Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter XXXIV

Territorial Characteristics

Meantime, the Territorial secretary had found difficulties in launching the ship of state. There was no legislative hall in Carson City; and if Abram Curry, one of the original owners of the celebrated Gould and Curry mine —“Curry — old Curry — old Abe Curry,” as he called himself — had not tendered the use of a hall rent free, the first legislature would have been obliged to “sit in the desert.” Furthermore, Orion had met with certain acute troubles of his own. The government at Washington had not appreciated his economies in the matter of cheap office rental, and it had stipulated the price which he was to pay for public printing and various other services-prices fixed according to Eastern standards. These prices did not obtain in Nevada, and when Orion, confident that because of his other economies the comptroller would stretch a point and allow the increased frontier tariff, he was met with the usual thick-headed official lack of imagination, with the result that the excess paid was deducted from his slender salary. With a man of less conscience this condition would easily have been offset by another wherein other rates, less arbitrary, would have been adjusted to negotiate the official deficit. With Orion Clemens such a remedy was not even considered; yielding, unstable, blown by every wind of influence though he was, Orion’s integrity was a rock.

Governor Nye was among those who presently made this discovery. Old politician that he was — former police commissioner of New York City — Nye took care of his own problems in the customary manner. To him, politics was simply a game — to be played to win. He was a popular, jovial man, well liked and thought of, but he did not lie awake, as Orion did, planning economies for the government, or how to make up excess charges out of his salary. To him Nevada was simply a doorway to the United States Senate, and in the mean time his brigade required official recognition and perquisites. The governor found Orion Clemens an impediment to this policy. Orion could not be brought to a proper political understanding of “special bills and accounts,” and relations between the secretary of state and the governor were becoming strained.

It was about this time that the man who had been potentate of the pilot-house of a Mississippi River steamer returned from Humboldt. He was fond of the governor, but he had still higher regard for the family integrity. When he had heard Orion’s troubled story, he called on Governor Nye and delivered himself in his own fashion. In his former employments he had acquired a vocabulary and moral backbone sufficient to his needs. We may regret that no stenographic report was made of the interview. It would be priceless now. But it is lost; we only know that Orion’s rectitude was not again assailed, and that curiously enough Governor Nye apparently conceived a strong admiration and respect for his brother.

Samuel Clemens, miner, remained but a brief time in Carson City — only long enough to arrange for a new and more persistent venture. He did not confess his Humboldt failure to his people; in fact, he had not as yet confessed it to himself; his avowed purpose was to return to Humboldt after a brief investigation of the Esmeralda mines. He had been paying heavy assessments on his holdings there; and, with a knowledge of mining gained at Unionville, he felt that his personal attention at Aurora might be important. As a matter of fact, he was by this time fairly daft on the subject of mines and mining, with the rest of the community for company.

His earlier praises of the wonders and climate of Tahoe had inspired his sister Pamela, always frail, with a desire to visit that health-giving land. Perhaps he felt that he recommended the country somewhat too highly.

“By George, Pamela,” he said, “I begin to fear that I have invoked a spirit of some kind or other, which I will find more than difficult to allay.” He proceeds to recommend California as a residence for any or all of them, but he is clearly doubtful concerning Nevada.

Some people are malicious enough to think that if the devil were set at liberty and told to confine himself to Nevada Territory, he would come here and look sadly around awhile, and then get homesick and go back to hell again . . . . Why, I have had my whiskers and mustaches so full of alkali dust that you’d have thought I worked in a starch factory and boarded in a flour barrel.

But then he can no longer restrain his youth and optimism. How could he, with a fortune so plainly in view? It was already in his grasp in imagination; he was on the way home with it.

I expect to return to St. Louis in July — per steamer. I don’t say that I will return then, or that I shall be able to do it — but I expect to — you bet. I came down here from Humboldt, in order to look after our Esmeralda interests. Yesterday, Bob Howland arrived here, and I have had a talk with him. He owns with me in the “Horatio and Derby” ledge. He says our tunnel is in 52 feet, and a small stream of water has been struck, which bids fair to become a “big thing” by the time the ledge is reached — sufficient to supply a mill. Now, if you knew anything of the value of water here, you would perceive at a glance that if the water should amount to 50 or 100 inches, we wouldn’t care whether school kept or not. If the ledge should prove to be worthless, we’d sell the water for money enough to give us quite a lift. But, you see, the ledge will not prove to be worthless. We have located, near by, a fine site for a mill, and when we strike the ledge, you know, we’ll have a mill-site, water-power, and payrock, all handy. Then we sha’n’t care whether we have capital or not. Mill folks will build us a mill, and wait for their pay. If nothing goes wrong, we’ll strike the ledge in June — and if we do, I’ll be home in July, you know.

He pauses at this point for a paragraph of self-analysis — characteristic and crystal-clear.

So, just keep your clothes on, Pamela, until I come. Don’t you know that undemonstrated human calculations won’t do to bet on? Don’t you know that I have only talked, as yet, but proved nothing? Don’t you know that I have expended money in this country but have made none myself? Don’t you know that I have never held in my hands a gold or silver bar that belonged to me? Don’t you know that it’s all talk and no cider so far? Don’t you know that people who always feel jolly, no matter where they are or what happens to them — who have the organ of Hope preposterously developed — who are endowed with an unconcealable sanguine temperament — who never feel concerned about the price of corn — and who cannot, by any possibility, discover any but the bright side of a picture — are very apt to go to extremes and exaggerate with 40-horse microscopic power?

In the bright lexicon of youth,
There is no such word as Fail —
and I’ll prove it!

Whereupon, he lets himself go again, full-tilt:

By George, if I just had a thousand dollars I’d be all right! Now there’s the “Horatio,” for instance. There are five or six shareholders in it, and I know I could buy half of their interests at, say $20 per foot, now that flour is worth $50 per barrel and they are pressed for money, but I am hard up myself, and can’t buy — and in June they’ll strike the ledge, and then “good-by canary.” I can’t get it for love or money. Twenty dollars a foot! Think of it! For ground that is proven to be rich. Twenty dollars, Madam — and we wouldn’t part with a foot of our 75 for five times the sum. So it will be in Humboldt next summer. The boys will get pushed and sell ground for a song that is worth a fortune. But I am at the helm now. I have convinced Orion that he hasn’t business talent enough to carry on a peanut-stand, and he has solemnly promised me that he will meddle no more with mining or other matters not connected with the secretary’s office. So, you see, if mines are to be bought or sold, or tunnels run or shafts sunk, parties have to come to me — and me only. I’m the “firm,” you know.

There are pages of this, all glowing with golden expectations and plans. Ah, well! we have all written such letters home at one time and another — of gold-mines of one form or another.

He closes at last with a bit of pleasantry for his mother.

Ma says: “It looks like a man can’t hold public office and be honest.” Why, certainly not, Madam. A man can’t hold public office and be honest. Lord bless you, it is a common practice with Orion to go about town stealing little things that happen to be lying around loose. And I don’t remember having heard him speak the truth since we have been in Nevada. He even tries to prevail upon me to do these things, Ma, but I wasn’t brought up in that way, you know. You showed the public what you could do in that line when you raised me, Madam. But then you ought to have raised me first, so that Orion could have had the benefit of my example. Do you know that he stole all the stamps out of an 8-stamp quartz-mill one night, and brought them home under his overcoat and hid them in the back room?

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05