It was midnight-a black, wet, midnight-in a great city by the sea. The church clocks were booming the hour, in tones half-smothered by the marching rain, when an officer of the watch saw a female figure glide past him like a ghost in the gloom, and make directly toward a wharf. The officer felt that some dreadful tragedy was about to be enacted, and started in pursuit. Through the sleeping city sped those two dark figures like shadows athwart a tomb. Out along the deserted wharf to its farther end fled the mysterious fugitive, the guardian of the night vainly endeavouring to overtake, and calling to her to stay. Soon she stood upon the extreme end of the pier, in the scourging rain which lashed her fragile figure and blinded her eyes with other tears than those of grief. The night wind tossed her tresses wildly in air, and beneath her bare feet the writhing billows struggled blackly upward for their prey. At this fearful moment the panting officer stumbled and fell! He was badly bruised; he felt angry and misanthropic. Instead of rising to his feet, he sat doggedly up and began chafing his abraded shin. The desperate woman raised her white arms heavenward for the final plunge, and the voice of the gale seemed like the dread roaring of the waters in her ears, as down, down, she went — in imagination — to a black death among the spectral piles. She backed a few paces to secure an impetus, cast a last look upon the stony officer, with a wild shriek sprang to the awful verge and came near losing her balance. Recovering herself with an effort, she turned her face again to the officer, who was clawing about for his missing club. Having secured it, he started to leave.
In a cosy, vine-embowered cottage near the sounding sea, lives and suffers a blighted female. Nothing being known of her past history, she is treated by her neighbours with marked respect. She never speaks of the past, but it has been remarked that whenever the stalwart form of a certain policeman passes her door, her clean, delicate face assumes an expression which can only be described as frozen profanity.
Professor Cramer conducted a side-show in the wake of a horse-opera, and the same sojourned at Colusa. Enters unto the side show a powerful young man of the Colusa sort, and would see his money’s worth. Blandly and with conscious pride the Professor directs the young man’s attention to his fine collection of living snakes. Lithely the blacksnake uncoils in his sight. Voluminously the bloated boa convolves before him. All horrent the cobra exalts his hooded head, and the spanning jaws fly open. Quivers and chitters the tail of the cheerful rattlesnake; silently slips out the forked tongue, and is as silently absorbed. The fangless adder warps up the leg of the Professor, lays clammy coils about his neck, and pokes a flattened head curiously into his open mouth. The young man of Colusa is interested; his feelings transcend expression. Not a syllable breathes he, but with a deep-drawn sigh he turns his broad back upon the astonishing display, and goes thoughtfully forth into his native wild. Half an hour later might have been seen that brawny Colusan, emerging from an adjacent forest with a strong faggot.
Then this Colusa young man unto the appalled Professor thus: “Ther ain’t no good place yer in Kerloosy fur fittin’ out serpence to be subtler than all the beasts o’ the field. Ther’s enmity atween our seed and ther seed, an’ it shell brooze ther head.” And with a singleness of purpose and a rapt attention to detail that would have done credit to a lean porker garnering the strewn kernels behind a deaf old man who plants his field with corn, he started in upon that reptilian host, and exterminated it with a careful thoroughness of extermination.
A poor brokendown drunkard returned to his dilapidated domicile early on New Year’s morn. The great bells of the churches were jarring the creamy moonlight which lay above the soggy undercrust of mud and snow. As he heard their joyous peals, announcing the birth of a new year, his heart smote his old waistcoat like a remorseful sledge-hammer.
“Why,” soliloquized he, “should not those bells also proclaim the advent of a new resolution? I have not made one for several weeks, and it’s about time. I’ll swear off.”
He did it, and at that moment a new light seemed to be shed upon his pathway; his wife came out of the house with a tin lantern. He rushed frantically to meet her. She saw the new and holy purpose in his eye. She recognised it readily-she had seen it before. They embraced and wept. Then stretching the wreck of what had once been a manly form to its full length, he raised his eyes to heaven and one hand as near there as he could get it, and there in the pale moonlight, with only his wondering wife, and the angels, and a cow or two, for witnesses, he swore he would from that moment abstain from all intoxicating liquors until death should them part. Then looking down and tenderly smiling into the eyes of his wife, he said: “Is it not well, dear one?” With a face beaming all over with a new happiness, she replied:
“Indeed it is, John-let’s take a drink.” And they took one, she with sugar and he plain.
The spot is still pointed out to the traveller.
My friend, Jacob Dowling, Esq., had been spending the day very agreeably in his counting-room with some companions, and at night retired to the domestic circle to ravel out some intricate accounts. Seated at his parlour table he ordered his wife and children out of the room and addressed himself to business. While clambering wearily up a column of figures he felt upon his cheek the touch of something that seemed to cling clammily to the skin like the caress of a naked oyster. Thoughtfully setting down the result of his addition so far as he had proceeded with it, he turned about and looked up.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said he, “but you have not the advantage of my acquaintance.”
“Why, Jake,” replied the apparition-whom I have thought it useless to describe —“don’t you know me?”
“I confess that your countenance is familiar,” returned my friend, “but I cannot at this moment recall your name. I never forget a face, but names I cannot remember.”
“Jake!” rumbled the spectre with sepulchral dignity, a look of displeasure crawling across his pallid features, “you’re foolin’.”
“I give you my word I am quite serious. Oblige me with your name, and favour me with a statement of your business with me at this hour.”
The disembodied party sank uninvited into a chair, spread out his knees and stared blankly at a Dutch clock with an air of weariness and profound discouragement. Perceiving that his guest was making himself tolerably comfortable my friend turned again to his figures, and silence reigned supreme. The fire in the grate burned noiselessly with a mysterious blue light, as if it could do more if it wished; the Dutch clock looked wise, and swung its pendulum with studied exactness, like one who is determined to do his precise duty and shun responsibility; the cat assumed an attitude of intelligent neutrality. Finally the spectre trained his pale eyes upon his host, pulled in a long breath and remarked:
“Jake, I’m yur dead father. I come back to have a talk with ye ‘bout the way things is agoin’ on. I want to know ‘f you think it’s right notter recognise yur dead parent?”
“It is a little rough on you, dear,” replied the son without looking up, “but the fact is that [7 and 3 are 10, and 2 are 12, and 6 are 18] it is so long since you have been about [and 3 off are 15] that I had kind of forgotten, and [2 into 4 goes twice, and 7 into 6 you can’t] you know how it is yourself. May I be permitted to again inquire the precise nature of your present business?”
“Well, yes-if you wont talk anything but shop I s’pose I must come to the p’int. Isay! you don’t keep any thing to drink ‘bout yer, do ye-Jake?”
“14 from 23 are 9-I’ll get you something when we get done. Please explain how we can serve one another.”
“Jake, I done everything for you, and you ain’t done nothin’ for me since I died. I want a monument bigger’n Dave Broderick’s, with an eppytaph in gilt letters, by Joaquin Miller. I can’t git into any kind o’ society till I have ’em. You’ve no idee how exclusive they are where I am.”
This dutiful son laid down his pencil and effected a stiffly vertical attitude. He was all attention:
“Anything else to-day?” he asked-rather sneeringly, I grieve to state.
“No-o-o, I don’t think of anything special,” drawled the ghost reflectively; “I’d like to have an iron fence around it to keep the cows off, but I s’pose that’s included.”
“Of course! And a gravel walk, and a lot of abalone shells, and fresh posies daily; a marble angel or two for company, and anything else that will add to your comfort. Have you any other extremely reasonable request to make of me?”
“Yes-since you mention it. I want you to contest my will. Horace Hawes is having his’n contested.”
“My fine friend, you did not make any will.”
“That ain’t o’ no consequence. You forge me a good ’un and contest that.”
“With pleasure, sir; but that will be extra. Now indulge me in one question. You spoke of the society where you reside. Where do you reside?”
The Dutch clock pounded clamorously upon its brazen gong a countless multitude of hours; the glowing coals fell like an avalanche through the grate, spilling all over the cat, who exalted her voice in a squawk like the deathwail of a stuck pig, and dashed affrighted through the window. A smell of scorching fur pervaded the place, and under cover of it the aged spectre walked into the mirror, vanishing like a dream.
Joab was a beef, who was tired of being courted for his clean, smooth skin. So he backed through a narrow gateway six or eight times, which made his hair stand the wrong way. He then went and rubbed his fat sides against a charred log. This made him look untidy. You never looked worse in your life than Joab did.
“Now,” said he, “I shall be loved for myself alone. I will change my name, and hie me to pastures new, and all the affection that is then lavished upon me will be pure and disinterested.”
So he strayed off into the woods and came out at old Abner Davis’ ranch. The two things Abner valued most were a windmill and a scratching-post for hogs. They were equally beautiful, and the fame of their comeliness had gone widely abroad. To them Joab naturally paid his attention. The windmill, who was called Lucille Ashtonbury Clifford, received him with expressions of the liveliest disgust. His protestations of affection were met by creakings of contempt, and as he turned sadly away he was rewarded by a sound spank from one of her fans. Like a gentlemanly beef he did not deign to avenge the insult by overturning Lucille Ashtonbury; and it is well for him that he did not, for old Abner stood by with a pitchfork and a trinity of dogs.
Disgusted with the selfish heartlessness of society, Joab shambled off and was passing the scratching-post without noticing her. (Her name was Arabella Cliftonbury Howard.) Suddenly she kicked away a multitude of pigs who were at her feet, and called to the rolling beef of uncanny exterior:
Joab paused, looked at her with his ox-eyes, and gravely marching up, commenced a vigorous scratching against her.
“Arabella,” said he, “do you think you could love a shaggy-hided beef with black hair? Could you love him for himself alone?”
Arabella had observed that the black rubbed off, and the hair lay sleek when stroked the right way.
“Yes, I think so; could you?”
This was a poser: Joab had expected her to talk business. He did not reply. It was only her arch way; she thought, naturally, that the best way to win any body’s love was to be a fool. She saw her mistake. She had associated with hogs all her life, and this fellow was a beef! Mistakes must be rectified very speedily in these matters.
“Sir, I have for you a peculiar feeling; I may say a tenderness. Hereafter you, and you only, shall scratch against Arabella Cliftonbury Howard!”
Joab was delighted; he stayed and scratched all day. He was loved for himself alone, and he did not care for anything but that. Then he went home, made an elaborate toilet, and returned to astonish her. Alas! old Abner had been about, and seeing how Joab had worn her smooth and useless, had cut her down for firewood. Joab gave one glance, then walked solemnly away into a “clearing,” and getting comfortably astride a blazing heap of logs, made a barbacue of himself!
After all, Lucille Ashtonbury Clifford, the light-headed windmill, seems to have got the best of all this. I have observed that the light-headed commonly get the best of everything in this world; which the wooden-headed and the beef-headed regard as an outrage. I am not prepared to say if it is or not.
William Bunker had paid a fine of two hundred dollars for beating his wife. After getting his receipt he went moodily home and seated himself at the domestic hearth. Observing his abstracted and melancholy demeanour, the good wife approached and tenderly inquired the cause. “It’s a delicate subject, dear,” said he, with love~light in his eyes; “let’s talk about something good to eat.”
Then, with true wifely instinct she sought to cheer him up with pleasing prattle of a new bonnet he had promised her. “Ah! darling,” he sighed, absently picking up the fire-poker and turning it in his hands, “let us change the subject.”
Then his soul’s idol chirped an inspiring ballad, kissed him on the top of his head, and sweetly mentioned that the dressmaker had sent in her bill. “Let us talk only of love,” returned he, thoughtfully rolling up his dexter sleeve.
And so she spoke of the vine-enfolded cottage in which she fondly hoped they might soon sip together the conjugal sweets. William became rigidly erect, a look not of earth was in his face, his breast heaved, and the fire-poker quivered with emotion. William felt deeply. “Mine own,” said the good woman, now busily irrigating a mass of snowy dough for the evening meal, “do you know that there is not a bite of meat in the house?”
It is a cold, unlovely truth-a sad, heart-sickening fact-but it must be told by the conscientious novelist. William repaid all this affectionate solicitude-all this womanly devotion, all this trust, confidence, and abnegation in a manner that needs not be particularly specified.
A short, sharp curve in the middle of that iron fire-poker is eloquent of a wrong redressed.
Mr. Gobwottle came home from a meeting of the Temperance Legion extremely drunk. He went to the bed, piled himself loosely atop of it and forgot his identity. About the middle of the night, his wife, who was sitting up darning stockings, heard a voice from the profoundest depths of the bolster: “Say, Jane?”
Jane gave a vicious stab with the needle, impaling one of her fingers, and continued her work. There was a long silence, faintly punctuated by the bark of a distant dog. Again that voice —“Say–Jane!”
The lady laid aside her work and wearily, replied: “Isaac, do go to sleep; they are off.”
Another and longer pause, during which the ticking of the clock became painful in the intensity of the silence it seemed to be measuring. “Jane, what’s off!” “Why, your boots, to be sure,” replied the petulant woman, losing patience; “I pulled them off when you first lay down.”
Again the prostrate gentleman was still. Then when the candle of the waking housewife had burned low down to the socket, and the wasted flame on the hearth was expiring bluely in convulsive leaps, the head of the family resumed: “Jane, who said anything about boots?”
There was no reply. Apparently none was expected, for the man immediately rose, lengthened himself out like a telescope, and continued: “Jane, I must have smothered that brat, and I’m ‘fernal sorry!”
“What brat?” asked the wife, becoming interested.
“Why, ours-our little Isaac. I saw you put ’im in bed last week, and I’ve been layin’ right onto ’im!”
“What under the sun do you mean?” asked the good wife; “we haven’t any brat, and never had, and his name should not be Isaac if we had. I believe you are crazy.”
The man balanced his bulk rather unsteadily, looked hard into the eyes of his companion, and triumphantly emitted the following conundrum: “Jane, look-a-here! If we haven’t any brat, what’n thunder’s the use o’ bein’ married!”
Pending the solution of the momentous problem, its author went out and searched the night for a whisky-skin.
Passing down Commercial-street one fine day, I observed a lady standing alone in the middle of the sidewalk, with no obvious business there, but with apparently no intention of going on. She was outwardly very calm, and seemed at first glance to be lost in some serene philosophical meditation. A closer examination, however, revealed a peculiar restlessness of attitude, and a barely noticeable uneasiness of expression. The conviction came upon me that the lady was in distress, and as delicately as possible I inquired of her if such were not the case, intimating at the same time that I should esteem it a great favour to be permitted to do something. The lady smiled blandly and replied that she was merely waiting for a gentleman. It was tolerably evident that I was not required, and with a stammered apology I hastened away, passed clear around the block, came up behind her, and took up a position on a dry-goods box; it lacked an hour to dinner time, and I had leisure. The lady maintained her attitude, but with momently increasing impatience, which found expression in singular wave-like undulations of her lithe figure, and an occasional unmistakeable contortion. Several gentlemen approached, but were successively and politely dismissed. Suddenly she experienced a quick convulsion, strode sharply forward one step, stopped short, had another convulsion, and walked rapidly away. Approaching the spot I found a small iron grating in the sidewalk, and between the bars two little boot heels, riven from their kindred soles, and unsightly with snaggy nails.
Heaven only knows why that entrapped female had declined the proffered assistance of her species-why she had elected to ruin her boots in preference to having them removed from her feet. Upon that day when the grave shall give up its dead, and the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, I shall know all about it; but I want to know now.
My friend Zacharias was accustomed to sleep with a heated stone at his feet; for the feet of Mr. Zacharias were as the feet of the dead. One night he retired as usual, and it chanced that he awoke some hours afterwards with a well-defined smell of burning leather, making it pleasant for his nostrils.
“Mrs. Zacharias,” said he, nudging his snoring spouse, “I wish you would get up and look about. I think one of the children must have fallen into the fire.”
The lady, who from habit had her own feet stowed comfortably away against the warm stomach of her lord and master, declined to make the investigation demanded, and resumed the nocturnal melody. Mr. Zacharias was angered; for the first time since she had sworn to love, honour, and obey, this female was in open rebellion. He decided upon prompt and vigorous action. He quietly moved over to the back side of the bed and braced his shoulders against the wall. Drawing up his sinewy knees to a level with his breast, he placed the soles of his feet broadly against the back of the insurgent, with the design of propelling her against the opposite wall. There was a strangled snort, then a shriek of female agony, and the neighbours came in.
Mutual explanations followed, and Mr. Zacharias walked the streets of Grass Valley next day as if he were treading upon eggs worth a dollar a dozen.
One of Thomas Jefferson’s maxims is as follows: “When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, count a hundred.” I once knew a man to square his conduct by this rule, with a most gratifying result. Jacob Scolliver, a man prone to bad temper, one day started across the fields to visit his father, whom he generously permitted to till a small corner of the old homestead. He found the old gentleman behind the barn, bending over a barrel that was canted over at an angle of seventy degrees, and from which issued a cloud of steam. Scolliver père was evidently scalding one end of a dead pig-an operation essential to the loosening of the hair, that the corpse may be plucked and shaven.
“Good morning, father,” said Mr. Scolliver, approaching, and displaying a long, cheerful smile. “Got a nice roaster there?” The elder gentleman’s head turned slowly and steadily, as upon a swivel, until his eyes pointed backward; then he drew his arms out of the barrel, and finally, revolving his body till it matched his head, he deliberately mounted upon the supporting block and sat down upon the sharp edge of the barrel in the hot steam. Then he replied, “Good mornin’ Jacob. Fine mornin’.”
“A little warm in spots, I should imagine,” returned the son. “Do you find that a comfortable seat?” “Why-yes-it’s good enough for an old man,” he answered, in a slightly husky voice, and with an uneasy gesture of the legs; “don’t make much difference in this life where we set, if we’re good-does it? This world ain’t heaven, anyhow, I s’spose.”
“There I do not entirely agree with you,” rejoined the young man, composing his body upon a stump for a philosophical argument. “I don’t neither,” added the old one, absently, screwing about on the edge of the barrel and constructing a painful grimace. There was no argument, but a silence instead. Suddenly the aged party sprang off that barrel with exceeding great haste, as of one who has made up his mind to do a thing and is impatient of delay. The seat of his trousers was steaming grandly, the barrel upset, and there was a great wash of hot water, leaving a deposit of spotted pig. In life that pig had belonged to Mr. Scolliver the younger! Mr. Scolliver the younger was angry, but remembering Jefferson’s maxim, he rattled off the number ten, finishing up with “You — thief!” Then perceiving himself very angry, he began all over again and ran up to one hundred, as a monkey scampers up a ladder. As the last syllable shot from his lips he planted a dreadful blow between the old man’s eyes, with a shriek that sounded like —“You son of a sea-cook!”
Mr. Scolliver the elder went down like a stricken beef, and his son often afterward explained that if he had not counted a hundred, and so given himself time to get thoroughly mad, he did not believe he could ever have licked the old man.
Strolling through Lone Mountain cemetery one day my attention was arrested by the inconsolable grief of a granite angel bewailing the loss of “Jacob Hunker, aged 67.” The attitude of utter dejection, the look of matchless misery upon that angel’s face sank into my heart like water into a sponge. I was about to offer some words of condolence when another man, similarly affected, got in before me, and laying a rather unsteady hand upon the celestial shoulder tipped back a very senile hat, and pointing to the name on the stone remarked with the most exact care and scrupulous accent: “Friend of yours, perhaps; been dead long?”
There was no reply; he continued: “Very worthy man, that Jake; knew him up in Tuolumne. Good feller-Jake.” No response: the gentleman settled his hat still farther back, and continued with a trifle less exactness of speech: “I say, young wom’n, Jake was my pard in the mines. Goo’ fell’r I ‘bserved!”
The last sentence was shot straight into the celestial ear at short range. It produced no effect. The gentleman’s patience and rhetorical vigilance were now completely exhausted. He walked round, and planting himself defiantly in front of the vicarious mourner, he stuck his hands doggedly into his pockets and delivered the following rebuke, like the desultory explosions of a bunch of damaged fire-crackers: “It wont do, old girl; ef Jake knowed how you’s treatin’ his old pard he’d jest git up and snatch you bald headed-he would! You ain’t no friend o’ his’n and you ain’t yur fur no good-you bet! Now you jest ‘sling your swag an’ bolt back to heaven, or I’m hanged ef I don’t have suthin’ worse’n horse-stealin’ to answer fur, this time.”
And he took a step forward. At this point I interfered.
At Woodward’s Garden, in the city of San Francisco, is a rather badly chiselled statue of Pandora pulling open her casket of ills. Pandora’s raiment, I grieve to state, has slipped down about her waist in a manner exceedingly reprehensible. One evening about twilight, I was passing that way, and saw a long gaunt miner, evidently just down from the mountains, and whom I had seen before, standing rather unsteadily in front of Pandora, admiring her shapely figure, but seemingly afraid to approach her. Seeing me advance, he turned to me with a queer, puzzled expression in his funny eyes, and said with an earnestness that came near defeating its purpose, “Good ev’n’n t’ye, stranger.” “Good evening, sir,” I replied, after having analyzed his salutation and extracted the sense of it. Lowering his voice to what was intended for a whisper, the miner, with a jerk of his thumb Pandoraward, continued: “Stranger, d’ye hap’n t’know ‘er?” “Certainly; that is Bridget Pandora, a Greek maiden, in the pay of the Board of Supervisors.”
He straightened himself up with a jerk that threatened the integrity of his neck and made his teeth snap, lurched heavily to the other side, oscillated critically for a few moments, and muttered: “Brdgtpnd —.” It was too much for him; he went down into his pocket, fumbled feebly round, and finally drawing out a paper of purely hypothetical tobacco, conveyed it to his mouth and bit off about two-thirds of it, which he masticated with much apparent benefit to his understanding, offering what was left to me. He then resumed the conversation with the easy familiarity of one who has established a claim to respectful attention:
“Pardner, couldn’t ye interdooce a fel’r’s wants tknow’er?” “Impossible; I have not the honour of her acquaintance.” A look of distrust crept into his face, and finally settled into a savage scowl about his eyes. “Sed ye knew ‘er!” he faltered, menacingly. “So I do, but I am not upon speaking terms with her, and-in fact she declines to recognise me.” The soul of the honest miner flamed out; he laid his hand threateningly upon his pistol, jerked himself stiff, glared a moment at me with the look of a tiger, and hurled this question at my head as if it had been an iron interrogation point: “W’at a’ yer ben adoin’ to that gurl?”
I fled, and the last I saw of the chivalrous gold-hunter, he had his arm about Pandora’s stony waist and was endeavouring to soothe her supposed agitation by stroking her granite head.
Our story begins with the death of our hero. The manner of it was decapitation, the instrument a mowing machine. A young son of the deceased, dumb with horror, seized the paternal head and ran with it to the house.
“There!” ejaculated the young man, bowling the gory pate across the threshold at his mother’s feet, “look at that, will you?”
The old lady adjusted her spectacles, lifted the dripping head into her lap, wiped the face of it with her apron, and gazed into its fishy eyes with tender curiosity. “John,” said she, thoughtfully, “is this yours?”
“No, ma, it ain’t none o’ mine.”
“John,” continued she, with a cold, unimpassioned earnestness, “where did you get this thing?”
“Why, ma,” returned the hopeful, “that’s Pap’s.”
“John”— and there was just a touch of severity in her voice —“when your mother asks you a question you should answer that particular question. Where did you get this?”
“Out in the medder, then, if you’re so derned pertikeller,” retorted the youngster, somewhat piqued; “the mowin’ machine lopped it off.”
The old lady rose and restored the head into the hands of the young man. Then, straightening with some difficulty her aged back, and assuming a matronly dignity of bearing and feature, she emitted the rebuke following:
“My son, the gentleman whom you hold in your hand-any more pointed allusion to whom would be painful to both of us-has punished you a hundred times for meddling with things lying about the farm. Take that head back and put it down where you found it, or you will make your mother very angry.”
An old man of seventy-five years lay dying. For a lifetime he had turned a deaf ear to religion, and steeped his soul in every current crime. He had robbed the orphan and plundered the widow; he had wrested from the hard hands of honest toil the rewards of labour; had lost at the gaming-table the wealth with which he should have endowed churches and Sunday schools; had wasted in riotous living the substance of his patrimony, and left his wife and children without bread. The intoxicating bowl had been his god-his belly had absorbed his entire attention. In carnal pleasures passed his days and nights, and to the maddening desires of his heart he had ministered without shame and without remorse. He was a bad, bad egg! And now this hardened iniquitor was to meet his Maker! Feebly and hesitatingly his breath fluttered upon his pallid lips. Weakly trembled the pulse in his flattened veins! Wife, children, mother-in-law, friends, who should have hovered lovingly about his couch, cheering his last moments and giving him medicine, he had killed with grief, or driven widely away; and he was now dying alone by the inadequate light of a tallow candle, deserted by heaven and by earth. No, not by heaven. Suddenly the door was pushed softly open, and there entered the good minister, whose pious counsel the suffering wretch had in health so often derided. Solemnly the man of God advanced, Bible in hand. Long and silently he stood uncovered in the presence of death. Then with cold and impressive dignity he remarked, “Miserable old sinner!”
Old Jonas Lashworthy looked up. He sat up. The voice of that holy man put strength into his aged limbs, and he stood up. He was reserved for a better fate than to die like a neglected dog: Mr. Lashworthy was hanged for braining a minister of the Gospel with a boot-jack. This touching tale has a moral.
MORAL OF THIS TOUCHING TALE. — In snatching a brand from the eternal burning, make sure of its condition, and be careful how you lay hold of it.
I have a friend who was never a church member, but was, and is, a millionaire-a generous benevolent millionaire-who once went about doing good by stealth, but with a natural preference for doing it at his office. One day he took it into his thoughtful noddle that he would like to assist in the erection of a new church edifice, to replace the inadequate and shabby structure in which a certain small congregation in his town then worshipped. So he drew up a subscription paper, modestly headed the list with “Christian, 2000 dollars,” and started one of the Deacons about with it. In a few days the Deacon came back to him, like the dove to the ark, saying he had succeeded in procuring a few names, but the press of his private business was such that he had felt compelled to intrust the paper to Deacon Smith.
Next day the document was presented to my friend, as nearly blank as when it left his hands. Brother Smith explained that he (Smith) had started this thing, and a brother calling himself “Christian,” whose name he was not at liberty to disclose, had put down 2000 dollars. Would our friend aid them with an equal amount? Our friend took the paper and wrote “Philanthropist, 1000 dollars,” and Brother Smith went away.
In about a week Brother Jones put in an appearance with the subscription paper. By extraordinary exertions Brother Jones-thinking a handsome new church would be an ornament to the town and increase the value of real estate-had got two brethren, who desired to remain incog., to subscribe: “Christian” 2000 dollars, and “Philanthropist” 1000 dollars. Would my friend kindly help along a struggling congregation? My friend would. He wrote “Citizen, 500 dollars,” pledging Brother Jones, as he had pledged the others, not to reveal his name until it was time to pay.
Some weeks afterward, a clergyman stepped into my friend’s counting-room, and after smilingly introducing himself, produced that identical subscription list.
“Mr. K.,” said he, “I hope you will pardon the liberty, but I have set on foot a little scheme to erect a new church for our congregation, and three of the brethren have subscribed handsomely. Would you mind doing something to help along the good work?”
My friend glanced over his spectacles at the proffered paper. He rose in his wrath! He towered! Seizing a loaded pen he dashed at that fair sheet and scrabbled thereon in raging characters, “Impenitent Sinner — Not one cent, by G—!”
After a brief explanatory conference, the minister thoughtfully went his way. That struggling congregation still worships devoutly in its original, unpretending temple.
One glorious morning, after the great earthquake of October 21, 1868, had with some difficulty shaken me into my trousers and boots, I left the house. I may as well state that I left it immediately, and by an aperture constructed for another purpose. Arrived in the street, I at once betook myself to saving people. This I did by remarking closely the occurrence of other shocks, giving the alarm and setting an example fit to be followed. The example was followed, but owing to the vigour with which it was set was seldom overtaken. In passing down Clay-street I observed an old rickety brick boarding-house, which seemed to be just on the point of honouring the demands of the earthquake upon its resources. The last shock had subsided, but the building was slowly and composedly settling into the ground. As the third story came down to my level, I observed in one of the front rooms a young and lovely female in white, standing at a door trying to get out. She couldn’t, for the door was locked-I saw her through the key-hole. With a single blow of my heel I opened that door, and opened my arms at the same time.
“Thank God,” cried I, “I have arrived in time. Come to these arms.”
The lady in white stopped, drew out an eye-glass, placed it carefully upon her nose, and taking an inventory of me from head to foot, replied:
“No thank you; I prefer to come to grief in the regular way.”
While the pleasing tones of her voice were still ringing in my ears I noticed a puff of smoke rising from near my left toe. It came from the chimney of that house.
Johnny is a little four-year-old, of bright, pleasant manners, and remarkable for intelligence. The other evening his mother took him upon her lap, and after stroking his curly head awhile, asked him if he knew who made him. I grieve to state that instead of answering “Dod,” as might have been expected, Johnny commenced cramming his face full of ginger-bread, and finally took a fit of coughing that threatened the dissolution of his frame. Having unloaded his throat and whacked him on the back, his mother propounded the following supplementary conundrum:
“Johnny, are you not aware that at your age every little boy is expected to say something brilliant in reply to my former question? How can you so dishonour your parents as to neglect this golden opportunity? Think again.”
The little urchin cast his eyes upon the floor and meditated a long time. Suddenly he raised his face and began to move his lips. There is no knowing what he might have said, but at that moment his mother noted the pressing necessity of wringing and mopping his nose, which she performed with such painful and conscientious singleness of purpose that Johnny set up a war-whoop like that of a night-blooming tomcat.
It may be objected that this little tale is neither instructive nor amusing. I have never seen any stories of bright children that were.
Mr. Goboffle had a small child, no wife, a large dog, and a house. As he was unable to afford the expense of a nurse, he was accustomed to leave the child in the care of the dog, who was much attached to it, while absent at a distant restaurant for his meals, taking the precaution to lock them up together to prevent kidnapping. One day, while at his dinner, he crowded a large, hard-boiled potato down his neck, and it conducted him into eternity. His clay was taken to the Coroner’s, and the great world went on, marrying and giving in marriage, lying, cheating, and praying, as if he had never existed.
Meantime the dog had, after several days of neglect, forced an egress through a window, and a neighbouring baker received a call from him daily. Walking gravely in, he would deposit a piece of silver, and receiving a roll and his change would march off homeward. As this was a rather unusual proceeding in a cur of his species, the baker one day followed him, and as the dog leaped joyously into the window of the deserted house, the man of dough approached and looked in. What was his surprise to see the dog deposit his bread calmly upon the floor and fall to tenderly licking the face of a beautiful child!
It is but fair to explain that there was nothing but the face remaining. But this dog did so love the child!
Two little California boys were arrested at Reno for horse thieving. They had started from Surprise Valley with a cavalcade of thirty animals, and disposed of them leisurely along their line of march, until they were picked up at Reno, as above explained. I don’t feel quite easy about those youths-away out there in Nevada without their Testaments! Where there are no Sunday School books boys are so apt to swear and chew tobacco and rob sluice-boxes; and once a boy begins to do that last he might as well sell out; he’s bound to end by doing something bad! I knew a boy once who began by robbing sluice-boxes, and he went right on from bad to worse, until the last I heard of him he was in the State Legislature, elected by Democratic votes. You never saw anybody take on as his poor old mother did when she heard about it.
“Hank,” said she to the boy’s father, who was forging a bank note in the chimney corner, “this all comes o’ not edgercatin’ ’im when he was a baby. Ef he’d larnt spellin’ and ciferin’ he never could a-ben elected.”
It pains me to state that old Hank didn’t seem to get any thinner under the family disgrace, and his appetite never left him for a minute. The fact is, the old gentleman wanted to go to the United States Senate.
An invalid wife in Leavenworth heard her husband make proposals of marriage to the nurse. The dying woman arose in bed, fixed her large black eyes for a moment upon the face of her heartless spouse with a reproachful intensity that must haunt him through life, and then fell back a corpse. The remorse of that widower, as he led the blushing nurse to the altar the next week, can be more easily imagined than described. Such reparation as was in his power he made. He buried the first wife decently and very deep down, laying a handsome and exceedingly heavy stone upon the sepulchre. He chiselled upon the stone the following simple and touching line: “She can’t get back.”
In a lecture about girls, Cady Stanton contrasted the buoyant spirit of young males with the dejected sickliness of immature women. This, she says, is because the latter are keenly sensitive to the fact that they have no aim in life. This is a sad, sad truth! No longer ago than last year the writer’s youngest girl-Gloriana, a skin-milk blonde concern of fourteen-came pensively up to her father with big tears in her little eyes, and a forgotten morsel of buttered bread lying unchewed in her mouth.
“Papa,” murmured the poor thing, “I’m gettin’ awful pokey, and my clothes don’t seem to set well in the back. My days are full of ungratified longin’s, and my nights don’t get any better. Papa, I think society needs turnin’ inside out and scrapin’. I haven’t got nothin’ to aspire to-no aim; nor anything!”
The desolate creature spilled herself loosely into a cane-bottom chair, and her sorrow broke “like a great dyke broken.”
The writer lifted her tenderly upon his knee and bit her softly on the neck.
“Gloriana,” said he, “have you chewed up all that toffy in two days?”
A smothered sob was her frank confession.
“Now, see here, Glo,” continued the parent, rather sternly, “don’t let me hear any more about ‘aspirations’-which are always adulterated with terra alba-nor ‘aims’-which will give you the gripes like anything. You just take this two shilling-piece and invest every penny of it in lollipops!”
You should have seen the fair, bright smile crawl from one of that innocent’s ears to the other-you should have marked that face sprinkle, all over with dimples-you ought to have beheld the tears of joy jump glittering into her eyes and spill all over her father’s clean shirt that he hadn’t had on more than fifteen minutes! Cady Stanton is impotent of evil in the Grile family so long as the price of sweets remains unchanged.
The writer remembers, as if it were but yesterday, when he edited the Hang Tree Herald. For six months he devoted his best talent to advocating the construction of a railway between that place and Jayhawk, thirty miles distant. The route presented every inducement. There would be no grading required, and not a single curve would be necessary. As it lay through an uninhabited alkali flat, the right of way could be easily obtained. As neither terminus had other than pack-mule communication with civilization, the rolling stock and other material must necessarily be constructed at Hang Tree, because the people at the other end didn’t know enough to do it, and hadn’t any blacksmith. The benefit to our place was indisputable; it constituted the most seductive charm of the scheme. After six months of conscientious lying, the company was incorporated, and the first shovelful of alkali turned up and preserved in a museum, when suddenly the devil put it into the head of one of the Directors to inquire publicly what the road was designed to carry. It is needless to say the question was never satisfactorily answered, and the most daring enterprise of the age was knocked perfectly cold. That very night a deputation of stockholders waited upon the editor of the Herald and prescribed a change of climate. They afterward said the change did them good.
In the season for making presents my friend Stockdoddle Gish, Esq., thought he would so far waive his superiority to the insignificant portion of mankind outside his own waistcoat as to follow one of its customs. Mr. Gish has a friend-a delicate female of the shrinking sort-whom he favours with his esteem as a sort of equivalent for the respect she accords him when he browbeats her. Our hero numbers among the blessings which his merit has extorted from niggardly Nature a gaunt meathound, between whose head and body there exists about the same proportion as between those of a catfish, which he also resembles in the matter of mouth. As to sides, this precious pup is not dissimilar to a crockery crate loosely covered with a wet sheet. In appetite he is liberal and cosmopolitan, loving a dried sheepskin as well in proportion to its weight as a kettle of soap. The village which Mr. Gish honours by his residence has for some years been kept upon the dizzy verge of financial ruin by the maintenance of this animal.
The reader will have already surmised that it was this beast which our hero selected to testify his toleration of his lady friend. There never was a greater mistake. Mr. Gish merely presented her a sheaf of assorted angle-worms, neatly bound with a pink ribbon tied into a simple knot. The dog is an heirloom and will descend to the Gishes of the next generation, in the direct line of inheritance.
About the most ludicrous incident that I remember occurred one day in an ordinarily solemn village in the cow-counties. A worthy matron, who had been absent looking after a vagrom cow, returned home, and pushing against the door found it obstructed by some heavy substance, which, upon examination, proved to be her husband. He had been slaughtered by some roving joker, who had wrought upon him with a pick-handle. To one of his ears was pinned a scrap of greasy paper, upon which were scrambled the following sentiments in pencil~tracks:
“The inqulosed boddy is that uv old Burker. Step litely, stranger, fer yer lize the mortil part uv wat you mus be sum da. Thers arrest for the weery! If Burker heddenta wurkt agin me fer Corner I wuddenta bed to sit on him. Ov setch is the kingum of hevvun! You don’t want to moov this boddy til ime summuns to hold a ninquest. Orl flesh are gras!”
The ridiculous part of the story is that the lady did not wait to summon the Coroner, but took charge of the remains herself; and in dragging them toward the bed she exploded into her face a shotgun, which had been cunningly contrived to discharge by a string connected with the body. Thus was she punished for an infraction of the law. The next day the particulars were told me by the facetious Coroner himself, whose jury had just rendered a verdict of accidental drowning in both cases. I don’t know when I have enjoyed a heartier laugh.
One summer evening, while strolling with considerable difficulty over Russian Hill, San Francisco, Mr. Grile espied a man standing upon the extreme summit, with a pensive brow and a suit of clothes which seemed to have been handed down through a long line of ancestors from a remote Jew peddler. Mr. Grile respectfully saluted; a man who has any clothes at all is to him an object of veneration. The stranger opened the conversation:
“My son,” said he, in a tone suggestive of strangulation by the Sheriff, “do you behold this wonderful city, its wharves crowded with the shipping of all nations?”
Mr. Grile beheld with amazement.
“Twenty-one years ago-alas! it used to be but twenty,” and he wiped away a tear —“you might have bought the whole dern thing for a Mexican ounce.”
Mr. Grile hastened to proffer a paper of tobacco, which disappeared like a wisp of oats drawn into a threshing machine.
“I was one among the first who —”
Mr. Grile hit him on the head with a paving-stone by way of changing the topic.
“Young man,” continued he, “do you feel this bommy breeze? There isn’t a climit in the world —”
This melancholy relic broke down in a fit of coughing. No sooner had he recovered than he leaped into the air, making a frantic clutch at something, but apparently without success.
“Dern it,” hissed he, “there goes my teeth; blowed out again, by hokey!”
A passing cloud of dust hid him for a moment from view, and when he reappeared he was an altered man; a paroxysm of asthma had doubled him up like a nut-cracker.
“Excuse me,” he wheezed, “I’m subject to this; caught it crossin’ the Isthmus in ‘49. As I was a-sayin’, there’s no country in the world that offers such inducements to the immygrunt as Californy. With her fertile soil, her unrivalled climit, her magnificent bay, and the rest of it, there is enough for all.”
This venerable pioneer picked a fragmentary biscuit from the street and devoured it. Mr. Grile thought this had gone on about long enough. He twisted the head off that hopeful old party, surrendered himself to the authorities, and was at once discharged.
A pedagogue in Indiana, who was “had up” for unmercifully waling the back of a little girl, justified his action by explaining that “she persisted in flinging paper pellets at him when his back was turned.” That is no excuse. Mr. Grile once taught school up in the mountains, and about every half hour had to remove his coat and scrape off the dried paper wads adhering to the nap. He never permitted a trifle like this to unsettle his patience; he just kept on wearing that gaberdine until it had no nap and the wads wouldn’t stick. But when they took to dipping them in mucilage he made a complaint to the Board of Directors.
“Young man,” said the Chairman, “ef you don’t like our ways, you’d better sling your blankets and git. Prentice Mulford tort skule yer for more’n six months, and he never said a word agin the wads.”
Mr. Grile briefly explained that Mr. Mulford might have been brought up to paper wads, and didn’t mind them.
“It ain’t no use,” said another Director, “the children hev got to be amused.”
Mr. Grile protested that there were other amusements quite as diverting; but the third Director here rose and remarked:
“I perfeckly agree with the Cheer; this youngster better travel. I consider as paper wads lies at the root uv popillar edyercation; ther a necessary adjunck uv the skool systim. Mr. Cheerman, I move and second that this yer skoolmarster be shot.”
Mr. Grile did not remain to observe the result of the voting.
A citizen of Pittsburg, aged sixty, had, by tireless industry and the exercise of rigid economy, accumulated a hoard of frugal dollars, the sight and feel whereof were to his soul a pure delight. Imagine his sorrow and the heaviness of his aged heart when he learned that the good wife had bestowed thereof upon her brother bountiful largess exceeding his merit. Sadly and prayerfully while she slept lifted he the retributive mallet and beat in her brittle pate. Then with the quiet dignity of one who has redressed a grievous wrong, surrendered himself unto the law this worthy old man. Let him who has never known the great grief of slaughtering a wife judge him harshly. He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone-and let it be a large heavy stone that shall grind that wicked old man into a powder of exceeding impalpability.
The Faithful Wife.
“A man was sentenced to twenty years’ confinement for a deed of violence. In the excitement of the moment his wife sought and obtained a divorce. Thirteen years afterward he was pardoned. The wife brought the pardon to the gate; the couple left the spot arm in arm; and in less than an hour they were again united in the bonds of wedlock.”
Such is the touching tale narrated by a newspaper correspondent. It is in every respect true; I knew the parties well, and during that long bitter period of thirteen years it was commonly asked concerning the woman: “Hasn’t that hag trapped anybody yet? She’ll have to take back old Jabe when he gets out.” And she did. For nearly thirteen weary years she struggled nobly against fate: she went after every unmarried man in her part of the country; but “No,” said they, “we cannot-indeed we cannot-marry you, after the way you went back on Jabe. It is likely that under the same circumstances you would play us the same scurvy trick. G’way, woman!” And so the poor old heartbroken creature had to go to the Governor and get the old man pardoned out. Bless her for her steadfast fidelity!
This, therefore, is the story of her:— Some four years ago her husband brought home a baby, which he said he found lying in the street, and which they concluded to adopt. About a year after this he brought home another, and the good woman thought she could stand that one too. A similar period passed away, when one evening he opened the door and fell headlong into the room, swearing with studied correctness at a dog which had tripped him up, but which upon inspection turned out to be another baby. Margaret’s sus~picion was aroused, but to allay his she hastened to implore him to adopt that darling also, to which, after some slight hesitation, he consented. Another twelvemonth rolled into eternity, when one evening the lady heard a noise in the back yard, and going out she saw her husband labouring at the windlass of the well with unwonted industry. As the bucket neared the top he reached down and extracted another infant, exactly like the former ones, and holding it up, explained to the astonished matron: “Look at this, now; did you ever see such a sweet young one go a-campaignin’ about the country without a lantern and a-tumblin’ into wells? There, take the poor little thing in to the fire, and get off its wet clothes.” It suddenly flashed across his mind that he had neglected an obvious precaution-the clothes were not wet-and he hastily added: “There’s no tellin’ what would have become of it, a-climbin’ down that rope, if I hadn’t seen it afore it got down to the water.”
Silently the good wife took that infant into the house and disrobed it; sorrowfully she laid it alongside its little brothers and sister; long and bitterly she wept over the quartette; and then with one tender look at her lord and master, smoking in solemn silence by the fire, and resembling them with all his might, she gathered her shawl about her bowed shoulders and went away into the night.
I never clearly knew why I visited the old cemetery that night. Perhaps it was to see how the work of removing the bodies was getting on, for they were all being taken up and carted away to a more comfortable place where land was less valuable. It was well enough; nobody had buried himself there for years, and the skeletons that were now exposed were old mouldy affairs for which it was difficult to feel any respect. However, I put a few bones in my pocket as souvenirs. The night was one of those black, gusty ones in March, with great inky clouds driving rapidly across the sky, spilling down sudden showers of rain which as suddenly would cease. I could barely see my way between the empty graves, and in blundering about among the coffins I tripped and fell headlong. A peculiar laugh at my side caused me to turn my head, and I saw a singular old gentleman whom I had often noticed hanging about the Coroner’s office, sitting cross-legged upon a prostrate tombstone.
“How are you, sir?” said I, rising awkwardly to my feet; “nice night.”
“Get off my tail,” answered the elderly party, without moving a muscle.
“My eccentric friend,” rejoined I, mockingly, “may I be permitted to inquire your street and number?”
“Certainly,” he replied, “No. 1, Marle Place, Asphalt Avenue, Hades.”
“The devil!” sneered I.
“Exactly,” said he; “oblige me by getting off my tail.”
I was a little staggered, and by way of rallying my somewhat dazed faculties, offered a cigar: “Smoke?”
“Thank you,” said the singular old gentleman, putting it under his coat; “after dinner. Drink?”
I was not exactly prepared for this, but did not know if it would be safe to decline, and so putting the proffered flask to my lips pretended to swig elaborately, keeping my mouth tightly closed the while. “Good article,” said I, returning it. He simply remarked, “You’re a fool,” and emptied the bottle at a gulp.
“And now,” resumed he, “you will confer a favour I shall highly appreciate by removing your feet from my tail.”
There was a slight shock of earthquake, and all the skeletons in sight arose to their feet, stretched themselves and yawned audibly. Without moving from his seat, the old gentleman rapped the nearest one across the skull with his gold-headed cane, and they all curled away to sleep again.
“Sire,” I resumed, “indulge me in the impertinence of inquiring your business here at this hour.”
“My business is none of yours,” retorted he, calmly; “what are you up to yourself?”
“I have been picking up some bones,” I replied, carelessly.
“Then you are —”
I am —”
“My good friend, you do me injustice. You have doubtless read very frequently in the newspapers of the Fiend in Human Shape whose actions and way of life are so generally denounced. Sire, you see before you that maligned party!”
There was a quick jerk under the soles of my feet, which pitched me prone upon the ground. Scrambling up, I saw the old gentleman vanishing behind an adjacent sandhill as if the devil were after him.
The hotel was in flames. Mr. Pokeweed was promptly on hand, and tore madly into the burning pile, whence he soon emerged with a nude female. Depositing her tenderly upon a pile of hot bricks, he mopped his steaming front with his warm coat-tail.
“Now, Mrs. Pokeweed,” said he, “where will I be most likely to find the children? They will naturally wish to get out.”
The lady assumed a stiffly vertical attitude, and with freezing dignity replied in the words following:
“Sir, you have saved my life; I presume you are entitled to my thanks. If you are likewise solicitous regarding the fate of the person you have mentioned, you had better go back and prospect round till you find her; she would probably be delighted to see you. But while I have a character to maintain unsullied, you shall not stand there and call me Mrs. Pokeweed!”
Just then the front wall toppled outward, and Pokeweed cleared the street at a single bound. He never learned what became of the strange lady, and to the day of his death he professed an indifference that was simply brutal.
Early one evening in the autumn of ‘64, a pale girl stood singing Methodist hymns at the summit of Bush Street hill. She was attired, Spanish fashion, in a loose overcoat and slippers. Suddenly she broke off her song, a dark-browed young soldier from the Presidio cautiously approached, and seizing her fondly in his arms, snatched away the overcoat, retreating with it to an auction-house on Pacific Street, where it may still be seen by the benighted traveller, just a-going for two-and-half-and never gone!
The poor maiden after this misfortune felt a bitter resentment swelling in her heart, and scorning to remain among her kind in that costume, took her way to the Cliff House, where she arrived, worn and weary, about breakfast-time.
The landlord received her kindly, and offered her a pair of his best trousers; but she was of noble blood, and having been reared in luxury, respectfully declined to receive charity from a low-born stranger. All efforts to induce her to eat were equally unavailing. She would stand for hours on the rocks where the road descends to the beach, and gaze at the playful seals in the surf below, who seemed rather flattered by her attention, and would swim about, singing their sweetest songs to her alone. Passers-by were equally curious as to her, but a broken lyre gives forth no music, and her heart responded not with any more long metre hymns.
After a few weeks of this solitary life she was suddenly missed. At the same time a strange seal was noted among the rest. She was remarkable for being always clad in an overcoat, which she had doubtless fished up from the wreck of the French galleon Brignardello, which went ashore there some years afterward.
One tempestuous night, an old hag who had long done business as a hermitess on Helmet Rock came into the bar-room at the Cliff House, and there, amidst the crushing thunders and lightnings spilling all over the horizon, she related that she had seen a young seal in a comfortable overcoat, sitting pensively upon the pinnacle of Seal Rock, and had distinctly heard the familiar words of a Methodist hymn. Upon inquiry the tale was discovered to be founded upon fact. The identity of this seal could no longer be denied without downright blasphemy, and in all the old chronicles of that period not a doubt is even implied.
One day a handsome, dark, young lieutenant of infantry, Don Edmundo by name, came out to the Cliff House to celebrate his recent promotion. While standing upon the verge of the cliff, with his friends all about him, Lady Celia, as visitors had christened her, came swimming below him, and taking off her overcoat, laid it upon a rock. She then turned up her eyes and sang a Methodist hymn.
No sooner did the brave Don Edmundo hear it than he tore off his gorgeous clothes, and cast himself headlong in the billows. Lady Celia caught him dexterously by the waist in her mouth, and, swimming to the outer rock, sat up and softly bit him in halves. She then laid the pieces tenderly in a conspicuous place, put on her overcoat, and plunging into the waters was never seen more.
Many are the wild fabrications of the poets about her subsequent career, but to this day nothing authentic has turned up. For some months strenuous efforts were made to recover the wicked Lieutenant’s body. Every appliance which genius could invent and skill could wield was put in requisition; until one night the landlord, fearing these constant efforts might frighten away the seals, had the remains quietly removed and secretly interred.
One day in ‘49 an honest miner up in Calaveras county, California, bit himself with a small snake of the garter variety, and either as a possible antidote, or with a determination to enjoy the brief remnant of a wasted life, applied a brimming jug of whisky to his lips, and kept it there until, like a repleted leech, it fell off.
The man fell off likewise.
The next day, while the body lay in state upon a pine slab, and the bereaved partner of the deceased was unbending in a game of seven-up with a friendly Chinaman, the game was interrupted by a familiar voice which seemed to proceed from the jaws of the corpse: “I say~Jim!”
Bereaved partner played the king of spades, claimed “high,” and then, looking over his shoulder at the melancholy remains, replied, “Well, what is it, Dave? I’m busy.”
“I say-Jim!” repeated the corpse in the same measured tone.
With a look of intense annoyance, and muttering something about “people that could never stop dead more’n a minute,” the bereaved partner rose and stood over the body with his cards in his hand.
“Jim,” continued the mighty dead, “how fur’s this thing gone?”
“I’ve paid the Chinaman two-and-a-half to dig the grave,” responded the bereaved.
“Did he strike anything?”
The Chinaman looked up: “Me strikee pay dirt; me no bury dead ‘Melican in ’em grave. Me keep ’em claim.”
The corpse sat up erect: “Jim, git my revolver and chase that pig-tail off. Jump his dam sepulchre, and tax his camp five dollars each fer prospectin’ on the public domain. These Mungolyun hordes hez got to be got under. And-I say-Jim! ‘f any more serpents come foolin’ round here drive ’em off. ‘T’aint right to be bitin’ a feller when whisky’s two dollars a gallon. Dern all foreigners, anyhow!”
And the mortal part pulled on its boots.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48