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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter LVIII

Roughing It

Chapter LVIII

For a few months I enjoyed what to me was an entirely new phase of
existence--a butterfly idleness; nothing to do, nobody to be responsible
to, and untroubled with financial uneasiness. I fell in love with the
most cordial and sociable city in the Union. After the sage-brush and
alkali deserts of Washoe, San Francisco was Paradise to me. I lived at
the best hotel, exhibited my clothes in the most conspicuous places,
infested the opera, and learned to seem enraptured with music which
oftener afflicted my ignorant ear than enchanted it, if I had had the
vulgar honesty to confess it. However, I suppose I was not greatly worse
than the most of my countrymen in that. I had longed to be a butterfly,
and I was one at last. I attended private parties in sumptuous evening
dress, simpered and aired my graces like a born beau, and polkad and
schottisched with a step peculiar to myself--and the kangaroo. In a
word, I kept the due state of a man worth a hundred thousand dollars
(prospectively,) and likely to reach absolute affluence when that silver-
mine sale should be ultimately achieved in the East. I spent money with
a free hand, and meantime watched the stock sales with an interested eye
and looked to see what might happen in Nevada.

Something very important happened. The property holders of Nevada voted
against the State Constitution; but the folks who had nothing to lose
were in the majority, and carried the measure over their heads. But
after all it did not immediately look like a disaster, though
unquestionably it was one I hesitated, calculated the chances, and then
concluded not to sell. Stocks went on rising; speculation went mad;
bankers, merchants, lawyers, doctors, mechanics, laborers, even the very
washerwomen and servant girls, were putting up their earnings on silver
stocks, and every sun that rose in the morning went down on paupers
enriched and rich men beggared. What a gambling carnival it was! Gould
and Curry soared to six thousand three hundred dollars a foot! And then
--all of a sudden, out went the bottom and everything and everybody went
to ruin and destruction! The wreck was complete.

The bubble scarcely left a microscopic moisture behind it. I was an
early beggar and a thorough one. My hoarded stocks were not worth the
paper they were printed on. I threw them all away. I, the cheerful
idiot that had been squandering money like water, and thought myself
beyond the reach of misfortune, had not now as much as fifty dollars when
I gathered together my various debts and paid them. I removed from the
hotel to a very private boarding house. I took a reporter's berth and
went to work. I was not entirely broken in spirit, for I was building
confidently on the sale of the silver mine in the east. But I could not
hear from Dan. My letters miscarried or were not answered.

One day I did not feel vigorous and remained away from the office. The
next day I went down toward noon as usual, and found a note on my desk
which had been there twenty-four hours. It was signed "Marshall"--the
Virginia reporter--and contained a request that I should call at the
hotel and see him and a friend or two that night, as they would sail for
the east in the morning. A postscript added that their errand was a big
mining speculation! I was hardly ever so sick in my life. I abused
myself for leaving Virginia and entrusting to another man a matter I
ought to have attended to myself; I abused myself for remaining away from
the office on the one day of all the year that I should have been there.
And thus berating myself I trotted a mile to the steamer wharf and
arrived just in time to be too late. The ship was in the stream and
under way.

I comforted myself with the thought that may be the speculation would
amount to nothing--poor comfort at best--and then went back to my
slavery, resolved to put up with my thirty-five dollars a week and forget
all about it.

A month afterward I enjoyed my first earthquake. It was one which was
long called the "great" earthquake, and is doubtless so distinguished
till this day. It was just after noon, on a bright October day. I was
coming down Third street. The only objects in motion anywhere in sight
in that thickly built and populous quarter, were a man in a buggy behind
me, and a street car wending slowly up the cross street. Otherwise, all
was solitude and a Sabbath stillness. As I turned the corner, around a
frame house, there was a great rattle and jar, and it occurred to me that
here was an item!--no doubt a fight in that house. Before I could turn
and seek the door, there came a really terrific shock; the ground seemed
to roll under me in waves, interrupted by a violent joggling up and down,
and there was a heavy grinding noise as of brick houses rubbing together.
I fell up against the frame house and hurt my elbow. I knew what it was,
now, and from mere reportorial instinct, nothing else, took out my watch
and noted the time of day; at that moment a third and still severer shock
came, and as I reeled about on the pavement trying to keep my footing,
I saw a sight! The entire front of a tall four-story brick building in
Third street sprung outward like a door and fell sprawling across the
street, raising a dust like a great volume of smoke! And here came the
buggy--overboard went the man, and in less time than I can tell it the
vehicle was distributed in small fragments along three hundred yards of

One could have fancied that somebody had fired a charge of chair-rounds
and rags down the thoroughfare. The street car had stopped, the horses
were rearing and plunging, the passengers were pouring out at both ends,
and one fat man had crashed half way through a glass window on one side
of the car, got wedged fast and was squirming and screaming like an
impaled madman. Every door, of every house, as far as the eye could
reach, was vomiting a stream of human beings; and almost before one could
execute a wink and begin another, there was a massed multitude of people
stretching in endless procession down every street my position commanded.
Never was solemn solitude turned into teeming life quicker.

Of the wonders wrought by "the great earthquake," these were all that
came under my eye; but the tricks it did, elsewhere, and far and wide
over the town, made toothsome gossip for nine days.

The destruction of property was trifling--the injury to it was wide-
spread and somewhat serious.

The "curiosities" of the earthquake were simply endless. Gentlemen and
ladies who were sick, or were taking a siesta, or had dissipated till a
late hour and were making up lost sleep, thronged into the public streets
in all sorts of queer apparel, and some without any at all. One woman
who had been washing a naked child, ran down the street holding it by the
ankles as if it were a dressed turkey. Prominent citizens who were
supposed to keep the Sabbath strictly, rushed out of saloons in their
shirt-sleeves, with billiard cues in their hands. Dozens of men with
necks swathed in napkins, rushed from barber-shops, lathered to the eyes
or with one cheek clean shaved and the other still bearing a hairy
stubble. Horses broke from stables, and a frightened dog rushed up a
short attic ladder and out on to a roof, and when his scare was over had
not the nerve to go down again the same way he had gone up.

A prominent editor flew down stairs, in the principal hotel, with nothing
on but one brief undergarment--met a chambermaid, and exclaimed:

"Oh, what shall I do! Where shall I go!"

She responded with naive serenity:

"If you have no choice, you might try a clothing-store!"

A certain foreign consul's lady was the acknowledged leader of fashion,
and every time she appeared in anything new or extraordinary, the ladies
in the vicinity made a raid on their husbands' purses and arrayed
themselves similarly. One man who had suffered considerably and growled
accordingly, was standing at the window when the shocks came, and the
next instant the consul's wife, just out of the bath, fled by with no
other apology for clothing than--a bath-towel! The sufferer rose
superior to the terrors of the earthquake, and said to his wife:

"Now that is something like! Get out your towel my dear!"

The plastering that fell from ceilings in San Francisco that day, would
have covered several acres of ground. For some days afterward, groups of
eyeing and pointing men stood about many a building, looking at long zig-
zag cracks that extended from the eaves to the ground. Four feet of the
tops of three chimneys on one house were broken square off and turned
around in such a way as to completely stop the draft.

A crack a hundred feet long gaped open six inches wide in the middle of
one street and then shut together again with such force, as to ridge up
the meeting earth like a slender grave. A lady sitting in her rocking
and quaking parlor, saw the wall part at the ceiling, open and shut
twice, like a mouth, and then-drop the end of a brick on the floor like a
tooth. She was a woman easily disgusted with foolishness, and she arose
and went out of there. One lady who was coming down stairs was
astonished to see a bronze Hercules lean forward on its pedestal as if to
strike her with its club. They both reached the bottom of the flight at
the same time,--the woman insensible from the fright. Her child, born
some little time afterward, was club-footed. However--on second
thought,--if the reader sees any coincidence in this, he must do it at
his own risk.

The first shock brought down two or three huge organ-pipes in one of the
churches. The minister, with uplifted hands, was just closing the
services. He glanced up, hesitated, and said:

"However, we will omit the benediction!"--and the next instant there was
a vacancy in the atmosphere where he had stood.

After the first shock, an Oakland minister said:

"Keep your seats! There is no better place to die than this"--

And added, after the third:

"But outside is good enough!" He then skipped out at the back door.

Such another destruction of mantel ornaments and toilet bottles as the
earthquake created, San Francisco never saw before. There was hardly a
girl or a matron in the city but suffered losses of this kind. Suspended
pictures were thrown down, but oftener still, by a curious freak of the
earthquake's humor, they were whirled completely around with their faces
to the wall! There was great difference of opinion, at first, as to the
course or direction the earthquake traveled, but water that splashed out
of various tanks and buckets settled that. Thousands of people were made
so sea-sick by the rolling and pitching of floors and streets that they
were weak and bed-ridden for hours, and some few for even days
afterward.--Hardly an individual escaped nausea entirely.

The queer earthquake--episodes that formed the staple of San Francisco
gossip for the next week would fill a much larger book than this, and so
I will diverge from the subject.

By and by, in the due course of things, I picked up a copy of the
Enterprise one day, and fell under this cruel blow:

     NEVADA MINES IN NEW YORK.--G. M. Marshall, Sheba Hurs and Amos H.
     Rose, who left San Francisco last July for New York City, with ores
     from mines in Pine Wood District, Humboldt County, and on the Reese
     River range, have disposed of a mine containing six thousand feet
     and called the Pine Mountains Consolidated, for the sum of
     $3,000,000. The stamps on the deed, which is now on its way to
     Humboldt County, from New York, for record, amounted to $3,000,
     which is said to be the largest amount of stamps ever placed on one
     document. A working capital of $1,000,000 has been paid into the
     treasury, and machinery has already been purchased for a large
     quartz mill, which will be put up as soon as possible. The stock in
     this company is all full paid and entirely unassessable. The ores
     of the mines in this district somewhat resemble those of the Sheba
     mine in Humboldt. Sheba Hurst, the discoverer of the mines, with
     his friends corralled all the best leads and all the land and timber
     they desired before making public their whereabouts. Ores from
     there, assayed in this city, showed them to be exceedingly rich in
     silver and gold--silver predominating. There is an abundance of
     wood and water in the District. We are glad to know that New York
     capital has been enlisted in the development of the mines of this
     region. Having seen the ores and assays, we are satisfied that the
     mines of the District are very valuable--anything but wild-cat.

Once more native imbecility had carried the day, and I had lost a
million! It was the "blind lead" over again.

Let us not dwell on this miserable matter. If I were inventing these
things, I could be wonderfully humorous over them; but they are too true
to be talked of with hearty levity, even at this distant day. [True, and
yet not exactly as given in the above figures, possibly. I saw Marshall,
months afterward, and although he had plenty of money he did not claim to
have captured an entire million. In fact I gathered that he had not then
received $50,000. Beyond that figure his fortune appeared to consist of
uncertain vast expectations rather than prodigious certainties. However,
when the above item appeared in print I put full faith in it, and
incontinently wilted and went to seed under it.] Suffice it that I so
lost heart, and so yielded myself up to repinings and sighings and
foolish regrets, that I neglected my duties and became about worthless,
as a reporter for a brisk newspaper. And at last one of the proprietors
took me aside, with a charity I still remember with considerable respect,
and gave me an opportunity to resign my berth and so save myself the
disgrace of a dismissal.

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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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