Today's post includes not one, but TWO chapters from the upcoming Fistfight at Judas Gulch
THE ADDICTION AND DEATH OF LING LU
Now I am not shore what it first was all about, but that autumn Judas Gulch seen one of its worst civic catastorfees. That were the Injun Tong War. Really it weren’t much of a war nor neither even a battle, but it was fit, and it was fit by the Yackees and the Modocks and Meewocks aginst the Chineses what all were workin’ the same end of the river, jes upriver from the hydrollickers.
Rumors was that the ‘drollickers were workin their way up the river, slow but shorely, and the Injuns ‘cused the Chineses havin made deals with the ‘drollickers. Course, weren’t none of that really happened, but it made a believable story, since the Injuns could believe anything about the whites, who was cheatin’ em regular at the assy desk as well as stealin’ out the land under ‘em whenever they could. And the Chinee they was just white men with long har, far as Injuns was concerned. Everone was an outsider was stealin’ right an’ left from them, and it weren’t but natural they might do like what they did showin’ up at our company claim like they did arruhs in hand and all.
But the Injuns this time around wasn’t having none of this kind of talk and neither was the Chinee. The Chineses was actually doin’ purty well compared to the Injuns, cause the white man couldn’t cheat them so good for what ounces of gold was worth, and plus, they sent all their money back home except what it took to buy them duds, grub, or get a bizness goin’. Chinee would live in she-bangs an’ hovels just as fast as Injuns would, an’ weren’t no bother, ‘cause Gold Mountain was big enough fer them and everone. ‘Cept the Injuns.
I guess everone started hatin’ the Injuns. That summer, too, of Fifty, was a big fit between some Injuns and whites, farther on up north off the Sackaminnow, but also, there were trouble on the Twollomee, and now it weren’t long afore ever white man on ever branch of the San Wockeen and Sackaminnow both was out with a six shooter and skwirl gun ready to hunt down redskins.
But here in Judas Gulch it were jes’ as ugly. I don’ need to tell ya but that Jamjob and Suthrun was purty high on the idear of the big battle was rumored ‘bout to go down on Sundy, the nineteenth of August. I had only been up there a year myself or so, but there was gettin’ to be a lot of competition for the claims, an’ the county too had made things purty round about hard for any tenderfoot newcomers, cause now claims was limited to ten feet length, even if they still let us work both sides the river. The Injuns was shore that the Chineses was gettin a better deal from the Water Company on sluicewater, an’all. They was sick to death of Chineses of course cuz even if the Injuns could talk English the Chineses could not, most of em, and there weren’t no real way they could commun’cate with each other anyhow, since the Chineses always mistook what the Injuns tried to tell um with Sign. Everthing was wicked.
What then happend was, on the morning of the Sunday, all the Chinee got their pikes and picks and hammers and mallets and bungstarters and spears and if they had a firearm, well, they brought it too. They all lined up on Fairplay Hill, and got the better hand for the high ground. The Injuns came up in a big mass, but they had to go roundabout all the whites, who (like Jamjob and Suthrun) had taken on a picnic lunch and set themselves a good fair distance of where they could watch this all in safety, yet no less, the Injuns had to approach the top of the hill from all sides and there were a part who had to go round all the whites. The Injuns had war clubs, made of jet, they had arruhs a course and some had pistols, but most of these was old whiteman jobs that was already miscues, and most of these blew up in their hands when they tried to get the first shots off. In fact this was the major souce of casualties on the Injun’s side this wicked Sundy.
The Chinee at the top of the hill flew big long battle flag banners with their heathen imprint, lots of words weren’t none of us whites could spell, but I learned later they said things like “Wang Chung Clan Association,” “Gum Saan Fallon Gong,” and “Here to Stay, Pay, or Play.”
It were not hard to see how they had both the high ground and the better stratigee, cause the Chineses did not shoot first. It were the Injuns let loose flaming arruhs and really the Chineses behind wicker shields were near defenseless, since once the shields caught far they had to stamp it out, which meant the Injuns could far agin, and the arruhs kept coming, but, fortunately, were not more than five wounded Chinee, and nobody were dead. Yet.
Still, the Injuns kept a comin’, runnin’ up the hill, screaming their defiance and war woops and all, and the Chineses taunted them back, shaking their spears and forming up squares like pricklyhogs. Why, Suthrun told me even after the fight they got this stratgee from the Duke of Wellington, at Waterloo! So there must be some sense in these people somehow.
When the Injuns hit the line of Chinee defense, it war all hell broke loose. Out came the clubs, but a lot of Injuns decided they would jes’ as soon settle for a Chinee scalp. All that long har were as good as another Injuns, they must have said, and braking out knives, they set to work on them if they could. Weren’t no Chinese were truly scalped, but was a lot more with bobbed heccuts by the time this were over. And some of the Injuns got the ideer to grab Chineses pikes and banners, and fly the Chinee pigtails from them. This were a good ceremony to all them. But the Chinee, they was there to Stay, Pay, or Play, like the sign said, and they were fierce on the heart for some killing. Weren’t too long afore they actually did some.
At least twenty Injuns out of sixty did die. This were bad, but Suthrun said “weren’t enough of neither sort of varmint kilt enough to make a durn difference. That war a dissapointmint!”
Seven Chineses died, but out of ninety, maybe forty lost their pigtails. This were about as much a shame to a Chinee as it could have been to an Injun, cause I heard it said, they dint like going to their ancestors without their har about as much like a Injun would.
Now, in all this, I noticed there weren’t any sign of Ling Lu. Seemed to me almost ever other Chinee in Judas Gulch were there on Fairplay Hill, but no sign of him. Well, we did find out purty soon, least we learned of his sad fate in a couple days.
Ling Lu, it seems, had run out of money to buy his opium. His supplier did not show up from Stockton that week, and things was desperate sick in the laundry. Without the opium weren’t no way Ling Lu felt like climbin’ outta bed (even with it, weren’t much, but it were that way but worse) and what was said was, while the big fight took place, Ling Lu had broke into some white men’s cabins, and abskwochulated their gold, and also he had rummijed through their food supplies.
This were a cause for a miner’s meeting, and it were a grim day, that Tuesdy, when all the minders ( us white ones at least, the Injuns having run off to lick their wounds, and not bein’ allowed tendance cause of nationalistic reasons anyhow) gathered at the foot of the Hangin’ Tree to pronounce sentence on pore old Ling Lu.
There were really only one sentence fer a Chinee, an’ thet was, to die.
I can’t say it were the best day of my life, since I felt right friendly toward Ling Lu and always had, and had especially since he turned me on to the opium and hash-hashi, but I had no truck with his thieving, and besides, I dssaproves of thieving myself. No matter how good the reason.
The miners at least gave Ling Lu a chance to explain, but it did not help him much to do so. Any man turned thief for any reason were worth losing his ears, and since he were a Chinee, he were less than a real man, anyhow, and to hear the man who got stoled worst from tell it, Ling Lu were no less than a shiftless, lazy coward anyhow, who often cheated mens for their laundry dust: “No tickee no washee” and all that was said, was asked if he sabby, and yes, Ling Lu, he sabby it all, and he also velly solly for steal.
I can’t tell you how horrible it were when they snuck the noose around him and strung it up on the Hangin Tree. Ling Lu, he looked like he were about to cry, but he must have said some sort o prayer in Chinee or something.
Weren’t a lot of Chineses there to watch this, either. Figure that, they were nursing wounds of the battle, or they was not about to make themelves a fixter of the opportunity for more lynchings, but when Ling Lu’s slippered heels went flying up and back and his body dangled thet useless and lifeless and limp, a big chair went up from most of the miners, like to make my stomach sickened. Lots of em went straitway to Ollarud and the Pewter Eye, to wash it all down with Rough Justice er Wise Ass in a bottle, but me, I went home, I sat at my fireplace a while, and darn I guess I must have cried some, too.
Cause it seemed to me that Ling Lu, standin’ thar on the back of the oxcart they was about to shimmy, he were looking out at the world this last time, and looking for me, perhaps, any kind of friend. I tried not to match his eyes, but for a second, I know I did. Maybe it were a cowardly thing I did to try, but I would not match his eyes for long, and I turned my head, and I did not watch the shimmy, or the drop, I only sar the results.
It were truly horrible, and so all I could do myself when it were over was set back in my house with a jar of that old Fugitive Justice that Jamjob and Suthrun had run out at their still, an’ cry a little, blessing the poor retchid soul of Ling Lu, and hoping the happy hunting grounds would be better to him than this old Earth were.
When the bottom fall out under old Ling Lu, thar wuz a mitey yell an’ et come from all the Chinee around who had come ta see thar brethren and cuntrymun strung up. Et were most mornful an’ sober an’ distressin”, for shore. Thar musta been a hunnert or so of em, about nearly as many as other types of peoples thar, thet was almost like a parade as they took down his body an’ bore it aways off ta Semitary Hill.
Then with much caterwallin’ they set off in a proceshun ta the Semitary with horns, gons, flags, an’ much ado. Et were the noisyist funerl I ever seen thet wuz shore. Seems thet only a few white fellers went along, an’ I was one of the onliest. Et the Semitary Luther Brown come from outta nowhar an’ sez some words of foolishness ment ta put both the feer o’ God in the heathen Chinee, an’ encurij them of a good afterlife. I hardly ever heard nothin’ from the lips of Luther Brown seemed sensible, but ef et made them Chinee ore comfurbul ‘bout pore Ling Lu bein dead then that’s how et wuz.
When I come back inta town, all the boys wuz at the Pewter Eye gittin’ shloshed an’ weren’t none of them thet wuz not pleased to have seened off Ling Lu on thet hangin’ platform. Thet was a discurijin thing too.
Now jes about this time I seen pore Ling Lu off inta the Celestial Afterworld, I hed my own encounter with the natorryus Red Langendorf.
Et were truly lucky I had not even a speck a color on me thet day, er else he mite a shot me fulla holes. But lemme tell you about it, an’ et’s the honest humbug.
I come up ta Hangtown same ways I allus takes. Had my pinto (Sackagrool, I named her) an’ my saddlebags is completely empty, since I’se headed ta Hangtown ta git some extra grubs. Maybe a sack a flar, er a jug a milk er somethin’. I’se makin’ my way thar on the old road thinkin’ what a howdydoo kinda day et ez, when out from the shadders on m’ left jumps a strange critter of a feller.
I seened he had a big wide mustash an’ a bandoleer fulla bullits an’ har down t’ hez waste line, long an’ blond an he hez the peeerance of one mean ol’ Viking, er he’s a tryin’ ta, I gesset.
“Stand thar an’ de-liver, you hossless miner!”
“I gots a hors, an’ what thar yew wants with me, y’ ole buccaneer?”
“Ahm Red Langendorf! I spoze yawl herd a me?”
“Reckoned right! Now, toot sweet yew git offa yer sad lumpkin thar an’ make out with yer gold!”
“Ain’t got no gold, today, sad ta say.”
“Ain’t got no gold! Why, y’ol’ sack a shit, I swear you be lyin’! Ain’t no man a minder comes thisaway without no gold! Whatcha gonna do in Hangtown with no gold, anyhow, ya pipssqeak!”
“I’se going to extend a line a credit war I gots it, an’ who you callin’ pipsqeak, anyhow?”
I seen thet muh Irish compposition wuz far insulted et that ensinuation.
“Why, who are you annyhows? You dar ta speak so strong ta th’ likes a Red Langendorf?”
“I’se Sardo Pat Machlaganahee, I’se a free minded Fremont man an’ free as a Irish spring, ya rockbelly! Now git outta muh way an’ lemme go.”
“Wait you jes a consarn minit! I gots the gun, r’member? Now you stand an’ hold an’ gimme the gold!”
“Toldja ain’t got no gold. Ya warna serch me? You’ll see!”
And so I gits offa Sackagrool an’ begins ta show my pockets, one by one. First ets muh trowzers, then muh vest, then I opens muh vest ta show him ain’t got no holster thar neithers, an’ then even takes off muh hat an’ shows aint no sacks a gold hidden thar, neithers.
Red Langendorf wuz apparntly so flomoxxed by this, he sets back his pistols an’ gimme a look-over.
“Pat Machlaganahee, huh? Ain’t heard nothin’ bout yew.”
“Thet’s the ways I likes ta keep it, too,” I sez, an’ cocks a feerce look en muh own eye ta him.
“Well, yore a sorry-ass pipsqeak as it is, I tell ya. No gold, yore horse is tard an’ brokedown, an’ you look a mizerble site fer any mother’s son I say.”
“And so what shall I say of you, Mister Langendorf? Thet you izza cowird thet hides behind bushes an’ ain’t got the sense or mind er time ta git yer hands dirty in the river, makin’ a onnist man a yerself?”
“Now jes a minnit, pipsqeak!”
“I toldja not ta call me thet.”
I wuz lookin him over and seen he wuz jes a few feat away from a big ole rock behind him. Eff I culd jes git him ta tip over on it, I’d maybe git time ta jump back on Sackagrool an’ git away from the seen.
So et were, he wuz standin’ near me with thet feerce look in his own eye an’ his pistols somewhat lank at his sides, wehn I sees the chance. I pusheded him over and he tips jes like I pickchered it, an’ then he’s all sprawld out on the road an’ jes like I toldja I would, I jumps back on the horse an’ spurs her on. Red Langendorf lyin’ thar in the road behind me flat on his fanny cussin’ and yellin’, too.
A coarse, I git ta Hangtown an’ git my line a credit with the store peoples thar an’ now have a full saddle bag with flar, another side a bacon, an’ even five pounds a coffee. I dint see no word nor speck nor hint a Red Langendorf on my way back into Judas Gulch, neither. Maybe he done found better pickins er he seen the light, I better not mess with thet Pat!
When I gits back ta Judas Gulch though I goes strate ta Sheriff Neatness.
“Sherrif I have seened the natorryus Red Langendorf!”
“You what? And you lived?”
“Well a coarse I lived, er I wooden be tellin ya! I tell ya, he accosseted me on the road ta Hangtown. I wuz lucky I hed no gold er he wooda robbed me for shore. I tricked him an’ tripped him up an’ made off though. He wuz a-cussin me from his dairy air on the ground.”
“What did he look like?” Neatness asks me.
“Well, jez like people sez he gots Injun length kinda har, wears it all out an’ not tucked away like the Chinee or th’ Injuns, he wuz dressed kinda like a minder, knee boots, had a bandoleer an’ two pistols, lotsa bullits, hez shirt wuz a checked calico gingham doohickey looked like maybe et wuz home spun, shore wuz no store-bought job. An’ he had flat, wide, leather spenders ta hold up hez sore an’ sorry trowzers. They wuz plain duck, they wuz.”
“Thank yew fer yer discription, Sardo Pat I’ll get up a posse an’ we will git on his lard ass rite quick.”
“Eff I wuz you I’d check out the hills around Semitary Hill on the way thar ta Hangtown. He’s got a particklar ambush spot, et seems ta me. He jumpeded outta the bushes on me, Injun style. Eff muh horse were not a good one, et wooda spooked her bad.”
“Yes, I am well aware of his techniques. His moad-uss opperandy. Rest assured, Pat, we’ll ketch him. Thanks fer yer help.”
“Much obliged, Sheriff.”
Now I’se kinda sad thar weren’t even no reward fer this tale, cuz the Sheriff wooden pay unless he culd somehow gitcha to shoot er scalp Red Langendorf yersef. But I wuz happy thet the interests a justice wuz so served.
Thet night I seen Sherrif Neatness at Ollarud’s Pewter Eye.
“Well, Sherrif, dija git ‘im?”
“Aww... wut? Naw! We give him a good chase, but I think that there boy ez jes a little too sly an’ crafty. We had a good ride, we went up war you sed ta look, thet road off Semitary Hill but warnt no signs of the varmint. But rest assured, Pat, me an’ my boys will run him ta ground, evenchally.”
I bought the Sheriff a Red Eye and he bought me one back and so we tosted the time he might ackshully ketch Red Langendorf, whose breadcrumb sins war knowed all over the county by now.
SOME MIGHTY STRANGE FELLERS
Ninety-eight million miles away, the star they call Sol flames with a four-billion year old inner heat—jiggling molecules of hydrogen which convert to helium under gravitational pressure to create chains of energetic particles that take hundreds of thousands of years to arrive at the surface, where great storms of electromagnetic waves form their own protuberances and flare outward, sending the highly charged particles and photons whirring off against a great circle, in which hang suspended the moving little marbles known as planets. The third of these, the little blue one, takes on color from the combined oxygen and hydrogen molecules to form the mystical element water, which covers seven-tenths of the planet, and falls each winter in the rains which cause streams and rivers to run off the high Sierra... Deep with in the mountains lie great veins of crystalline quartz and inside them, the star-stuff of which the men like Sardo Pat, Keiki Kalakaua, Transom, MacDavish, and the rest of the company search the bottom of these stream beds — for the star-stuff which collected itself inside the flowing pools of magma which caused these mountains to be born...
The speeding photons carry their own radiant heat, which strikes the little blue planet incessantly as it spins its merry way around the star, as it has for five billion years. The waves of heat strike the backs of the miners as they dip their pans into the chill Cosumnes Sierra water... their knee-boots submerged to the ankle, colored darkly a permanent shade further of brown than the uppers, the soles of which are never truly dry, for the men rise each day, pull their boots from the fire to walk to the river, yet to do it all over again. The sun strikes their backs and as they work it reflects in myriad spots of shining light off the ever-moving ever-changing stream. Sweating and swearing, or sometimes giving a whoop of joy as they scour the pan and find the precious star-flakes shining back at them, more real than the tenuous star-reflections on the water’s surface, more seductive than the shimmering heat-ripples which foam of the golden brown hillsides slick with dried straw. The scent of pine and laurel strikes their nostrils and quickens and excites them— “there’s gold here in this river, by crackee!”— and they plunge their arms deep into the waters, bringing up hunk after hunk of raw ore and gravel, dumping it with their shovels into the rockers and Long Toms, shaking the rockers over the sluices to gather more and more of the endlessly fascinating fruit of the mountain.
The mercury in the thermometers rises to ninety, ninety five, and heads up to a hundred and even higher, and the men stir the mud in their pans, and now and then, dabble handful-sized dips from the stream upon their foreheads, shoulders, and backs. It is but minutes before it has turned back to vapor, and their skin begins to take note of the radiant starlight once more. The flakes of dust fall in the sluices and shine with their own dull reflection of the starlight on the water. The men dry the dust in the heat of the day, on long strips of canvas, on boards with corrugated edges, or spread out on rock faces, and when dry they transfer them into buckskin or leather pouches they have hoarded for just this purpose. Each man works with his own pace, chooses his own task, and takes his turn on the rocker.
Further down river, in the bends where the placer has been all worked out already, and the coyote holes forsaken for lack of tools to go at depth, men have built long flumes diverting river water off the main course, so that their sluices and Long Toms might run full of it. Each man has paid a rent to the water company for a few minutes worth of washing, but those few minutes can fill a Long Tom with water enough for a day’s work. They have brought up from the valley large pumps on wagons, which are fitted with great hoses called monitors, and with these, mounted on wooden, swiveling racks, they throw thousands of gallons per second at the vulnerable, gashed hillsides, washing away the sediment of centuries, hoping to get more out of the dirt and mud than they will ever put back in, but their bones. The talus falls just as it might in a glacial cirque, but in smaller, shorter lengths, up and down the river, so that by the end of a few weeks, the small hills resemble none so much as prairie dog towns, or the middens of insatiable clam diggers. The clam diggers who came before the claim diggers, however, have been driven from these hills, or if they remain, they work as servitudinal helots for the men who staked their claim, and all, in any event, work in servitude to the water monopoly... ruled from Frisco but itself chained to the profitable frozen hydrogen-oxygen compound found in the deep Sierra snow pack, now driven by starlight’s full sway to its final desperate melt.
They war sleepin’ kindly when I snuck up upon them. They were some weird lookin fellers, I guess, there were a big one with a fat belly had a bald head but plenty of frizz round it and bug spectacles, there were a little guy with a scrawny neck and baird, then there were a more normal lookin’ sort but his har were short and he were full shaved. He wore a flannel shirt, an everday minder’s shirt like the scrawny one but the other had on a suit of overalls white like snow.
When I roused them they jumpeded up like scairt jackrabbits though. I pulled from my saddlebag a long hunk of venison and steered up the far for them, and soon I had it back where it were decent, and set that haunch of deer upon it. I asketed them then war was they from, and war did they get them strange duds. I ain’t seen no fresh flannels up har in years, but I reckon they gots it in Sackaminnow.
The normal lookin’ one says, “We came from the future. Don’t ask us how. I think maybe our meditation sent us here, maybe something went wrong. We're not interested too much in going back. We were all studying the Buddha. I don’t know how that works. But I know we are a hundred years ahead of you, and you ain’t seen nothing, yet. Believe me— if you could see the future where we’re from, you wouldn’t like it either.”
And he spits out a shot of that wine he was slurping on, and the one he called Alain, he steers up the coffee grounds, and starts countin’ out some mushrooms I spoze was going inta the eggs, and the one they calt Scarey, he gits out the fryin’ pan and damn if he didn’t fry up four eggs. Now war did them come from, I asketed.
“From the future, too. In the future, eggs will only cost you a dime, if that.”
“Whale, why dontcher go and git me some! Dang I would love to have sum of my own eggs for a change, ‘stead of coughin up a buck to Ollarud ever time.”
And man would not I wish to go war an egg were only a dime! If that don’t beat all.
Then, they commencet an argument amongst themselves.
They divvy up their mushrooms. They never did put them mushrooms inta the eggs.
"I hope that we can avoid the bummers up here this summer," sniffed Scary. "Those yahoos make too much noise, and are freaking out the wildlife."
"Meaning us?" quipped Alain, who silently removed the now-empty bottle of burgundy wine from sleeping Jock's fingers.
Jock woke up abruptly, to mumble: "Tell me when we reach New York, Neal! I think my latest royalty check should have arrived by the Pony Express! I'm expecting $25 dollars!"
"Neal's not here, Jock. Go back to sleep."
Well, I sat by their far a whiles longer. The one, the normal one they called Jock, he begins telling me a yarn, while the bug-spectacled one looks up at the stars, once in a while he has a puff on a Messican cigartee and gets silly and laughs, but me an’ Jock we kept on talking. I was lucky I had me a bottle of my regular pizen, that Fugitive Justice that Jamjob runs off, in a pocket of my saddlebag, so I goes and gets it when Jock says he wishes they hadn’t a drunk up all their good Sonoma wine.
“I can pack it away, you know.”
He says this to me while he grabs that Messican cigartee off the fat one, and has himself a heaping slug of hell fire, and I jest sat thar and pours him like a little thimbleshot of the Fugitive Justice fer him.
He looks a little crosseyed at me, then belts it back, give himself a satified expression and a sound like a slowing down steam train, and commences the rest of his story.
It were shore strange to hear. These boys, they says they is writers. They is not only college boys, all of them, without no real occupayshun, but they write. Dang if I have heard this too often, but I was soon to meet another man called himself a writer, too, and he were a piece of work as well.
They was head up to Scary’s cabin, bound to say he lives up thar by the big old lake in the mountains, and was gonna do a far watch. In the future, he says, the gov’mint will pay you to sit up on the hill and spot forst fars. Well they was headed thar, and then found themselves back here, “a hunnert years ago.”
“It’s not a hunnert years ago,” I says, “this is 1850!”
“That’s a hunnert years back, for us.”
“And you got eggs for a dime thar?”
I was still a bit incredjulus.
“Yessir! We got big old steel birds that flies in the sky, we gots big old wagons we drive round in don’t need no horse, we gots two hunnert million Americans and fifteen millions of ‘em lives here in Californee!”
“Whale, I’ll be,” I say, and has another nip.
Jock tries to pass me that Messican cigartee but I shrugs it off, I says, “I’ve had better” like a man who’s manner born and snobbish, and he looks at me funny and says “suit yerself.”
Scarey there lain back in his own sleeping sack smiles contently and says to me, “So, you like this set up, do you? I figure I could make it here If I don’t hafta go back I mean.”
Alain the fat one laughs. “I figger you think you could, he says. But I will miss my teddy bar.”
He’ll miss his teddy bar! I bet he’ll miss a lot more than that, this tennerfoot!
But the one calt Scarey jes keeps on talkin, like he is havin’ a reveree.
“Yes sir, this old pure blue sky, clean water, and a man makes what he can from a pan and his hand. A man is as free as his self against the great stream of karma. Imagine—all the karma left behind back in the 20th Century! Why how simple this is! I could do it all again, build my cabin, buy me a cannister of good Chinese tea, a sack of brown rice, grow my own veggies...”
“You’ll well wish you hadn’t,” I says. “You see son, a man is not so free here. You gots competition! You gots Kanakas and Injuns, Chillymen and Aussies, you gots other whites— oh yes, and we’re worst of all! You gots greed and murder and hoss theiving and all type of trouble. And no womens! How do you think you would like that?”
Alain said, he “might like that just fine,” and that causes the other two to chuckle and smirk and the Jock he says “Well tell me this, old Sardo”—
“Name’s Pat. Yes, everone calls me Sardo, but I dint volunteer that did I?”
“Well it’s just a generic term, sir, we have for your generation...”
“My generation! Why I ain’t even got out of it yet!”
“Like we say, friend, if you could see the future like we do, you wouldn’t want to be there.”
“Well fer a ten cent egg I would.”
So we kinda drifted off at that point, the one calt Jock banks down the far, and I wakes up early with dew frosting my cloak and har, and I packed up my blanket and rode out of there, while they was all still asleeping.
I gots to tell you all something, I warnt you ta all be aware.
Some bad actors been saying to you Bostons back thar ‘bout all there is har in Californee is sunny weather. Whale that all depends on war you is. If you is har in the Sackaminnow valley then yes, it purty much is sunny a lot of the time. Even hot and I mean devil care hot. That lasts from spring to fall, an’ it only stops when the heavy weather begins to slop on down fum Oregun.
You gots yer mystic fog comes off the marshes an’ the delta, it comes in middle of the night and don’t clear out til around nine or even later. And then that sun come baking down, and yer reachin’ fer yer hat afore noontimes.
Now eff you is in Frisco, you gots some real cusset tarnation weather happening thar. All the year long you do. In summer, you got fog comes in off the ocean early in the morning, almost as same as the valley. You might be lucky eff the sun comes out maybe about three o’clock— but then it’s time fer that fog to roll back in about five oclock! And windy! Sure, it’s sunny sometimes (mostly in winter). You might think that something to crow about, but even if it’s sunny, that don’t mean it ain’t just as cold as if it weren’t! Best time of the year in Frisco is in the fall, because it stays summer a few more weeks. You gets a break from Christmas to New years, too—no rain, lots of sun, but the kicker I tell you is, it is still jes’ as cold. Men walking around in their topcoats all the year long, children, and I ain’t a joshin’ you. It’s windy feerce most ever single day, and if thar was anything to leave town for, why jest ten miles outta town you gots a who differnt setup, and sunshine, even most of the year.
I tell you that Frisco is one cusset town, but eff I had m’druthers, I druther be in Judas Gulch, since that thar hot sun is at least believable.
But I must begin my tale of hows I made my third trip to Frisco in that early time of my mining, it were fall of Fifty. I tole ya already about them biscuit boys comin’ up the mountain. I orta tell you about the scene I found when I got thar.
I had me jest about ten days t’ git thar an git back which , ackshully, ekull two days in the city and three days each way heading down, since I stopped in Sackaminnow, and I found the steamer Sitka agin, and rode that thing down the delta, and it were a night in the tents in Sackaminnow agin afore I done that. But on the ride I meets and talks to the cap’n. His name is Botocks and he’s a bright feller, he’s been through a fair amount of strife, but he says his best time on his steamer is when all the guests has et and drunk and everone is relaxin’ to the steamboat band. Yep, they got a band thar on that ferry, call ‘em the Styx Sassiety Sangers.
Inside her dining car (I guess it’s a dining car— maybe more like a settee room) there was card tables all set up and gamblers going for keno and faro and monte. I divulge none of my secrits, but must tell you, I came down from the mines with a good twenty ounces, and I meaned to get it cashed in at Frisco, and I ain’t no gamlin’ man. Some folks call me a piker, and I resent that. Ef I were a piker would not have even dared this whole venture, mighta jes stayed in my pappy’s little own and hauled hods fer the Eerie, too! But not me.
They have great crystal chandeliers look like something else, empaneled walnut millwork all around the edge of the room, and a great old bar got from South ‘Merica, and a sashay mirror about thirty feet long an’ ten foot high behind it. On them card tables is pile of dust, chips, an’ coins, an many men all flush with Disaster and Juno gather round them— the steamboat man says he makes himself pretty durn good pocket change for his cut off it. A course the bartender too, he gets hisself a hefty cut too.
I straight way lit out for the Fulmar Fandango House to look up that purty waiter gal I runs into last time. This time I says to myself I am going to get a dance, and more than that! Thet’s one reason I drug so much gold with me, by the way. A purty waiter girl needs a lot more than convincing to share her favors if you get my drift, and I was pre-paired.
At the Fulmar it was about as happening as Goshen was on the Ferryboat, but it took me only minits to spot that purty gal and get her eye. In a wink she were down on my case, offerin’ me the Pisco Punch again... I says “Look, purty waiter gal, won’t you tell me yer name? I comes all the way down from Judas Gulch with a hearty hankerin’ t’ larn it and see eff we can’t come to some desint preconditions. Cain’t you tell me yer name?”
“Why sartinly, suh. Mah name’s Esmeralda. Esmeralda Beauregard.”
“You talks like you from down south.”
“Why yes, y’all so discernin’! Ahm from Joejuh. Peachtree Joejuh. I got hear maybe a month afore I seen your sorry face the firs’ time. I remembers you right well. You kin dance, that’s purty good fer a man. Wat sorts of preconditions are you predisposing?”
I tole her, and she took a faint look around her to see who was a-lookin, then she leans over me close and says “Y’all come back here round about four clock. Thass when I gets off the job!”
Now I had some prospects! I smiled to her, bowed, shook her hand, and says, “Esmeralda, you gotcherself a pardner. I shall return. My name is Sardo, Sardo Pat. You ain’t seen the last of me none.”
Now there I was in that cusset weather city with all day ahead of me and noplace else I felt I wanted t’go. Weren’t no percentage in going back to the bullfight— you seen one, you seen em all. Warn’t no plays happening worth talkin’ bout, and surely was no thespian of the caliber no Edwin Booth about, this time. But I felt good anyway now that I had this prospect, so I wanders downtown, nowhere to go but just to hang around. I went down to the docks. If I could avoid the Sydney Ducks and Frisco Hounds I should be in good shape.
Well then I seen it. It were poppin’ off cannon well off shore before it even clumb through the Golden Gates— it were the SS Oregun and it were all decked out fer highwater! Ever flag that ship carried even semi-fores, was flyin on the masts. And special at the top, and on near ever other mast too, was Old Glory, but things looked different. I had to look real hard at it, but, by Gum, it were a new star!
And there was a grisly old sea captain shouting from the deck into a hailing-tin.
“San Francisco! You are duly notified that California is now the Thirty-first State of our Great Union, the United States of America! Yes! California is a United State! We bring news from Washington! As of September Nine you are United States citizens! Welcome golden California to Columbia’s protecting arms!”
And he went on for quite some time, and a crowd began to gather at the docks, and the ship blows off more cannons, and when the cap’n come down the gang plank at last, he’s holding a paper which is a proclamation from Millerd Fillmoor hisself, the President, says much of the same thing.
All of a sudden the docks is in a tizzy! People are hoopin’ and hollerin’ and you would not believe. Maybe you would, but this were the most joyous occasion I kin remember for a while. Men started clapping their hands, some people did a tarnation jig. Chinamen lit off gunpowder crackers, and Aussies did their weird little kookoo burro dance. Now the whole durn town had reason to celebrate, and I were no differnt. I goes over to the City Hotel, war I allus stay, and gets a Red Eye and sets there jest listenin’t the town goin’ crazy.
Et were not too long then, til I gits me a plate of fried eggs an’ oysters thar, and a good steak, and decides after I was all set, it were now time to conquest over Miss Esmeralda at the Fulmar Fandango House. I hed my courage in my hand like muh hat, and I were duded up all fine, in my best, having had time t’ go change inta a little more formal somethin’s.
When I got to the Fulmar, well, there she were, right on the settee, as I come in the front door and ambulated about the gallery. and she greeted me with a sweet smile and even bit of a kiss.
“Howdy thar, sweet hart!” I sez.
“Let’s go have ourselves some fun,” she sez back, and don’t that sound good!
“Let’s go over to muh hotel. Thar’s a place near thar we kin have drinks an’ dancin, an’ it’s prolly not as spensive as Grizzlepizzle’s.”
“Lots of places is cheaper than Gristlepistol’s, Pat. why do you think I work there? The tips alone are magnificent!”
“Whale, I only gots a coupla days here in Frisco to waste. I intend to waste them to muh sastisfaction. I can’t get none.”
I walks her out and like a proper gennulman I hails a coach and two, and the hack rides us over across town agin, and dumpeded us offet at the City Hotel. I give the man a gold reale on account he’s a Spannerd, and he smiles at me, sez “Bueno sirrah, Senor” and nex’ thing we are walking down to Pudent’s Saloon
A galoot in a straw hat accosted us as we crost Kearny Street on the way to Pudent’s.
“Pardon me sir, but do you know the way to Sezamee Street?”
Now I war nothin’ but a tennerfoot in Frisco myself so I had no anser ta him. Esmeralda though now she were savvy, and she tells him:
“Why yes, it’s back there, up at Consumption Junction! Pick up some claims and phrases an’ clauses while yer at it!”
“Everbody knows Consumption Junction, Pat. If you lived here you’d know it all too well yerself. Lots of Sydneys and Chinamen and Spannerds there. Little bit of a rag city, you know?It’s about the closest thing we gots to a hospital here in Frisco.”
I nodded, and we went inta Pudent’s.
There was a lotta minders thar takin’ the wisky and playin’ cards, and ever so offen you wuld har a belle bravely squealin’, as some man er other tickled someplace speshul on her body... Thar were a customary nude woman done artistically on the back wall above the meer, and everone said boy howdy when they seen us two come stalkin’ in. Esmeralda coulda bought the place jes with a smile, fer all the looks of it.
But I paid them all no mine, and I orders both us a pair a Pisco Punches, and we proceeded t’ git knocked out. In fack, I mussa spent a good thirteen bucks on jes the punches an’ our dinner. Cusset! That dinner were no more than a reheated can o’ oysters, some rice noodles from Canton, and a little bitty quail— I coulda shot him up in Judas Gulch myself!
But we shard it, then we danceted a while. It shore felt good t’ have a sof’ cheek spread aginst muh own wiskers. An’ then she kisseted me! More than once, and I wuz still tryna dance with her, and she whispers,
“Lets git back t’ yer hotel Pat, an’ les’ do it!”
Dang if that weren’t a forward-lookin woman!
So I paid up, an’ we left Pudent’s bar and headed back t’ my lttle room.
Now all I brung down thar were a leather ridin’ satchel, and muh pinto Sackagrool he were back in Martinez, war I left him, cus it were a stop fer the Sitka, an’ cuz I don’t know if I really wants him loose thar in Frisco. My satchel thar on a dresser top, has about seven differnt sized gold pouches inside, an’ each un ez fer a sartin purpose. I speck I brung the biggest one to drop on Esmeralda, and that would work for her, she said.
First thing I know she’s rustlin’ out of her petticoats an’ all, and hustlin’ me outta my spenders an’ trousers down to my woolens, and even thar, she hunted fer the trapdoor an’ found it, and started workin on me. Hotdang!
And that were not the haffa it. I could tell ya more but this ain’t no yeller dog story and it ain’t no blue moon book, ya hear? Sorry t’ dissapoint.
Afterwards I lays back an’ smoked a cigartee and she said I was jes’ fine. I handed her the gold pouch— she whistled, then put in in her parse.
I had the luxury now of havin’ Esmeralda Beauregard all to museff the whole night long.
Durn if thet girl din’t know all the ropes and knots! Ever which way, an I suppose outta the whole night we mussa doned it eight er nine times. Cause that were one woman who liked it, fer sure. I musset only got about three er four ares of sleep on account of thet vixen.
And en the marnin, she lef me a little bow from her har to remember her by, an a garter, an’ I felt so good, but she were nowhere in sight. I knew it weren’t no dream, but she hed said sumpin bout needin t’ be back at Grizzlepizzle’s rather early, an’ not to be too shocked ef she were gone when I gets up. And that were the story! What a mem’ry. I knew war I could find her, too, should I dare risk a repeat performance. Well probly not this trip, but maybe next time.
The whole town were still hogwild crazy and celebratin’ the new statehood! I knew I warnted t’ tell the boys at the compnee museff, ef I could, but prolly the news were telegraphed up thar already, at least, I knew I could be back thar within a coupla more days. Then we would hold our own celebratin. An’ the Slavery Boys was gone, too, that were purty good.
I decidet I would stay one more night in Frisco, but only see Esmeralda late, an’ too late for her trouble, and have me one last Fulmar House pancake speshul fer muh supper when I went.
Whale when I got thar, I noticed Esmeralda right off, an’ the sight was nothin’ but a pain. There she were, my party girl, an’ she had her arms around another man, some stranger, and she were over his legs like a baby-doll an’ he were applying the comfort squeeze warever he felt like. I screwd my curij to the sticken point an’ I comes up right friendly, and I taps her on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, Miss Esmeralda but I am very mistaken, I spoze, in thinkin we were so friendly...”
But this were somethin’ elset. The man she were settin on, he makes no move, I sez to him, feelin frisky, “I’ll bust yer crust...”
But then somethin else happened. She went fer her tit gun and levels it like at me!
“But, but, Esmeralda, it’s me, Pat, and I loves ya, honey! I do! Don’t shoot!”
That were about the half of it, but she shoots anyway!
That were about the half of it, but she shoots anyway!
Dang though if I don’t feel no bullet like I wuz spectin. That bullet went inter a man thet was looming right behind me, a big tall Sydney Duck with a sapper, was jes about to bust my crust, and take muh head, too! Why thet girl with a heart of gold, darn near but she saved my life!”
The Duck he scattered back registering cusses in his strange way of talk, and staggered back outa the Fandango House. A man in a blue jacket helped him and tossed him right out the front door.
“You reckoned right, Pat. I am yer friend. And this here is Vicente “Nanny” Nannahan, one of the best durn accident lawyers here in Frisco. He’s jes’ a friend, Pat. I reckon you should be his friend too. Gennulmen, shake.”
And so I shook the squirt’s hand.
“Patrick Machree Machlaganahee, atcher service, sir.”
“Yes, Squire McGlachlaganahee, it is a pleasure to meet you, sir. If you have any accidents, incidents, claims you might like settiled, why here sir is my business card. My offices are on Montgomery Street, and I am sure you will find some reason of need for my own services, perhaps, somewhere in your career.”
I stared dumbly at the card in my hand. The elegant writin were all filligreed an’ fancy.
“Call me Nanny fer short. Why not, everone else does.”
“And I’m Sardo, Sardo Pat. Everone else does with me, too.”
I decidet that it were the best oppurtunity and I prayed God my gracious angel Esmeralda might take the bait. So I gets down on my knees thar in the sight of God, Nanny Nannahan, an’ maybe even Wolfram Grizzlepizzle, and I proposes my troth of marj to Esmeralda Beauregard.
“Not now, my love! When I get back to Frisco in the Spring. We have a lot to do up thar in the Mountains, And I gots to be workin’ and mendin’ the compnee’s bizness...”
“Yes, Pat! I shall! Why that would be wonderful! Imagine that, the hard life of a pieneer wife! I never dreamed!”
Well, she could keep on dreamin’, I figgered, but eff I weren’t gonna be good to muh word I wouldna popped the weasel like thet. Anyhow, the point is, I hung round with them fer a coupla ares more then headed back to muh hotel alone, agin, this time. You figger a lady is at least gonna warna sleep on the idear, even eff she did throw an anser back right away like that. Like I said, she were a forward-lookin kinda gal.
In the train of the great Argonaut migration to the gold fields of California, along with the second, third, and subsequent waves of miners came the women seeking better opportunities for themselves amongst the newly rich men who made up the vast majority of the San Francisco population. Respected as ladies, yet primarily engaging themselves as independent business women of a more primitive type, these social climbers made a disapproved and frowned on profession somewhat less ignoble for their efforts. In a place where laws were yet to be encoded and justice was a rough as the frontier, respect for the female type was, paradoxically, universal. This lent a veneer of grace and respectability which, along with an absence of law, provide a unique environment for the “saloon girl” or “pretty waiter girl” to become engaged in “the oldest profession” in a style and manner unavailable to those who remained behind on the East Coast.
There was one in particular, a Chinese woman who came in the late 50’s, who developed her own unique brand of male exploitation as she charged men a half-eagle (five dollars) for the sheer pleasure of simply looking at her, clothed. This woman went on to become an icon of San Francisco’s post-gold Rush society. There were others in this tradition, which continued unabated, actually, for another century, as “The City” became reputed as somewhere where vice ruled and men were free to be their own worst examples.
These many females, when not attaching themselves to a particular patron, would toil on in white slavery for their elder mentors, the madams, who maintained bordellos and collected “rents” from “independent agents.” The city, it was said, had been built on a bedrock of “whores and bankers.” And there were few who would argue otherwise, when the histories of the era were finally compiled.
Now around hereabouts I did have another strange experience, I spoze it might be worth tellin’ ya.
It were on the way back from my third Frisco trip, the one where I says I met them strange characters said they was all writers, on the way down? Well, on the way back up thar I come acrosset this man who was dressed head to toe in a white suit— vest, jacket, trousers, pomeroy, whole she-bang. And he wore hiself a little kind of derby not quite a top hat, but weren’t no real western outfit, neither. He had him some shoes, but they wasn’t no minders top boots but cut down at the ankles, and fancy tooled leather they was too. Looked like he were worth a few ounces in all, jest in his getup.
He’s comin’ down and I’se going back up.
“Howdy!” I says, by way of being friendly.
He sets back on his jackass mule and gives me a thin, hard stare, from underneath his beetle eyebrows and behind his two-gun mustache. When he gits through assesin’ my prospects, were I friend or foe, no doubt, he lights hisself a ceegar end and blows off the smoke.
“Howdy. And who be you, Lord blesset?”
“Call me Sardo, stranger. Headed to Sackaminnow?”
“I reckon. Things up there got purty beat for me. I’se doin’ some pocket minin,’, but, more like, mindin’ my own mends is all when come from it.”
I looked at this sad pathetic specimen of human existence with a new appreciation. Thinkin’ maybe the white duds is some kind of a fancy for his return to the big city, I wagered a poke.
“Well, if you been up thar minding, you shore looks like you ready fer the Sundy School! I knows a good Gospel Shark will set you up real fine, and maybe you’ll strike it rich at Saint Peter’s.”
“I reckon I don’t need no Sundy School Gospel Shark minding, and no minding by Saint Peter. No, son, I have seen the elephant now, by god I have, and I am heading back to Frisco to catch me a boat to Honnalooloo.”
He gives me another stare about as cold as a stepmother’s kiss an’ I took a step back t’ reckon.
Ah yes, Honnaooloo. Seems if nobody wants t’ go east to work the mines, then he wants a boat west to Honnalooloo. Immejitly I thunk about Cakey, and how he might be gettin’ on.
Then the stranger says something very odd. He says,
“Listen, pardner, can you tell me what year this is? I needs to set my watch.”
He pulls out a magnificent pocketwatch, gold, of course, plating on the back, and the chronometer’s got several more dials than just to tell you the time. I spoze perhaps his tells the year month and the day, too! Doesn’t it, I asseted.
“Yep, son, that it do.”
“Well mister, it’s the year 1850, and it be about the twenty thirst of October.”
“Is it now?”
“Well, yes, sir. Californee is now a state of the Union, and I jes came back myself from seeing the big pear-aid in Frisco. Or I woulda, but, I figgered I needs ta see my claim more. What’s a pear-ade, anyhow? Buncha galoots stalking about with guns. Gots enough of thet war I’m a goin’!”
“Californee is a state. Hmmm, well, that squares, yes. But it seems to me I am somewhat ahead of myself here.”
“How can you be ahead of yourself? You are travelin’ on a jackass. They are not known for their promptness for appointments nor attentions to detail.”
“No, no, no, son. I am coming from Verginee City! In 1863! I am heading west of course, as you can tell the sun declines in that general direction. I figgered it would be about September, September fourth or so. And now here I am. Thirteen years and a month ahead of myself! How the deuce...”
“Well, mister, spoze you tell me what is so speshull about ‘Ginia City?”
“Good Goshen, Sardo! ‘Ginia City is the biggest thing since Sutter’s Gold Strike! Men are haulin’ silver out of her like you would not believe! A man can make a fortune jest settin’ on a pile of claims, and selling them at his leisure.”
“So... d’joo make any pile?”
“Alas, no! I have earned and lost three fortunes, by gum, and this here paper in my hands is the hope for my fourth. If I c’n only get to Frisco, in 1863! I knows a man with a newspaper...”
“Well, good luck with a newpaper fortune, buster. I met some whackadoodles on muh way down the mountain, said they wuz writers too. A trio, all hairy and freaky lookin too, for the most part. But you say yer a writer, and dang if you don’t look it, by the cut of them duds.”
“A man is what he appears to be, and the world may disregard the rest, except, only his tailor knows for sure.”
Spoken like a true cryptic saint of circumstance thet was!
“Sure, mister, jest watch out on yer way into Frisco. She’s a hoppin’ with the gold fever for sure now. I might do me some pocket minding myself when I gets back up to Consumness. Seems my little claim is a-gittin panned out rather quick. Might have more pockets in that coyote hole, but, with the way everone in my comp’nee been arguin’ and fightin, we ain’t long for a compnee anyhow, and the water compnee is takin’ huge chunks of water rent out of us now. Seein’ as it is October, I hopes to resupply my cabin and settle in fer the winter... Lucky I am just down here for a brief spell!”
“Yes, I lost three fortunes,” he tells me, apropos of nothin’.
“I tried the silver lode— I worked like an Irishman down in the mine, hauling up huge carts of ore! But I had a weak claim, and so did my partner, and we lost our shirts selling foot stock. Then I was gone to that there big Lake, to start a timber comp’ny”
“That sounds like it mighta been good!”
“Mighta— but I burnt the whole place down, stupid me, with a forst far started off my own durn ceegar.”
He flicked the ash off the one he was fuming now, and looked at me.
“What about the third fortune?”
“Oh, that. Well, listen. I do not know how you feel about this state being “free soil” and all...”
“Well, I has my pinions bout it.”
“But I don’t like the idear of white mens and niggers conjugating the verb, if you get my drift! I said little something to decrease the preposition of tolerance of these devices, an’ how that conjugatin’ Thomas Starr King feller done uses these “Sanitary Fund” measures fer his miscegenatin’ tolerance, and dang if them durn Ginnia City Minders and Menders din’t run me outta town!”
“And that’s why yer headed to Honnalooloo?”
“Durn straight. Goin’ there like a comet, for shore.”
I assessed him a little more scrutaneously, and I figgered he was more or less onnist, or at least he was more onnist than a politician. But I did not like hearin’ none of this about Mr. Starr King. No sir, he was an onnist man for onnist men, an’ working for the fraternity of man! Who was this little pipsqueak, but a danged infernal slaver stater! Blood and tarnation! So I flicked the whip on my pinto, and said a fond farewell to this sorry feller, wishing him luck, good luck, for that, and as a last afterthought as I rode away, I shouts:
“When you gets to Honnalooloo, look up Cakey Kowakowa! Tell him ‘Howdy’ from old Sardo Pat!”
He nodded, and my pony was swift to make tracks between us, fer soon, the sun was headed further towards the ocean, and maybe that pore young wretch found his way, I hoped so anyhow.
I seened his pitcher in a paper once, many, many years later, yes, about 1865 or so. It was that exack same critter. Sam Clamhands, alias Mark Twang, was his name. He was the new editor of a paper in Verginny City, and he were going to “speak the truth to power”, as he called it.