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

Clay Hawkins, years gone by, had yielded, after many a struggle, to the migratory and speculative instinct of our age and our people, and had wandered further and further westward upon trading ventures.  Settling finally in Melbourne, Australia, he ceased to roam, became a steady-going substantial merchant, and prospered greatly.  His life lay beyond the theatre of this tale.

His remittances had supported the Hawkins family, entirely, from the time of his father’s death until latterly when Laura by her efforts in Washington had been able to assist in this work.  Clay was away on a long absence in some of the eastward islands when Laura’s troubles began, trying (and almost in vain,) to arrange certain interests which had become disordered through a dishonest agent, and consequently he knew nothing of the murder till he returned and read his letters and papers.  His natural impulse was to hurry to the States and save his sister if possible, for he loved her with a deep and abiding affection.  His business was so crippled now, and so deranged, that to leave it would be ruin; therefore he sold out at a sacrifice that left him considerably reduced in worldly possessions, and began his voyage to San Francisco.  Arrived there, he perceived by the newspapers that the trial was near its close.  At Salt Lake later telegrams told him of the acquittal, and his gratitude was boundless ­so boundless, indeed, that sleep was driven from his eyes by the pleasurable excitement almost as effectually as preceding weeks of anxiety had done it.  He shaped his course straight for Hawkeye, now, and his meeting with his mother and the rest of the household was joyful ­albeit he had been away so long that he seemed almost a stranger in his own home.

But the greetings and congratulations were hardly finished when all the journals in the land clamored the news of Laura’s miserable death.  Mrs. Hawkins was prostrated by this last blow, and it was well that Clay was at her side to stay her with comforting words and take upon himself the ordering of the household with its burden of labors and cares.

Washington Hawkins had scarcely more than entered upon that decade which carries one to the full blossom of manhood which we term the beginning:  of middle age, and yet a brief sojourn at the capital of the nation had made him old.  His hair was already turning gray when the late session of Congress began its sittings; it grew grayer still, and rapidly, after the memorable day that saw Laura proclaimed a murderess; it waxed grayer and still grayer during the lagging suspense that succeeded it and after the crash which ruined his last hope ­the failure of his bill in the Senate and the destruction of its champion, Dilworthy.  A few days later, when he stood uncovered while the last prayer was pronounced over Laura’s grave, his hair was whiter and his face hardly less old than the venerable minister’s whose words were sounding in his ears.

A week after this, he was sitting in a double-bedded room in a cheap boarding house in Washington, with Col.  Sellers.  The two had been living together lately, and this mutual cavern of theirs the Colonel sometimes referred to as their “premises” and sometimes as their “apartments” ­more particularly when conversing with persons outside.  A canvas-covered modern trunk, marked “G.  W. H.” stood on end by the door, strapped and ready for a journey; on it lay a small morocco satchel, also marked “G.  W. H.”  There was another trunk close by ­a worn, and scarred, and ancient hair relic, with “B.  S.” wrought in brass nails on its top; on it lay a pair of saddle-bags that probably knew more about the last century than they could tell.  Washington got up and walked the floor a while in a restless sort of way, and finally was about to sit down on the hair trunk.

“Stop, don’t sit down on that!” exclaimed the Colonel:  “There, now that’s all right ­the chair’s better.  I couldn’t get another trunk like that ­not another like it in America, I reckon.”

“I am afraid not,” said Washington, with a faint attempt at a smile.

“No indeed; the man is dead that made that trunk and that saddle-bags.”

“Are his great-grand-children still living?” said Washington, with levity only in the words, not in the tone.

“Well, I don’t know ­I hadn’t thought of that ­but anyway they can’t make trunks and saddle-bags like that, if they are ­no man can,” said the Colonel with honest simplicity.  “Wife didn’t like to see me going off with that trunk ­she said it was nearly certain to be stolen.”


“Why?  Why, aren’t trunks always being stolen?”

“Well, yes ­some kinds of trunks are.”

“Very well, then; this is some kind of a trunk ­and an almighty rare kind, too.”

“Yes, I believe it is.”

“Well, then, why shouldn’t a man want to steal it if he got a chance?”

“Indeed I don’t know. ­Why should he?”

“Washington, I never heard anybody talk like you.  Suppose you were a thief, and that trunk was lying around and nobody watching ­wouldn’t you steal it?  Come, now, answer fair ­wouldn’t you steal it?

“Well, now, since you corner me, I would take it, ­but I wouldn’t consider it stealing.

“You wouldn’t!  Well, that beats me.  Now what would you call stealing?”

“Why, taking property is stealing.”

“Property!  Now what a way to talk that is:  What do you suppose that trunk is worth?”

“Is it in good repair?”

“Perfect.  Hair rubbed off a little, but the main structure is perfectly sound.”

“Does it leak anywhere?”

“Leak?  Do you want to carry water in it?  What do you mean by does it leak?”

“Why ­a ­do the clothes fall out of it when it is ­when it is stationary?”

“Confound it, Washington, you are trying to make fun of me.  I don’t know what has got into you to-day; you act mighty curious.  What is the matter with you?”

“Well, I’ll tell you, old friend.  I am almost happy.  I am, indeed.  It wasn’t Clay’s telegram that hurried me up so and got me ready to start with you.  It was a letter from Louise.”

“Good!  What is it?  What does she say?”

“She says come home ­her father has consented, at last.”

“My boy, I want to congratulate you; I want to shake you by the hand!  It’s a long turn that has no lane at the end of it, as the proverb says, or somehow that way.  You’ll be happy yet, and Beriah Sellers will be there to see, thank God!”

“I believe it.  General Boswell is pretty nearly a poor man, now.  The railroad that was going to build up Hawkeye made short work of him, along with the rest.  He isn’t so opposed to a son-in-law without a fortune, now.”

“Without a fortune, indeed!  Why that Tennessee Land ­”

“Never mind the Tennessee Land, Colonel.  I am done with that, forever and forever ­”

“Why no!  You can’t mean to say ­”

“My father, away back yonder, years ago, bought it for a blessing for his children, and ­”

“Indeed he did!  Si Hawkins said to me ­”

“It proved a curse to him as long as he lived, and never a curse like it was inflicted upon any man’s heirs ­”

“I’m bound to say there’s more or less truth ­”

“It began to curse me when I was a baby, and it has cursed every hour of my life to this day ­”

“Lord, lord, but it’s so!  Time and again my wife ­”

“I depended on it all through my boyhood and never tried to do an honest stroke of work for my living ­”

“Right again ­but then you ­”

“I have chased it years and years as children chase butterflies.  We might all have been prosperous, now; we might all have been happy, all these heart-breaking years, if we had accepted our poverty at first and gone contentedly to work and built up our own wealth by our own toil and sweat ­”

“It’s so, it’s so; bless my soul, how often I’ve told Si Hawkins ­”

“Instead of that, we have suffered more than the damned themselves suffer!  I loved my father, and I honor his memory and recognize his good intentions; but I grieve for his mistaken ideas of conferring happiness upon his children.  I am going to begin my life over again, and begin it and end it with good solid work!  I’ll leave my children no Tennessee Land!”

“Spoken like a man, sir, spoken like a man!  Your hand, again my boy!  And always remember that when a word of advice from Beriah Sellers can help, it is at your service.  I’m going to begin again, too!”


“Yes, sir.  I’ve seen enough to show me where my mistake was.  The law is what I was born for.  I shall begin the study of the law.  Heavens and earth, but that Brabant’s a wonderful man ­a wonderful man sir!  Such a head!  And such a way with him!  But I could see that he was jealous of me.  The little licks I got in in the course of my argument before the jury ­”

“Your argument!  Why, you were a witness.”

“Oh, yes, to the popular eye, to the popular eye ­but I knew when I was dropping information and when I was letting drive at the court with an insidious argument.  But the court knew it, bless you, and weakened every time!  And Brabant knew it.  I just reminded him of it in a quiet way, and its final result, and he said in a whisper, ’You did it, Colonel, you did it, sir ­but keep it mum for my sake; and I’ll tell you what you do,’ says he, ’you go into the law, Col.  Sellers ­go into the law, sir; that’s your native element!’ And into the law the subscriber is going.  There’s worlds of money in it! ­whole worlds of money!  Practice first in Hawkeye, then in Jefferson, then in St. Louis, then in New York!  In the metropolis of the western world!  Climb, and climb, and climb ­and wind up on the Supreme bench.  Beriah Sellers, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, sir!  A made man for all time and eternity!  That’s the way I block it out, sir ­and it’s as clear as day ­clear as the rosy-morn!”

Washington had heard little of this.  The first reference to Laura’s trial had brought the old dejection to his face again, and he stood gazing out of the window at nothing, lost in reverie.

There was a knock-the postman handed in a letter.  It was from Obedstown.  East Tennessee, and was for Washington.  He opened it.  There was a note saying that enclosed he would please find a bill for the current year’s taxes on the 75,000 acres of Tennessee Land belonging to the estate of Silas Hawkins, deceased, and added that the money must be paid within sixty days or the land would be sold at public auction for the taxes, as provided by law.  The bill was for $180 ­something more than twice the market value of the land, perhaps.

Washington hesitated.  Doubts flitted through his mind.  The old instinct came upon him to cling to the land just a little longer and give it one more chance.  He walked the floor feverishly, his mind tortured by indecision.  Presently he stopped, took out his pocket book and counted his money.  Two hundred and thirty dollars ­it was all he had in the world.

“One hundred and eighty . . . . . . . from two hundred and thirty,” he said to himself.  “Fifty left . . . . . .  It is enough to get me home . . . .. . .  Shall I do it, or shall I not? . . . . . . .  I wish I had somebody to decide for me.”

The pocket book lay open in his hand, with Louise’s small letter in view.  His eye fell upon that, and it decided him.

“It shall go for taxes,” he said, “and never tempt me or mine any more!”

He opened the window and stood there tearing the tax bill to bits and watching the breeze waft them away, till all were gone.

“The spell is broken, the life-long curse is ended!” he said.  “Let us go.”

The baggage wagon had arrived; five minutes later the two friends were mounted upon their luggage in it, and rattling off toward the station, the Colonel endeavoring to sing “Homeward Bound,” a song whose words he knew, but whose tune, as he rendered it, was a trial to auditors.