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

“We’ve struck it!”

This was the announcement at the tent door that woke Philip out of a sound sleep at dead of night, and shook all the sleepiness out of him in a trice.

“What!  Where is it?  When?  Coal?  Let me see it.  What quality is it?” were some of the rapid questions that Philip poured out as he hurriedly dressed.  “Harry, wake up, my boy, the coal train is coming.  Struck it, eh?  Let’s see?”

The foreman put down his lantern, and handed Philip a black lump.  There was no mistake about it, it was the hard, shining anthracite, and its freshly fractured surface, glistened in the light like polished steel.  Diamond never shone with such lustre in the eyes of Philip.

Harry was exuberant, but Philip’s natural caution found expression in his next remark.

“Now, Roberts, you are sure about this?”

“What ­sure that it’s coal?”

“O, no, sure that it’s the main vein.”

“Well, yes.  We took it to be that”

“Did you from the first?”

“I can’t say we did at first.  No, we didn’t.  Most of the indications were there, but not all of them, not all of them.  So we thought we’d prospect a bit.”


“It was tolerable thick, and looked as if it might be the vein ­looked as if it ought to be the vein.  Then we went down on it a little.  Looked better all the time.”

“When did you strike it?”

“About ten o’clock.”

“Then you’ve been prospecting about four hours.”

“Yes, been sinking on it something over four hours.”

“I’m afraid you couldn’t go down very far in four hours ­could you?”

“O yes ­it’s a good deal broke up, nothing but picking and gadding stuff.”

“Well, it does look encouraging, sure enough ­but then the lacking indications ­”

“I’d rather we had them, Mr. Sterling, but I’ve seen more than one good permanent mine struck without ’em in my time.”

“Well, that is encouraging too.”

“Yes, there was the Union, the Alabama and the Black Mohawk ­all good, sound mines, you know ­all just exactly like this one when we first struck them.”

“Well, I begin to feel a good deal more easy.  I guess we’ve really got it.  I remember hearing them tell about the Black Mohawk.”

“I’m free to say that I believe it, and the men all think so too.  They are all old hands at this business.”

“Come Harry, let’s go up and look at it, just for the comfort of it,” said Philip.  They came back in the course of an hour, satisfied and happy.

There was no more sleep for them that night.  They lit their pipes, put a specimen of the coal on the table, and made it a kind of loadstone of thought and conversation.

“Of course,” said Harry, “there will have to be a branch track built, and a ‘switch-back’ up the hill.”

“Yes, there will be no trouble about getting the money for that now.  We could sell-out tomorrow for a handsome sum.  That sort of coal doesn’t go begging within a mile of a rail-road.  I wonder if Mr. Bolton’ would rather sell out or work it?”

“Oh, work it,” says Harry, “probably the whole mountain is coal now you’ve got to it.”

“Possibly it might not be much of a vein after all,” suggested Philip.

“Possibly it is; I’ll bet it’s forty feet thick.  I told you.  I knew the sort of thing as soon as I put my eyes on it.”

Philip’s next thought was to write to his friends and announce their good fortune.  To Mr. Bolton he wrote a short, business letter, as calm as he could make it.  They had found coal of excellent quality, but they could not yet tell with absolute certainty what the vein was.  The prospecting was still going on.  Philip also wrote to Ruth; but though this letter may have glowed, it was not with the heat of burning anthracite.  He needed no artificial heat to warm his pen and kindle his ardor when he sat down to write to Ruth.  But it must be confessed that the words never flowed so easily before, and he ran on for an hour disporting in all the extravagance of his imagination.  When Ruth read it, she doubted if the fellow had not gone out of his senses.  And it was not until she reached the postscript that she discovered the cause of the exhilaration.  “P.  S. ­We have found coal.”

The news couldn’t have come to Mr. Bolton in better time.  He had never been so sorely pressed.  A dozen schemes which he had in hand, any one of which might turn up a fortune, all languished, and each needed just a little more, money to save that which had been invested.  He hadn’t a piece of real estate that was not covered with mortgages, even to the wild tract which Philip was experimenting on, and which had, no marketable value above the incumbrance on it.

He had come home that day early, unusually dejected.

“I am afraid,” he said to his wife, “that we shall have to give up our house.  I don’t care for myself, but for thee and the children.”

“That will be the least of misfortunes,” said Mrs. Bolton, cheerfully, “if thee can clear thyself from debt and anxiety, which is wearing thee out, we can live any where.  Thee knows we were never happier than when we were in a much humbler home.”

“The truth is, Margaret, that affair of Bigler and Small’s has come on me just when I couldn’t stand another ounce.  They have made another failure of it.  I might have known they would; and the sharpers, or fools, I don’t know which, have contrived to involve me for three times as much as the first obligation.  The security is in my hands, but it is good for nothing to me.  I have not the money to do anything with the contract.”

Ruth heard this dismal news without great surprise.  She had long felt that they were living on a volcano, that might go in to active operation at any hour.  Inheriting from her father an active brain and the courage to undertake new things, she had little of his sanguine temperament which blinds one to difficulties and possible failures.  She had little confidence in the many schemes which had been about to lift her father out of all his embarrassments and into great wealth, ever since she was a child; as she grew older, she rather wondered that they were as prosperous as they seemed to be, and that they did not all go to smash amid so many brilliant projects.  She was nothing but a woman, and did not know how much of the business prosperity of the world is only a, bubble of credit and speculation, one scheme helping to float another which is no better than it, and the whole liable to come to naught and confusion as soon as the busy brain that conceived them ceases its power to devise, or when some accident produces a sudden panic.

“Perhaps, I shall be the stay of the family, yet,” said Ruth, with an approach to gaiety; “When we move into a little house in town, will thee let me put a little sign on the door:  Dr. Ruth Bolton?”

“Mrs. Dr. Longstreet, thee knows, has a great income.”

“Who will pay for the sign, Ruth?” asked Mr. Bolton.

A servant entered with the afternoon mail from the office.  Mr. Bolton took his letters listlessly, dreading to open them.  He knew well what they contained, new difficulties, more urgent demands fox money.

“Oh, here is one from Philip.  Poor fellow.  I shall feel his disappointment as much as my own bad luck.  It is hard to bear when one is young.”

He opened the letter and read.  As he read his face lightened, and he fetched such a sigh of relief, that Mrs. Bolton and Ruth both exclaimed.

“Read that,” he cried, “Philip has found coal!”

The world was changed in a moment.  One little sentence had done it.  There was no more trouble.  Philip had found coal.  That meant relief.  That meant fortune.  A great weight was taken off, and the spirits of the whole household rose magically.  Good Money! beautiful demon of Money, what an enchanter thou art!  Ruth felt that she was of less consequence in the household, now that Philip had found Coal, and perhaps she was not sorry to feel so.

Mr. Bolton was ten years younger the next morning.  He went into the city, and showed his letter on change.  It was the sort of news his friends were quite willing to listen to.  They took a new interest in him.  If it was confirmed, Bolton would come right up again.  There would be no difficulty about his getting all the money he wanted.  The money market did not seem to be half so tight as it was the day before.  Mr. Bolton spent a very pleasant day in his office, and went home revolving some new plans, and the execution of some projects he had long been prevented from entering upon by the lack of money.

The day had been spent by Philip in no less excitement.  By daylight, with Philip’s letters to the mail, word had gone down to Ilium that coal had been found, and very early a crowd of eager spectators had come up to see for themselves.

The “prospecting” continued day and night for upwards of a week, and during the first four or five days the indications grew more and more promising, and the telegrams and letters kept Mr. Bolton duly posted.  But at last a change came, and the promises began to fail with alarming rapidity.  In the end it was demonstrated without the possibility of a doubt that the great “find” was nothing but a worthless seam.

Philip was cast down, all the more so because he had been so foolish as to send the news to Philadelphia before he knew what he was writing about.  And now he must contradict it.  “It turns out to be only a mere seam,” he wrote, “but we look upon it as an indication of better further in.”

Alas!  Mr. Bolton’s affairs could not wait for “indications.”  The future might have a great deal in store, but the present was black and hopeless.  It was doubtful if any sacrifice could save him from ruin.  Yet sacrifice he must make, and that instantly, in the hope of saving something from the wreck of his fortune.

His lovely country home must go.  That would bring the most ready money.  The house that he had built with loving thought for each one of his family, as he planned its luxurious apartments and adorned it; the grounds that he had laid out, with so much delight in following the tastes of his wife, with whom the country, the cultivation of rare trees and flowers, the care of garden and lawn and conservatories were a passion almost; this home, which he had hoped his children would enjoy long after he had done with it, must go.

The family bore the sacrifice better than he did.  They declared in fact ­women are such hypocrites ­that they quite enjoyed the city (it was in August) after living so long in the country, that it was a thousand tunes more convenient in every respect; Mrs. Bolton said it was a relief from the worry of a large establishment, and Ruth reminded her father that she should have had to come to town anyway before long.

Mr. Bolton was relieved, exactly as a water-logged ship is lightened by throwing overboard the most valuable portion of the cargo ­but the leak was not stopped.  Indeed his credit was injured instead of helped by the prudent step be had taken.  It was regarded as a sure evidence of his embarrassment, and it was much more difficult for him to obtain help than if he had, instead of retrenching, launched into some new speculation.

Philip was greatly troubled, and exaggerated his own share in the bringing about of the calamity.

“You must not look at it so!” Mr. Bolton wrote him.  “You have neither helped nor hindered ­but you know you may help by and by.  It would have all happened just so, if we had never begun to dig that hole.  That is only a drop.  Work away.  I still have hope that something will occur to relieve me.  At any rate we must not give up the mine, so long as we have any show.”

Alas! the relief did not come.  New misfortunes came instead.  When the extent of the Bigler swindle was disclosed there was no more hope that Mr. Bolton could extricate himself, and he had, as an honest man, no resource except to surrender all his property for the benefit of his creditors.

The Autumn came and found Philip working with diminished force but still with hope.  He had again and again been encouraged by good “indications,” but he had again and again been disappointed.  He could not go on much longer, and almost everybody except himself had thought it was useless to go on as long as he had been doing.

When the news came of Mr. Bolton’s failure, of course the work stopped.  The men were discharged, the tools were housed, the hopeful noise of pickman and driver ceased, and the mining camp had that desolate and mournful aspect which always hovers over a frustrated enterprise.

Philip sat down amid the ruins, and almost wished he were buried in them.  How distant Ruth was now from him, now, when she might need him most.  How changed was all the Philadelphia world, which had hitherto stood for the exemplification of happiness and prosperity.

He still had faith that there was coal in that mountain.  He made a picture of himself living there a hermit in a shanty by the tunnel, digging away with solitary pick and wheelbarrow, day after day and year after year, until he grew gray and aged, and was known in all that region as the old man of the mountain.  Perhaps some day ­he felt it must be so some day ­he should strike coal.  But what if he did?  Who would be alive to care for it then?  What would he care for it then?  No, a man wants riches in his youth, when the world is fresh to him.  He wondered why Providence could not have reversed the usual process, and let the majority of men begin with wealth and gradually spend it, and die poor when they no longer needed it.

Harry went back to the city.  It was evident that his services were no longer needed.  Indeed, he had letters from his uncle, which he did not read to Philip, desiring him to go to San Francisco to look after some government contracts in the harbor there.

Philip had to look about him for something to do; he was like Adam; the world was all before him whereto choose.  He made, before he went elsewhere, a somewhat painful visit to Philadelphia, painful but yet not without its sweetnesses.  The family had never shown him so much affection before; they all seemed to think his disappointment of more importance than their own misfortune.  And there was that in Ruth’s manner ­in what she gave him and what she withheld ­that would have made a hero of a very much less promising character than Philip Sterling.

Among the assets of the Bolton property, the Ilium tract was sold, and Philip bought it in at the vendue, for a song, for no one cared to even undertake the mortgage on it except himself.  He went away the owner of it, and had ample time before he reached home in November, to calculate how much poorer he was by possessing it.