HE CAME toward me out of an opera lobby, between the acts,—a figure as remarkable as anything in the performance. His clothes, no two articles of which were of the same color, had the appearance of having been purchased and put on only an hour or two before,—a fact more directly established by the clothes-dealer’s ticket which still adhered to his coat-collar, giving the number, size, and general dimensions of that garment somewhat obtrusively to an uninterested public. His trousers had a straight line down each leg, as if he had been born flat but had since developed; and there was another crease down his back, like those figures children cut out of folded paper. I may add that there was no consciousness of this in his face, which was good-natured, and, but for a certain squareness in the angle of his lower jaw, utterly uninteresting and commonplace.
“You disremember me,” he said, briefly, as he extended his hand, “but I’m from Solano, in Californy. I met you there in the spring of ’57. I was tendin’ sheep, and you was burnin’ charcoal.”
There was not the slightest trace of any intentional rudeness in the reminder. It was simply a statement of fact, and as such to be accepted.
“What I hailed ye for was only this,” he said, after I had shaken hands with him. “I saw you a minnit ago standin’ over in yon box—chirpin’ with a lady—a young lady, peart and pretty. Might you be telling me her name?”
I gave him the name of a certain noted belle of a neighboring city, who had lately stirred the hearts of the metropolis, and who was especially admired by the brilliant and fascinating young Dashboard, who stood beside me.
The Man from Solano mused for a moment, and then said, “Thet’s so! thet’s the name! It’s the same gal!”
“You have met her, then?” I asked, in surprise.
“Ye-es,” he responded, slowly: “I met her about fower months ago. She’d bin makin’ a tour of Californy with some friends, and I first saw her aboard the cars this side of Reno. She lost her baggage-checks, and I found them on the floor and gave ’em back to her, and she thanked me. I reckon now it would be about the square thing to go over thar and sorter recognize her.” He stopped a moment, and looked at us inquiringly.
“My dear sir,” struck in the brilliant and fascinating Dashboard, “if your hesitation proceeds from any doubt as to the propriety of your attire, I beg you to dismiss it from your mind at once. The tyranny of custom, it is true, compels your friend and myself to dress peculiarly, but I assure you nothing could be finer than the way that the olive green of your coat melts in the delicate yellow of your cravat, or the pearl gray of your trousers blends with the bright blue of your waistcoat, and lends additional brilliancy to that massive oroide watch-chain which you wear.”
To my surprise, the Man from Solano did not strike him. He looked at the ironical Dashboard with grave earnestness, and then said quietly:—
“Then I reckon you wouldn’t mind showin’ me in thar?”
Dashboard was, I admit, a little staggered at this. But he recovered himself, and, bowing ironically, led the way to the box. I followed him and the Man from Solano.
Now, the belle in question happened to be a gentlewoman—descended from gentlewomen—and after Dashboard’s ironical introduction, in which the Man from Solano was not spared, she comprehended the situation instantly. To Dashboard’s surprise she drew a chair to her side, made the Man from Solano sit down, quietly turned her back on Dashboard, and in full view of the brilliant audience and the focus of a hundred lorgnettes, entered into conversation with him.
Here, for the sake of romance, I should like to say he became animated, and exhibited some trait of excellence,—some rare wit or solid sense. But the fact is he was dull and stupid to the last degree. He persisted in keeping the conversation upon the subject of the lost baggage-checks, and every bright attempt of the lady to divert him failed signally. At last, to everybody’s relief, he rose, and leaning over her chair, said:—
“I calklate to stop over here some time, miss, and you and me bein’ sorter strangers here, maybe when there’s any show like this goin’ on you’ll let me—”
Miss X. said somewhat hastily that the multiplicity of her engagements and the brief limit of her stay in New York she feared would, etc., etc. The two other ladies had their handkerchiefs over their mouths, and were staring intently on the stage, when the Man from Solano continued:—
“Then, maybe, miss, whenever there is a show goin’ on that you’ll attend, you’ll just drop me word to Earle’s Hotel, to this yer address,” and he pulled from his pocket a dozen well-worn letters, and taking the buff envelope from one, handed it to her with something like a bow.
“Certainly,” broke in the facetious Dashboard, “Miss X. goes to the Charity Ball to-morrow night. The tickets are but a trifle to an opulent Californian, and a man of your evident means, and the object a worthy one. You will, no doubt, easily secure an invitation.”
Miss X. raised her handsome eyes for a moment to Dashboard. “By all means,” she said, turning to the Man from Solano; “and as Mr. Dashboard is one of the managers and you are a stranger, he will, of course, send you a complimentary ticket. I have known Mr. Dashboard long enough to know that he is invariably courteous to strangers and a gentleman.” She settled herself in her chair again and fixed her eyes upon the stage.
The Man from Solano thanked the Man of New York, and then, after shaking hands with every body in the box, turned to go. When he had reached the door he looked back to Miss X., and said,—
“It was one of the queerest things in the world, miss, that my findin’ them checks—”
But the curtain had just then risen on the garden scene in “Faust,” and Miss X. was absorbed. The Man from Solano carefully shut the box door and retired. I followed him.
He was silent until he reached the lobby, and then he said, as if renewing a previous conversation, “She is a mighty peart gal—that’s so. She’s just my kind, and will make a stavin’ good wife.”
I thought I saw danger ahead for the Man from Solano, so I hastened to tell him that she was beset by attentions, that she could have her pick and choice of the best of society, and finally, that she was, most probably, engaged to Dashboard.
“That’s so,” he said quietly, without the slightest trace of feeling. “It would be mighty queer if she wasn’t. But I reckon I’ll steer down to the ho-tel. I don’t care much for this yellin’.” (He was alluding to a cadenza of that famous cantatrice, Signora Batti Batti.) “What’s the time?”
He pulled out his watch. It was such a glaring chain, so obviously bogus, that my eyes were fascinated by it. “You’re looking at that watch,” he said; “it’s purty to look at, but she don’t go worth a cent. And yet her price was $125, gold. I gobbled her up in Chatham Street day before yesterday, where they were selling ’em very cheap at auction.”
“You have been outrageously swindled,” I said, indignantly. “Watch and chain are not worth twenty dollars.”
“Are they worth fifteen?” he asked, gravely.
“Then I reckon it’s a fair trade. Ye see, I told ’em I was a Californian from Solano, and hadn’t anything about me of greenbacks. I had three slugs with me. Ye remember them slugs?” (I did; the “slug” was a “token” issued in the early days—a hexagonal piece of gold a little over twice the size of a twenty-dollar gold piece—worth and accepted for fifty dollars.)
“Well, I handed them that, and they handed me the watch. You see them slugs I had made myself outer brass filings and iron pyrites, and used to slap ’em down on the boys for a bluff in a game of draw poker. You see, not being reg’lar gov-ment money, it wasn’t counterfeiting. I reckon they cost me, counting time and anxiety, about fifteen dollars. So, if this yer watch is worth that, it’s about a square game, ain’t it?”
I began to understand the Man from Solano, and said it was. He returned his watch to his pocket, toyed playfully with the chain, and remarked, “Kinder makes a man look fash’nable and wealthy, don’t it?”
I agreed with him. “But what do you intend to do here?” I asked.
“Well, I’ve got a cash capital of nigh on seven hundred dollars. I guess until I get into reg’lar business I’ll skirmish round Wall Street, and sorter lay low.” I was about to give him a few words of warning, but I remembered his watch, and desisted. We shook hands and parted.
A few days after I met him on Broadway. He was attired in another new suit, but I think I saw a slight improvement in his general appearance. Only five distinct colors were visible in his attire. But this, I had reason to believe afterwards, was accidental.
I asked him if he had been to the ball. He said he had. “That gal, and a mighty peart gal she was too, was there, but she sorter fought shy of me. I got this new suit to go in, but those waiters sorter run me into a private box, and I didn’t get much chance to continner our talk about them checks. But that young feller, Dashboard, was mighty perlite. He brought lots of fellers and young women round to the box to see me, and he made up a party that night to take me round Wall Street and in them Stock Boards. And the next day he called for me and took me, and I invested about five hundred dollars in them stocks—may be more. You see, we sorter swopped stocks. You know I had ten shares in the Peacock Copper Mine, that you was once secretary of.”
“But those shares are not worth a cent. The whole thing exploded ten years ago.”
“That’s so, may be; you say so. But then I didn’t know anything more about Communipaw Central, or the Naphtha Gaslight Company, and so I thought it was a square game. Only I realized on the stocks I bought, and I kem up outer Wall Street about four hundred dollars better. You see it was a sorter risk, after all, for them Peacock stocks might come up!”
I looked into his face: it was immeasurably serene and commonplace. I began to be a little afraid of the man, or, rather, of my want of judgment of the man; and after a few words we shook hands and parted.
It was some months before I again saw the Man from Solano. When I did, I found that he had actually become a member of the Stock Board, and had a little office on Broad Street, where he transacted a fair business. My remembrance going back to the first night I met him, I inquired if he had renewed his acquaintance with Miss X. “I heerd that she was in Newport this summer, and I ran down there fur a week.”
“And you talked with her about the baggage-checks?”
“No,” he said, seriously; “she gave me a commission to buy some stocks for her. You see, I guess them fash’nable fellers sorter got to runnin’ her about me, and so she put our acquaintance on a square business footing. I tell you, she’s a right peart gal. Did ye hear of the accident that happened to her?”
I had not.
“Well, you see, she was out yachting, and I managed through one of those fellers to get an invite, too. The whole thing was got up by a man that they say is going to marry her. Well, one afternoon the boom swings round in a little squall and knocks her overboard. There was an awful excitement,—you’ve heard about it, may be?”
“No!” But I saw it all with a romancer’s instinct in a flash of poetry! This poor fellow, debarred through uncouthness from expressing his affection for her, had at last found his fitting opportunity. He had—
“Thar was an awful row,” he went on. “I ran out on the taffrail, and there a dozen yards away was that purty creature, that peart gal, and—I—”
“You jumped for her,” I said, hastily.
“No!” he said gravely. “I let the other man do the jumping. I sorter looked on.”
I stared at him in astonishment.
“No,” he went on, seriously. “He was the man who jumped—that was just then his ‘put’—his line of business. You see, if I had waltzed over the side of that ship, and cavoorted in, and flummuxed round and finally flopped to the bottom, that other man would have jumped nateral-like and saved her; and ez he was going to marry her anyway, I don’t exactly see where I’d hev been represented in the transaction. But don’t you see, ef, after he’d jumped and hadn’t got her, he’d gone down himself, I’d hev had the next best chance, and the advantage of heving him outer the way. You see, you don’t understand me—I don’t think you did in Californy.”
“Then he did save her?”
“Of course. Don’t you see she was all right. If he’d missed her, I’d have chipped in. Thar warn’t no sense in my doing his duty onless he failed.”
Somehow the story got out. The Man from Solano as a butt became more popular than ever, and of course received invitations to burlesque receptions, and naturally met a great many people whom otherwise he would not have seen. It was observed also that his seven hundred dollars were steadily growing, and that he seemed to be getting on in his business. Certain California stocks which I had seen quietly interred in the old days in the tombs of their fathers were magically revived; and I remember, as one who has seen a ghost, to have been shocked as I looked over the quotations one morning to have seen the ghostly face of the “Dead Beat Beach Mining Co.,” rouged and plastered, looking out from the columns of the morning paper. At last a few people began to respect, or suspect, the Man from Solano. At last, suspicion culminated with this incident:—
He had long expressed a wish to belong to a certain “fash’n’ble” club, and with a view of burlesque he was invited to visit the club, where a series of ridiculous entertainments were given him, winding up with a card party. As I passed the steps of the club-house early next morning, I overheard two or three members talking excitedly,—
“He cleaned everybody out.” “Why, he must have raked in nigh on $40,000.”
“Who?” I asked.
“The Man from Solano.”
As I turned away, one of the gentlemen, a victim, noted for his sporting propensities, followed me, and laying his hand on my shoulders, asked:—
“Tell me fairly now. What business did your friend follow in California?”
“He was a shepherd.”
“A shepherd. Tended his flocks on the honey-scented hills of Solano.”
“Well, all I can say is, d—n your California pastorals!”