Colonel Mulberry Sellers


COLONEL MULBERRY SELLERS was in his “library,” which was his “drawing-room,” and was also his “picture gallery,” and likewise his “workshop.” Sometimes he called it by one of these names, sometimes by another, according to occasion and circumstance. He was constructing what seemed to be some kind of a frail mechanical toy, and was apparently very much interested in his work. He was a white-headed man now, but otherwise he was as young, alert, buoyant, visionary, and enterprising as ever. His loving old wife sat near by, contentedly knitting and thinking, with a cat asleep in her lap. The room was large, light, and had a comfortable look—in fact, a home-like look—though the furniture was of a humble sort, and not over-abundant, and the knick-knacks and things that go to adorn a living-room not plenty and not costly. But there were natural flowers, and there was an abstract and unclassifiable something about the place which betrayed the presence in the house of somebody with a happy taste and an effective touch.

Even the deadly chromos on the walls were somehow without offence; in fact, they seemed to belong there, and to add an attraction to the room—a fascination, anyway; for whoever got his eye on one of them was like to gaze and suffer till he died—you have seen that kind of pictures. Some of these terrors were landscapes, some libelled the sea, some were ostensible portraits, all were crimes. All the portraits were recognisable as dead Americans of distinction, and yet, through labelling, added by a daring hand, they were all doing duty here as “Earls of Rossmore.” The newest one had left the works as Andrew Jackson, but was doing its best now as “Simon Lathers Lord Rossmore, Present Earl.” On one wall was a cheap old railroad map of Warwickshire. 180This had been newly labelled, “The Rossmore Estates.” On the opposite wall was another map, and this was the most imposing decoration of the establishment, and the first to catch a stranger’s attention, because of its great size. It had once borne simply the title SIBERIA; but now the word “FUTURE” had been written in front of that word. There were other additions, in red ink—many cities, with great populations set down, scattered over the vast country at points where neither cities nor populations exist to-day. One of these cities, with population placed at 1,500,000, bore the name “Libertyorloffskoizalinski,” and there was a still more populous one, centrally located and marked “Capitol,” which bore the name “Freedomslovnaivenovich.”

The mansion—the Colonel’s usual name for the house—was a rickety old two-storey frame of considerable size, which had been painted, some time or other, but had nearly forgotten it. It was away out in the ragged edge of Washington, and had once been somebody’s country place. It had a neglected yard around it, with a paling fence that needed straightening up, in places, and a gate that would stay shut. By the door-post were several modest tin signs. “Col. Mulberry Sellers, Attorney-at-Law and Claim Agent,” was the principal one. One learned from the others that the Colonel was a Materialiser, a Hypnotiser, a Mind-cure dabbler, and so on. For he was a man who could always find things to do.

A white-headed negro man, with spectacles and damaged white cotton gloves, appeared in the presence, made a stately obeisance, and announced—

“Marse Washington Hawkins, suh.”

“Great Scott! Show him in, Dan’l, show him in.”

The Colonel and his wife were on their feet in a moment, and the next moment were joyfully wringing the hands of a stoutish, discouraged-looking man, whose general aspect 182suggested that he was fifty years old, but whose hair swore to a hundred.

“Well, well, well, Washington, my boy, it is good to look at you again. Sit down, sit down, and make yourself at home. There now—why, you look perfectly natural; ageing a little, just a little, but you’d have known him anywhere, wouldn’t you, Polly?”

“Oh, yes, Berry, he’s just like his pa would have looked if he’d lived. Dear, dear, where have you dropped from? Let me see, how long is it since——”

“I should say it’s all of fifteen years, Mrs. Sellers.”

“Well, well, how time does get away with us. Yes, and oh, the changes that——”

There was a sudden catch of her voice and a trembling of the lip, the men waiting reverently for her to get command of herself and go on; but, after a little struggle, she turned away with her apron to her eyes, and softly disappeared.

“Seeing you made her think of the children, poor thing—dear, dear, they’re all dead but the youngest. But banish care, it’s no time for it now—on with the dance, let joy be unconfided, is my motto—whether there’s any dance to dance or any joy to unconfide, you’ll be the healthier for it every time—every time, Washington—it’s my experience, and I’ve seen a good deal of this world. Come, where have you disappeared to all these years, and are you from there now, or where are you from?”

“I don’t quite think you would ever guess, Colonel. Cherokee Strip.”

“My land!”

“Sure as you live.”

“You can’t mean it. Actually living out there?”

“Well, yes, if a body may call it that; though it’s a pretty strong term for ’dobies and jackass rabbits, boiled beans and slap-jacks, depression, withered hopes, poverty in all its varieties——”

183“Louise out there?”

“Yes, and the children.”

“Out there now?”

“Yes, I couldn’t afford to bring them with me.”

“Oh, I see—you had to come—claim against the Government. Make yourself perfectly easy—I’ll take care of that.”

“But it isn’t a claim against the Government.”

“No? Want to be a postmaster? That’s all right. Leave it to me. I’ll fix it.”

“But it isn’t postmaster—you’re all astray yet.”

“Well, good gracious, Washington, why don’t you come out and tell me what it is? What do you want to be so reserved and distrustful with an old friend like me for? Don’t you reckon I can keep a se——”

“There’s no secret about it—you merely don’t give me a chance to——”

“Now, look here, old friend, I know the human race; and I know that when a man comes to Washington, I don’t care if it’s from heaven, let alone Cherokee Strip, it’s because he wants something. And I know that as a rule he’s not going to get it; that he’ll stay and try for another thing and won’t get that; the same luck with the next and the next and the next; and keeps on till he strikes bottom, and is too poor and ashamed to go back, even to Cherokee Strip; and at last his heart breaks and they take up a collection and bury him. There—don’t interrupt me, I know what I’m talking about. Happy and prosperous in the Far West, wasn’t I? You know that. Principal citizen of Hawkeye, looked up to by everybody, kind of an autocrat, actually a kind of an autocrat, Washington. Well, nothing would do but I must go as Minister to St. James’s, the Governor and everybody insisting, you know, and so at last I consented—no getting out of it, had to do it, so here I came. A day too late, 184Washington. Think of that—what little things change the world’s history—yes, sir, the place had been filled. Well, there I was, you see. I offered to compromise and go to Paris. The President was very sorry and all that, but that place, you see, didn’t belong to the West, so there I was again. There was no help for it, so I had to stoop a little—we all reach the day some time or other when we’ve got to do that, Washington, and it’s not a bad thing for us, either, take it by and large all around—I had to stoop a little and offer to take Constantinople, Washington, consider this—for it’s perfectly true—within a month I asked for China; within another month I begged for Japan; one year later I was away down, down, down, supplicating with tears and anguish for the bottom office in the gift of the Government of the United States—Flint-picker in the cellars of the War Department. And by George I didn’t get it.”


“Yes. Office established in the time of the Revolution, last century. The musket-flints for the military posts were supplied from the capitol. They do it yet; for although the flint-arm has gone out and the forts have tumbled down, the decree hasn’t been repealed—been overlooked and forgotten, you see—and so the vacancies where old Ticonderoga and others used to stand still get their six quarts of gun-flints a year just the same.”

Washington said musingly after a pause:

“How strange it seems—to start for Minister to England at twenty thousand a year and fail for flint-picker at——”

“Three dollars a week. It’s human life, Washington—just an epitome of human ambition, and struggle, and the outcome; you aim for the palace and get drowned in the sewer.”

There was another meditative silence. Then Washington said, with earnest compassion in his voice—

“And so, after coming here, against your inclination, to 185satisfy your sense of patriotic duty and appease a selfish public clamour, you get absolutely nothing for it.”

“Nothing?” The Colonel had to get up and stand, to get room for his amazement to expand. “Nothing, Washington? I ask you this: to be a Perpetual Member and the only Perpetual Member of a Diplomatic Body accredited to the greatest country on earth—do you call that nothing?”

It was Washington’s turn to be amazed. He was stricken dumb; but the wide-eyed wonder, the reverent admiration expressed in his face, were more eloquent than any words could have been. The Colonel’s wounded spirit was healed, and he resumed his seat, pleased and content. He leaned forward and said, impressively—

“What was due to a man who had become for ever conspicuous by an experience without precedent in the history of the world?—a man made permanently and diplomatically sacred, so to speak, by having been connected, temporarily, through solicitation, with every single diplomatic post in the roster of this government, from Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James all the way down to Consul to a guano rock in the Straits of Sunda—salary payable in guano—which disappeared by volcanic convulsion the day before they got down to my name in the list of applicants. Certainly something august enough to be answerable to the size of this unique and memorable experience was my due, and I got it. By the common voice of this community, by acclamation of the people, that mighty utterance which brushes aside laws and legislation, and from whose decrees there is no appeal, I was named Perpetual Member of the Diplomatic Body, representing the multifarious sovereignties and civilisations of the globe near the republican court of the United States of America. And they brought me home with a torchlight procession.”

“It is wonderful, Colonel—simply wonderful.”

“It’s the loftiest official position in the whole earth.”

“I should think so—and the most commanding.”

“You have named the word. Think of it. I frown, and there is war; I smile, and contending nations lay down their arms.”

“It is awful. The responsibility, I mean.”

“It is nothing. Responsibility is no burden to me; I am used to it; have always been used to it.”

“And the work—the work! Do you have to attend all the sittings?”

“Who, I? Does the Emperor of Russia attend the conclaves of the governors of the provinces? He sits at home and indicates his pleasure.”

Washington was silent a moment, then a deep sigh escaped him.

“How proud I was an hour ago; how paltry seems my little promotion now! Colonel, the reason I came to Washington is—I am Congressional Delegate from Cherokee Strip!”

The Colonel sprang to his feet and broke out with prodigious enthusiasm—

“Give me your hand, my boy—this is immense news! I congratulate you with all my heart. My prophecies stand confirmed. I always said it was in you. I always said you were born for high distinction and would achieve it. You ask Polly if I didn’t.”

Washington was dazed by this most unexpected demonstration.

“Why, Colonel, there’s nothing to it. That little, narrow, desolate, unpeopled, oblong streak of grass and gravel, lost in the remote wastes of the vast continent—why, it’s like representing a billiard table—a discarded one.”

“Tut-tut, it’s a great, it’s a staving preferment, and just opulent with influence here.”

“Shucks, Colonel, I haven’t even a vote.”

“That’s nothing, you can make speeches.”

“No, I can’t. The population only two hundred——”

“That’s all right, that’s all right——”

“And they hadn’t any right to elect me; we’re not even a territory, there’s no Organic Act, the government hasn’t any official knowledge of us whatever.”

“Never mind about that; I’ll fix that. I’ll rush the thing through, I’ll get you organised in no time.”

“Will you, Colonel?—it’s too good of you; but it’s just your old sterling self, the same old, ever-faithful friend,” and the grateful tears welled up in Washington’s eyes.

“It’s just as good as done, my boy, just as good as done. Shake hands. We’ll hitch teams together, you and I, and we’ll make things hum!”


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