The Complete Works of Mark Twain


 
 
Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter LV

Roughing It

Chapter LV


I began to get tired of staying in one place so long.

There was no longer satisfying variety in going down to Carson to report
the proceedings of the legislature once a year, and horse-races and
pumpkin-shows once in three months; (they had got to raising pumpkins and
potatoes in Washoe Valley, and of course one of the first achievements of
the legislature was to institute a ten-thousand-dollar Agricultural Fair
to show off forty dollars' worth of those pumpkins in--however, the
territorial legislature was usually spoken of as the "asylum"). I wanted
to see San Francisco. I wanted to go somewhere. I wanted--I did not
know what I wanted. I had the "spring fever" and wanted a change,
principally, no doubt. Besides, a convention had framed a State
Constitution; nine men out of every ten wanted an office; I believed that
these gentlemen would "treat" the moneyless and the irresponsible among
the population into adopting the constitution and thus well-nigh killing
the country (it could not well carry such a load as a State government,
since it had nothing to tax that could stand a tax, for undeveloped mines
could not, and there were not fifty developed ones in the land, there was
but little realty to tax, and it did seem as if nobody was ever going to
think of the simple salvation of inflicting a money penalty on murder).
I believed that a State government would destroy the "flush times," and I
wanted to get away. I believed that the mining stocks I had on hand
would soon be worth $100,000, and thought if they reached that before the
Constitution was adopted, I would sell out and make myself secure from
the crash the change of government was going to bring. I considered
$100,000 sufficient to go home with decently, though it was but a small
amount compared to what I had been expecting to return with. I felt
rather down-hearted about it, but I tried to comfort myself with the
reflection that with such a sum I could not fall into want. About this
time a schoolmate of mine whom I had not seen since boyhood, came
tramping in on foot from Reese River, a very allegory of Poverty.
The son of wealthy parents, here he was, in a strange land, hungry,
bootless, mantled in an ancient horse-blanket, roofed with a brimless
hat, and so generally and so extravagantly dilapidated that he could have
"taken the shine out of the Prodigal Son himself," as he pleasantly
remarked.

He wanted to borrow forty-six dollars--twenty-six to take him to San
Francisco, and twenty for something else; to buy some soap with, maybe,
for he needed it. I found I had but little more than the amount wanted,
in my pocket; so I stepped in and borrowed forty-six dollars of a banker
(on twenty days' time, without the formality of a note), and gave it him,
rather than walk half a block to the office, where I had some specie laid
up. If anybody had told me that it would take me two years to pay back
that forty-six dollars to the banker (for I did not expect it of the
Prodigal, and was not disappointed), I would have felt injured. And so
would the banker.

I wanted a change. I wanted variety of some kind. It came. Mr. Goodman
went away for a week and left me the post of chief editor. It destroyed
me. The first day, I wrote my "leader" in the forenoon. The second day,
I had no subject and put it off till the afternoon. The third day I put
it off till evening, and then copied an elaborate editorial out of the
"American Cyclopedia," that steadfast friend of the editor, all over this
land. The fourth day I "fooled around" till midnight, and then fell back
on the Cyclopedia again. The fifth day I cudgeled my brain till
midnight, and then kept the press waiting while I penned some bitter
personalities on six different people. The sixth day I labored in
anguish till far into the night and brought forth--nothing. The paper
went to press without an editorial. The seventh day I resigned. On the
eighth, Mr. Goodman returned and found six duels on his hands--my
personalities had borne fruit.

Nobody, except he has tried it, knows what it is to be an editor. It is
easy to scribble local rubbish, with the facts all before you; it is easy
to clip selections from other papers; it is easy to string out a
correspondence from any locality; but it is unspeakable hardship to write
editorials. Subjects are the trouble--the dreary lack of them, I mean.
Every day, it is drag, drag, drag--think, and worry and suffer--all the
world is a dull blank, and yet the editorial columns must be filled.
Only give the editor a subject, and his work is done--it is no trouble to
write it up; but fancy how you would feel if you had to pump your brains
dry every day in the week, fifty-two weeks in the year. It makes one low
spirited simply to think of it. The matter that each editor of a daily
paper in America writes in the course of a year would fill from four to
eight bulky volumes like this book! Fancy what a library an editor's
work would make, after twenty or thirty years' service. Yet people often
marvel that Dickens, Scott, Bulwer, Dumas, etc., have been able to
produce so many books. If these authors had wrought as voluminously as
newspaper editors do, the result would be something to marvel at, indeed.
How editors can continue this tremendous labor, this exhausting
consumption of brain fibre (for their work is creative, and not a mere
mechanical laying-up of facts, like reporting), day after day and year
after year, is incomprehensible. Preachers take two months' holiday in
midsummer, for they find that to produce two sermons a week is wearing,
in the long run. In truth it must be so, and is so; and therefore, how
an editor can take from ten to twenty texts and build upon them from ten
to twenty painstaking editorials a week and keep it up all the year
round, is farther beyond comprehension than ever. Ever since I survived
my week as editor, I have found at least one pleasure in any newspaper
that comes to my hand; it is in admiring the long columns of editorial,
and wondering to myself how in the mischief he did it!

Mr. Goodman's return relieved me of employment, unless I chose to become
a reporter again. I could not do that; I could not serve in the ranks
after being General of the army. So I thought I would depart and go
abroad into the world somewhere. Just at this juncture, Dan, my
associate in the reportorial department, told me, casually, that two
citizens had been trying to persuade him to go with them to New York and
aid in selling a rich silver mine which they had discovered and secured
in a new mining district in our neighborhood. He said they offered to
pay his expenses and give him one third of the proceeds of the sale.
He had refused to go. It was the very opportunity I wanted. I abused
him for keeping so quiet about it, and not mentioning it sooner. He said
it had not occurred to him that I would like to go, and so he had
recommended them to apply to Marshall, the reporter of the other paper.
I asked Dan if it was a good, honest mine, and no swindle. He said the
men had shown him nine tons of the rock, which they had got out to take
to New York, and he could cheerfully say that he had seen but little rock
in Nevada that was richer; and moreover, he said that they had secured a
tract of valuable timber and a mill-site, near the mine. My first idea
was to kill Dan. But I changed my mind, notwithstanding I was so angry,
for I thought maybe the chance was not yet lost. Dan said it was by no
means lost; that the men were absent at the mine again, and would not be
in Virginia to leave for the East for some ten days; that they had
requested him to do the talking to Marshall, and he had promised that he
would either secure Marshall or somebody else for them by the time they
got back; he would now say nothing to anybody till they returned, and
then fulfil his promise by furnishing me to them.

It was splendid. I went to bed all on fire with excitement; for nobody
had yet gone East to sell a Nevada silver mine, and the field was white
for the sickle. I felt that such a mine as the one described by Dan
would bring a princely sum in New York, and sell without delay or
difficulty. I could not sleep, my fancy so rioted through its castles in
the air. It was the "blind lead" come again.

Next day I got away, on the coach, with the usual eclat attending
departures of old citizens,--for if you have only half a dozen friends
out there they will make noise for a hundred rather than let you seem to
go away neglected and unregretted--and Dan promised to keep strict watch
for the men that had the mine to sell.

The trip was signalized but by one little incident, and that occurred
just as we were about to start. A very seedy looking vagabond passenger
got out of the stage a moment to wait till the usual ballast of silver
bricks was thrown in. He was standing on the pavement, when an awkward
express employee, carrying a brick weighing a hundred pounds, stumbled
and let it fall on the bummer's foot. He instantly dropped on the ground
and began to howl in the most heart-breaking way. A sympathizing crowd
gathered around and were going to pull his boot off; but he screamed
louder than ever and they desisted; then he fell to gasping, and between
the gasps ejaculated "Brandy! for Heaven's sake, brandy!" They poured
half a pint down him, and it wonderfully restored and comforted him.
Then he begged the people to assist him to the stage, which was done.
The express people urged him to have a doctor at their expense, but he
declined, and said that if he only had a little brandy to take along with
him, to soothe his paroxyms of pain when they came on, he would be
grateful and content. He was quickly supplied with two bottles, and we
drove off. He was so smiling and happy after that, that I could not
refrain from asking him how he could possibly be so comfortable with a
crushed foot.

"Well," said he, "I hadn't had a drink for twelve hours, and hadn't a
cent to my name. I was most perishing--and so, when that duffer dropped
that hundred-pounder on my foot, I see my chance. Got a cork leg, you
know!" and he pulled up his pantaloons and proved it.

He was as drunk as a lord all day long, and full of chucklings over his
timely ingenuity.

One drunken man necessarily reminds one of another. I once heard a
gentleman tell about an incident which he witnessed in a Californian bar-
room. He entitled it "Ye Modest Man Taketh a Drink." It was nothing but
a bit of acting, but it seemed to me a perfect rendering, and worthy of
Toodles himself. The modest man, tolerably far gone with beer and other
matters, enters a saloon (twenty-five cents is the price for anything and
everything, and specie the only money used) and lays down a half dollar;
calls for whiskey and drinks it; the bar-keeper makes change and lays the
quarter in a wet place on the counter; the modest man fumbles at it with
nerveless fingers, but it slips and the water holds it; he contemplates
it, and tries again; same result; observes that people are interested in
what he is at, blushes; fumbles at the quarter again--blushes--puts his
forefinger carefully, slowly down, to make sure of his aim--pushes the
coin toward the bar-keeper, and says with a sigh:

"Gimme a cigar!"

Naturally, another gentleman present told about another drunken man. He
said he reeled toward home late at night; made a mistake and entered the
wrong gate; thought he saw a dog on the stoop; and it was--an iron one.

He stopped and considered; wondered if it was a dangerous dog; ventured
to say "Be (hic) begone!" No effect. Then he approached warily, and
adopted conciliation; pursed up his lips and tried to whistle, but
failed; still approached, saying, "Poor dog!--doggy, doggy, doggy!--poor
doggy-dog!" Got up on the stoop, still petting with fond names; till
master of the advantages; then exclaimed, "Leave, you thief!"--planted a
vindictive kick in his ribs, and went head-over-heels overboard, of
course. A pause; a sigh or two of pain, and then a remark in a
reflective voice:

"Awful solid dog. What could he ben eating? ('ic!) Rocks, p'raps.
Such animals is dangerous.--' At's what I say--they're dangerous. If a
man--('ic!)--if a man wants to feed a dog on rocks, let him feed him on
rocks; 'at's all right; but let him keep him at home--not have him layin'
round promiscuous, where ('ic!) where people's liable to stumble over him
when they ain't noticin'!"

It was not without regret that I took a last look at the tiny flag (it
was thirty-five feet long and ten feet wide) fluttering like a lady's
handkerchief from the topmost peak of Mount Davidson, two thousand feet
above Virginia's roofs, and felt that doubtless I was bidding a permanent
farewell to a city which had afforded me the most vigorous enjoyment of
life I had ever experienced. And this reminds me of an incident which
the dullest memory Virginia could boast at the time it happened must
vividly recall, at times, till its possessor dies. Late one summer
afternoon we had a rain shower.

That was astonishing enough, in itself, to set the whole town buzzing,
for it only rains (during a week or two weeks) in the winter in Nevada,
and even then not enough at a time to make it worth while for any
merchant to keep umbrellas for sale. But the rain was not the chief
wonder. It only lasted five or ten minutes; while the people were still
talking about it all the heavens gathered to themselves a dense blackness
as of midnight. All the vast eastern front of Mount Davidson, over-
looking the city, put on such a funereal gloom that only the nearness and
solidity of the mountain made its outlines even faintly distinguishable
from the dead blackness of the heavens they rested against. This
unaccustomed sight turned all eyes toward the mountain; and as they
looked, a little tongue of rich golden flame was seen waving and
quivering in the heart of the midnight, away up on the extreme summit!
In a few minutes the streets were packed with people, gazing with hardly
an uttered word, at the one brilliant mote in the brooding world of
darkness. It flicked like a candle-flame, and looked no larger; but with
such a background it was wonderfully bright, small as it was. It was the
flag!--though no one suspected it at first, it seemed so like a
supernatural visitor of some kind--a mysterious messenger of good
tidings, some were fain to believe. It was the nation's emblem
transfigured by the departing rays of a sun that was entirely palled from
view; and on no other object did the glory fall, in all the broad
panorama of mountain ranges and deserts. Not even upon the staff of the
flag--for that, a needle in the distance at any time, was now untouched
by the light and undistinguishable in the gloom. For a whole hour the
weird visitor winked and burned in its lofty solitude, and still the
thousands of uplifted eyes watched it with fascinated interest. How the
people were wrought up! The superstition grew apace that this was a
mystic courier come with great news from the war--the poetry of the idea
excusing and commending it--and on it spread, from heart to heart, from
lip to lip and from street to street, till there was a general impulse to
have out the military and welcome the bright waif with a salvo of
artillery!

And all that time one sorely tried man, the telegraph operator sworn to
official secrecy, had to lock his lips and chain his tongue with a
silence that was like to rend them; for he, and he only, of all the
speculating multitude, knew the great things this sinking sun had seen
that day in the east--Vicksburg fallen, and the Union arms victorious at
Gettysburg!

But for the journalistic monopoly that forbade the slightest revealment
of eastern news till a day after its publication in the California
papers, the glorified flag on Mount Davidson would have been saluted and
re-saluted, that memorable evening, as long as there was a charge of
powder to thunder with; the city would have been illuminated, and every
man that had any respect for himself would have got drunk,--as was the
custom of the country on all occasions of public moment. Even at this
distant day I cannot think of this needlessly marred supreme opportunity
without regret. What a time we might have had!


< Back
Forward >












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

Other Authors Other Authors


Mark Twain. Copyright 2008, mtwain.com
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.