Chapter XLVI

By Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
From The Gilded Age (1873).


Philip left the capitol and walked up Pennsylvania Avenue in company with Senator Dilworthy. It was a bright spring morning, the air was soft and inspiring; in the deepening wayside green, the pink flush of the blossoming peach trees, the soft suffusion on the heights of Arlington, and the breath of the warm south wind was apparent, the annual miracle of the resurrection of the earth.

The Senator took off his hat and seemed to open his soul to the sweet influences of the morning. After the heat and noise of the chamber, under its dull gas-illuminated glass canopy, and the all night struggle of passion and feverish excitement there, the open, tranquil world seemed like Heaven. The Senator was not in an exultant mood, but rather in a condition of holy joy, befitting a Christian statesman whose benevolent plans Providence has made its own and stamped with approval. The great battle had been fought, but the measure had still to encounter the scrutiny of the Senate, and Providence sometimes acts differently in the two Houses. Still the Senator was tranquil, for he knew that there is an esprit de corps in the Senate which does not exist in the House, the effect of which is to make the members complaisant towards the projects of each other, and to extend a mutual aid which in a more vulgar body would be called "log-rolling."

"It is, under Providence, a good night's work, Mr. Sterling. The government has founded an institution which will remove half the difficulty from the southern problem. And it is a good thing for the Hawkins heirs, a very good thing. Laura will be almost a millionaire."

"Do you think, Mr. Dilworthy, that the Hawkinses will get much of the money?" asked Philip innocently, remembering the fate of the Columbus River appropriation.

The Senator looked at his companion scrutinizingly for a moment to see if he meant any thing personal, and then replied,

"Undoubtedly, undoubtedly. I have had their interests greatly at heart. There will of course be a few expenses, but the widow and orphans will realize all that Mr. Hawkins, dreamed of for them."

The birds were singing as they crossed the Presidential Square, now bright with its green turf and tender foliage. After the two had gained the steps of the Senator's house they stood a moment, looking upon the lovely prospect:

"It is like the peace of God," said the Senator devoutly.

Entering the house, the Senator called a servant and said, "Tell Miss Laura that we are waiting to see her. I ought to have sent a messenger on horseback half an hour ago," he added to Philip, "she will be transported with our victory. You must stop to breakfast, and see the excitement." The servant soon came back, with a wondering look and reported,

"Miss Laura ain't dah, sah. I reckon she hain't been dah all night!"

The Senator and Philip both started up. In Laura's room there were the marks of a confused and hasty departure, drawers half open, little articles strewn on the floor. The bed had not been disturbed. Upon inquiry it appeared that Laura had not been at dinner, excusing herself to Mrs. Dilworthy on the plea of a violent headache; that she made a request to the servants that she might not be disturbed.

The Senator was astounded. Philip thought at once of Col. Selby. Could Laura have run away with him? The Senator thought not. In fact it could not be. Gen. Leffenwell, the member from New Orleans, had casually told him at the house last night that Selby and his family went to New York yesterday morning and were to sail for Europe to-day.

Philip had another idea which, he did not mention. He seized his hat, and saying that he would go and see what he could learn, ran to the lodgings of Harry; whom he had not seen since yesterday afternoon, when he left him to go to the House.

Harry was not in. He had gone out with a hand-bag before six o'clock yesterday, saying that he had to go to New York, but should return next day. In Harry's~room on the table Philip found this note:

"Dear Mr. Brierly:--Can you meet me at the six o'clock train, and be my escort to New York? I have to go about this University bill, the vote of an absent member we must have here, Senator Dilworthy cannot go.
Yours, L. H."

"Confound it," said "Phillip, "the noodle has fallen into her trap. And she promised she would let him alone."

He only stopped to send a note to Senator Dilworthy, telling him what he had found, and that he should go at once to New York, and then hastened to the railway station. He had to wait an hour for a train, and when it did start it seemed to go at a snail's pace.

Philip was devoured with anxiety. Where could they, have gone? What was Laura's object in taking Harry? Had the flight anything to do with Selby? Would Harry be such a fool as to be dragged into some public scandal?

It seemed as if the train would never reach Baltimore. Then there was a long delay at Havre de Grace. A hot box had to be cooled at Wilmington. Would it never get on? Only in passing around the city of Philadelphia did the train not seem to go slow. Philip stood upon the platform and watched for the Boltons' house, fancied he could distinguish its roof among the trees, and wondered how Ruth would feel if she knew he was so near her.

Then came Jersey, everlasting Jersey, stupid irritating Jersey, where the passengers are always asking which line they are on, and where they are to come out, and whether they have yet reached Elizabeth. Launched into Jersey, one has a vague notion that he is on many lines and no one in particular, and that he is liable at any moment to come to Elizabeth. He has no notion what Elizabeth is, and always resolves that the next time he goes that way, he will look out of the window and see what it is like; but he never does. Or if he does, he probably finds that it is Princeton or something of that sort. He gets annoyed, and never can see the use of having different names for stations in Jersey. By and by. there is Newark, three or four Newarks apparently; then marshes; then long rock cuttings devoted to the advertisements of 'patent medicines and ready-made, clothing, and New York tonics for Jersey agues, and Jersey City is reached.

On the ferry-boat Philip bought an evening paper from a boy crying "'Ere's the Evening Gram, all about the murder," and with breathless haste--ran his eyes over the following:

SHOCKING MURDER!!!

TRAGEDY IN HIGH LIFE!! A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN SHOOTS A DISTINGUISHED CONFEDERATE SOLDIER AT THE SOUTHERN HOTEL!!! JEALOUSY THE CAUSE!!!

This morning occurred another of those shocking murders which have become the almost daily food of the newspapers, the direct result of the socialistic doctrines and woman's rights agitations, which have made every woman the avenger of her own wrongs, and all society the hunting ground for her victims.

About nine o'clock a lady deliberately shot a man dead in the public parlor of the Southern Hotel, coolly remarking, as she threw down her revolver and permitted herself to be taken into custody, "He brought it on himself." Our reporters were immediately dispatched to the scene of the tragedy, and gathered the following particulars.

Yesterday afternoon arrived at the hotel from Washington, Col. George Selby and family, who had taken passage and were to sail at noon to-day in the steamer Scotia for England. The Colonel was a handsome man about forty, a gentleman Of wealth and high social position, a resident of New Orleans. He served with distinction in the confederate army, and received a wound in the leg from which he has never entirely recovered, being obliged to use a cane in locomotion.

This morning at about nine o'clock, a lady, accompanied by a gentleman, called at the office Of the hotel and asked for Col. Selby. The Colonel was at breakfast. Would the clerk tell him that a lady and gentleman wished to see him for a moment in the parlor? The clerk says that the gentleman asked her, "What do you want to see him for?" and that she replied, "He is going to Europe, and I ought to just say good by."

Col. Selby was informed; and the lady and gentleman were shown to the parlor, in which were at the time three or four other persons. Five minutes after two shots were fired in quick succession, and there was a rush to the parlor from which the reports came.

Col. Selby was found lying on the floor, bleeding, but not dead. Two gentlemen, who had just come in, had seized the lady, who made no resistance, and she was at once given in charge of a police officer who arrived. The persons who were in the parlor agree substantially as to what occurred. They had happened to be looking towards the door when the man--Col. Selby--entered with his cane, and they looked at him, because he stopped as if surprised and frightened, and made a backward movement. At the same moment the lady in the bonnet advanced towards him and said something like, "George, will you go with me?" He replied, throwing up his hand and retreating, "My God I can't, don't fire," and the next instants two shots were heard and he fell. The lady appeared to be beside herself with rage or excitement, and trembled very much when the gentlemen took hold of her; it was to them she said, "He brought it on himself."

Col. Selby was carried at once to his room and Dr. Puffer, the eminent surgeon was sent for. It was found that he was shot through the breast and through the abdomen. Other aid was summoned, but the wounds were mortal, and Col Selby expired in an hour, in pain, but his mind was clear to the last and he made a full deposition. The substance of it was that his murderess is a Miss Laura Hawkins, whom he had known at Washington as a lobbyist and had some business with her. She had followed him with her attentions and solicitations, and had endeavored to make him desert his wife and go to Europe with her. When he resisted and avoided her she had threatened him. Only the day before he left Washington she had declared that he should never go out of the city alive without her.

It seems to have been a deliberate and premeditated murder, the woman following him to Washington on purpose to commit it.

We learn that the, murderess, who is a woman of dazzling and transcendent beauty and about twenty six or seven, is a niece of Senator Dilworthy at whose house she has been spending the winter. She belongs to a high Southern family, and has the reputation of being an heiress. Like some other great beauties and belles in Washington however there have been whispers that she had something to do with the lobby. If we mistake not we have heard her name mentioned in connection with the sale of the Tennessee Lands to the Knobs University, the bill for which passed the House last night.

Her companion is Mr. Harry Brierly, a New York dandy, who has been in Washington. His connection with her and with this tragedy is not known, but he was also taken into custody, and will be detained at least as a witness.

P. S. One of the persons present in the parlor says that after Laura Hawkins had fired twice, she turned the pistol towards herself, but that Brierly sprung and caught it from her hand, and that it was he who threw it on the floor.

Further particulars with full biographies of all the parties in our next edition.

Philip hastened at once to the Southern Hotel, where he found still a great state of excitement, and a thousand different and exaggerated stories passing from mouth to mouth. The witnesses of the event had told it over so many time that they had worked it up into a most dramatic scene, and embellished it with whatever could heighten its awfulness. Outsiders had taken up invention also. The Colonel's wife had gone insane, they said. The children had rushed into the parlor and rolled themselves in their father's blood. The hotel clerk said that he noticed there was murder in the woman's eye when he saw her. A person who had met the woman on the stairs felt a creeping sensation. Some thought Brierly was an accomplice, and that he had set the woman on to kill his rival. Some said the woman showed the calmness and indifference of insanity.

Philip learned that Harry and Laura had both been taken to the city prison, and he went there; but he was not admitted. Not being a newspaper reporter, he could not see either of them that night; but the officer questioned him suspiciously and asked him who he was. He might perhaps see Brierly in the morning.

The latest editions of the evening papers had the result of the inquest. It was a plain enough case for the jury, but they sat over it a long time, listening to the wrangling of the physicians. Dr. Puffer insisted that the man died from the effects of the wound in the chest. Dr. Dobb as strongly insisted that the wound in the abdomen caused death. Dr. Golightly suggested that in his opinion death ensued from a complication of the two wounds and perhaps other causes. He examined the table waiter, as to whether Col. Selby ate any breakfast, and what he ate, and if he had any appetite.

The jury finally threw themselves back upon the indisputable fact that Selby was dead, that either wound would have killed him (admitted by the doctors), and rendered a verdict that he died from pistol-shot wounds inflicted by a pistol in the hands of Laura Hawkins.

The morning papers blazed with big type, and overflowed with details of the murder. The accounts in the evening papers were only the premonitory drops to this mighty shower. The scene was dramatically worked up in column after column. There were sketches, biographical and historical. There were long "specials" from Washington, giving a full history of Laura's career there, with the names of men with whom she was said to be intimate, a description of Senator Dilworthy's residence and of his family, and of Laura's room in his house, and a sketch of the Senator's appearance and what he said. There was a great deal about her beauty, her accomplishments and her brilliant position in society, and her doubtful position in society. There was also an interview with Col. Sellers and another with Washington Hawkins, the brother of the murderess. One journal had a long dispatch from Hawkeye, reporting the excitement in that quiet village and the reception of the awful intelligence.

All the parties had been "interviewed." There were reports of conversations with the clerk at the hotel; with the call-boy; with the waiter at table with all the witnesses, with the policeman, with the landlord (who wanted it understood that nothing of that sort had ever happened in his house before, although it had always been frequented by the best Southern society,) and with Mrs. Col. Selby. There were diagrams illustrating the scene of the shooting, and views of the hotel and street, and portraits of the parties. There were three minute and different statements from the doctors about the wounds, so technically worded that nobody could understand them. Harry and Laura had also been "interviewed" and there was a statement from Philip himself, which a reporter had knocked him up out of bed at midnight to give, though how he found him, Philip never could conjecture.

What some of the journals lacked in suitable length for the occasion, they made up in encyclopaedic information about other similar murders and shootings.

The statement from Laura was not full, in fact it was fragmentary, and consisted of nine parts of, the reporter's valuable observations to one of Laura's, and it was, as the reporter significantly remarked, "incoherent", but it appeared that Laura claimed to be Selby's wife, or to have been his wife, that he had deserted her and betrayed her, and that she was going to follow him to Europe. When the reporter asked:

"What made you shoot him Miss. Hawkins?"

Laura's only reply was, very simply,

"Did I shoot him? Do they ,say I shot him?". And she would say no more.

The news of the murder was made the excitement of the day. Talk of it filled the town. The facts reported were scrutinized, the standing of the parties was discussed, the dozen different theories of the motive, broached in the newspapers, were disputed over.

During the night subtle electricity had carried the tale over all the wires of the continent and under the sea; and in all villages and towns of the Union, from the. Atlantic to the territories, and away up and down the Pacific slope, and as far as London and Paris and Berlin, that morning the name of Laura Hawkins was spoken by millions and millions of people, while the owner of it--the sweet child of years ago, the beautiful queen of Washington drawing rooms--sat shivering on her cot-bed in the darkness of a damp cell in the Tombs.








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