The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. IV: American
Colonel Mulberry Sellers
By Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) (18351910)
COL. 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 lookin fact, a homelike lookthough the furniture was of a humble sort and not overabundant, 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 offense; in fact, they seemed to belong there and to add an attraction to the rooma fascination, anyway; for whoever got his eye on one of them was like to gaze and suffer till he diedyou have seen that kind of pictures. Some of these terrors were landscapes, some libeled the sea, some were ostensible portraits, all were crimes. All the portraits were recognizable as dead Americans of distinction, and yet, through labeling, 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. This had been newly labeled, 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 the strangers 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 inkmany 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 mansionthe Colonels usual name for the housewas a rickety old two-story 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 somebodys country place. It had a neglected yard around it, with a paling fence that needed straightening up in places, and a gate that wouldnt 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 Materializer, a Hypnotizer, a Mind-cure dabbler, and so on. For he was a man who could always find things to do.
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 suggested 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 nowwhy, you look perfectly natural; aging a little, just a little, but youd have known him anywhere, wouldnt you, Polly?
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 thingdear, dear, theyre all dead but the youngest. But banish care; its no time for it nowon with the dance, let joy be unconfined, is my mottowhether theres any dance to dance or any joy to unconfine, youll be the healthier for it every timeevery time, Washingtonits my experience, and Ive 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?
Now, look here, old friend, I know the human race; and I know that when a man comes to Washington, I dont care if its from Heaven, let alone Cherokee Strip, its because he wants something. And I know that as a rule hes not going to get it; that hell stay and try for another thing and wont 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. Theredont interrupt me, I know what Im talking about. Happy and prosperous in the Far West, wasnt 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. Jamess, the Governor and everybody insisting, you know, and so at last I consentedno getting out of it, had to do it, so here I came. A day too late, Washington. Think of thatwhat little things change the worlds historyyes, 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, didnt belong to the West, so there I was again. There was no help for it, so I had to stoop a littlewe all reach the day some time or other when weve got to do that, Washington, and its not a bad thing for us, either, take it by and large all roundI had to stoop a little and offer to take Constantinople. Washington, consider thisfor its perfectly truewithin 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 StatesFlint-picker in the cellars of the War Department. And by George, I didnt get it.
Yes. Office established in the time of the Revolutionlast 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 hasnt been repealedbeen overlooked and forgotten, you seeand so the vacancies where old Ticonderoga and others used to stand still get their six quarts of gun-flints a year just the same.
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 earthdo you call that nothing?
It was Washingtons 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 Colonels 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 forever conspicuous by an experience without precedent in the history of the worlda 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 Sundasalary payable in guanowhich 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 civilizations of the globe near the republican court of the United States of America. And they brought me home with a torchlight procession.
Give me your hand, my boythis is immense news! I congratulate you with all my heart. My prophecies stand firm. 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 didnt.
Why, Colonel, theres nothing to it. That little, narrow, desolate, unpeopled, oblong streak of grass and gravel, lost in the remote wastes of the vast continentwhy, its like representing a billiard tablea discarded one.