Plain folks, you know--plain folks. Just a plain family dinner, but such as it is, our friends are always welcome, I reckon you know that yourself, Washington. Run along, children, run along; Lafayette,--[**In those old days the average man called his children after his most revered literary and historical idols; consequently there was hardly a family, at least in the West, but had a Washington in it--and also a Lafayette, a Franklin, and six or eight sounding names from Byron, Scott, and the Bible, if the offspring held out. To visit such a family, was to find one's self confronted by a congress made up of representatives of the imperial myths and the majestic dead of all the ages. There was something thrilling about it, to a stranger, not to say awe inspiring.]--stand off the cat's tail, child, can't you see what you're doing?--Come, come, come, Roderick Dhu, it isn't nice for little boys to hang onto young gentlemen's coat tails-- but never mind him, Washington, he's full of spirits and don't mean any harm. Children will be children, you know. Take the chair next to Mrs. Sellers, Washington--tut, tut, Marie Antoinette, let your brother have the fork if he wants it, you are bigger than he is."

Washington contemplated the banquet, and wondered if he were in his right mind. Was this the plain family dinner? And was it all present? It was soon apparent that this was indeed the dinner: it was all on the table: it consisted of abundance of clear, fresh water, and a basin of raw turnips--nothing more.

Washington stole a glance at Mrs. Sellers's face, and would have given the world, the next moment, if he could have spared her that. The poor woman's face was crimson, and the tears stood in her eyes. Washington did not know what to do. He wished he had never come there and spied out this cruel poverty and brought pain to that poor little lady's heart and shame to her cheek; but he was there, and there was no escape. Col. Sellers hitched back his coat sleeves airily from his wrists as who should say "Now for solid enjoyment!" seized a fork, flourished it and began to harpoon turnips and deposit them in the plates before him "Let me help you, Washington--Lafyette pass this plate Washington--ah, well, well, my boy, things are looking pretty bright, now, I tell you. Speculation--my! the whole atmosphere's full of money. I would'nt take three fortunes for one little operation I've got on hand now--have anything from the casters? No? Well, you're right, you're right. Some people like mustard with turnips, but--now there was Baron Poniatowski-- Lord, but that man did know how to live!--true Russian you know, Russian to the back bone; I say to my wife, give me a Russian every time, for a table comrade. The Baron used to say, 'Take mustard, Sellers, try the mustard,--a man can't know what turnips are in perfection without, mustard,' but I always said, 'No, Baron, I'm a plain man and I want my food plain--none of your embellishments for Beriah Sellers--no made dishes for me! And it's the best way--high living kills more than it cures in this world, you can rest assured of that.--Yes indeed, Washington, I've got one little operation on hand that--take some more water--help yourself, won't you?--help yourself, there's plenty of it. --You'll find it pretty good, I guess. How does that fruit strike you?"

Washington said he did not know that he had ever tasted better. He did not add that he detested turnips even when they were cooked loathed them in their natural state. No, he kept this to himself, and praised the turnips to the peril of his soul.

"I thought you'd like them. Examine them--examine them--they'll bear it. See how perfectly firm and juicy they are--they can't start any like them in this part of the country, I can tell you. These are from New Jersey --I imported them myself. They cost like sin, too; but lord bless me, I go in for having the best of a thing, even if it does cost a little more--it's the best economy, in the long run. These are the Early Malcolm--it's a turnip that can't be produced except in just one orchard, and the supply never is up to the demand.

The Gilded Age Page 38

Mark Twain

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book