James Wiswell Coffin, 3d, was the first of the three adventurers to
leave the restaurant, and as he turned up Kearney Street he had a new
but fully fledged philosophy buzzing in his brain. Enlightenment had
come in a hint dropped by Coffee John himself. It took a Harvard man and
a Bostonian of Puritan stock to hatch that chick of thought, but, by the
time the coffee was finished, the mental egg broke and an idea burst
upon him. It was this:
“Facts show that good luck is stable for a while and is then followed by
a run of misfortune. The mathematical ideal of alternate favorable and
unfavorable combinations does not often occur. There is where the great
Law of Probabilities falls down hard. The curve of fortune is like a
wave. It should then be played heavily while it ascends, and lightly on
the decline. Mine is undoubtedly rising. Go to! I shall proceed to
But how gamble at midnight with a capital of but one dime? In no other
city in the world is it so easy as in San Francisco, that quaint
rendezvous of saloons and cigar stands. There the goddess Fortuna has a
shrine on every street corner and the offerings of her devotees produce
a rattle as characteristic of the town as the slap of the cable pulley
in the conduit of the car lines. The cigar slot-machine or
“hard-luck-box” is a nickel lottery played by good and bad alike; for it
has a reputation no shadier than the church-raffle or the juvenile
grab-bag, and is tolerated as a harmless safety-valve for the lust of
gaming. All the same, it is the perpetual ubiquitous delusion of the
Gunschke’s cigar shop was still open as Coffin reached the corner of
Brush Street. He walked briskly inside the open sales-room (for a cigar
shop has but three walls in San Francisco’s gentle clime) and, with the
assurance of one who has just touched a humpback and the carelessness of
a millionaire, he exchanged Coffee John’s dime for two nickels, dropped
one down the slot of the machine on the counter and sprang the handle.
The five wheels of playing-cards whirled madly, then stopped, leaving a
poker-hand exposed behind the wire. He had caught a pair of kings, good
for a “bit” cigar.
Coffin was disappointed, and yet, after all, there was a slight gain in
the transaction. Investing five cents, he had won twelve and a half
cents’ worth of merchandise. It was not sufficiently marvellous to turn
his head, but his luck was evidently on the up-curve, though it was
rising slowly enough. He took the other nickel—his last—and jerked the
handle again, awaiting with calmness for the cards to come to a
As the wheels settled into place a man with green eyes and a bediamonded
shirt front came up and leaned over Coffin’s shoulder. “Good work! A
straight flush, by crickety!—forty cigars! Get in and break the bank,
Coffin turned to him with nonchalance, while the clerk marked the
winning in a book. “Nn—nn! I know when I’ve got enough.”
“Play for me then, will you?” the other rejoined. “You’ve got luck, you
“I don’t propose to make a present of it to you, if I have; I need every
stitch of it myself.” And then Coffin, touched with a happy thought,
began to swagger. “Besides, if I’m going to smoke this forty up to-night
I’ve got to get busy with myself.” He looked knowingly at the goods
displayed for his choice, pinching the wrappers. “I’ve never had all the
cigars I could smoke yet, and I’m going to try my limit. Got any
Africana Panatelas, Colorado Maduro?” he asked the clerk. A small box
was taken down from the shelf. Coffin accepted it and walked leisurely
toward the door.
“Good Lord!” cried the stranger, following him. “You don’t think you can
tackle forty cigars on a stretch, do you? Kid, it’ll kill you!”
“It’s a beautiful death,” Coffin replied, jauntily, “you can tell mamma
I died happy.” The cigar clerk grinned.
“Strikes me you’re troubled with youngness,” said the stranger, looking
Coffin ruffled at his patronizing tone. “See here! D’you think I can’t
get away with these forty cigars, smoking ’em in an end-to-end chain
down to one-inch butts?”
“I bet you a hundred dollars you get sick as a pig first!” was the
“Taken!” Coffin cried, and went at him with fire in his eye. “See here,
I left all my money on my grand piano, but if you’ll trust me I’ll trust
you without stakes held. We’ll get the clerk here to see fair play, and
if I don’t see this box to a finish or pay up, you two can push the face
off me. What d’you say?”
The green-eyed stranger, who had evidently money to spend foolishly, and
a night to waste in doing it, assented jovially. It is not hard to
organize an impromptu trio for any hair-brained purpose whatever in that
land of careless comradeship. The two waited till the clerk had put up
the screen at the front of the shop, and then walked with him round to
California Street. Half way up the first block stood an old-fashioned
wooden house painted drab, with green blinds, in striking contrast to
the high brick buildings that surrounded it. The frame had been brought
round Cape Horn in ’49, and, in pioneer days, the place had been one of
the most fashionable boarding-houses in town. Chinatown now crowded it
in; it had fallen into disrepute, and was visited only by the poorer
class of foreigners. Over the entrance was a sign bearing the
inscription, “Hotel de France.” Here the salesman had a room.
The lower part of the house was dark, but in answer to a prolonged
ringing of the bell, a small boy appeared and, with many comments in a
_patois_ of the Bas Pyrenees, lighted two lamps in the barroom. The
three men sat down and took off their coats and collars for comfort.
James Wiswell Coffin, 3d, opened the box of Panatelas and regarded them
with a sentimental eye.
He bit the end off the first cigar and struck a match. Then he bowed to
the company with the theatrical air of a man about to touch off a loaded
bomb. “Gentlemen, I proceed to take my degree of Bachelor of Nicotine,
if I don’t flunk.” He lighted the tobacco, quoting, “_Ave, Caesar!
Morituri te salutant!_” and blew forth a ring of smoke. It floated
upward, smooth and even, hovered over his head a moment like a halo,
then, writhing, scattered and drifted away. Coffin removed the cigar
from his mouth and looked thoughtfully at the ash.
“It burns all right,” he said, “I won’t have to put kerosene on ’em to
make ’em go. D’you know a Panatela always reminds me of a smart,
tailor-made girl. It’s the most slenderly beautiful shape for a cigar;
it’s gracile, by Jove, gracile and jimpriculate—I got that word in
Kentucky. But I chatter, friends, I am garrulous. Besides I think I have
now said all I know, and it’s your edge, stranger. How would it do for
you to enliven the pink and frisky watches of the night by narrating a
few of the more inflammable chapters of your autobiography?”
Thus conjured by the imp, the stranger consented to relate, after a few
preliminaries, the following tale:
THE STORY OF THE RETURNED KLONDYKER
This is pretty near the finish, young fellow, of the biggest spending
jag this town ever saw. The money cost me sixteen years of tramping and
trading and frozen toes, and then it came slap, all in a bunch. So easy
come, easy go, says I.
I was breaking north, the year of the big find, when I struck hard luck.
That’s too long a yarn to tell. But the end was that I landed two
hundred miles from Nowhere, cracked in the head from behind and left for
dead in the snow. The Malemute that did it had his finish in Dawson that
winter by the rope route, spoiling the shot I was saving for him.
I was stooping over, fixing a sled-runner, when—biff!… I woke up in an
Indian hut filled with smoke. The whole works were buzzing round, and a
lot of big husky bucks and squaws grunting over me. I was for getting up
and cleaning them out, but I hadn’t the strength. For a month I was plum
nutty. But every little while, when my head cleared, I’d look up to see
a good-natured looking brown girl with black eyes taking care of me as
carefully as if she was a trained nurse.
As I got over the fever slowly, I made out, she telling me in Chinook,
that she had found me half frozen to death, and had carried me fifty
miles by sled. How she did it the Lord only knows. Maybe it was because
she was gone on me, which I oughtn’t to say, neither, but she sure was.
I did a heap of thinking. She had grit and gentleness, and the feelings
of a lady, which is what every woman that calls herself such hasn’t got,
and the more I saw of her the better I liked her. So when I got well I
had a pow-wow with her father, who was chief of the tribe, and I bought
her for ten dogs on tick and my gun, which the durned thief had forgot
in the mix-up, and sixty tin tags I’d been saving from plucks of tobacco
to get a free meerschaum pipe with. We were married Indian fashion,
which is pretty easy, and she came and lived with me in my hut.
Since then I’ve had plenty of the stuff that’s supposed to make a man
happy, but I’m blowed if I was ever happier than I was that winter,
living with the tribe and married to Kate.
Well, that winter was over with at last. It came spring, or what you
might call such, with the ice beginning to melt and the sun getting up
for a little while every day, lighter and lighter. One day Kate and I
went fishing. She pulled in her line and I saw something that made me
forget I was an Indian, adopted into the tribe, all regular. Her sinker
was a gold nugget as big as the fist on a papoose!
I knew it the minute I laid my eyes on it, though it was all black with
water and weather. I grabbed it and cut it. It was as soft as lead,
“Where did you ever get that?” I said.
“Up by the Katakoolanat Pass,” she said, unconcerned-like, as if it was
pig-iron. “I picked it up because it was heavy.”
“Can you find the place again?” I asked her.
She studied a while. But the Indians never forget anything. It’s
book-learning that makes you forget. I knew she’d remember before she
got through, and she did. She took her fish-line and laid it out in
funny curves and loops on the top of the snow like a map, knotting it
here and there to show places she knew, mountain-peaks, lakes and
such-like. Then she pointed out the way with her finger. She had it down
fine. When she got done she looked up to me with a grin and said: “Why?”
Then it came to me all of a sudden that she had no idea of the worth of
her find. This was before the big rush, and her tribe didn’t see white
men more than twice a year. Their regular hunting grounds were far to
the north. They traded skins and dogs and fish once in a while with
traders, and got beads and truck in return. With the other Indians they
made change by strings of wampum they call alligacheeks. She had no idea
of the value of gold, and she’d never seen a piece of money in her life.
But I didn’t stop to explain then.
“Come on,” I said, “we’re going to borrow dogs, and sled north to the
Katakoolanat country for sure!” She never said a word, but packed up and
followed, the way she was trained to do.
We found the place the third day, just like she said we would. Lord,
that was a bonanza all right! You could dig out nuggets with a stick. It
was the Katakoolanat diggings you may have heard about.
When I had staked out my claims, two prospectors got wind of it and
started the rush. I got our band to move up and help me hold my rights,
and when some Seattle agents offered me four hundred thousand dollars
for my claims, I took it, you bet.
The first thing I did after that was to pay back a hundred dogs for the
ten I had promised for Kate; then I bought up all the provisions I could
get hold of—eggs a dollar apiece, bacon five dollars a pound—and I fed
our band of Indians till they couldn’t hold any more. It was Kate
brought me the luck, and I felt the winnings were more hers than mine.
There wasn’t anything too good for her. When a Scandihoovian missionary
came up to the place we went and got married white fashion, for I wanted
my wife to be respected, and after that I always insisted that everybody
should call her Mrs. Saul Timney, which made her feel about six foot
high every time she heard it.
Well, sir, Kate was a study in those times. She couldn’t quite get it
through her head for a good while why we could put it over the rest of
’em the way we did. The more I got for her, the more puzzled she was. I
recall the first time she ever saw money passed. It was when I bought
the dogs. I was paying twenty-dollar gold pieces out of a sack, and she
asked me what they were. She thought they were stones, because they
looked more than anything else like the flat, round pebbles she had seen
on the beach, the kind you throw to skip on the water.
“They’re just all alligacheek,” I said; then, partly for the joke on
her, I said, “Good medicine (meaning magic); you can get anything you
want with ’em!”
“Give me some,” said Kate, not quite believing me, for it was a pretty
big story to swallow, according to her ideas, so I handed her over a
stack of twenties.
She took them and went out to try the magic. Going up to the first man
she met, she held out the whole lot to him, asking him for his slicker.
When I came up and said it was all right, he peeled it right off and
handed it over to her, grabbing the money quick. That was a new one on
her, and she couldn’t quite believe it even then. Well, it was funny to
see the way she acted. She pretty near bought up everything in camp she
took a fancy to, just for the fun of seeing the magic work, and she was
as excited as a kid with a brand new watch.
We came out of the country finally, and took a steamer for San
Francisco, for I wanted to see the old town again and show Kate what big
cities were like, besides giving her the chance to spend all the money
she wanted on togs and jewelry. We drove up from the wharf in the best
turn-out I could find, and put up at the Palace Hotel in the bridal
suite. The best was none too good for Kate and me while I was flush.
I rather guess we broke the record for spending, the two weeks we stayed
there. I had three or four cases of champagne open in my room all the
time, and the bell-boys got so they knew they didn’t have to be asked,
but would just pop the cork and let her fizz. I got a great big
music-box that cost more than a piano, with drums and bells inside, and
we kept it a-going while we were eating, which was most of the time we
weren’t out doing the town. I blowed myself for an outfit of sparklers,
which this stone here in my shirt-front is the last, sole survivor. I
bought more clothes than I could wear out in ten years.
Kate went me one better. Gee! She _did_ have a time! Of course,
woman-like, though she was a squaw, the first thing she thought about,
after she saw white ladies on the wharves, at Skagway, was clothes. Mrs.
Saul Timney had to dress the part, and she was bound to do it if it
half-killed her, which it did. She bought a whole civilised outfit of
duds at the White House in ’Frisco, and got the chambermaid to help her
into ’em; that’s where she got the first jolt. It wasn’t so easy as it
looked. She couldn’t walk in the high-heeled shoes they wear here, and
so she kept on moccasins. Corsets she gave up early in the game. They
didn’t show, anyway, being inside. Finally she got a dressmaker to rig
her up a sort of a loose red dress that they call a Mother Hubbard. Her
favourite cover was an ermine cape. She bought it because it cost more
than anything else in the fur store. She just splurged on hats and
bonnets. I reckon she had a new one every day. The thing that tickled
her most was gloves, for her hands were good and little. She wore white
ones all the time. I s’pose it was because she felt she looked more like
an American woman that way.
The swell togs she couldn’t wear she bought just the same. We skated
through town like a forest-fire, me doing the talking and her the
picking out. She got darned near everything that I ever knew women wore,
and a big lot of others I never had heard of.
Every time she picked a thing, and pulled out the yellow boys to pay for
it her eyes stuck out. Of course, not being used to doing business that
way, it looked to her like every clerk behind the counter was her slave,
all ready to give her anything she said. She never got over her wonder
at the “medicine stones.”
She had to stop in front of every jewelry store she saw, too, but I
couldn’t get her to buy anything worth wearing. She just turned up her
nose at diamonds and rubies, but at the sight of a cheap string of beads
she went out of her head. She generally wore five or six necklaces of
’em over her cape. Lord, I didn’t care, and what she wanted, she got.
Well, after she’d let the money run away from her for a couple of weeks,
she got tired of the game and kind of homesick. She begun to pine for
cold weather and ice and all, while I was just beginning to enjoy the
place. I tried to brace her up, and thinking it might please her to hear
the seals bark at the Cliff House, we drove out there in a hack.
We were down to the “White House” store one day, when I run slap into
Flora Donovan, that used to live next door to us in Virginia City. She
was only a kid when I went north. She’d grown up into considerable of a
woman now, but I knew her. So I went up to her, and offered to shake
hands. She glared pretty hard till I told her who I was and how money
had come my way. It seems her folks had struck it rich, too, and she had
more money than she knew what to do with.
When Flora caught sight of Kate, staring at her, behind me, she flopped
up one of those spectacles with handles, and her eyebrows went up at the
same time. She froze like an ice-pack. I allow the two women didn’t look
much alike, but I wouldn’t let anybody snub my wife if I could help it,
so I introduced them, calling Kate Mrs. Saul Timney, the way she liked
to have me. Flora sprang something about being “charmed,” and then said
she had to be going. Said she hoped I’d call, but nothing about Kate, I
I followed her off with my eyes, she was so pretty and high-toned now,
the first decent white woman I’d talked to in years, and, honest—oh,
well, hang it, a man’s got no license to be ashamed of his wife, but I
don’t know—Kate did look kind of funny in that red Mother Hubbard and
the ermine cape and straw hat, with moccasins and five strings of glass
beads—doggone it, I hated myself for being ashamed of her, which I
wasn’t, really, only somehow she looked different than she did before.
I tried to get her away, but she stood stock-still watching Flora, who
had walked off down to the cloak department at the end of the aisle. But
if Kate don’t want to move, all hell and an iceberg can’t budge her, and
I stood waiting to think how I’d square myself with her, feeling guilty
enough, though I was just as fond of my wife as ever. All of a sudden
Kate made a break for the counter where Flora Donovan was buying a
cloak. The clerks all knew Kate by this time, and the floorwalker chap
would come on the hop-skip-and-a-jump and turn the shop upside down for
her. So when she came up behind Miss Donovan, and pointed to three or
four expensive heavy cloaks and threw out a sack of double eagles to pay
for ’em, letting the clerk take out what he wanted, she had everybody
around staring at her, Flora included.
I could see well enough what was in Kate’s mind. She had seen that I was
just a little ashamed of her, for some reason, and that Flora didn’t
think she was in her class. Kate wanted to show that she was the real
thing, and a sure lady, and the only way she knew how to prove it was to
beat Flora at buying. Kate didn’t exactly want to put it over her, she
only wanted to make good as the wife of Saul Timney.
Flora only said: “Your wife has very good taste, Mr. Timney,” and sailed
into the ladies’ underwear corner. Kate stuck to her like a burr. She
was right at home there, and for about fifteen minutes it seemed like
all the cash-boys in the world were running in and out packing away
white things, just like Kate was a fairy queen giving orders. She laid
down “medicine stones” on the counter till the flim-flams and
thingumbobs almost dropped down off the shelves of themselves. I s’pose
a man really has no business to be in a place like that, but I watched
the two of ’em buy. Kate had actually got Flora going, and both of ’em
emptied their sacks. Then Flora swept out, looking a hole through me,
but never saying a word. I’ve heard afterward that Miss Donovan was
pretty well known to be close-fisted, and it must have hurt her some to
let go of all that money, just on account of an Indian squaw. But the
clerks behind the counter nearly went into fits.
Kate came up to me and said, “I can buy more things than she can, can’t
I?” And I said, “Sure, you can, Kate; you could buy her right out of
house and home!”
She looked a little relieved then, but I saw she was jealous, and the
worst of it was, I’d given her license to be. I tried to be as nice as I
could, and bought her another necklace, and took her to see the
kinetoscopes and let her look through the telescope at the moon, but I
saw she was still fretting about Flora. That night I met a fellow from
the Yukon, and I left Kate at the hotel and made a night of it. I went
to bed with considerable of a head, and when I woke up, toward noon,
Kate was gone. She didn’t show up till the next day after that. I
learned afterward what happened.
Kate started out bright and early to find Flora. She had got into a
black dress with spangles, patent-leather shoes, and a hat as big as a
penguin. She carried with her all the cash we had at the hotel, running
into four figures easy. The shopping district of San Francisco ain’t
such a big place, after all, and Kate and Flora only went to the best
and highest-priced stores, so it wasn’t long before they met.
As far as I could find out, Kate didn’t have her hatchet out at all,
this trip, but she was just trying to make up to Flora, and be nice to
her and show she was ready to get acquainted. You can guess what
happened. Flora tried to pass Kate, but Kate just stood in the aisle
like a house. It was no use for Flora to try and snub her, for Kate
couldn’t understand the kind of polite slaps in the face that ladies
know how to give. The only thing was to get rid of her, so Flora up and
went out the front door to her carriage.
Kate followed her out to the sidewalk. When Flora got in, Kate got in
right alongside, grinning all over, showing her sack of gold, and trying
her best to be as nice as she could. Flora was clean flabbergasted. She
didn’t want to make a holy show of herself on the street by calling the
police, and so she told her driver to go home, as the best way out of
it. So they drove to Van Ness Avenue, Flora throwing conniption fits,
she was so mad, and Kate smiling and talking Chinook, with her big hat
on one ear.
When they got to the house, Flora jumped out and loped up the steps,
blazing, and slammed the door. Kate tried to follow, but her tight dress
and tight shoes were too much for her, and she fell down. That got
Kate’s mad up, and when Kate’s good and mad she’s a mule. She banged at
the door, but no one opened. So she sat down on the front doorstep to
wait till Flora came out. You know what Indians are. She was ready to
wait all night. She was used to nights six months long, and a few hours
in a San Francisco fog didn’t worry her a bit. She took off her shoes,
and loosened her dress, and stuck to the mat.
Finally Flora sent out one of the hired help to drive Kate away. Kate
pulled out one of her “medicine stones” that she had always found would
work, and it worked all right. He went in with a twenty-dollar gold
piece and told all the rest of the help, and they came out one by one
and got twenties, while Kate froze to the doorstep. Then Flora
telephoned for the police, and a copper came up from the station to put
Kate off the steps. He stopped when she handed him the first twenty. He
put up his club when she brought out two more, and went back, after
telling the Donovans he couldn’t exceed the law.
There she stayed till eight o’clock next morning, but it finally got
through her head that Flora would never leave while she was there, so
Kate decided to hide out and lay for her. She went across the street and
sat down on the steps of the Presbyterian church, a couple of blocks
away, where she drew a crowd of kids and nurse-girls, till the cop on
the beat came up and drove ’em away and collected another pair of
About ten o’clock, Flora, thinking the coast was clear, came out and got
into her carriage. Kate was ready for her, holding up her skirt in one
hand and her shoes in the other. The carriage drove off and Kate fell in
behind on a little trot. You know how Indians run; they can keep it up
all day, and you can’t get away from ’em. Flora saw her, and made the
driver whip up.
There they went, lickety-split, a swell turn-out, with Flora yelling at
the driver to go faster, and about half a block behind poor old Kate,
right in the middle of the street, on the car-track, in dinkey open-work
silk stockings, with her shoes in one hand, going like a steam-engine.
Her hat fell off as she crossed Polk Street, but Lord, she didn’t care,
she had barrels of ’em at the hotel. I guess they had a clear street all
the way. It must have taken the crowd like a circus parade.
The police never caught on till they got to Kearney Street, and there I
was standing, looking for my wife. A copper came out to nail her for a
crazy woman, but I got there first, and bundled her into a hack.
When we got up to our rooms she was so queer and strange that for a
little while I didn’t know but she had gone nutty, after all. She never
said a word till she had straightened up her dress and put on her shoes
and got out a new hat. Then she stood in front of a big looking-glass.
Finally she turned loose on me.
“I want to be white and have a thin nose and a little waist like an
American woman. Where can I get that? How many medicine stones will it
take to make me white?”
“Oh, Kate,” I said, “don’t talk like that, old girl. You are good enough
for me. You can’t buy all that, anyway.”
Then she said, “You don’t like me the way you like that other woman. How
many medicine stones will it take to make me just as if I was white?”
Of course I told her I was just as fond of her as ever, but she wouldn’t
have it that way. She asked me again how much money it would take, and I
had to tell her that the magic was no good for things like that.
That seemed to kind of stun her, and she began to mope and pine. She
went back into her room and puttered around some. I didn’t have the
heart to follow her and see what she was up to. When she came out she
had on her old loose dress and her moccasins. Over her head was the same
shawl she wore when she came out of the Klondyke.
“Give me my medicine stones,” she said to me. “I want all of them!”
She seemed to feel so sore, I went out and drew two thousand dollars in
twenties and brought ’em to her in two sacks. She didn’t need to tell me
what was up. She was going back to her own country and her own people.
She was singing the song of the tribe—“Death on the White Trail”—when I
came in. I was going to stay in ’Frisco. That was what Kate wanted, and
what Kate wants she gets, every time, if I have the say-so.
It happened there was a steamer going next morning, and Kate didn’t
leave her room nor speak to me till it was time to go down to the dock.
I got her ticket and paid the purser to take good care of her. Even at
the last we didn’t do much talking—what was the use? We both understood,
and her people don’t waste words.
When the boat started she stood on the upper deck looking at me. Then,
all of a sudden, she opened her two sacks of coin and began to throw the
money by handfuls into the Bay, scattering it in shower after shower of
gold till it was all gone.
* * * * *
Well, sir, the Yukon’s the place after all. I’ve blown in most all of my
four hundred thousand, and what have I got for it? Kate will wait for
me, the same way she waited for Flora Donovan. I’ve got one little claim
I hung on to when I sold out the rest, and I’ve got the fever again. As
soon as I’ve had my fun out, and that won’t be long, I’ll make for the
* * * * *
And some day, when Kate comes in from the fishing, she’ll crawl into her
hut and find me there, smoking by the fire.
So, with jest and story, the night wore on, and James Wiswell Coffin 3d
pulled steadily at his cigars. He smoked nervously now, with a ruthless
determination to finish at any hazard. More than once, in the early
morning, he had to snatch hastily at a biscuit and swallow it to keep
his gorge from rising at his foolhardy intemperance; but he manfully
proceeded with a courage induced by the firm belief that if he failed,
and attempted to evade payment of his bet, this gentle, green-eyed
Klondyker would make him pay through the nose. It is not safe, in the
West, for a man to wager high stakes with no assets. The youngster was
by no means sure of his endurance. Already the weeds tasted vilely
bitter and the fumes choked him pitifully, but still his sallies and
repartees covered his fears as a shop-girl’s Raglan hides a shabby
By the watch, he had succeeded in smoking his first cigar in eleven
minutes. Keeping fairly well to this pace, eight o’clock found him with
but four left in the box. Rather sallow, with a faded, set grin, still
puffing, still chaffing, the Harvard Freshman was as cool as Athos under
fire. The Klondyker was as excited as a heavy backer at a
six-days’-go-as-you-please. The cigar-clerk had run out of racy tales
At last but three Panatelas remained.
“See here,” said the scion of the Puritans, “I promised to smoke the
whole box, didn’t I, and to keep one lighted all the time? Well, I
didn’t say only one, and so I’m going to make a spurt and smoke the last
three at once.”
The Klondyker demurred, and it was left for the cigar-salesman to
decide. Coffin won. Making a grimace, the young fool, with a dying gasp
of bravado, lighted the three, and while the others looked on with
admiration, puffed strenuously to the horrid end. When the stumps were
so short that he could hardly hold them between his lips the salesman
pulled out a watch.
“Seven hours, twenty-three minutes and six seconds—Coffin wins!” he
At this the Harvard Freshman toppled and, dropping prone upon the floor,
felt so desperately, so horribly, ill that for a while his nausea held
him captive. The room went round. After a while he reeled to his feet
and felt the cool touch of gold that the Klondyker was forcing into his
palm. The ragged clouds of rotting smoke, the lines of bottles behind
the bar, and the sanded floor swam in a troubled vision, and then his
“You were dead game all right, youngster,” the Klondyker was saying. “I
never thought you’d see it through, but you earned your money. I’ll bet
you never worked harder for a salary, though!”
Coffin tried to smile, and drank a half pitcher of water. “Gentlemen,”
he said, solemnly, leaning against the wall-paper, “one of life’s
sweetest blessings has faded. I have lost one of Youth’s illusions. I
shall never smoke again. There is nothing left for me to do but join the
Salvation Army and knock the Demon Rum. My heart feels like a
punching-bag after Fitz has finished practising with it, and my head is
as light as a new-laid balloon. As for the dark-brown hole where my
mouth used to be—brrrrrh! I move we pass out for fresh air. Funny, it
seems a trifle smoky here! Wonder why. Come along and see me skate on
the sidewalk. I’m as dizzy as Two-step Willie at the eleventh extra.”
Then he patted the double eagles in his hand. “Every one of you little
yellow boys has got to go out and get married, I must have a big family
The Klondyker gasped. “For Heaven’s sake you don’t mean to say you’re
going to begin again? You ought to be in the Receiving Hospital right
now. Can you think of anything crazier to do after this? I’ll back you!
I haven’t had so much fun since I left the Yukon. You’re likely to tip
over the City Hall before night, if I don’t watch you.”
“Well, well, I can’t quite keep up this pace, gentlemen,” said the
cigar-clerk, “and I have to open up the shop. I’ll look you up to-night
at the morgue!”
He left hurriedly.
Once outside, Coffin’s spirits rose. “I never really expected to greet
yon glorious orb again,” he said. “Let’s climb up to Chinatown and get
“Spending money is my mark; I’m a James P. Dandy when it comes to
letting go of coin. I’m with you,” said the Klondyker. “Besides, I want
to see how long before our luck changes.”
The Freshman led the way up past St. Mary’s Church, without heeding the
sacred admonition graved below the dial: “_Son, observe the time and
flee from evil!_” a warning singularly apposite in that scarlet quarter
of the town. They passed up the narrow Oriental lane of Dupont Street,
the Chinatown highway, and, as he pointed out the sights, Coffin
“In the back of half these shops the gentle game of fan-tan is now
progressing. Moreover, there are at least five lotteries running in the
quarter that I know of. To wit: the ’American,’ the ’Lum Ki,’ the ’New
York,’ the ’Ye Wah’ and the ’Mee Lee Sing.’ I propose to buck the
Mongolian tiger in his Oriental lair and watch the yellow fur fly, by
investing a small wad in a ticket for the half-past-nine drawing. I
worked out a system last night, while dallying with the tresses of My
Lady Nicotine, and I simply can’t lose unless my luck has turned sour. I
shall mark said ticket per said inspiration, and drag down the spoils of
war. Kaloo, kalay, I chortle in my joy!”
“See here, then, you let me in on that,” insisted the Klondyker; “you
keep your hundred and salt it down. You play my money this shot, and
I’ll give you half of what’s made on it. You’re a mascot to-day, and
I’ve earned the right to use you!”
“All right; then I agree to be fairy godmother until the sun sets. But I
muchly fear you’ll let the little tra-la-loo bird out of the cage, with
your great, big, coarse fingers. Never mind, we’ll try it. Here we are,
He paused in front of a smallish Chinese restaurant on a side street. In
the lower windows were displayed groceries and provisions, raw and
cooked, and from the upper story a painted wooden fretwork balcony
projected, adorned with potted shrubs and paper lanterns.
“Behind this exhibition of split ducks, semi-pigs, mud-packed eggs from
the Flowery Realm, dried abalones, sugar-cane from far Cathay, preserved
watermelon-rind, candied limes, li-chi nuts, chop suey, sharks’ fins,
birds’ nests, rats, cats, and rice-brandy, punks, peanut-oil, and
passionate pastry, lurks the peaceful group that makes money for you
while you wait. Above, in red hieroglyphs, you observe the legend, ’Chin
Fook Yen Company.’ This does not indicate the names of the several
members of the firm, as is ordinarily supposed, but it is the touching
and tempting motto, ’Here Prosperity awaits Everybody, all same
Sunlight!’ In the days of evil tidings I once made a bluff at being a
Chinatown guide. It is easy enough; but I am naturally virtuous, and I
was not a success with the voracious drummer and the incredulous English
globe-trotter. But I picked up a few friends amongst the Chinks, as
They entered, to find a small room, from the centre of which a
brass-stepped staircase rose to the floor above. On one side of this
office was a counter, behind which sat a fat, sleek Chinaman,
industriously writing with a vertical brush in an account-book, pausing
occasionally to compute a sum upon the ebony beads of an abacus. He
looked up and nodded at Coffin, and, without stopping his work, called
out several words in Chinese to those upstairs. The two went past the
kitchens on the second floor to the top story, where several large
dining-rooms, elaborately decorated in carved wood and colored glass
windows, stretched from front to rear. In one room a group of men,
seemingly Eastern tourists, were seated on teakwood stools at a round
table, drinking tea and nibbling at sugared confections distributed in
numerous bowls. Expatiating upon the wonders of the place was what
seemed to be one of the orthodox Chinatown guides, pointing with his
slim rattan cane, and smoking a huge cigar.
Coffin led the way to a back room, and, looking carefully to see if he
were observed, knocked three times at an unobtrusive door. Immediately a
silken curtain at the side was raised, disclosing a window guarded by a
wire screen. In an instant it was dropped again and the door was opened
narrowly. Coffin pushed his friend through, and they found themselves in
a square, box-like closet or hallway. Here, another door was opened
after a similar signal and inspection by the look-out, and they passed
Inside this last barrier was a large room painted a garish blue. About a
table in the centre several Chinamen were assembled, and doors were
opening and shutting to receive or let out visitors. At a desk in the
corner was sitting a thin-faced merchant with horn spectacles and long
drooping white mustaches. To him Coffin went immediately and shook
hands. Then he explained something of the workings of the lottery to the
Klondyker. It was decided to buy a fifteen-dollar ticket, and they
received a square of yellow paper where, within a border, were printed
eighty characters in green ink. Above was stamped in red letters the
words “New York Day Time.” The price was written plainly across the
“Now, I’ll mark it,” said Coffin. “You can mark a ’high-low’ system that
is pretty sure to win, but it’s too difficult for me—I was never much of
a Dazmaraz at the higher mathematics. So I’ll play a ’straight’ ticket.
That is: I mark out ten spots anywhere I please. There are twenty
winning numbers, and on a fifteen-dollar ticket if I catch five of them
I get thirty dollars; six pays two hundred and seventy dollars, seven
pays twenty-four hundred dollars, and eight spots pull down the capital
prize. If more than one ticket wins a prize the money is divided _pro
rata_, so we don’t know what we win till the tickets are cashed in,
downstairs in the office.”
He took a brush and marked his ten spots, five above and five below the
centre panel, and handed it to the manager, who wrote his name in
Chinese characters down the margin. There was just time for this when
the ceremony of drawing the winning numbers began. The manager brought
out a cylindrical bamboo vessel and placed in it the eighty characters
found on the tickets, each written on a small piece of paper and rolled
into a little pill or ball. Then he looked up at the Klondyker.
“You likee mix ’em up?” he asked. The stranger assented, and, having
stirred up the pellets, was gravely handed a dime by the treasurer of
The pellets were then drawn forth, one by one, and placed in four bowls
in rotation till all were disposed of. The manager now nodded to Coffin,
who came up to the table. “You shake ’em dice?” said the Chinaman.
“You see this die?” he explained to the Klondyker. “It’s numbered up to
four, and the number decides which bowl contains the lucky numbers on
the ticket. Here goes! _Three!_”
The third bowl was accordingly emptied, and the numbers on the pellets
of rolled paper were read off and entered in a book. The Chinese now
began to show signs of excitement. Tickets were produced from the
pockets of their dark blouses and were scanned with interest as the
winning numbers were called out one by one. They crowded to the shoulder
of the manager as he unfolded the pellets, and jabbered unintelligible
oaths and blessings as the characters were revealed. Coffin beckoned to
one who appeared to have no investment, and showed him the joint ticket,
asking him to point out the spots as they were read. The first five were
unmarked, but then to their delight the long nail of the Chinaman’s
finger pointed to three spots in succession. In another minute two more
marked characters won, and then, after a series of failures, the last
two numbers read proved to be Coffin’s selection. The Chinaman’s eyes
snapped, and he cried out a few words, spreading the news over the room.
In an instant the two white men were surrounded, and a babel of
“What the devil does it mean? Do we win?” asked the Klondyker.
“Do we win! Can a duck swim? We’ve got seven lucky spots! Twenty-four
hundred dollars, if we don’t have to divide with some son of a
she-monkey!” and Coffin, grabbing his hat in his right hand, pranced
about the room and began on the Harvard yell.
The Chinamen, shocked at the noise, and in imminent fear of attracting
attention to the illegal enterprise, had grabbed him and stifled his
fifth “Rah!” when, suddenly, with a hoarse yelp, the watchman at the
look-out burst into the room, giving the alarm for a raid of the police,
and threw two massive oaken bars across the iron door. In an instant the
tickets, pellets, and books were swept into a sack, and the men
scattered in all directions, sweeping down tables and over chairs to
“Run for your life, or we’ll get pulled!” Coffin called out to the
Klondyker, who still held the ticket in his hand, and he made a break
for one of the blue doors. It was slammed in his face by a retreating
scout. “Over here!” the Klondyker cried, setting his foot to another
door and forcing it open. By this time the outer barrier at the entrance
from the restaurant had been forced, and the police began with crowbars
and sledge-hammers at the inner door. Coffin ran for the exit, but
stumbled and fell across a chair, striking his diaphragm with a shock
that knocked the wind from his lungs. For fully a minute he lay there
writhing, without the power to move, gasping vainly for breath. The
blows on the door were redoubled in energy, and of a sudden the wooden
bars split and gave way, the lock shot off into the room, the hinges
broke through the woodwork jambs, and the door toppled and fell. It was
now too late for the Freshman to escape; a dozen men jumped into the
room and seized him with the few Chinamen left. To his dazed surprise
the attacking party was the very same group of men he had taken for
Eastern tourists as he entered, now evidently plain-clothes detectives
who had been cunningly disguised to escape suspicion.
These, after their prisoners had been handcuffed, ran here and there,
dragging more refugees by their queues in bunches from adjoining rooms
and halls, but most had made good their escape through the many secret
exits, hurrying, at the first warning, to the roof, to underground
passages in the cellar, through the party walls to other buildings.
When the last man had been secured, the crestfallen captives were taken
downstairs, loaded into two patrol-wagons, and driven to the California
Street Station. The Klondyker was not among their number.
As the Freshman was searched and his hundred dollars taken and sealed in
an envelope with his name, the booking-sergeant told him that if he
wished to deposit cash bail with the bond-clerk at the City Hall he
would be released. He might send the money by a messenger, who would
return with his certificate of bail.
“How much will it be?” Coffin asked.
“One hundred, probably.”
“Then I can’t pay a messenger, for that’s exactly all I have with me.”
“Oh, well,” said the sergeant, looking at him indulgently, “there’s an
officer going up to the Hall on an errand, and coming back pretty soon.
I’ll get him to take up your money, if you want.”
The Chinamen were put into a cell together, and Coffin was locked in a
separate compartment containing a single occupant, a weazened little man
with a chin beard, wearing a pepper-and-salt suit. At the irruption of
visitors, there arose from the women’s cell an inhuman clamor, raised by
two wretched creatures. They shrieked like fiends of the pit wailing in
mockery at the spirits of the damned. Coffin put his hands to his ears.
His new companion regarded him with a watery blue eye. “All-fired
nuisance, ain’t it? Gosh, they yelp like seals at the Cliff House! I
wish the sergeant would turn the hose on ’em. I would. They go off every
twenty minutes, like a Connecticut alarm-clock. Never mind, we’ll get
out of this soon. What were you pulled for?”
Coffin narrated his adventures in Chinatown.
“Oh, you’re all right, then, it’s just a periodical spasm of virtue by
the police. But I’m in for it. They’re goin’ to sock it to me, by
“What’s the matter?” Coffin asked.
The little Yankee crept over to the Freshman’s ear and whispered
mysteriously, “Grand larceny! They ain’t charged me with it yet, but
they’re holdin’ me till they can collect evidence. And me a reformed
man. I’m a miserable sinner, but I’ve repented, and I’ve paid back
everything to the last cent!”
His confession, which was becoming per-fervent, was here interrupted by
a policeman who was looking through the cells. “Hello, Eli,” he said,
with a sarcastic grin, “back again? I thought it was about time!”
“Say, what’s our little blue-eyed friend been up to, officer?” the
The man laughed. “Vagrancy, of course. Just look at him. Ain’t he got
the eye of a grafter? We find him begging on the street every little
while, but he’ll get off with a reprimand. He always has plenty of money
on him. He’s nutty. Crazy as a hatter, ain’t you, Eli?” He laughed again
and passed on.
“Did you hear that?” cried the little man, angrily. “He pretends I ain’t
up for felony, but I am, though they can’t prove it. It’s persecution,
that’s what it is. I don’t mind the fine for vagrancy, but I’m afraid if
I have to go to jail I’ll lose my car.”
“Lose your car!” said Coffin, amused at the little old man’s vagaries.
“You don’t think a street-car will wait for you while you’re bailed out,
“Mine will,” Eli replied. “That is, if it ain’t stolen.”
“Stolen! Gee Whizz, you’re an Alice in Wonderland, all right! Perhaps
you will inform me how they steal street-cars in San Francisco, and how
you happen to have one to be stolen.”
“I see you don’t believe it,” said the Yankee. “But it’s as true as
Gospel. I’ll tell you the whole story and then you’ll think better of
So saying, he fastened his watery blue eyes upon the Freshman and gave
him the history of his life.
THE STORY OF THE RETIRED CAR-CONDUCTOR
I was born and brought up in Duxbury, Massachusetts, and I had a close
call to escape bein’ named Wrestling Brewster, one of my mother’s family
names. My father voted for just plain Eli Cook, howsomever, and dad most
always generally won. It might have made considerable difference to me,
maybe, for as it was, whether from my name or nature, I rather took
after my father, who was no mortal good. Father was what Old Colony
folks call “clever,” just a shif’less ne’er-do-well, handy enough when
he got to work, but a sort of a Jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
Never went to church, fished on Sundays, smoked like a chimney and
chewed like a cow, easy to get on with and hard to drive—no more
backbone than a clam, my mother used to say. And what he was, I am, with
just enough Brewster in me to make me repent, but not enough to hinder
me from going astray.
I come out here to Californy in ’49, and hoofed it most all the way. I
calculated to get rich without workin’, but I reckoned without my host.
I looked for somethin’ easy till I got as thin as a yaller dog, and for
twenty year I held on that way by my eyelids, pickin’ up odd jobs and
loafin’ and whittlin’ sticks in between times. Then I got a place as
driver on the Folsom Street hoss-car line, and that’s where I made my
fortune by hook or crook, till I retired.
If I’d had a drop more Brewster blood I wouldn’t have did what I did,
but I kind of fell into the way of piecin’ out my salary the way every
one else did who worked for the company, and my conscience didn’t give
me no trouble for a considerable spell. It was only stealin’ from a
corporation, anyway, and I reckoned they could afford it, with the
scrimpin’ pay they give us.
In them days the company ran them little double-ender cars with ten-foot
bodies. When I got to the end of the route and drove my team round and
hitched up at t’other end, I had to take out the old Slawson fare-box
and set it up in front, for they didn’t have no conductors in early
days. I s’pose I kind of hated to carry such a load of money, bein’ more
or less of a shirk, and I got into the way of turning her upside down
and shakin’ out a few nickels every time. They come out easy, I’ll say
that for ’em, and it wa’n’t no trick at all to clean up a dollar or so
every day, and twice as much on Sundays.
Well, so long as all the boys was a-doin’ the same thing, the loss
wa’n’t noticed, but somehow or other the company got a few honest men on
the line, and they turned in so much more money than we did every night
that the old man smelled a mouse. He put in the new Willis patent
fare-box that was durned hard to beat. It had a little three-cornered
wheel inside that acted like a valve, and nothin’ that went in would
come out, either by turnin’ the box upside down, or by usin’ the wire
pokers we experimented with. They wa’n’t nothin’ for it but to git keys,
and so keys we got. It looked a heap more like stealin’ than it did
before, but it was rather easier. Some of the boys was caught at it, but
as luck would have it, nobody never suspected me, and I took out my
little old percentage regular as a faro dealer.
I salted down my money in the Hibernia Bank, and I called it my sinkin’
fund, which it was for sure sinkin’ my soul down deeper and deeper into
the bottomless pit. I’m a-goin’ to make a clean breast of it,
howsomever, and I own up I was about as bad as the rest of ’em, and four
times as sharp at the game.
After a while the system was improved, and the company got new rollin’
stock with all two-horse cars. I was a conductor then, and I ran on No.
27 till I was off the road. The Gardner punch was my first experience in
knockin’ down fares right in the face and eyes of everybody, and I had
figgered a way to “hold out” long before I had the nerve to try it. But
Lord! it was as easy as fallin’ off a log, when you knew how. You see,
we sold a five-coupon ticket for a quarter, and we had to slice off a
section for every fare, with a candle-snuffer arrangement, the check
droppin’ into a little box on the under jaw of the nippers. All we had
to do was to “build up” on ’em. You held back a lot of clipped tickets,
with two or three or four coupons left, as the case might be, and you
kept ’em underneath the bunch of regular tickets for sale. Say a man
handed you a whole ticket for two fares. You made a bluff at cuttin’ it,
and handed him back a three-coupon ticket from underneath your rubber
band. You kept his whole one for yourself, and sold it to the next
passenger for two bits.
Well, Jim Williams was caught red-handed, and Gardner’s system went to
Jericho. Next they sprung the regular bell-punch on us, the kind you
“punch in the presence of the passenjaire.” We had no trouble with that.
They was a dummy palm-bell manufactured almost simultaneous, and we’d
ring up fares without punchin’ at all. The breastplate registers was
worked similar, with a bell inside your vest connected with a button. It
was as easy as pie, providin’ nobody watched the numbers on the
indicator while you was ringin’ up.
I left the road before they adopted the stationary registers or clock
machines. I admit they’re ingenious, but still I ain’t got no doubt
that, given a good big crowd and no spotters, I could manage to make my
expenses with the rest of the boys.
But I won’t go round Robin Hood’s barn to spin out the story. The result
was that after about fifteen years of patient, unremittin’ industry, I
had somethin’ like $12,000 in the bank, and what was left of my New
England conscience shootin’ through me like rheumatism. It didn’t bother
me so much at first, but when once Brewster blood begins to boil it
don’t slow up in a hurry. Eli Cook didn’t seem to care a continental,
but they was a whole lot of Pilgrim Fathers behind me that was bound to
testify sooner or later.
I tried to settle down and get into some quiet business, where I
wouldn’t have no more trickery to do than maybe put a little terra alba
in the sugar and peanuts in the coffee. But after lookin’ round I
hankered after makin’ money easier, and so I bought minin’ stocks and
hung on, assessment after assessment, like grim Death, till, by Jimminy!
one day I’ll be durned if I didn’t calculate I had $30,000 to the good,
if I sold. I pulled out the day before the slump. I don’t know why
Providence favored my fortune, which was so wickedly come by, and I
don’t know why, after doin’ so well, I didn’t have spunk enough to pay
back the company, but, anyhow, I wa’n’t yet waked up to feel full
consciousness of sin, and I shut my ears to the callin’ to repentance.
Now, all this time, bein’ of a South Shore family of seafaring men
mostly, I had a hankerin’ after the water. So, when the first lots was
cut up, out to the Beach, I bought a parcel of land on the shore. I used
to go out there all the time to sit on my own sand, and recollect how it
used to feel to get a good dry heat on my bare legs when I was a boy
down to Duxbury. If they had only been clams there, I’d have been as
happy as a pollywog in a hogshead of rain water.
One day I was walkin’ out there, and as I passed the company’s stables I
see a sign out, “Cars for Sale, Cheap,” and I went in to see ’em. I
speered round the yard till what did I see but old 27, my car, settin’
there without wheels, lookin’ as shabby as Job’s cat! I asked the
foreman how much they wanted for it, and I got it for ten dollars. I
hired a dray and moved the thing out to the Beach that very afternoon. I
set it up on two sills on my lot, calculatin’ I could use it for a cabin
to hang out in, over Sunday, and it was as steady as Plymouth Rock, and
made as cute a little room as you’d want to see. Every time I went I
tinkered round and fixed her up more, till I had a good bunk at one end,
lockers under the seats, and a trig little cellar beneath, where I kept
’Twa’n’t long before I regularly moved out there and stayed for good.
Just from force of habit, I expect, at first, I rung two bells every
time I got on, and one bell before I got off, and I always keep it up,
just as if the old car was really on the rails. I never went in and set
down but I felt as if No. 27 was poundin’ along toward Woodward’s
Gardens, with the hosses on a jog trot. Sometimes when the rain was
drivin’ down and the wind blowin’ like all possessed, and it was pitch
dark outside, with the surf rollin’, I’d put down my pipe and go out on
the platform, and set the brake up just as tight as I could. I don’t
know why, but it kind of give me a sense of security.
It wa’n’t long before I begun to feel a positive affection for that old
car, what with the years I’d spent on it, and livin’ ’way out there to
the Beach alone with nothin’ to think about but the way I’d robbed the
company. No. 27 was more like a pet dog than a house. You can talk about
ships bein’ like women, and havin’ queer ways and moods, but you go to
work and take an old car, and it’s more like folks than a second cousin;
and it’s got sense and temper, I’m persuaded of that.
But it wa’n’t long before No. 27 begun to act queer. I noticed it a
considerable spell before I realized just what was wrong. It wouldn’t
stay still a minute. It groaned and sighed like a sinner on the anxious
seat. I couldn’t ease it any way I tried. It worked off the sills, and
just wallowed in the sand. The sand drifts like snow at the Beach, and
often I used to have to dig myself out the door after a sou’wester. I
didn’t mind bein’ alone so much, for I had a book of my Uncle Joshua
Cook’s sermons to read, but the way that old car talked to itself got on
my nerves. The windows rattled, and sometimes a shutter would fall with
a bang, sudden, and I’d jump half out of my skin. Then, too, that
stealin’ was preyin’ on my mind, and I couldn’t help harpin’ on it. They
was a Slawson fare-box still on the front of the car, and finally I got
to goin’ in t’other way to avoid it. Then the green light got to
watchin’ me, and I begun to drink, for I felt the full qualms of the
unrighteous, and the car itself seemed to know it was defiled by my sin.
Finally, one night, I come home from the Cliff House, where I’d been
warmin’ up my courage, and when I got back to No. 27 I see the green
lantern I’d left lit was a burnin’ low, almost out. I got up on the
platform and tried to ring two bells as usual, but the cord broke in my
hands. I tried the door, but it wouldn’t budge. That blamed car just
naturally refused to recognize me, and wouldn’t let me in. Then I sat
down in the sand and cried like a fool, and wondered what was wrong.
It bust on me like a light from the sky, and the callin’ of a sinner to
repentance, sayin’, “Come now, this is the appointed time.” All I’d done
in the old days rose up in front of me, and right there I experienced a
change of heart and was convicted of sin. It come sudden, and I acted
sudden. I didn’t stop to think nor reason, nor to set my mortal mind
against the judgment of Heaven and that car, but I rose up confident of
grace, and went round to the front platform where the fare-box was, and
dropped in a nickel and tried the bell. The cord wa’n’t broke on this
side, and she rung all right. The light flared up again, and the door
opened as easy as a snuff-box. I was saved.
From that time on I never got aboard without payin’ my fare, and when
the box was full I’d turn it over to the treasurer of the company. Of
course I might have drawn out my money in the bank and paid it all up at
once, but it seemed to me that this means was shown me, so that I would
be reminded of my wickedness every day and keep in the road of
repentance. But even then, sometimes I backslid and fell from grace when
I emptied out the box. Some of the money would stick to my fingers, and
it seemed as if I couldn’t stop stealin’ from the company. But afterward
I’d repent and put in a quarter or even a half dollar for my fare to
make up, and in that way I went on tryin’ to lead a better life, and
keep in the straight and narrer road of salvation.
Well, I thought then that No. 27 would settle down and give me some
peace of mind, but it wa’n’t long before that car begun to get uneasy
again. I didn’t know what in creation to make of it, and it beat all the
way it took on. I drew out $5,000 of good securities that was payin’
nine per cent. and sent it all in gold coin packed in a barrel of barley
to the company, but that didn’t do no good at all. The car was plum
crazy, and nothin’ seemed to satisfy the critter.
No. 27 settled and sobbed and sighed like a fellow that’s been jilted by
a flirt. They wa’n’t no doin’ nothin’ with it. I puttered over it and
tightened all the nuts, but it snivelled and whined like a sick pup
every time the wind blew. When the fog come in, the drops of water stood
on the window panes like tears, and every gale made the body tremble
like a girl bein’ vaccinated. The old car must be sick, I thought, and I
greased all the slides and hinges with cod-liver oil. The thing only
wheezed worse than ever. I thought likely it might be just fleas, for
the sand is full of ’em, and I sponged the cushions with benzine. It
wa’n’t no more use than nothin’ at all!
Perhaps I ain’t got no call to boast, but I flatter myself I found out
what was lackin’ as soon as most would have done. Howsomever, I spent a
good deal of time walkin’ round the Beach thinkin’ it over. They’s quite
a colony of us out there now; seemed like my car drew out a lot of
others, until they’s more than a baker’s dozen of ’em scattered around,
built up and managed in different ways, accordin’ to the ideas of their
owners. Some h’ist ’em up and build a house underneath, some put two
alongside and rip out the walls, some put ’em end to end, some make
chambers of ’em and some settin’-rooms. They call the colony
Carville-by-the-Sea, and it looks for all the world like some
new-fangled sort of Chinatown.
I was walkin’ round one day, inspectin’ the new additions to the place,
when I see a car I thought I recognised. I went up, and if it wa’n’t a
Fifth Street body, and as far as I could see, it must have been the very
one old 27 used to transfer with in the old days! It was numbered 18,
and I remembered how she used to wait for us on the corner when we was
late. Then I understood what was the matter with my car. It was just
naturally pinin’ away for its old mate.
Well, sir, I went to the owner and bought No. 18 at his own price. I’d
have paid twenty-five dollars if he’d asked it. I moved her onto my lot,
put a foundation under her, sideways to 27, like an ell to a farm-house.
And it seemed to me I noticed old 27 give a grunt and settle down in
peace and contentment. I was a good guesser. I hitched ’em together with
a little stoop, covered over so as to make the two practically one, and
then I give the whole thing a fresh coat of white paint, and cleaned up
the windows and swept out till it was all spick and span. And I never
had no trouble with No. 27 after that, nor with my own conscience
neither, for now the money’s all paid back with interest.
Well, sir, maybe you won’t believe it, and maybe you will, but about a
year after the two was hitched together a funny thing happened. One day
morning I went outdoors, and see something on the sand beside No. 18. My
eyes stuck out like a fifer’s thumb when I recognised what it was. It
was a plum new red wheelbarrow!