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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter XLVI

Roughing It

Chapter XLVI

There were nabobs in those days--in the "flush times," I mean. Every
rich strike in the mines created one or two. I call to mind several of
these. They were careless, easy-going fellows, as a general thing, and
the community at large was as much benefited by their riches as they were
themselves--possibly more, in some cases.

Two cousins, teamsters, did some hauling for a man and had to take a
small segregated portion of a silver mine in lieu of $300 cash. They
gave an outsider a third to open the mine, and they went on teaming. But
not long. Ten months afterward the mine was out of debt and paying each
owner $8,000 to $10,000 a month--say $100,000 a year.

One of the earliest nabobs that Nevada was delivered of wore $6,000 worth
of diamonds in his bosom, and swore he was unhappy because he could not
spend his money as fast as he made it.

Another Nevada nabob boasted an income that often reached $16,000 a
month; and he used to love to tell how he had worked in the very mine
that yielded it, for five dollars a day, when he first came to the

The silver and sage-brush State has knowledge of another of these pets of
fortune--lifted from actual poverty to affluence almost in a single
night--who was able to offer $100,000 for a position of high official
distinction, shortly afterward, and did offer it--but failed to get it,
his politics not being as sound as his bank account.

Then there was John Smith. He was a good, honest, kind-hearted soul,
born and reared in the lower ranks of life, and miraculously ignorant.
He drove a team, and owned a small ranch--a ranch that paid him a
comfortable living, for although it yielded but little hay, what little
it did yield was worth from $250 to $300 in gold per ton in the market.
Presently Smith traded a few acres of the ranch for a small undeveloped
silver mine in Gold Hill. He opened the mine and built a little
unpretending ten-stamp mill. Eighteen months afterward he retired from
the hay business, for his mining income had reached a most comfortable
figure. Some people said it was $30,000 a month, and others said it was
$60,000. Smith was very rich at any rate.

And then he went to Europe and traveled. And when he came back he was
never tired of telling about the fine hogs he had seen in England, and
the gorgeous sheep he had seen in Spain, and the fine cattle he had
noticed in the vicinity of Rome. He was full of wonders of the old
world, and advised everybody to travel. He said a man never imagined
what surprising things there were in the world till he had traveled.

One day, on board ship, the passengers made up a pool of $500, which was
to be the property of the man who should come nearest to guessing the run
of the vessel for the next twenty-four hours. Next day, toward noon, the
figures were all in the purser's hands in sealed envelopes. Smith was
serene and happy, for he had been bribing the engineer. But another
party won the prize! Smith said:

"Here, that won't do! He guessed two miles wider of the mark than I did."

The purser said, "Mr. Smith, you missed it further than any man on board.
We traveled two hundred and eight miles yesterday."

"Well, sir," said Smith, "that's just where I've got you, for I guessed
two hundred and nine. If you'll look at my figgers again you'll find a 2
and two 0's, which stands for 200, don't it?--and after 'em you'll find a
9 (2009), which stands for two hundred and nine. I reckon I'll take that
money, if you please."

The Gould & Curry claim comprised twelve hundred feet, and it all
belonged originally to the two men whose names it bears. Mr. Curry owned
two thirds of it--and he said that he sold it out for twenty-five hundred
dollars in cash, and an old plug horse that ate up his market value in
hay and barley in seventeen days by the watch. And he said that Gould
sold out for a pair of second-hand government blankets and a bottle of
whisky that killed nine men in three hours, and that an unoffending
stranger that smelt the cork was disabled for life. Four years afterward
the mine thus disposed of was worth in the San Francisco market seven
millions six hundred thousand dollars in gold coin.

In the early days a poverty-stricken Mexican who lived in a canyon
directly back of Virginia City, had a stream of water as large as a man's
wrist trickling from the hill-side on his premises. The Ophir Company
segregated a hundred feet of their mine and traded it to him for the
stream of water. The hundred feet proved to be the richest part of the
entire mine; four years after the swap, its market value (including its
mill) was $1,500,000.

An individual who owned twenty feet in the Ophir mine before its great
riches were revealed to men, traded it for a horse, and a very sorry
looking brute he was, too. A year or so afterward, when Ophir stock went
up to $3,000 a foot, this man, who had not a cent, used to say he was the
most startling example of magnificence and misery the world had ever
seen--because he was able to ride a sixty-thousand-dollar horse--yet
could not scrape up cash enough to buy a saddle, and was obliged to
borrow one or ride bareback. He said if fortune were to give him another
sixty-thousand-dollar horse it would ruin him.

A youth of nineteen, who was a telegraph operator in Virginia on a salary
of a hundred dollars a month, and who, when he could not make out German
names in the list of San Francisco steamer arrivals, used to ingeniously
select and supply substitutes for them out of an old Berlin city
directory, made himself rich by watching the mining telegrams that passed
through his hands and buying and selling stocks accordingly, through a
friend in San Francisco. Once when a private dispatch was sent from
Virginia announcing a rich strike in a prominent mine and advising that
the matter be kept secret till a large amount of the stock could be
secured, he bought forty "feet" of the stock at twenty dollars a foot,
and afterward sold half of it at eight hundred dollars a foot and the
rest at double that figure. Within three months he was worth $150,000,
and had resigned his telegraphic position.

Another telegraph operator who had been discharged by the company for
divulging the secrets of the office, agreed with a moneyed man in San
Francisco to furnish him the result of a great Virginia mining lawsuit
within an hour after its private reception by the parties to it in San
Francisco. For this he was to have a large percentage of the profits on
purchases and sales made on it by his fellow-conspirator. So he went,
disguised as a teamster, to a little wayside telegraph office in the
mountains, got acquainted with the operator, and sat in the office day
after day, smoking his pipe, complaining that his team was fagged out and
unable to travel--and meantime listening to the dispatches as they passed
clicking through the machine from Virginia. Finally the private dispatch
announcing the result of the lawsuit sped over the wires, and as soon as
he heard it he telegraphed his friend in San Francisco:

"Am tired waiting. Shall sell the team and go home."

It was the signal agreed upon. The word "waiting" left out, would have
signified that the suit had gone the other way.

The mock teamster's friend picked up a deal of the mining stock, at low
figures, before the news became public, and a fortune was the result.

For a long time after one of the great Virginia mines had been
incorporated, about fifty feet of the original location were still in the
hands of a man who had never signed the incorporation papers. The stock
became very valuable, and every effort was made to find this man, but he
had disappeared. Once it was heard that he was in New York, and one or
two speculators went east but failed to find him. Once the news came
that he was in the Bermudas, and straightway a speculator or two hurried
east and sailed for Bermuda--but he was not there. Finally he was heard
of in Mexico, and a friend of his, a bar-keeper on a salary, scraped
together a little money and sought him out, bought his "feet" for a
hundred dollars, returned and sold the property for $75,000.

But why go on? The traditions of Silverland are filled with instances
like these, and I would never get through enumerating them were I to
attempt do it. I only desired to give, the reader an idea of a
peculiarity of the "flush times" which I could not present so strikingly
in any other way, and which some mention of was necessary to a realizing
comprehension of the time and the country.

I was personally acquainted with the majority of the nabobs I have
referred to, and so, for old acquaintance sake, I have shifted their
occupations and experiences around in such a way as to keep the Pacific
public from recognizing these once notorious men. No longer notorious,
for the majority of them have drifted back into poverty and obscurity

In Nevada there used to be current the story of an adventure of two of
her nabobs, which may or may not have occurred. I give it for what it is

Col. Jim had seen somewhat of the world, and knew more or less of its
ways; but Col. Jack was from the back settlements of the States, had led
a life of arduous toil, and had never seen a city. These two, blessed
with sudden wealth, projected a visit to New York,--Col. Jack to see the
sights, and Col. Jim to guard his unsophistication from misfortune. They
reached San Francisco in the night, and sailed in the morning. Arrived
in New York, Col. Jack said:

"I've heard tell of carriages all my life, and now I mean to have a ride
in one; I don't care what it costs. Come along."

They stepped out on the sidewalk, and Col. Jim called a stylish barouche.
But Col. Jack said:

"No, sir! None of your cheap-John turn-outs for me. I'm here to have a
good time, and money ain't any object. I mean to have the nobbiest rig
that's going. Now here comes the very trick. Stop that yaller one with
the pictures on it--don't you fret--I'll stand all the expenses myself."

So Col. Jim stopped an empty omnibus, and they got in. Said Col. Jack:

"Ain't it gay, though? Oh, no, I reckon not! Cushions, and windows, and
pictures, till you can't rest. What would the boys say if they could see
us cutting a swell like this in New York? By George, I wish they could
see us."

Then he put his head out of the window, and shouted to the driver:

"Say, Johnny, this suits me!--suits yours truly, you bet, you! I want
this shebang all day. I'm on it, old man! Let 'em out! Make 'em go!
We'll make it all right with you, sonny!"

The driver passed his hand through the strap-hole, and tapped for his
fare--it was before the gongs came into common use. Col. Jack took the
hand, and shook it cordially. He said:

"You twig me, old pard! All right between gents. Smell of that, and see
how you like it!"

And he put a twenty-dollar gold piece in the driver's hand. After a
moment the driver said he could not make change.

"Bother the change! Ride it out. Put it in your pocket."

Then to Col. Jim, with a sounding slap on his thigh:

"Ain't it style, though? Hanged if I don't hire this thing every day for
a week."

The omnibus stopped, and a young lady got in. Col. Jack stared a moment,
then nudged Col. Jim with his elbow:

"Don't say a word," he whispered. "Let her ride, if she wants to.
Gracious, there's room enough."

The young lady got out her porte-monnaie, and handed her fare to Col.

"What's this for?" said he.

"Give it to the driver, please."

"Take back your money, madam. We can't allow it. You're welcome to ride
here as long as you please, but this shebang's chartered, and we can't
let you pay a cent."

The girl shrunk into a corner, bewildered. An old lady with a basket
climbed in, and proffered her fare.

"Excuse me," said Col. Jack. "You're perfectly welcome here, madam, but
we can't allow you to pay. Set right down there, mum, and don't you be
the least uneasy. Make yourself just as free as if you was in your own

Within two minutes, three gentlemen, two fat women, and a couple of
children, entered.

"Come right along, friends," said Col. Jack; "don't mind us. This is a
free blow-out." Then he whispered to Col. Jim,

"New York ain't no sociable place, I don't reckon--it ain't no name for

He resisted every effort to pass fares to the driver, and made everybody
cordially welcome. The situation dawned on the people, and they pocketed
their money, and delivered themselves up to covert enjoyment of the
episode. Half a dozen more passengers entered.

"Oh, there's plenty of room," said Col. Jack. "Walk right in, and make
yourselves at home. A blow-out ain't worth anything as a blow-out,
unless a body has company." Then in a whisper to Col. Jim: "But ain't
these New Yorkers friendly? And ain't they cool about it, too? Icebergs
ain't anywhere. I reckon they'd tackle a hearse, if it was going their

More passengers got in; more yet, and still more. Both seats were
filled, and a file of men were standing up, holding on to the cleats
overhead. Parties with baskets and bundles were climbing up on the roof.
Half-suppressed laughter rippled up from all sides.

"Well, for clean, cool, out-and-out cheek, if this don't bang anything
that ever I saw, I'm an Injun!" whispered Col. Jack.

A Chinaman crowded his way in.

"I weaken!" said Col. Jack. "Hold on, driver! Keep your seats, ladies,
and gents. Just make yourselves free--everything's paid for. Driver,
rustle these folks around as long as they're a mind to go--friends of
ours, you know. Take them everywheres--and if you want more money, come
to the St. Nicholas, and we'll make it all right. Pleasant journey to
you, ladies and gents--go it just as long as you please--it shan't cost
you a cent!"

The two comrades got out, and Col. Jack said:

"Jimmy, it's the sociablest place I ever saw. The Chinaman waltzed in as
comfortable as anybody. If we'd staid awhile, I reckon we'd had some
niggers. B' George, we'll have to barricade our doors to-night, or some
of these ducks will be trying to sleep with us."

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Index Index

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 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 LXXIX

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