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The Man Of No Account








From: Selected Stories

His name was Fagg--David Fagg. He came to California in '52 with us,
in the SKYSCRAPER. I don't think he did it in an adventurous way. He
probably had no other place to go to. When a knot of us young fellows
would recite what splendid opportunities we resigned to go, and how
sorry our friends were to have us leave, and show daguerreotypes and
locks of hair, and talk of Mary and Susan, the man of no account used to
sit by and listen with a pained, mortified expression on his plain face,
and say nothing. I think he had nothing to say. He had no associates
except when we patronized him; and, in point of fact, he was a good deal
of sport to us. He was always seasick whenever we had a capful of wind.
He never got his sea legs on, either. And I never shall forget how
we all laughed when Rattler took him the piece of pork on a string,
and--But you know that time-honored joke. And then we had such a
splendid lark with him. Miss Fanny Twinkler couldn't bear the sight of
him, and we used to make Fagg think that she had taken a fancy to him,
and send him little delicacies and books from the cabin. You ought
to have witnessed the rich scene that took place when he came up,
stammering and very sick, to thank her! Didn't she flash up grandly and
beautifully and scornfully? So like "Medora," Rattler said--Rattler knew
Byron by heart--and wasn't old Fagg awfully cut up? But he got over it,
and when Rattler fell sick at Valparaiso, old Fagg used to nurse him.
You see he was a good sort of fellow, but he lacked manliness and
spirit.

He had absolutely no idea of poetry. I've seen him sit stolidly by,
mending his old clothes, when Rattler delivered that stirring apostrophe
of Byron's to the ocean. He asked Rattler once, quite seriously, if he
thought Byron was ever seasick. I don't remember Rattler's reply, but I
know we all laughed very much, and I have no doubt it was something good
for Rattler was smart.

When the SKYSCRAPER arrived at San Francisco we had a grand "feed."
We agreed to meet every year and perpetuate the occasion. Of course we
didn't invite Fagg. Fagg was a steerage passenger, and it was necessary,
you see, now we were ashore, to exercise a little discretion. But Old
Fagg, as we called him--he was only about twenty-five years old, by the
way--was the source of immense amusement to us that day. It appeared
that he had conceived the idea that he could walk to Sacramento, and
actually started off afoot. We had a good time, and shook hands with one
another all around, and so parted. Ah me! only eight years ago, and yet
some of those hands then clasped in amity have been clenched at each
other, or have dipped furtively in one another's pockets. I know that
we didn't dine together the next year, because young Barker swore
he wouldn't put his feet under the same mahogany with such a very
contemptible scoundrel as that Mixer; and Nibbles, who borrowed money
at Valparaiso of young Stubbs, who was then a waiter in a restaurant,
didn't like to meet such people.

When I bought a number of shares in the Coyote Tunnel at Mugginsville,
in '54, I thought I'd take a run up there and see it. I stopped at the
Empire Hotel, and after dinner I got a horse and rode round the town and
out to the claim. One of those individuals whom newspaper correspondents
call "our intelligent informant," and to whom in all small communities
the right of answering questions is tacitly yielded, was quietly pointed
out to me. Habit had enabled him to work and talk at the same time, and
he never pretermitted either. He gave me a history of the claim, and
added: "You see, stranger," (he addressed the bank before him) "gold is
sure to come out'er that theer claim, (he put in a comma with his pick)
but the old pro-pri-e-tor (he wriggled out the word and the point of his
pick) warn't of much account (a long stroke of the pick for a period).
He was green, and let the boys about here jump him"--and the rest of his
sentence was confided to his hat, which he had removed to wipe his manly
brow with his red bandanna.

I asked him who was the original proprietor.

"His name war Fagg."

I went to see him. He looked a little older and plainer. He had worked
hard, he said, and was getting on "so-so." I took quite a liking to
him and patronized him to some extent. Whether I did so because I was
beginning to have a distrust for such fellows as Rattler and Mixer is
not necessary for me to state.

You remember how the Coyote Tunnel went in, and how awfully we
shareholders were done! Well, the next thing I heard was that Rattler,
who was one of the heaviest shareholders, was up at Mugginsville keeping
bar for the proprietor of the Mugginsville Hotel, and that old Fagg had
struck it rich, and didn't know what to do with his money. All this was
told me by Mixer, who had been there, settling up matters, and likewise
that Fagg was sweet upon the daughter of the proprietor of the aforesaid
hotel. And so by hearsay and letter I eventually gathered that old
Robins, the hotel man, was trying to get up a match between Nellie
Robins and Fagg. Nellie was a pretty, plump, and foolish little thing,
and would do just as her father wished. I thought it would be a good
thing for Fagg if he should marry and settle down; that as a married man
he might be of some account. So I ran up to Mugginsville one day to look
after things.

It did me an immense deal of good to make Rattler mix my drinks for
me--Rattler! the gay, brilliant, and unconquerable Rattler, who had
tried to snub me two years ago. I talked to him about old Fagg and
Nellie, particularly as I thought the subject was distasteful. He never
liked Fagg, and he was sure, he said, that Nellie didn't. Did Nellie
like anybody else? He turned around to the mirror behind the bar and
brushed up his hair! I understood the conceited wretch. I thought I'd
put Fagg on his guard and get him to hurry up matters. I had a long talk
with him. You could see by the way the poor fellow acted that he was
badly stuck. He sighed, and promised to pluck up courage to hurry
matters to a crisis. Nellie was a good girl, and I think had a sort of
quiet respect for old Fagg's unobtrusiveness. But her fancy was already
taken captive by Rattler's superficial qualities, which were obvious and
pleasing. I don't think Nellie was any worse than you or I. We are more
apt to take acquaintances at their apparent value than their intrinsic
worth. It's less trouble, and, except when we want to trust them, quite
as convenient. The difficulty with women is that their feelings are apt
to get interested sooner than ours, and then, you know, reasoning is out
of the question. This is what old Fagg would have known had he been of
any account. But he wasn't. So much the worse for him.

It was a few months afterward and I was sitting in my office when in
walked old Fagg. I was surprised to see him down, but we talked over the
current topics in that mechanical manner of people who know that they
have something else to say, but are obliged to get at it in that formal
way. After an interval Fagg in his natural manner said:

"I'm going home!"

"Going home?"

"Yes--that is, I think I'll take a trip to the Atlantic States. I came
to see you, as you know I have some little property, and I have executed
a power of attorney for you to manage my affairs. I have some papers I'd
like to leave with you. Will you take charge of them?"

"Yes," I said. "But what of Nellie?"

His face fell. He tried to smile, and the combination resulted in one
of the most startling and grotesque effects I ever beheld. At length he
said:

"I shall not marry Nellie--that is"--he seemed to apologize internally
for the positive form of expression--"I think that I had better not."

"David Fagg," I said with sudden severity, "you're of no account!"

To my astonishment his face brightened. "Yes," said he, "that's it!--I'm
of no account! But I always knew it. You see I thought Rattler loved
that girl as well as I did, and I knew she liked him better than she did
me, and would be happier I dare say with him. But then I knew that old
Robins would have preferred me to him, as I was better off--and the
girl would do as he said--and, you see, I thought I was kinder in the
way--and so I left. But," he continued, as I was about to interrupt him,
"for fear the old man might object to Rattler, I've lent him enough
to set him up in business for himself in Dogtown. A pushing, active,
brilliant fellow, you know, like Rattler can get along, and will soon be
in his old position again--and you needn't be hard on him, you know, if
he doesn't. Good-by."

I was too much disgusted with his treatment of that Rattler to be at all
amiable, but as his business was profitable, I promised to attend to
it, and he left. A few weeks passed. The return steamer arrived, and a
terrible incident occupied the papers for days afterward. People in all
parts of the State conned eagerly the details of an awful shipwreck, and
those who had friends aboard went away by themselves, and read the long
list of the lost under their breath. I read of the gifted, the gallant,
the noble, and loved ones who had perished, and among them I think I was
the first to read the name of David Fagg. For the "man of no account"
had "gone home!"





Next: Mliss

Previous: A Lonely Ride



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