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

It had been a bad winter, somehow, for the firm of Pennybacker, Bigler and Small.  These celebrated contractors usually made more money during the session of the legislature at Harrisburg than upon all their summer work, and this winter had been unfruitful.  It was unaccountable to Bigler.

“You see, Mr. Bolton,” he said, and Philip was present at the conversation, “it puts us all out.  It looks as if politics was played out.  We’d counted on the year of Simon’s re-election.  And, now, he’s reelected, and I’ve yet to see the first man who’s the better for it.”

“You don’t mean to say,” asked Philip, “that he went in without paying anything?”

“Not a cent, not a dash cent, as I can hear,” repeated Mr. Bigler, indignantly.  “I call it a swindle on the state.  How it was done gets me.  I never saw such a tight time for money in Harrisburg.”

“Were there no combinations, no railroad jobs, no mining schemes put through in connection with the election?

“Not that I knew,” said Bigler, shaking his head in disgust.  “In fact it was openly said, that there was no money in the election.  It’s perfectly unheard of.”

“Perhaps,” suggested Philip, “it was effected on what the insurance companies call the ‘endowment,’ or the ‘paid up’ plan, by which a policy is secured after a certain time without further payment.”

“You think then,” said Mr. Bolton smiling, “that a liberal and sagacious politician might own a legislature after a time, and not be bothered with keeping up his payments?”

“Whatever it is,” interrupted Mr. Bigler, “it’s devilish ingenious and goes ahead of my calculations; it’s cleaned me out, when I thought we had a dead sure thing.  I tell you what it is, gentlemen, I shall go in for reform.  Things have got pretty mixed when a legislature will give away a United States senatorship.”

It was melancholy, but Mr. Bigler was not a man to be crushed by one misfortune, or to lose his confidence in human nature, on one exhibition of apparent honesty.  He was already on his feet again, or would be if Mr. Bolton could tide him over shoal water for ninety days.

“We’ve got something with money in it,” he explained to Mr. Bolton, “got hold of it by good luck.  We’ve got the entire contract for Dobson’s Patent Pavement for the city of Mobile.  See here.”

Mr. Bigler made some figures; contract so; much, cost of work and materials so much, profits so much.  At the end of three months the city would owe the company three hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars-two hundred thousand of that would be profits.  The whole job was worth at least a million to the company ­it might be more.  There could be no mistake in these figures; here was the contract, Mr. Bolton knew what materials were worth and what the labor would cost.

Mr. Bolton knew perfectly well from sore experience that there was always a mistake in figures when Bigler or Small made them, and he knew that he ought to send the fellow about his business.  Instead of that, he let him talk.

They only wanted to raise fifty thousand dollars to carry on the contract ­that expended they would have city bonds.  Mr. Bolton said he hadn’t the money.  But Bigler could raise it on his name.  Mr. Bolton said he had no right to put his family to that risk.  But the entire contract could be assigned to him ­the security was ample ­it was a fortune to him if it was forfeited.  Besides Mr. Bigler had been unfortunate, he didn’t know where to look for the necessaries of life for his family.  If he could only have one more chance, he was sure he could right himself.  He begged for it.

And Mr. Bolton yielded.  He could never refuse such appeals.  If he had befriended a man once and been cheated by him, that man appeared to have a claim upon him forever.  He shrank, however, from telling his wife what he had done on this occasion, for he knew that if any person was more odious than Small to his family it was Bigler.

“Philip tells me,” Mrs. Bolton said that evening, “that the man Bigler has been with thee again to-day.  I hope thee will have nothing more to do with him.”

“He has been very unfortunate,” replied Mr. Bolton, uneasily.

“He is always unfortunate, and he is always getting thee into trouble.  But thee didn’t listen to him again?”

“Well, mother, his family is in want, and I lent him my name ­but I took ample security.  The worst that can happen will be a little inconvenience.”

Mrs. Bolton looked grave and anxious, but she did not complain or remonstrate; she knew what a “little inconvenience” meant, but she knew there was no help for it.  If Mr. Bolton had been on his way to market to buy a dinner for his family with the only dollar he had in the world in his pocket, he would have given it to a chance beggar who asked him for it.  Mrs. Bolton only asked (and the question showed that she was no mere provident than her husband where her heart was interested),

“But has thee provided money for Philip to use in opening the coal mine?”

“Yes, I have set apart as much as it ought to cost to open the mine, as much as we can afford to lose if no coal is found.  Philip has the control of it, as equal partner in the venture, deducting the capital invested.  He has great confidence in his success, and I hope for his sake he won’t be disappointed.”

Philip could not but feel that he was treated very much like one of the Bolton-family ­by all except Ruth.  His mother, when he went home after his recovery from his accident, had affected to be very jealous of Mrs. Bolton, about whom and Ruth she asked a thousand questions ­an affectation of jealousy which no doubt concealed a real heartache, which comes to every mother when her son goes out into the world and forms new ties.  And to Mrs. Sterling; a widow, living on a small income in a remote Massachusetts village, Philadelphia was a city of many splendors.  All its inhabitants seemed highly favored, dwelling in ease and surrounded by superior advantages.  Some of her neighbors had relations living in Philadelphia, and it seemed to them somehow a guarantee of respectability to have relations in Philadelphia.  Mrs. Sterling was not sorry to have Philip make his way among such well-to-do people, and she was sure that no good fortune could be too good for his deserts.

“So, sir,” said Ruth, when Philip came from New York, “you have been assisting in a pretty tragedy.  I saw your name in the papers.  Is this woman a specimen of your western friends?”

“My only assistance,” replied Philip, a little annoyed, was in trying to keep Harry out of a bad scrape, and I failed after all.  He walked into her trap, and he has been punished for it.  I’m going to take him up to Ilium to see if he won’t work steadily at one thing, and quit his nonsense.”

“Is she as beautiful as the newspapers say she is?”

“I don’t know, she has a kind of beauty ­she is not like ­’

“Not like Alice?”

“Well, she is brilliant; she was called the handsomest woman in Washington ­dashing, you know, and sarcastic and witty.  Ruth, do you believe a woman ever becomes a devil?”

“Men do, and I don’t know why women shouldn’t.  But I never saw one.”

“Well, Laura Hawkins comes very near it.  But it is dreadful to think of her fate.”

“Why, do you suppose they will hang a woman?  Do you suppose they will be so barbarous as that?”

“I wasn’t thinking of that ­it’s doubtful if a New York jury would find a woman guilty of any such crime.  But to think of her life if she is acquitted.”

“It is dreadful,” said Ruth, thoughtfully, “but the worst of it is that you men do not want women educated to do anything, to be able to earn an honest living by their own exertions.  They are educated as if they were always to be petted and supported, and there was never to be any such thing as misfortune.  I suppose, now, that you would all choose to have me stay idly at home, and give up my profession.”

“Oh, no,” said Philip, earnestly, “I respect your resolution.  But, Ruth, do you think you would be happier or do more good in following your profession than in having a home of your own?”

“What is to hinder having a home of my, own?”

“Nothing, perhaps, only you never would be in it ­you would be away day and night, if you had any practice; and what sort of a home would that make for your husband?”

“What sort of a home is it for the wife whose husband is always away riding about in his doctor’s gig?”

“Ah, you know that is not fair.  The woman makes the home.”

Philip and Ruth often had this sort of discussion, to which Philip was always trying to give a personal turn.  He was now about to go to Ilium for the season, and he did not like to go without some assurance from Ruth that she might perhaps love him some day; when he was worthy of it, and when he could offer her something better than a partnership in his poverty.

“I should work with a great deal better heart, Ruth,” he said the morning he was taking leave, “if I knew you cared for me a little.”

Ruth was looking down; the color came faintly to her cheeks, and she hesitated.  She needn’t be looking down, he thought, for she was ever so much shorter than tall Philip.

“It’s not much of a place, Ilium,” Philip went on, as if a little geographical remark would fit in here as well as anything else, “and I shall have plenty of time to think over the responsibility I have taken, and ­” his observation did not seem to be coming out any where.

But Ruth looked up, and there was a light in her eyes that quickened Phil’s pulse.  She took his hand, and said with serious sweetness: 

“Thee mustn’t lose heart, Philip.”  And then she added, in another mood, “Thee knows I graduate in the summer and shall have my diploma.  And if any thing happens ­mines explode sometimes ­thee can send for me.  Farewell.”

The opening of the Ilium coal mine was begun with energy, but without many omens of success.  Philip was running a tunnel into the breast of the mountain, in faith that the coal stratum ran there as it ought to.  How far he must go in he believed he knew, but no one could tell exactly.  Some of the miners said that they should probably go through the mountain, and that the hole could be used for a railway tunnel.  The mining camp was a busy place at any rate.  Quite a settlement of board and log shanties had gone up, with a blacksmith shop, a small machine shop, and a temporary store for supplying the wants of the workmen.  Philip and Harry pitched a commodious tent, and lived in the full enjoyment of the free life.

There is no difficulty in digging a bole in the ground, if you have money enough to pay for the digging, but those who try this sort of work are always surprised at the large amount of money necessary to make a small hole.  The earth is never willing to yield one product, hidden in her bosom, without an equivalent for it.  And when a person asks of her coal, she is quite apt to require gold in exchange.

It was exciting work for all concerned in it.  As the tunnel advanced into the rock every day promised to be the golden day.  This very blast might disclose the treasure.

The work went on week after week, and at length during the night as well as the daytime.  Gangs relieved each other, and the tunnel was every hour, inch by inch and foot by foot, crawling into the mountain.  Philip was on the stretch of hope and excitement.  Every pay day he saw his funds melting away, and still there was only the faintest show of what the miners call “signs.”

The life suited Harry, whose buoyant hopefulness was never disturbed.  He made endless calculations, which nobody could understand, of the probable position of the vein.  He stood about among the workmen with the busiest air.  When he was down at Ilium he called himself the engineer of the works, and he used to spend hours smoking his pipe with the Dutch landlord on the hotel porch, and astonishing the idlers there with the stories of his railroad operations in Missouri.  He talked with the landlord, too, about enlarging his hotel, and about buying some village lots, in the prospect of a rise, when the mine was opened.  He taught the Dutchman how to mix a great many cooling drinks for the summer time, and had a bill at the hotel, the growing length of which Mr. Dusenheimer contemplated with pleasant anticipations.  Mr. Brierly was a very useful and cheering person wherever he went.

Midsummer arrived:  Philip could report to Mr. Bolton only progress, and this was not a cheerful message for him to send to Philadelphia in reply to inquiries that he thought became more and more anxious.  Philip himself was a prey to the constant fear that the money would give out before the coal was struck.

At this time Harry was summoned to New York, to attend the trial of Laura Hawkins.  It was possible that Philip would have to go also, her lawyer wrote, but they hoped for a postponement.  There was important evidence that they could not yet obtain, and he hoped the judge would not force them to a trial unprepared.  There were many reasons for a delay, reasons which of course are never mentioned, but which it would seem that a New York judge sometimes must understand, when he grants a postponement upon a motion that seems to the public altogether inadequate.

Harry went, but he soon came back.  The trial was put off.  Every week we can gain, said the learned counsel, Braham, improves our chances.  The popular rage never lasts long.