A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z #

Mark Twain

"The Gilded Age (Chap. 63)"

        It was evening when Philip took the cars at the Ilium station. The news of his success had preceded him, and while he waited for the train, he was the center of a group of eager questioners, who asked him a hundred things about the mine, and magnified his good fortune. There was no mistake this time.

        Philip, in luck, had become suddenly a person of consideration, whose speech was freighted with meaning, whose looks were all significant. The words of the proprietor of a rich coal mine have a golden sound, and his common sayings are repeated as if they were solid wisdom.

        Philip wished to be alone; his good fortune at this moment seemed an empty mockery, one of those sarcasms of fate, such as that which spreads a dainty banquet for the man who has no appetite. He had longed for success principally for Ruth's sake; and perhaps now, at this very moment of his triumph, she was dying.

        "Shust what I said, Mister Sederling," the landlord of the Ilium hotel kept repeating. "I dold Jake Schmidt he find him dere shust so sure as noting."

        "You ought to have taken a share, Mr. Dusenheimer," said Philip.

        "Yaas, I know. But d'old woman, she say 'You sticks to your pisiness. So I sticks to 'em. Und I makes noting. Dat Mister Prierly, he don't never come back here no more, ain't it?"

        "Why?" asked Philip.

        "Vell, dere is so many peers, and so many oder dhrinks, I got 'em all set down, ven he coomes back."

        It was a long night for Philip, and a restless one. At any other time the swing of the cars would have lulled him to sleep, and the rattle and clank of wheels and rails, the roar of the whirling iron would have only been cheerful reminders of swift and safe travel. Now they were voices of warning and taunting; and instead of going rapidly the train seemed to crawl at a snail's pace. And it not only crawled, but it frequently stopped; and when it stopped it stood dead still and there was an ominous silence. Was anything the matter, he wondered. Only a station probably. Perhaps, he thought, a telegraphic station. And then he listened eagerly. Would the conductor open the door and ask for Philip Sterling, and hand him a fatal dispatch?

        How long they seemed to wait. And then slowly beginning to move, they were off again, shaking, pounding, screaming through the night. He drew his curtain from time to time and looked out. There was the lurid sky line of the wooded range along the base of which they were crawling. There was the Susquehannah, gleaming in the moon-light. There was a stretch of level valley with silent farm houses, the occupants all at rest, without trouble, without anxiety. There was a church, a graveyard, a mill, a village; and now, without pause or fear, the train had mounted a trestle-work high in air and was creeping along the top of it while a swift torrent foamed a hundred feet below.

        What would the morning bring? Even while he was flying to her, her gentle spirit might have gone on another flight, whither he could not follow her. He was full of foreboding. He fell at length into a restless doze. There was a noise in his ears as of a rushing torrent when a stream is swollen by a freshet in the spring. It was like the breaking up of life; he was struggling in the consciousness of coming death: when Ruth stood by his side, clothed in white, with a face like that of an angel, radiant, smiling, pointing to the sky, and saying, "Come." He awoke with a cry—the train was roaring through a bridge, and it shot out into daylight.

        When morning came the train was industriously toiling along through the fat lands of Lancaster, with its broad farms of corn and wheat, its mean houses of stone, its vast barns and granaries, built as if, for storing the riches of Heliogabalus. Then came the smiling fields of Chester, with their English green, and soon the county of Philadelphia itself, and the increasing signs of the approach to a great city. Long trains of coal cars, laden and unladen, stood upon sidings; the tracks of other roads were crossed; the smoke of other locomotives was seen on parallel lines; factories multiplied; streets appeared; the noise of a busy city began to fill the air;—and with a slower and slower clank on the connecting rails and interlacing switches the train rolled into the station and stood still.

        It was a hot August morning. The broad streets glowed in the sun, and the white-shuttered houses stared at the hot thoroughfares like closed bakers' ovens set along the highway. Philip was oppressed with the heavy air; the sweltering city lay as in a swoon. Taking a street car, he rode away to the northern part of the city, the newer portion, formerly the district of Spring Garden, for in this the Boltons now lived, in a small brick house, befitting their altered fortunes.

        He could scarcely restrain his impatience when he came in sight of the house. The window shutters were not "bowed"; thank God, for that. Ruth was still living, then. He ran up the steps and rang. Mrs. Bolton met him at the door.

        "Thee is very welcome, Philip."

        "And Ruth?"

        "She is very ill, but quieter than she has been, and the fever is a little abating. The most dangerous time will be when the fever leaves her. The doctor fears she will not have strength enough to rally from it. Yes, thee can see her."

        Mrs. Bolton led the way to the little chamber where Ruth lay. "Oh," said her mother, "if she were only in her cool and spacious room in our old home. She says that seems like heaven."

        Mr. Bolton sat by Ruth's bedside, and he rose and silently pressed Philip's hand. The room had but one window; that was wide open to admit the air, but the air that came in was hot and lifeless. Upon the table stood a vase of flowers. Ruth's eyes were closed; her cheeks were flushed with fever, and she moved her head restlessly as if in pain.

        "Ruth," said her mother, bending over her, "Philip is here."

        Ruth's eyes unclosed, there was a gleam of recognition in them, there was an attempt at a smile upon her face, and she tried to raise her thin hand, as Philip touched her forehead with his lips; and he heard her murmur,

        "Dear Phil."

        There was nothing to be done but to watch and wait for the cruel fever to burn itself out. Dr. Longstreet told Philip that the fever had undoubtedly been contracted in the hospital, but it was not malignant, and would be little dangerous if Ruth were not so worn down with work, or if she had a less delicate constitution.

        "It is only her indomitable will that has kept her up for weeks. And if that should leave her now, there will be no hope. You can do more for her now, sir, than I can?"

        "How?" asked Philip eagerly.

        "Your presence, more than anything else, will inspire her with the desire to live."

        When the fever turned, Ruth was in a very critical condition. For two days her life was like the fluttering of a lighted candle in the wind. Philip was constantly by her side, and she seemed to be conscious of his presence, and to cling to him, as one borne away by a swift stream clings to a stretched-out hand from the shore. If he was absent a moment her restless eyes sought something they were disappointed not to find.

        Philip so yearned to bring her back to life, he willed it so strongly and passionately, that his will appeared to affect hers and she seemed slowly to draw life from his.

        After two days of this struggle with the grasping enemy, it was evident to Dr. Longstreet that Ruth's will was beginning to issue its orders to her body with some force, and that strength was slowly coming back. In another day there was a decided improvement. As Philip sat holding her weak hand and watching the least sign of resolution in her face, Ruth was able to whisper,

        "I so want to live, for you, Phil!"

        "You will; darling, you must," said Philip in a tone of faith and courage that carried a thrill of determination—of command—along all her nerves.

        Slowly Philip drew her back to life. Slowly she came back, as one willing but well nigh helpless. It was new for Ruth to feel this dependence on another's nature, to consciously draw strength of will from the will of another. It was a new but a dear joy, to be lifted up and carried back into the happy world, which was now all aglow with the light of love; to be lifted and carried by the one she loved more than her own life.

        "Sweetheart," she said to Philip, "I would not have cared to come back but for thy love."

        "Not for thy profession?"

        "Oh, thee may be glad enough of that some day, when thy coal bed is dug out and thee and father are in the air again."

        When Ruth was able to ride she was taken into the country, for the pure air was necessary to her speedy recovery. The family went with her. Philip could not be spared from her side, and Mr. Bolton had gone up to Ilium to look into that wonderful coal mine and to make arrangements for developing it, and bringing its wealth to market. Philip had insisted on re-conveying the Ilium property to Mr. Bolton, retaining only the share originally contemplated for himself, and Mr. Bolton, therefore, once more found himself engaged in business and a person of some consequence in Third street. The mine turned out even better than was at first hoped, and would, if judiciously managed, be a fortune to them all. This also seemed to be the opinion of Mr. Bigler, who heard of it as soon as anybody, and, with the impudence of his class called upon Mr. Bolton for a little aid in a patent car-wheel he had bought an interest in. That rascal, Small, he said, had swindled him out of all he had.

        Mr. Bolton told him he was very sorry, and recommended him to sue Small.

        Mr. Small also came with a similar story about Mr. Bigler; and Mr. Bolton had the grace to give him like advice. And he added, "If you and Bigler will procure the indictment of each other, you may have the satisfaction of putting each other in the penitentiary for the forgery of my acceptances."

        Bigler and Small did not quarrel however. They both attacked Mr. Bolton behind his back as a swindler, and circulated the story that he had made a fortune by failing.

        In the pure air of the highlands, amid the golden glories of ripening September, Ruth rapidly came back to health. How beautiful the world is to an invalid, whose senses are all clarified, who has been so near the world of spirits that she is sensitive to the finest influences, and whose frame responds with a thrill to the subtlest ministrations of soothing nature. Mere life is a luxury, and the color of the grass, of the flowers, of the sky, the wind in the trees, the outlines of the horizon, the forms of clouds, all give a pleasure as exquisite as the sweetest music to the ear famishing for it. The world was all new and fresh to Ruth, as if it had just been created for her, and love filled it, till her heart was overflowing with happiness.

        It was golden September also at Fallkill. And Alice sat by the open window in her room at home, looking out upon the meadows where the laborers were cutting the second crop of clover. The fragrance of it floated to her nostrils. Perhaps she did not mind it. She was thinking. She had just been writing to Ruth, and on the table before her was a yellow piece of paper with a faded four-leaved clover pinned on it—only a memory now. In her letter to Ruth she had poured out her heartiest blessings upon them both, with her dear love forever and forever.

        "Thank God," she said, "they will never know"

        They never would know. And the world never knows how many women there are like Alice, whose sweet but lonely lives of self-sacrifice, gentle, faithful, loving souls, bless it continually.

        "She is a dear girl," said Philip, when Ruth showed him the letter.

        "Yes, Phil, and we can spare a great deal of love for her, our own lives are so full."



A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z #

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