CHAPTER VIII

By Mark Twain
From American Claimant (1892).


"GOD bless my soul, Hawkins!"

The morning paper dropped from the Colonel's nerveless-grasp.

"What is it?"

"He's gone!--the bright, the young, the gifted, the noblest of his illustrious race--gone! gone up in flames and unimaginable glory!"

"Who?"

"My precious, precious young kinsman--Kirkcudbright Llanover Marjoribanks Sellers Viscount Berkeley, son and heir of usurping Rossmore."

"No!"

"It's true--too true."

"When?"

"Last night."

"Where?"

"Right here in Washington; where he arrived from England last night, the papers say."

"You don't say!"

"Hotel burned down."

"What hotel?"

"The New Gadsby!"

"Oh, my goodness! And have we lost both of them?"

"Both who?"

"One-Arm Pete."

"Oh, great guns, I forgot all about him. Oh, I hope not."

"Hope! Well, I should say! Oh, we can't spare him! We can better afford to lose a million viscounts than our only support and stay."

They searched the paper diligently, and were appalled to find that a one- armed man had been seen flying along one of the halls of the hotel in his underclothing and apparently out of his head with fright, and as he would listen to no one and persisted in making for a stairway which would carry him to certain death, his case was given over as a hopeless one.

"Poor fellow," sighed Hawkins; "and he had friends so near. I wish we hadn't come away from there-maybe we could have saved him."

The earl looked up and said calmly:

"His being dead doesn't matter. He was uncertain before. We've got him sure, this time."

"Got him? How?"

"I will materialize him."

"Rossmore, don't--don't trifle with me. Do you mean that? Can you do it?"

"I can do it, just as sure as you are sitting there. And I will."

"Give me your hand, and let me have the comfort of shaking it. I was perishing, and you have put new life into me. Get at it, oh, get at it right away."

"It will take a little time, Hawkins, but there's no hurry, none in the world--in the circumstances. And of course certain duties have devolved upon me now, which necessarily claim my first attention. This poor young nobleman--"

"Why, yes, I am sorry for my heartlessness, and you smitten with this new family affliction. Of course you must materialize him first--I quite understand that."

"I--I--well, I wasn't meaning just that, but,--why, what am I thinking of! Of course I must materialize him. Oh, Hawkins, selfishness is the bottom trait in human nature; I was only thinking that now, with the usurper's heir out of the way But you'll forgive that momentary weakness, and forget it. Don't ever remember it against me that Mulberry Sellers was once mean enough to think the thought that I was thinking. I'll materialise him--I will, on my honor--and I'd do it were he a thousand heirs jammed into one and stretching in a solid rank from here to the stolen estates of Rossmore, and barring the road forever to the rightful earl!

"There spoke the real Sellers--the other had a false ring, old friend."

"Hawkins, my boy, it just occurs to me--a thing I keep forgetting to mention-a matter that we've got to be mighty careful about."

"What is that?"

"We must keep absolutely still about these materializations. Mind, not a hint of them must escape--not a hint. To say nothing of how my wife and daughter--high-strung, sensitive organizations--might feel about them, the negroes wouldn't stay on the place a minute."

"That's true, they wouldn't. It's well you spoke, for I'm not naturally discreet with my tongue when I'm not warned."

Sellers reached out and touched a bell-button in the wall; set his eye upon the rear door and waited; touched it again and waited; and just as Hawkins was remarking admiringly that the Colonel was the most progressive and most alert man he had ever seen, in the matter of impressing into his service every modern convenience the moment it was invented, and always keeping breast to breast with the drum major in the great work of material civilization, he forsook the button (which hadn't any wire attached to it,) rang a vast dinner bell which stood on the table, and remarked that he had tried that new-fangled dry battery, now, to his entire satisfaction, and had got enough of it; and added:

"Nothing would do Graham Bell but I must try it; said the mere fact of my trying it would secure public confidence, and get it a chance to show what it could do. I told him that in theory a dry battery was just a curled darling and no mistake, but when it come to practice, sho!--and here's the result. Was I right? What should you say, Washington Hawkins? You've seen me try that button twice. Was I right?--that's the idea. Did I know what I was talking about, or didn't I?"

"Well, you know how I feel about you, Colonel Sellers, and always have felt. It seems to me that you always know everything about everything. If that man had known you as I know you he would have taken your judgment at the start, and dropped his dry battery where it was."

"Did you ring, Marse Sellers?"

"No, Marse Sellers didn't."

"Den it was you, Marse Washington. I's heah, suh."

"No, it wasn't Marse Washington, either."

"De good lan'! who did ring her, den?"

"Lord Rossmore rang it!"

The old negro flung up his hands and exclaimed:

"Blame my skin if I hain't gone en forgit dat name agin! Come heah, Jinny--run heah, honey."

Jinny arrived.

"You take dish-yer order de lord gwine to give you I's gwine down suller and study dat name tell I git it."

"I take de order! Who's yo' nigger las' year? De bell rung for you."

"Dat don't make no diffunce. When a bell ring for anybody, en old marster tell me to--"

"Clear out, and settle it in the kitchen!"

The noise of the quarreling presently sank to a murmur in the distance, and the earl added: "That's a trouble with old house servants that were your slaves once and have been your personal friends always."

"Yes, and members of the family."

"Members of the family is just what they become--THE members of the family, in fact. And sometimes master and mistress of the household. These two are mighty good and loving and faithful and honest, but hang it, they do just about as they please, they chip into a conversation whenever they want to, and the plain fact is, they ought to be killed."

It was a random remark, but it gave him an idea--however, nothing could happen without that result.

"What I wanted, Hawkins, was to send for the family and break the news to them."

"O, never mind bothering with the servants, then. I will go and bring them down."

While he was gone, the earl worked his idea.

"Yes," he said to himself, "when I've got the materializing down to a certainty, I will get Hawkins to kill them, and after that they will be under better control. Without doubt a materialized negro could easily be hypnotized into a state resembling silence. And this could be made permanent--yes, and also modifiable, at will--sometimes very silent, sometimes turn on more talk, more action, more emotion, according to what you want. It's a prime good idea. Make it adjustable--with a screw or something."

The two ladies entered, now, with Hawkins, and the two negroes followed, uninvited, and fell to brushing and dusting around, for they perceived that there was matter of interest to the fore, and were willing to find out what it was.

Sellers broke the, news with stateliness and ceremony, first warning the ladies, with gentle art, that a pang of peculiar sharpness was about to be inflicted upon their hearts--hearts still sore from a like hurt, still lamenting a like loss--then he took the paper, and with trembling lips and with tears in his voice he gave them that heroic death-picture.

The result was a very genuine outbreak of sorrow and sympathy from all the hearers. The elder lady cried, thinking how proud that great-hearted young hero's mother would be, if she were living, and how unappeasable her grief; and the two old servants cried with her, and spoke out their applauses and their pitying lamentations with the eloquent sincerity and simplicity native to their race. Gwendolen was touched, and the romantic side of her nature was strongly wrought upon. She said that such a nature as that young man's was rarely and truly noble, and nearly perfect; and that with nobility of birth added it was entirely perfect. For such a man she could endure all things, suffer all things, even to the sacrificing of her life. She wished she could have seen him; the slightest, the most momentary, contact with such a spirit would have ennobled her own character and made ignoble thoughts and ignoble acts thereafter impossible to her forever.

"Have they found the body, Rossmore?" asked the wife.

"Yes, that is, they've found several. It must be one of them, but none of them are recognizable."

"What are you going to do?"

"I am going down there and identify one of them and send it home to the stricken father."

"But papa, did you ever see the young man?"

"No, Gwendolen-why?"

"How will you identify it?"

"I--well, you know it says none of them are recognizable. I'll send his father one of them--there's probably no choice."

Gwendolen knew it was not worth while to argue the matter further, since her father's mind was made up and there was a chance for him to appear upon that sad scene down yonder in an authentic and official way. So she said no more--till he asked for a basket.

"A basket, papa? What for?"

"It might be ashes."








All contents Copyright The Hannibal Courier-Post and GateHouse Media.