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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter XLIII

Roughing It

Chapter XLIII


However, as I grew better acquainted with the business and learned the
run of the sources of information I ceased to require the aid of fancy to
any large extent, and became able to fill my columns without diverging
noticeably from the domain of fact.

I struck up friendships with the reporters of the other journals, and we
swapped "regulars" with each other and thus economized work. "Regulars"
are permanent sources of news, like courts, bullion returns, "clean-ups"
at the quartz mills, and inquests. Inasmuch as everybody went armed, we
had an inquest about every day, and so this department was naturally set
down among the "regulars." We had lively papers in those days. My great
competitor among the reporters was Boggs of the Union. He was an
excellent reporter. Once in three or four months he would get a little
intoxicated, but as a general thing he was a wary and cautious drinker
although always ready to tamper a little with the enemy. He had the
advantage of me in one thing; he could get the monthly public school
report and I could not, because the principal hated the Enterprise.
One snowy night when the report was due, I started out sadly wondering
how I was going to get it. Presently, a few steps up the almost deserted
street I stumbled on Boggs and asked him where he was going.

"After the school report."

"I'll go along with you."

"No, sir. I'll excuse you."

"Just as you say."

A saloon-keeper's boy passed by with a steaming pitcher of hot punch, and
Boggs snuffed the fragrance gratefully. He gazed fondly after the boy
and saw him start up the Enterprise stairs. I said:

"I wish you could help me get that school business, but since you can't,
I must run up to the Union office and see if I can get them to let me
have a proof of it after they have set it up, though I don't begin to
suppose they will. Good night."

"Hold on a minute. I don't mind getting the report and sitting around
with the boys a little, while you copy it, if you're willing to drop down
to the principal's with me."

"Now you talk like a rational being. Come along."

We plowed a couple of blocks through the snow, got the report and
returned to our office. It was a short document and soon copied.
Meantime Boggs helped himself to the punch. I gave the manuscript back
to him and we started out to get an inquest, for we heard pistol shots
near by. We got the particulars with little loss of time, for it was
only an inferior sort of bar-room murder, and of little interest to the
public, and then we separated. Away at three o'clock in the morning,
when we had gone to press and were having a relaxing concert as usual--
for some of the printers were good singers and others good performers on
the guitar and on that atrocity the accordion--the proprietor of the
Union strode in and desired to know if anybody had heard anything of
Boggs or the school report. We stated the case, and all turned out to
help hunt for the delinquent. We found him standing on a table in a
saloon, with an old tin lantern in one hand and the school report in the
other, haranguing a gang of intoxicated Cornish miners on the iniquity of
squandering the public moneys on education "when hundreds and hundreds of
honest hard-working men are literally starving for whiskey." [Riotous
applause.] He had been assisting in a regal spree with those parties for
hours. We dragged him away and put him to bed.

Of course there was no school report in the Union, and Boggs held me
accountable, though I was innocent of any intention or desire to compass
its absence from that paper and was as sorry as any one that the
misfortune had occurred.

But we were perfectly friendly. The day that the school report was next
due, the proprietor of the "Genessee" mine furnished us a buggy and asked
us to go down and write something about the property--a very common
request and one always gladly acceded to when people furnished buggies,
for we were as fond of pleasure excursions as other people. In due time
we arrived at the "mine"--nothing but a hole in the ground ninety feet
deep, and no way of getting down into it but by holding on to a rope and
being lowered with a windlass. The workmen had just gone off somewhere
to dinner. I was not strong enough to lower Boggs's bulk; so I took an
unlighted candle in my teeth, made a loop for my foot in the end of the
rope, implored Boggs not to go to sleep or let the windlass get the start
of him, and then swung out over the shaft. I reached the bottom muddy
and bruised about the elbows, but safe. I lit the candle, made an
examination of the rock, selected some specimens and shouted to Boggs to
hoist away. No answer. Presently a head appeared in the circle of
daylight away aloft, and a voice came down:

"Are you all set?"

"All set--hoist away."

"Are you comfortable?"

"Perfectly."

"Could you wait a little?"

"Oh certainly--no particular hurry."

"Well--good by."

"Why? Where are you going?"

"After the school report!"

And he did. I staid down there an hour, and surprised the workmen when
they hauled up and found a man on the rope instead of a bucket of rock.
I walked home, too--five miles--up hill. We had no school report next
morning; but the Union had.

Six months after my entry into journalism the grand "flush times" of
Silverland began, and they continued with unabated splendor for three
years. All difficulty about filling up the "local department" ceased,
and the only trouble now was how to make the lengthened columns hold the
world of incidents and happenings that came to our literary net every
day. Virginia had grown to be the "livest" town, for its age and
population, that America had ever produced. The sidewalks swarmed with
people--to such an extent, indeed, that it was generally no easy matter
to stem the human tide. The streets themselves were just as crowded with
quartz wagons, freight teams and other vehicles. The procession was
endless. So great was the pack, that buggies frequently had to wait half
an hour for an opportunity to cross the principal street. Joy sat on
every countenance, and there was a glad, almost fierce, intensity in
every eye, that told of the money-getting schemes that were seething in
every brain and the high hope that held sway in every heart. Money was
as plenty as dust; every individual considered himself wealthy, and a
melancholy countenance was nowhere to be seen. There were military
companies, fire companies, brass bands, banks, hotels, theatres, "hurdy-
gurdy houses," wide-open gambling palaces, political pow-wows, civic
processions, street fights, murders, inquests, riots, a whiskey mill
every fifteen steps, a Board of Aldermen, a Mayor, a City Surveyor, a
City Engineer, a Chief of the Fire Department, with First, Second and
Third Assistants, a Chief of Police, City Marshal and a large police
force, two Boards of Mining Brokers, a dozen breweries and half a dozen
jails and station-houses in full operation, and some talk of building a
church. The "flush times" were in magnificent flower! Large fire-proof
brick buildings were going up in the principal streets, and the wooden
suburbs were spreading out in all directions. Town lots soared up to
prices that were amazing.

The great "Comstock lode" stretched its opulent length straight through
the town from north to south, and every mine on it was in diligent
process of development. One of these mines alone employed six hundred
and seventy-five men, and in the matter of elections the adage was, "as
the 'Gould and Curry' goes, so goes the city." Laboring men's wages were
four and six dollars a day, and they worked in three "shifts" or gangs,
and the blasting and picking and shoveling went on without ceasing, night
and day.

The "city" of Virginia roosted royally midway up the steep side of Mount
Davidson, seven thousand two hundred feet above the level of the sea, and
in the clear Nevada atmosphere was visible from a distance of fifty
miles! It claimed a population of fifteen thousand to eighteen thousand,
and all day long half of this little army swarmed the streets like bees
and the other half swarmed among the drifts and tunnels of the
"Comstock," hundreds of feet down in the earth directly under those same
streets. Often we felt our chairs jar, and heard the faint boom of a
blast down in the bowels of the earth under the office.

The mountain side was so steep that the entire town had a slant to it
like a roof. Each street was a terrace, and from each to the next street
below the descent was forty or fifty feet. The fronts of the houses were
level with the street they faced, but their rear first floors were
propped on lofty stilts; a man could stand at a rear first floor window
of a C street house and look down the chimneys of the row of houses below
him facing D street. It was a laborious climb, in that thin atmosphere,
to ascend from D to A street, and you were panting and out of breath when
you got there; but you could turn around and go down again like a house
a-fire--so to speak. The atmosphere was so rarified, on account of the
great altitude, that one's blood lay near the surface always, and the
scratch of a pin was a disaster worth worrying about, for the chances
were that a grievous erysipelas would ensue. But to offset this, the
thin atmosphere seemed to carry healing to gunshot wounds, and therefore,
to simply shoot your adversary through both lungs was a thing not likely
to afford you any permanent satisfaction, for he would be nearly certain
to be around looking for you within the month, and not with an opera
glass, either.

From Virginia's airy situation one could look over a vast, far-reaching
panorama of mountain ranges and deserts; and whether the day was bright
or overcast, whether the sun was rising or setting, or flaming in the
zenith, or whether night and the moon held sway, the spectacle was always
impressive and beautiful. Over your head Mount Davidson lifted its gray
dome, and before and below you a rugged canyon clove the battlemented
hills, making a sombre gateway through which a soft-tinted desert was
glimpsed, with the silver thread of a river winding through it, bordered
with trees which many miles of distance diminished to a delicate fringe;
and still further away the snowy mountains rose up and stretched their
long barrier to the filmy horizon--far enough beyond a lake that burned
in the desert like a fallen sun, though that, itself, lay fifty miles
removed. Look from your window where you would, there was fascination in
the picture. At rare intervals--but very rare--there were clouds in our
skies, and then the setting sun would gild and flush and glorify this
mighty expanse of scenery with a bewildering pomp of color that held the
eye like a spell and moved the spirit like music.

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Index Index

Prefactory
Contents
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXVIII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII
Chapter LIX
Chapter LX
Chapter LXI
Chapter LXII
Chapter LXIII
Chapter LXIV
Chapter LXV
Chapter LXVI
Chapter LXVII
Chapter LXVIII
Chapter LXIX
Chapter LXX
Chapter LXXI
Chapter LXXII
Chapter LXXIII
Chapter LXXIV
Chapter LXXV
Chapter LXXVI
Chapter LXXVII
Chapter LXXVIII
Chapter LXXIX
Appendix

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