in him, am he was no better than the rest of the people.

The result of this little adventure was that Philip did not reach Ilium till daylight the next morning, when he descended sleepy and sore, from a way train, and looked about him.  Ilium was in a narrow mountain gorge, through which a rapid stream ran.  It consisted of the plank platform on which he stood, a wooden house, half painted, with a dirty piazza (unroofed) in front, and a sign board hung on a slanting pole ­bearing the legend, “Hotel.  P. Dusenheimer,” a sawmill further down the stream, a blacksmith-shop, and a store, and three or four unpainted dwellings of the slab variety.

As Philip approached the hotel he saw what appeared to be a wild beast crouching on the piazza.  It did not stir, however, and he soon found that it was only a stuffed skin.  This cheerful invitation to the tavern was the remains of a huge panther which had been killed in the region a few weeks before.  Philip examined his ugly visage and strong crooked fore-arm, as he was waiting admittance, having pounded upon the door.

“Yait a bit.  I’ll shoost ­put on my trowsers,” shouted a voice from the window, and the door was soon opened by the yawning landlord.

“Morgen!  Didn’t hear d’ drain oncet.  Dem boys geeps me up zo spate.  Gom right in.”

Philip was shown into a dirty bar-room.  It was a small room, with a stove in the middle, set in a long shallow box of sand, for the benefit of the “spitters,” a bar across one end ­a mere counter with a sliding glass-case behind it containing a few bottles having ambitious labels, and a wash-sink in one corner.  On the walls were the bright yellow and black handbills of a traveling circus, with pictures of acrobats in human pyramids, horses flying in long leaps through the air, and sylph-like women in a paradisaic costume, balancing themselves upon the tips of their toes on the bare backs of frantic and plunging steeds, and kissing their hands to the spectators meanwhile.

As Philip did not desire a room at that hour, he was invited to wash himself at the nasty sink, a feat somewhat easier than drying his face, for the towel that hung in a roller over the sink was evidently as much a fixture as the sink itself, and belonged, like the suspended brush and comb, to the traveling public.  Philip managed to complete his toilet by the use of his pocket-handkerchief, and declining the hospitality of the landlord, implied in the remark, “You won’d dake notin’?” he went into the open air to wait for breakfast.

The country he saw was wild but not picturesque.  The mountain before him might be eight hundred feet high, and was only a portion of a long unbroken range, savagely wooded, which followed the stream.  Behind the hotel, and across the brawling brook, was another level-topped, wooded range exactly like it.  Ilium itself, seen at a glance, was old enough to be dilapidated, and if it had gained anything by being made a wood and water station of the new railroad, it was only a new sort of grime and rawness.  P. Dusenheimer, standing in the door of his uninviting groggery, when the trains stopped for water; never received from the traveling public any patronage except facetious remarks upon his personal appearance.  Perhaps a thousand times he had heard the remark, “Ilium fuit,” followed in most instances by a hail to himself as “AEneas,” with the inquiry “Where is old Anchises?” At first he had replied, “Dere ain’t no such man;” but irritated by its senseless repetition, he had latterly dropped into the formula of, “You be dam.”

Philip was recalled from the contemplation of Ilium by the rolling and growling of the gong within the hotel, the din and clamor increasing till the house was apparently unable to contain it; when it burst out of the front door and informed the world that breakfast was on the table.

The dining room was long, low and narrow, and a narrow table extended its whole length.  Upon this was spread a cloth which from appearance might have been as long in use as the towel in the barroom.  Upon the table was the usual service, the heavy, much nicked stone ware, the row of plated and rusty castors, the sugar bowls with the zinc tea-spoons sticking up in them, the piles of yellow biscuits, the discouraged-looking plates of butter.  The landlord waited, and Philip was pleased to observe the change in his manner.  In the barroom he was the conciliatory landlord.  Standing behind his guests at table, he had an air of peremptory patronage, and the voice in which he shot out the inquiry, as he seized Philip’s plate, “Beefsteak or liver?” quite took away Philip’s power of choice.  He begged for a glass of milk, after trying that green hued compound called coffee, and made his breakfast out of that and some hard crackers which seemed to have been imported into Ilium before the introduction of the iron horse, and to have withstood a ten years siege of regular boarders, Greeks and others.

The land that Philip had come to look at was at least five miles distant from Ilium station.  A corner of it touched the railroad, but the rest was pretty much an unbroken wilderness, eight or ten thousand acres of rough country, most of it such a mountain range as he saw at Ilium.

His first step was to hire three woodsmen to accompany him.  By their help he built a log hut, and established a camp on the land, and then began his explorations, mapping down his survey as he went along, noting the timber, and the lay of the land, and making superficial observations as to the prospect of coal.

The landlord at Ilium endeavored to persuade Philip to hire the services of a witch-hazel professor of that region, who could walk over the land with his wand and tell him infallibly whether it contained coal, and exactly where the strata ran.  But Philip preferred to trust to his own study of the country, and his knowledge of the geological formation.  He spent a month in traveling over the land and making calculations; and made up his mind that a fine vein of coal ran through the mountain about a mile from the railroad, and that the place to run in a tunnel was half way towards its summit.

Acting with his usual promptness, Philip, with the consent of Mr. Bolton, broke ground there at once, and, before snow came, had some rude buildings up, and was ready for active operations in the spring.  It was true that there were no outcroppings of coal at the place, and the people at Ilium said he “mought as well dig for plug terbaccer there;” but Philip had great faith in the uniformity of nature’s operations in ages past, and he had no doubt that he should strike at this spot the rich vein that had made the fortune of the Golden Briar Company.