Letter from Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Virginia City Territorial Enterprise/May 19, 1863

San Francisco, May 16, 1863

EDS. ENTERPRISE: The Unreliable, since he has been here, has conducted himself in such a reckless and unprincipled manner that he has brought the whole Territory into disrepute and made its name a reproach, and its visiting citizens objects of suspicion. He has been a perfect nightmare to the officers of the Occidental Hotel. They give him an excellent room, but if, in prowling about the house, he finds another that suits him better, he “locates” it (that is his slang way of expressing it).

Judging by his appearance what manner of man he was, the hotel clerk at first gave him a room immediately under the shingles—but it was found impossible to keep him there. He said he could not stand it, because spinning round and round, up that spiral staircase, caused his beer to ferment, and made him foam at the mouth like a soda fountain; wherefore, he descended at the dead of night and “jumped” a room on the second floor (the very language he used in boasting of the exploit). He said they served an injunction on him there, “and,” says he, “if Bill Stewart had been down here, Mark, I’d have sued to quiet title, and I’d have held that ground, don’t you know it?” And he sighed; and after ruminating a moment, he added, in a tone of withering contempt: “But these lawyers won’t touch a case unless a man has some rights; humph! they haven’t any more strategy into ’em than a clam. But Bill Stewart—thunder! Now, you just take that Ophir suit that’s coming off in Virginia, for instance—why, God bless you, Bill Stewart’ll worry the witnesses, and bullyrag the Judge, and buy up the jury and pay for ’em; and he’ll prove things that never existed—hell! What won’t he prove! That’s the idea—what won’t he prove, you know? Why, Mark, I’ll tell you what he done when—”

The Unreliable was interrupted here by a messenger from the hotel office, who handed him several sheets of legal cap, very neatly folded. He took them and motioned the young man to retire. “Now,” said he, confidentially, “do you know what that is, Sweetness?” I said I thought it was a wash bill, or a hotel bill, or some thing of that kind. His countenance beamed with admiration: “You’ve struck it, by the Lord; yes, sir, that’s just what it is—it’s another of them d—d assessments; they levied one on me last week, and I meant to go and see a lawyer about it, but”—The Unreliable simmered down into a profound reverie, and I waited in silence to see what species of villainy his fertile brain would bring forth.

At last he started up exultingly, with a devilish light in his eye: “I’ve got them in the door, Mark! They’ve been trying all they knew how to freeze me out, but they can’t win. This hotel ain’t incorporated under the laws of the Territory, and they can’t collect—they are only a lot of blasted tenants in common! O, certainly” (with bitter scorn), “they’ll get rich playing me for a Chinaman, you know.” I forbear to describe how he reveled in the prospect of swindling the Occidental out of his hotel bill—it is too much humiliation even to think of it. This young man insisted upon taking me to a concert last night, and I refused to go at first, because I am naturally suspicious of him, but he assured me that the Bella Union Melodeon was such a chaste and high-toned establishment that he would not hesitate to take any lady there who would go with him. This remark banished my fears, of course, and we proceeded to the house of amusement.

We were the first arrivals there. He purchased two pit-tickets for twenty- five cents apiece; I demurred at this kind of hospitality, and reminded him that orchestra seats were only fifty cents, and private boxes two dollars and a half. He bent on me a look of compassion, and muttered to himself that some people have no more sense than a boiled carrot—that some people’s intellects were as dark as the inside of a cow.

He walked into the pit, and then climbed over into the orchestra seats as coolly as if he had chartered the theatre. I followed, of course. Then he said, “Now, Mark, keep your eye skinned on that doorkeeper, and do as I do.” I did as he did, and I am ashamed to say that he climbed a stanchion and took possession of a private box. In due course several gentlemen performers came on the stage, and with them half a dozen lovely and blooming damsels, with the largest ankles you ever saw. In fact, they were dressed like so many parasols—as it were. Their songs, and jokes, and conundrums were received with rapturous applause. The Unreliable said these things were all copyrighted; it is probably true—I never heard them anywhere else. He was well pleased with the performance, and every time one of the ladies sang, he testified his approbation by knocking some of her teeth out with a bouquet.

The Bella Union, I am told, is supported entirely by Washoe patronage. There are forty-two single gentlemen here from Washoe, and twenty-six married ones; they were all at the concert last night except two—both unmarried. But if the Unreliable had not told me it was a moral, high-toned establishment, I would not have observed it.

Hon. Wm. H. Davenport, of Virginia, and Miss Mollie Spangler, of Cincinnati, Ohio, were married here on the 10th instant, at the residence of Colonel John A. Collins. Among the invited guests were Judge Noyes and lady, Messrs. Beecher and Franz, of Virginia, and Mr. Mark Twain; among the uninvited I noticed only the Unreliable. It will probably never be known what became of the spoons.

The bridal party left yesterday for Sacramento, and may be expected in Virginia shortly. Old fat, jolly B. C. Howard, a Lyon County Commissioner, is here, at the Russ House, where he will linger a while and then depart for his old home in Vermont, to return again in the Fall. Col. Raymond, of the Zephyr-Flat mill, is in the city, also, and taking up a good deal of room in Montgomery Street and the Bank Exchange; he has invested in some fast horses, and I shall probably take them over to Washoe shortly. There are multitudes of people from the Territory here at the three principal hotels—consequently provisions are scarce. If you will send a few more citizens down we can carry this election, and fill all these city offices with Carson and Virginia men.

There is not much doing in stocks just now, especially in the Boards. But I suspect it is the case here as it is in Virginia, that the Boards do precious little of the business. Many private sales of Union (Gold Hill) and Yellow Jacket have transpired here during the past week at much higher prices than you quote those stocks at. Three hundred feet of Golden Gate changed hands at $100 per foot, and fifty feet at $110; but a telegram from Virginia yesterday, announcing that they had “struck it”—and moderately rich—in the San Francisco, raised both stocks several figures, as also the Golden Eagle (first south extension of the Golden Gate), which had been offered the day before at $30 a foot. Two hundred feet of Oriental were sold at private sale to- day at $7 a foot. Now, you hear no talk in Virginia but the extraordinary dullness of the San Francisco market. Humbug! It may be dull in the Boards, but it is lively enough on the street. If you doubt it, say so, and I will move around a little and furnish you with all the statistics you want.

I meant to say something glowing and poetical about the weather, but the Unreliable has come in and driven away refined emotion from my breast. He says: “Say it’s bully, you tallow brained idiot! that’s enough; anybody can understand that; don’t write any of those infernal, sick platitudes about sweet flowers, and joyous butterflies, and worms and things, for people to read before breakfast. You make a fool of yourself that way; everybody gets disgusted with you; stuff! be a man or a mouse, can’t you?”

I must go out now with this conceited ass—there is no other way to get rid of him.


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