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 outer 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 bandana.
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 round 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!”
“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 afterwards. 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!”