Part 1 out of 4
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
by Stephen Leacock, 1869-1944
I The Hostelry of Mr. Smith
II The Speculations of Jefferson Thorpe
III The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias
IV The Ministrations of the Rev. Mr. Drone
V The Whirlwind Campaign in Mariposa
VI The Beacon on the Hill
VII The Extraordinary Entanglement of Mr. Pupkin
VIII The Fore-ordained Attachment of Zena Pepperleigh and Peter Pupkin
IX The Mariposa Bank Mystery
X The Great Election in Missinaba County
XI The Candidacy of Mr. Smith
XII L'Envoi. The Train to Mariposa
I know no way in which a writer may more fittingly introduce his work
to the public than by giving a brief account of who and what he is.
By this means some of the blame for what he has done is very properly
shifted to the extenuating circumstances of his life.
I was born at Swanmoor, Hants, England, on December 30, 1869. I am
not aware that there was any particular conjunction of the planets at
the time, but should think it extremely likely. My parents migrated
to Canada in 1876, and I decided to go with them. My father took up a
farm near Lake Simcoe, in Ontario. This was during the hard times of
Canadian farming, and my father was just able by great diligence to
pay the hired men and, in years of plenty, to raise enough grain to
have seed for the next year's crop without buying any. By this
process my brothers and I were inevitably driven off the land, and
have become professors, business men, and engineers, instead of being
able to grow up as farm labourers. Yet I saw enough of farming to
speak exuberantly in political addresses of the joy of early rising
and the deep sleep, both of body and intellect, that is induced by
honest manual toil.
I was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, of which I was head
boy in 1887. From there I went to the University of Toronto, where I
graduated in 1891. At the University I spent my entire time in the
acquisition of languages, living, dead, and half-dead, and knew
nothing of the outside world. In this diligent pursuit of words I
spent about sixteen hours of each day. Very soon after graduation I
had forgotten the languages, and found myself intellectually
bankrupt. In other words I was what is called a distinguished
graduate, and, as such, I took to school teaching as the only trade I
could find that need neither experience nor intellect. I spent my
time from 1891 to 1899 on the staff of Upper Canada College, an
experience which has left me with a profound sympathy for the many
gifted and brilliant men who are compelled to spend their lives in
the most dreary, the most thankless, and the worst paid profession in
the world. I have noted that of my pupils, those who seemed the
laziest and the least enamoured of books are now rising to eminence
at the bar, in business, and in public life; the really promising
boys who took all the prizes are now able with difficulty to earn the
wages of a clerk in a summer hotel or a deck hand on a canal boat.
In 1899 I gave up school teaching in disgust, borrowing enough money
to live upon for a few months, and went to the University of Chicago
to study economics and political science. I was soon appointed to a
Fellowship in political economy, and by means of this and some
temporary employment by McGill University, I survived until I took
the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 1903. The meaning of this
degree is that the recipient of instruction is examined for the last
time in his life, and is pronounced completely full. After this, no
new ideas can be imparted to him.
From this time, and since my marriage, which had occurred at this
period, I have belonged to the staff of McGill University, first as
lecturer in Political Science, and later as head of the department of
Economics and Political Science. As this position is one of the
prizes of my profession, I am able to regard myself as singularly
fortunate. The emolument is so high as to place me distinctly above
the policemen, postmen, street-car conductors, and other salaried
officials of the neighbourhood, while I am able to mix with the
poorer of the business men of the city on terms of something like
equality. In point of leisure, I enjoy more in the four corners of a
single year than a business man knows in his whole life. I thus have
what the business man can never enjoy, an ability to think, and, what
is still better, to stop thinking altogether for months at a time.
I have written a number of things in connection with my college
life--a book on Political Science, and many essays, magazine
articles, and so on. I belong to the Political Science Association of
America, to the Royal Colonial Institute, and to the Church of
England. These things, surely, are a proof of respectability. I have
had some small connection with politics and public life. A few years
ago I went all round the British Empire delivering addresses on
Imperial organization. When I state that these lectures were followed
almost immediately by the Union of South Africa, the Banana Riots in
Trinidad, and the Turco-Italian war, I think the reader can form some
idea of their importance. In Canada I belong to the Conservative
party, but as yet I have failed entirely in Canadian politics, never
having received a contract to build a bridge, or make a wharf, nor to
construct even the smallest section of the Transcontinental Railway.
This, however, is a form of national ingratitude to which one becomes
accustomed in this Dominion.
Apart from my college work, I have written two books, one called
"Literary Lapses" and the other "Nonsense Novels." Each of these is
published by John Lane (London and New York), and either of them can
be obtained, absurd though it sounds, for the mere sum of three
shillings and sixpence. Any reader of this preface, for example,
ridiculous though it appears, could walk into a bookstore and buy
both of these books for seven shillings. Yet these works are of so
humorous a character that for many years it was found impossible to
print them. The compositors fell back from their task suffocated with
laughter and gasping for air. Nothing but the intervention of the
linotype machine--or rather, of the kind of men who operate it--made
it possible to print these books. Even now people have to be very
careful in circulating them, and the books should never be put into
the hands of persons not in robust health.
Many of my friends are under the impression that I write these
humorous nothings in idle moments when the wearied brain is unable to
perform the serious labours of the economist. My own experience is
exactly the other way. The writing of solid, instructive stuff
fortified by facts and figures is easy enough. There is no trouble in
writing a scientific treatise on the folk-lore of Central China, or a
statistical enquiry into the declining population of Prince Edward
Island. But to write something out of one's own mind, worth reading
for its own sake, is an arduous contrivance only to be achieved in
fortunate moments, few and far between. Personally, I would sooner
have written "Alice in Wonderland" than the whole Encyclopaedia
In regard to the present work I must disclaim at once all intentions
of trying to do anything so ridiculously easy as writing about a real
place and real people. Mariposa is not a real town. On the contrary,
it is about seventy or eighty of them. You may find them all the way
from Lake Superior to the sea, with the same square streets and the
same maple trees and the same churches and hotels, and everywhere the
sunshine of the land of hope.
Similarly, the Reverend Mr. Drone is not one person but about eight
or ten. To make him I clapped the gaiters of one ecclesiastic round
the legs of another, added the sermons of a third and the character
of a fourth, and so let him start on his way in the book to pick up
such individual attributes as he might find for himself. Mullins and
Bagshaw and Judge Pepperleigh and the rest are, it is true, personal
friends of mine. But I have known them in such a variety of forms,
with such alternations of tall and short, dark and fair, that,
individually, I should have much ado to know them. Mr. Pupkin is
found whenever a Canadian bank opens a branch in a county town and
needs a teller. As for Mr. Smith, with his two hundred and eighty
pounds, his hoarse voice, his loud check suit, his diamonds, the
roughness of his address and the goodness of his heart,--all of this
is known by everybody to be a necessary and universal adjunct of the
The inspiration of the book,--a land of hope and sunshine where
little towns spread their square streets and their trim maple trees
beside placid lakes almost within echo of the primeval forest,--is
large enough. If it fails in its portrayal of the scenes and the
country that it depicts the fault lies rather with an art that is
deficient than in an affection that is wanting.
Stephen Leacock. McGill University, June, 1912.
The Hostelry of Mr. Smith
I don't know whether you know Mariposa. If not, it is of no
consequence, for if you know Canada at all, you are probably well
acquainted with a dozen towns just like it.
There it lies in the sunlight, sloping up from the little lake that
spreads out at the foot of the hillside on which the town is built.
There is a wharf beside the lake, and lying alongside of it a steamer
that is tied to the wharf with two ropes of about the same size as
they use on the Lusitania. The steamer goes nowhere in particular,
for the lake is landlocked and there is no navigation for the
Mariposa Belle except to "run trips" on the first of July and the
Queen's Birthday, and to take excursions of the Knights of Pythias
and the Sons of Temperance to and from the Local Option Townships.
In point of geography the lake is called Lake Wissanotti and the
river running out of it the Ossawippi, just as the main street of
Mariposa is called Missinaba Street and the county Missinaba County.
But these names do not really matter. Nobody uses them. People simply
speak of the "lake" and the "river" and the "main street," much in
the same way as they always call the Continental Hotel, "Pete
Robinson's" and the Pharmaceutical Hall, "Eliot's Drug Store." But I
suppose this is just the same in every one else's town as in mine, so
I need lay no stress on it.
The town, I say, has one broad street that runs up from the lake,
commonly called the Main Street. There is no doubt about its width.
When Mariposa was laid out there was none of that shortsightedness
which is seen in the cramped dimensions of Wall Street and
Piccadilly. Missinaba Street is so wide that if you were to roll Jeff
Thorpe's barber shop over on its face it wouldn't reach half way
across. Up and down the Main Street are telegraph poles of cedar of
colossal thickness, standing at a variety of angles and carrying
rather more wires than are commonly seen at a transatlantic cable
On the Main Street itself are a number of buildings of extraordinary
importance,--Smith's Hotel and the Continental and the Mariposa
House, and the two banks (the Commercial and the Exchange), to say
nothing of McCarthy's Block (erected in 1878), and Glover's Hardware
Store with the Oddfellows' Hall above it. Then on the "cross" street
that intersects Missinaba Street at the main corner there is the Post
Office and the Fire Hall and the Young Men's Christian Association
and the office of the Mariposa Newspacket,--in fact, to the eye of
discernment a perfect jostle of public institutions comparable only
to Threadneedle Street or Lower Broadway. On all the side streets
there are maple trees and broad sidewalks, trim gardens with upright
calla lilies, houses with verandahs, which are here and there being
replaced by residences with piazzas.
To the careless eye the scene on the Main Street of a summer
afternoon is one of deep and unbroken peace. The empty street sleeps
in the sunshine. There is a horse and buggy tied to the hitching post
in front of Glover's hardware store. There is, usually and commonly,
the burly figure of Mr. Smith, proprietor of Smith's Hotel, standing
in his chequered waistcoat on the steps of his hostelry, and perhaps,
further up the street, Lawyer Macartney going for his afternoon mail,
or the Rev. Mr. Drone, the Rural Dean of the Church of England
Church, going home to get his fishing rod after a mothers' auxiliary
But this quiet is mere appearance. In reality, and to those who know
it, the place is a perfect hive of activity. Why, at Netley's
butcher shop (established in 1882) there are no less than four men
working on the sausage machines in the basement; at the Newspacket
office there are as many more job-printing; there is a long distance
telephone with four distracting girls on high stools wearing steel
caps and talking incessantly; in the offices in McCarthy's block are
dentists and lawyers with their coats off, ready to work at any
moment; and from the big planing factory down beside the lake where
the railroad siding is, you may hear all through the hours of the
summer afternoon the long-drawn music of the running saw.
Busy--well, I should think so! Ask any of its inhabitants if Mariposa
isn't a busy, hustling, thriving town. Ask Mullins, the manager of
the Exchange Bank, who comes hustling over to his office from the
Mariposa House every day at 10.30 and has scarcely time all morning
to go out and take a drink with the manager of the Commercial; or
ask--well, for the matter of that, ask any of them if they ever knew
a more rushing go-a-head town than Mariposa.
Of course if you come to the place fresh from New York, you are
deceived. Your standard of vision is all astray, You do think the
place is quiet. You do imagine that Mr. Smith is asleep merely
because he closes his eyes as he stands. But live in Mariposa for six
months or a year and then you will begin to understand it better; the
buildings get higher and higher; the Mariposa House grows more and
more luxurious; McCarthy's block towers to the sky; the 'buses roar
and hum to the station; the trains shriek; the traffic multiplies;
the people move faster and faster; a dense crowd swirls to and fro in
the post-office and the five and ten cent store--and amusements!
well, now! lacrosse, baseball, excursions, dances, the Fireman's Ball
every winter and the Catholic picnic every summer; and music--the
town band in the park every Wednesday evening, and the Oddfellows'
brass band on the street every other Friday; the Mariposa Quartette,
the Salvation Army--why, after a few months' residence you begin to
realize that the place is a mere mad round of gaiety.
In point of population, if one must come down to figures, the
Canadian census puts the numbers every time at something round five
thousand. But it is very generally understood in Mariposa that the
census is largely the outcome of malicious jealousy. It is usual that
after the census the editor of the Mariposa Newspacket makes a
careful reestimate (based on the data of relative non-payment of
subscriptions), and brings the population up to 6,000. After that the
Mariposa Times-Herald makes an estimate that runs the figures up to
6,500. Then Mr. Gingham, the undertaker, who collects the vital
statistics for the provincial government, makes an estimate from the
number of what he calls the "demised" as compared with the less
interesting persons who are still alive, and brings the population to
7,000. After that somebody else works it out that it's 7,500; then
the man behind the bar of the Mariposa House offers to bet the whole
room that there are 9,000 people in Mariposa. That settles it, and
the population is well on the way to 10,000, when down swoops the
federal census taker on his next round and the town has to begin all
Still, it is a thriving town and there is no doubt of it. Even the
transcontinental railways, as any townsman will tell you, run through
Mariposa. It is true that the trains mostly go through at night and
don't stop. But in the wakeful silence of the summer night you may
hear the long whistle of the through train for the west as it tears
through Mariposa, rattling over the switches and past the semaphores
and ending in a long, sullen roar as it takes the trestle bridge over
the Ossawippi. Or, better still, on a winter evening about eight
o'clock you will see the long row of the Pullmans and diners of the
night express going north to the mining country, the windows flashing
with brilliant light, and within them a vista of cut glass and
snow-white table linen, smiling negroes and millionaires with napkins
at their chins whirling past in the driving snowstorm.
I can tell you the people of Mariposa are proud of the trains, even
if they don't stop! The joy of being on the main line lifts the
Mariposa people above the level of their neighbours in such places as
Tecumseh and Nichols Corners into the cosmopolitan atmosphere of
through traffic and the larger life. Of course, they have their own
train, too--the Mariposa Local, made up right there in the station
yard, and running south to the city a hundred miles away. That, of
course, is a real train, with a box stove on end in the passenger
car, fed with cordwood upside down, and with seventeen flat cars of
pine lumber set between the passenger car and the locomotive so as to
give the train its full impact when shunting.
Outside of Mariposa there are farms that begin well but get thinner
and meaner as you go on, and end sooner or later in bush and swamp
and the rock of the north country. And beyond that again, as the
background of it all, though it's far away, you are somehow aware of
the great pine woods of the lumber country reaching endlessly into
Not that the little town is always gay or always bright in the
sunshine. There never was such a place for changing its character
with the season. Dark enough and dull it seems of a winter night, the
wooden sidewalks creaking with the frost, and the lights burning dim
behind the shop windows. In olden times the lights were coal oil
lamps; now, of course, they are, or are supposed to be, electricity,
brought from the power house on the lower Ossawippi nineteen miles
away. But, somehow, though it starts off as electricity from the
Ossawippi rapids, by the time it gets to Mariposa and filters into
the little bulbs behind the frosty windows of the shops, it has
turned into coal oil again, as yellow and bleared as ever.
After the winter, the snow melts and the ice goes out of the lake,
the sun shines high and the shanty-men come down from the lumber
woods and lie round drunk on the sidewalk outside of Smith's
Hotel--and that's spring time. Mariposa is then a fierce, dangerous
lumber town, calculated to terrorize the soul of a newcomer who does
not understand that this also is only an appearance and that
presently the rough-looking shanty-men will change their clothes and
turn back again into farmers.
Then the sun shines warmer and the maple trees come out and Lawyer
Macartney puts on his tennis trousers, and that's summer time. The
little town changes to a sort of summer resort. There are visitors up
from the city. Every one of the seven cottages along the lake is
full. The Mariposa Belle churns the waters of the Wissanotti into
foam as she sails out from the wharf, in a cloud of flags, the band
playing and the daughters and sisters of the Knights of Pythias
dancing gaily on the deck.
That changes too. The days shorten. The visitors disappear. The
golden rod beside the meadow droops and withers on its stem. The
maples blaze in glory and die. The evening closes dark and chill, and
in the gloom of the main corner of Mariposa the Salvation Army around
a naphtha lamp lift up the confession of their sins--and that is
autumn. Thus the year runs its round, moving and changing in
Mariposa, much as it does in other places.
If, then, you feel that you know the town well enough to be admitted
into the inner life and movement of it, walk down this June afternoon
half way down the Main Street--or, if you like, half way up from the
wharf--to where Mr. Smith is standing at the door of his hostelry.
You will feel as you draw near that it is no ordinary man that you
approach. It is not alone the huge bulk of Mr. Smith (two hundred
and eighty pounds as tested on Netley's scales). It is not merely his
costume, though the chequered waistcoat of dark blue with a flowered
pattern forms, with his shepherd's plaid trousers, his grey spats and
patent-leather boots, a colour scheme of no mean order. Nor is it
merely Mr. Smith's finely mottled face. The face, no doubt, is a
notable one,--solemn, inexpressible, unreadable, the face of the
heaven-born hotel keeper. It is more than that. It is the strange
dominating personality of the man that somehow holds you captive. I
know nothing in history to compare with the position of Mr. Smith
among those who drink over his bar, except, though in a lesser
degree, the relation of the Emperor Napoleon to the Imperial Guard.
When you meet Mr. Smith first you think he looks like an over-dressed
pirate. Then you begin to think him a character. You wonder at his
enormous bulk. Then the utter hopelessness of knowing what Smith is
thinking by merely looking at his features gets on your mind and
makes the Mona Lisa seem an open book and the ordinary human
countenance as superficial as a puddle in the sunlight. After you
have had a drink in Mr. Smith's bar, and he has called you by your
Christian name, you realize that you are dealing with one of the
greatest minds in the hotel business.
Take, for instance, the big sign that sticks out into the street
above Mr. Smith's head as he stands. What is on it? "JOS. SMITH,
PROP." Nothing more, and yet the thing was a flash of genius. Other
men who had had the hotel before Mr. Smith had called it by such
feeble names as the Royal Hotel and the Queen's and the Alexandria.
Every one of them failed. When Mr. Smith took over the hotel he
simply put up the sign with "JOS. SMITH, PROP.," and then stood
underneath in the sunshine as a living proof that a man who weighs
nearly three hundred pounds is the natural king of the hotel
But on this particular afternoon, in spite of the sunshine and deep
peace, there was something as near to profound concern and anxiety as
the features of Mr. Smith were ever known to express.
The moment was indeed an anxious one. Mr. Smith was awaiting a
telegram from his legal adviser who had that day journeyed to the
county town to represent the proprietor's interest before the
assembled License Commissioners. If you know anything of the hotel
business at all, you will understand that as beside the decisions of
the License Commissioners of Missinaba County, the opinions of the
Lords of the Privy Council are mere trifles.
The matter in question was very grave. The Mariposa Court had just
fined Mr. Smith for the second time for selling liquors after hours.
The Commissioners, therefore, were entitled to cancel the license.
Mr. Smith knew his fault and acknowledged it. He had broken the law.
How he had come to do so, it passed his imagination to recall. Crime
always seems impossible in retrospect. By what sheer madness of the
moment could he have shut up the bar on the night in question, and
shut Judge Pepperleigh, the district judge in Missinaba County,
outside of it? The more so inasmuch as the closing up of the bar
under the rigid license law of the province was a matter that the
proprietor never trusted to any hands but his own. Punctually every
night at 11 o'clock Mr. Smith strolled from the desk of the
"rotunda" to the door of the bar. If it seemed properly full of
people and all was bright and cheerful, then he closed it. If not, he
kept it open a few minutes longer till he had enough people inside to
warrant closing. But never, never unless he was assured that
Pepperleigh, the judge of the court, and Macartney, the prosecuting
attorney, were both safely in the bar, or the bar parlour, did the
proprietor venture to close up. Yet on this fatal night Pepperleigh
and Macartney had been shut out--actually left on the street without
a drink, and compelled to hammer and beat at the street door of the
bar to gain admittance.
This was the kind of thing not to be tolerated. Either a hotel must
be run decently or quit. An information was laid next day and Mr.
Smith convicted in four minutes,--his lawyers practically refusing to
plead. The Mariposa court, when the presiding judge was cold sober,
and it had the force of public opinion behind it, was a terrible
engine of retributive justice.
So no wonder that Mr. Smith awaited with anxiety the message of his
He looked alternately up the street and down it again, hauled out his
watch from the depths of his embroidered pocket, and examined the
hour hand and the minute hand and the second hand with frowning
Then wearily, and as one mindful that a hotel man is ever the servant
of the public, he turned back into the hotel.
"Billy," he said to the desk clerk, "if a wire comes bring it into
the bar parlour."
The voice of Mr. Smith is of a deep guttural such as Plancon or
Edouard de Reske might have obtained had they had the advantages of
the hotel business. And with that, Mr. Smith, as was his custom in
off moments, joined his guests in the back room. His appearance, to
the untrained eye, was merely that of an extremely stout hotelkeeper
walking from the rotunda to the back bar. In reality, Mr. Smith was
on the eve of one of the most brilliant and daring strokes ever
effected in the history of licensed liquor. When I say that it was
out of the agitation of this situation that Smith's Ladies' and
Gent's Cafe originated, anybody who knows Mariposa will understand
the magnitude of the moment.
Mr. Smith, then, moved slowly from the doorway of the hotel through
the "rotunda," or more simply the front room with the desk and the
cigar case in it, and so to the bar and thence to the little room or
back bar behind it. In this room, as I have said, the brightest minds
of Mariposa might commonly be found in the quieter part of a summer
To-day there was a group of four who looked up as Mr. Smith entered,
somewhat sympathetically, and evidently aware of the perplexities of
Henry Mullins and George Duff, the two bank managers, were both
present. Mullins is a rather short, rather round, smooth-shaven man
of less than forty, wearing one of those round banking suits of
pepper and salt, with a round banking hat of hard straw, and with the
kind of gold tie-pin and heavy watch-chain and seals necessary to
inspire confidence in matters of foreign exchange. Duff is just as
round and just as short, and equally smoothly shaven, while his seals
and straw hat are calculated to prove that the Commercial is just as
sound a bank as the Exchange. From the technical point of view of the
banking business, neither of them had any objection to being in
Smith's Hotel or to taking a drink as long as the other was present.
This, of course, was one of the cardinal principles of Mariposa
Then there was Mr. Diston, the high school teacher, commonly known as
the "one who drank." None of the other teachers ever entered a hotel
unless accompanied by a lady or protected by a child. But as Mr.
Diston was known to drink beer on occasions and to go in and out of
the Mariposa House and Smith's Hotel, he was looked upon as a man
whose life was a mere wreck. Whenever the School Board raised the
salaries of the other teachers, fifty or sixty dollars per annum at
one lift, it was well understood that public morality wouldn't permit
of an increase for Mr. Diston.
Still more noticeable, perhaps, was the quiet, sallow looking man
dressed in black, with black gloves and with black silk hat heavily
craped and placed hollow-side-up on a chair. This was Mr. Golgotha
Gingham, the undertaker of Mariposa, and his dress was due to the
fact that he had just come from what he called an "interment." Mr.
Gingham had the true spirit of his profession, and such words as
"funeral" or "coffin" or "hearse" never passed his lips. He spoke
always of "interments," of "caskets," and "coaches," using terms that
were calculated rather to bring out the majesty and sublimity of
death than to parade its horrors.
To be present at the hotel was in accord with Mr. Gingham's general
conception of his business. No man had ever grasped the true
principles of undertaking more thoroughly than Mr. Gingham. I have
often heard him explain that to associate with the living,
uninteresting though they appear, is the only way to secure the
custom of the dead.
"Get to know people really well while they are alive," said Mr.
Gingham; "be friends with them, close friends and then when they die
you don't need to worry. You'll get the order every time."
So, naturally, as the moment was one of sympathy, it was Mr.
Gingham who spoke first.
"What'll you do, Josh," he said, "if the Commissioners go against
"Boys," said Mr. Smith, "I don't rightly know. If I have to quit, the
next move is to the city. But I don't reckon that I will have to
quit. I've got an idee that I think's good every time."
"Could you run a hotel in the city?" asked Mullins.
"I could," said Mr. Smith. "I'll tell you. There's big things doin'
in the hotel business right now, big chances if you go into it right.
Hotels in the city is branching out. Why, you take the dining-room
side of it," continued Mr. Smith, looking round at the group,
"there's thousands in it. The old plan's all gone. Folks won't eat
now in an ordinary dining-room with a high ceiling and windows. You
have to get 'em down underground in a room with no windows and lots
of sawdust round and waiters that can't speak English. I seen them
places last time I was in the city. They call 'em Rats' Coolers. And
for light meals they want a Caff, a real French Caff, and for folks
that come in late another place that they call a Girl Room that don't
shut up at all. If I go to the city that's the kind of place I mean
to run. What's yours, Gol? It's on the house?"
And it was just at the moment when Mr. Smith said this that Billy,
the desk-clerk, entered the room with the telegram in his hand.
But stop--it is impossible for you to understand the anxiety with
which Mr. Smith and his associates awaited the news from the
Commissioners, without first realizing the astounding progress of Mr.
Smith in the three past years, and the pinnacle of public eminence to
which he had attained.
Mr. Smith had come down from the lumber country of the Spanish River,
where the divide is toward the Hudson Bay,--"back north" as they
called it in Mariposa.
He had been, it was said, a cook in the lumber shanties. To this day
Mr. Smith can fry an egg on both sides with a lightness of touch that
is the despair of his own "help."
After that, he had run a river driver's boarding-house.
After that, he had taken a food contract for a gang of railroad
navvies on the transcontinental.
After that, of course, the whole world was open to him.
He came down to Mariposa and bought out the "inside" of what had been
the Royal Hotel.
Those who are educated understand that by the "inside" of a hotel is
meant everything except the four outer walls of it--the fittings, the
furniture, the bar, Billy the desk-clerk, the three dining-room
girls, and above all the license granted by King Edward VII., and
ratified further by King George, for the sale of intoxicating
Till then the Royal had been a mere nothing. As "Smith's Hotel" it
broke into a blaze of effulgence.
From the first, Mr. Smith, as a proprietor, was a wild, rapturous
He had all the qualifications.
He weighed two hundred and eighty pounds.
He could haul two drunken men out of the bar each by the scruff of
the neck without the faintest anger or excitement.
He carried money enough in his trousers pockets to start a bank, and
spent it on anything, bet it on anything, and gave it away in
He was never drunk, and, as a point of chivalry to his customers,
never quite sober. Anybody was free of the hotel who cared to come
in. Anybody who didn't like it could go out. Drinks of all kinds cost
five cents, or six for a quarter. Meals and beds were practically
free. Any persons foolish enough to go to the desk and pay for them,
Mr. Smith charged according to the expression of their faces.
At first the loafers and the shanty men settled down on the place in
a shower. But that was not the "trade" that Mr. Smith wanted. He knew
how to get rid of them. An army of charwomen, turned into the hotel,
scrubbed it from top to bottom. A vacuum cleaner, the first seen in
Mariposa, hissed and screamed in the corridors. Forty brass beds were
imported from the city, not, of course, for the guests to sleep in,
but to keep them out. A bar-tender with a starched coat and wicker
sleeves was put behind the bar.
The loafers were put out of business. The place had become too "high
toned" for them.
To get the high class trade, Mr. Smith set himself to dress the part.
He wore wide cut coats of filmy serge, light as gossamer; chequered
waistcoats with a pattern for every day in the week; fedora hats
light as autumn leaves; four-in-hand ties of saffron and myrtle green
with a diamond pin the size of a hazel nut. On his fingers there were
as many gems as would grace a native prince of India; across his
waistcoat lay a gold watch-chain in huge square links and in his
pocket a gold watch that weighed a pound and a half and marked
minutes, seconds and quarter seconds. Just to look at Josh Smith's
watch brought at least ten men to the bar every evening.
Every morning Mr. Smith was shaved by Jefferson Thorpe, across the
way. All that art could do, all that Florida water could effect, was
lavished on his person.
Mr. Smith became a local character. Mariposa was at his feet. All the
reputable business-men drank at Mr. Smith's bar, and in the little
parlour behind it you might find at any time a group of the brightest
intellects in the town.
Not but what there was opposition at first. The clergy, for example,
who accepted the Mariposa House and the Continental as a necessary
and useful evil, looked askance at the blazing lights and the surging
crowd of Mr. Smith's saloon. They preached against him. When the Rev.
Dean Drone led off with a sermon on the text "Lord be merciful even
unto this publican Matthew Six," it was generally understood as an
invitation to strike Mr. Smith dead. In the same way the sermon at
the Presbyterian church the week after was on the text "Lo what now
doeth Abiram in the land of Melchisideck Kings Eight and Nine?" and it
was perfectly plain that what was meant was, "Lo, what is Josh Smith
doing in Mariposa?"
But this opposition had been countered by a wide and sagacious
philanthropy. I think Mr. Smith first got the idea of that on the
night when the steam merry-go-round came to Mariposa. Just below the
hostelry, on an empty lot, it whirled and whistled, steaming forth
its tunes on the summer evening while the children crowded round it
in hundreds. Down the street strolled Mr. Smith, wearing a soft
fedora to indicate that it was evening.
"What d'you charge for a ride, boss?" said Mr. Smith.
"Two for a nickel," said the man.
"Take that," said Mr. Smith, handing out a ten-dollar bill from a
roll of money, "and ride the little folks free all evening."
That night the merry-go-round whirled madly till after midnight,
freighted to capacity with Mariposa children, while up in Smith's
Hotel, parents, friends and admirers, as the news spread, were
standing four deep along the bar. They sold forty dollars' worth of
lager alone that night, and Mr. Smith learned, if he had not already
suspected it, the blessedness of giving.
The uses of philanthropy went further. Mr. Smith subscribed to
everything, joined everything, gave to everything. He became an
Oddfellow, a Forester, A Knight of Pythias and a Workman. He gave a
hundred dollars to the Mariposa Hospital and a hundred dollars to the
Young Men's Christian Association.
He subscribed to the Ball Club, the Lacrosse Club, the Curling Club,
to anything, in fact, and especially to all those things which needed
premises to meet in and grew thirsty in their discussions.
As a consequence the Oddfellows held their annual banquet at Smith's
Hotel and the Oyster Supper of the Knights of Pythias was celebrated
in Mr. Smith's dining-room.
Even more effective, perhaps, were Mr. Smith's secret benefactions,
the kind of giving done by stealth of which not a soul in town knew
anything, often, for a week after it was done. It was in this way
that Mr. Smith put the new font in Dean Drone's church, and handed
over a hundred dollars to Judge Pepperleigh for the unrestrained use
of the Conservative party.
So it came about that, little by little, the antagonism had died
down. Smith's Hotel became an accepted institution in Mariposa. Even
the temperance people were proud of Mr. Smith as a sort of character
who added distinction to the town. There were moments, in the earlier
quiet of the morning, when Dean Drone would go so far as to step in
to the "rotunda" and collect a subscription. As for the Salvation
Army, they ran in and out all the time unreproved.
On only one point difficulty still remained. That was the closing of
the bar. Mr. Smith could never bring his mind to it,--not as a matter
of profit, but as a point of honour. It was too much for him to feel
that Judge Pepperleigh might be out on the sidewalk thirsty at
midnight, that the night hands of the Times-Herald on Wednesday might
be compelled to go home dry. On this point Mr. Smith's moral code was
simplicity itself,--do what is right and take the consequences. So
the bar stayed open.
Every town, I suppose, has its meaner spirits. In every genial bosom
some snake is warmed,--or, as Mr. Smith put it to Golgotha
Gingham--"there are some fellers even in this town skunks enough to
At first the Mariposa court quashed all indictments. The presiding
judge, with his spectacles on and a pile of books in front of him,
threatened the informer with the penitentiary. The whole bar of
Mariposa was with Mr. Smith. But by sheer iteration the informations
had proved successful. Judge Pepperleigh learned that Mr. Smith had
subscribed a hundred dollars for the Liberal party and at once fined
him for keeping open after hours. That made one conviction. On the
top of this had come the untoward incident just mentioned and that
made two. Beyond that was the deluge. This then was the exact
situation when Billy, the desk clerk, entered the back bar with the
telegram in his hand.
"Here's your wire, sir," he said.
"What does it say?" said Mr. Smith.
He always dealt with written documents with a fine air of detachment.
I don't suppose there were ten people in Mariposa who knew that Mr.
Smith couldn't read.
Billy opened the message and read, "Commissioners give you three
months to close down."
"Let me read it," said Mr. Smith, "that's right, three months to
There was dead silence when the message was read. Everybody waited
for Mr. Smith to speak. Mr. Gingham instinctively assumed the
professional air of hopeless melancholy.
As it was afterwards recorded, Mr. Smith stood and "studied" with the
tray in his hand for at least four minutes. Then he spoke.
"Boys," he said, "I'll be darned if I close down till I'm ready to
close down. I've got an idee. You wait and I'll show you."
And beyond that, not another word did Mr. Smith say on the subject.
But within forty-eight hours the whole town knew that something was
doing. The hotel swarmed with carpenters, bricklayers and painters.
There was an architect up from the city with a bundle of blue prints
in his hand. There was an engineer taking the street level with a
theodolite, and a gang of navvies with shovels digging like fury as
if to dig out the back foundations of the hotel.
"That'll fool 'em," said Mr. Smith.
Half the town was gathered round the hotel crazy with excitement. But
not a word would the proprietor say. Great dray loads of square
timber, and two-by-eight pine joists kept arriving from the planing
mill. There was a pile of matched spruce sixteen feet high lying by
Then the excavation deepened and the dirt flew, and the beams went up
and the joists across, and all the day from dawn till dusk the
hammers of the carpenters clattered away, working overtime at time
and a half.
"It don't matter what it costs," said Mr. Smith; "get it done."
Rapidly the structure took form. It extended down the side street,
joining the hotel at a right angle. Spacious and graceful it looked
as it reared its uprights into the air.
Already you could see the place where the row of windows was to come,
a veritable palace of glass, it must be, so wide and commodious were
they. Below it, you could see the basement shaping itself, with a low
ceiling like a vault and big beams running across, dressed, smoothed,
and ready for staining. Already in the street there were seven crates
of red and white awning.
And even then nobody knew what it was, and it was not till the
seventeenth day that Mr. Smith, in the privacy of the back bar, broke
the silence and explained.
"I tell you, boys," he says, "it's a caff--like what they have in the
city--a ladies' and gent's caff, and that underneath (what's yours,
Mr. Mullins?) is a Rats' Cooler. And when I get her started, I'll
hire a French Chief to do the cooking, and for the winter I will put
in a 'girl room,' like what they have in the city hotels. And I'd
like to see who's going to close her up then."
Within two more weeks the plan was in operation. Not only was the
caff built but the very hotel was transformed. Awnings had broken
out in a red and white cloud upon its face, its every window carried
a box of hanging plants, and above in glory floated the Union Jack.
The very stationery was changed. The place was now Smith's Summer
Pavilion. It was advertised in the city as Smith's Tourists'
Emporium, and Smith's Northern Health Resort. Mr. Smith got the
editor of the Times-Herald to write up a circular all about ozone and
the Mariposa pine woods, with illustrations of the maskinonge (piscis
mariposis) of Lake Wissanotti.
The Saturday after that circular hit the city in July, there were men
with fishing rods and landing nets pouring in on every train, almost
too fast to register. And if, in the face of that, a few little drops
of whiskey were sold over the bar, who thought of it?
But the caff! that, of course, was the crowning glory of the thing,
that and the Rats' Cooler below.
Light and cool, with swinging windows open to the air, tables with
marble tops, palms, waiters in white coats--it was the standing
marvel of Mariposa. Not a soul in the town except Mr. Smith, who knew
it by instinct, ever guessed that waiters and palms and marble tables
can be rented over the long distance telephone.
Mr. Smith was as good as his word. He got a French Chief with an
aristocratic saturnine countenance, and a moustache and imperial that
recalled the late Napoleon III. No one knew where Mr. Smith got him.
Some people in the town said he was a French marquis. Others said he
was a count and explained the difference.
No one in Mariposa had ever seen anything like the caff. All down
the side of it were the grill fires, with great pewter dish covers
that went up and down on a chain, and you could walk along the row
and actually pick out your own cutlet and then see the French marquis
throw it on to the broiling iron; you could watch a buckwheat pancake
whirled into existence under your eyes and see fowls' legs devilled,
peppered, grilled, and tormented till they lost all semblance of the
original Mariposa chicken.
Mr. Smith, of course, was in his glory.
"What have you got to-day, Alf?" he would say, as he strolled over to
the marquis. The name of the Chief was, I believe Alphonse, but "Alf"
was near enough for Mr. Smith.
The marquis would extend to the proprietor the menu, "Voila, m'sieu,
la carte du jour."
Mr. Smith, by the way, encouraged the use of the French language in
the caff. He viewed it, of course, solely in its relation to the
hotel business, and, I think, regarded it as a recent invention.
"It's comin' in all the time in the city," he said, "and y'aint
expected to understand it."
Mr. Smith would take the carte between his finger and thumb and stare
at it. It was all covered with such devices as Potage la
Mariposa--Filet Mignon a la proprietaire--Cotellete a la Smith, and
But the greatest thing about the caff were the prices. Therein
lay, as everybody saw at once, the hopeless simplicity of Mr. Smith.
The prices stood fast at 25 cents a meal. You could come in and eat
all they had in the caff for a quarter.
"No, sir," Mr. Smith said stoutly, "I ain't going to try to raise no
prices on the public. The hotel's always been a quarter and the
caff's a quarter."
Full? Full of people?
Well, I should think so! From the time the caff opened at 11 till it
closed at 8.30, you could hardly find a table. Tourists, visitors,
travellers, and half the people of Mariposa crowded at the little
tables; crockery rattling, glasses tinkling on trays, corks popping,
the waiters in their white coats flying to and fro, Alphonse whirling
the cutlets and pancakes into the air, and in and through it all, Mr.
Smith, in a white flannel suit and a broad crimson sash about his
waist. Crowded and gay from morning to night, and even noisy in its
Noisy, yes; but if you wanted deep quiet and cool, if you wanted to
step from the glare of a Canadian August to the deep shadow of an
enchanted glade,--walk down below into the Rats' Cooler. There you
had it; dark old beams (who could believe they were put there a month
ago?), great casks set on end with legends such as Amontillado Fino
done in gilt on a black ground, tall steins filled with German beer
soft as moss, and a German waiter noiseless as moving foam. He who
entered the Rats' Cooler at three of a summer afternoon was buried
there for the day. Mr. Golgotha Gingham spent anything from four to
seven hours there of every day. In his mind the place had all the
quiet charm of an interment, with none of its sorrows.
But at night, when Mr. Smith and Billy, the desk clerk, opened up the
cash register and figured out the combined losses of the caff and the
Rats' Cooler, Mr. Smith would say:
"Billy, just wait till I get the license renood, and I'll close
up this damn caff so tight they'll never know what hit her.
What did that lamb cost? Fifty cents a pound, was it? I figure it,
Billy, that every one of them hogs eats about a dollar's worth a grub
for every twenty-five cents they pay on it. As for Alf--by gosh, I'm
through with him."
But that, of course, was only a confidential matter as between Mr.
Smith and Billy.
I don't know at what precise period it was that the idea of a
petition to the License Commissioners first got about the town. No
one seemed to know just who suggested it. But certain it was that
public opinion began to swing strongly towards the support of Mr.
Smith. I think it was perhaps on the day after the big fish dinner
that Alphonse cooked for the Mariposa Canoe Club (at twenty cents a
head) that the feeling began to find open expression. People said it
was a shame that a man like Josh Smith should be run out of Mariposa
by three license commissioners. Who were the license commissioners,
anyway? Why, look at the license system they had in Sweden; yes, and
in Finland and in South America. Or, for the matter of that, look at
the French and Italians, who drink all day and all night. Aren't they
all right? Aren't they a musical people? Take Napoleon, and Victor
Hugo; drunk half the time, and yet look what they did.
I quote these arguments not for their own sake, but merely to
indicate the changing temper of public opinion in Mariposa. Men would
sit in the caff at lunch perhaps for an hour and a half and talk
about the license question in general, and then go down into the
Rats' Cooler and talk about it for two hours more.
It was amazing the way the light broke in in the case of particular
individuals, often the most unlikely, and quelled their opposition.
Take, for example, the editor of the Newspacket. I suppose there
wasn't a greater temperance advocate in town. Yet Alphonse queered
him with an Omelette a la License in one meal.
Or take Pepperleigh himself, the judge of the Mariposa court. He was
put to the bad with a game pie,--pate normand aux fines herbes--the
real thing, as good as a trip to Paris in itself. After eating it,
Pepperleigh had the common sense to realize that it was sheer madness
to destroy a hotel that could cook a thing like that.
In the same way, the secretary of the School Board was silenced with
a stuffed duck a la Ossawippi.
Three members of the town council were converted with a Dindon farci
a la Josh Smith.
And then, finally, Mr. Diston persuaded Dean Drone to come, and as
soon as Mr. Smith and Alphonse saw him they landed him with a fried
flounder that even the apostles would have appreciated.
After that, every one knew that the license question was practically
settled. The petition was all over the town. It was printed in
duplicate at the Newspacket and you could see it lying on the counter
of every shop in Mariposa. Some of the people signed it twenty or
It was the right kind of document too. It began--"Whereas in the
bounty of providence the earth putteth forth her luscious fruits and
her vineyards for the delight and enjoyment of mankind--" It made you
thirsty just to read it. Any man who read that petition over was wild
to get to the Rats' Cooler.
When it was all signed up they had nearly three thousand names on it.
Then Nivens, the lawyer, and Mr. Gingham (as a provincial official)
took it down to the county town, and by three o'clock that afternoon
the news had gone out from the long distance telephone office that
Smith's license was renewed for three years.
Rejoicings! Well, I should think so! Everybody was down wanting to
shake hands with Mr. Smith. They told him that he had done more to
boom Mariposa than any ten men in town. Some of them said he ought to
run for the town council, and others wanted to make him the
Conservative candidate for the next Dominion election. The caff was a
mere babel of voices, and even the Rats' Cooler was almost floated
away from its moorings.
And in the middle of it all, Mr. Smith found time to say to Billy,
the desk clerk: "Take the cash registers out of the caff and the
Rats' Cooler and start counting up the books."
And Billy said: "Will I write the letters for the palms and the
tables and the stuff to go back?"
And Mr. Smith said: "Get 'em written right away."
So all evening the laughter and the chatter and the congratulations
went on, and it wasn't till long after midnight that Mr. Smith was
able to join Billy in the private room behind the "rotunda." Even
when he did, there was a quiet and a dignity about his manner that
had never been there before. I think it must have been the new halo
of the Conservative candidacy that already radiated from his brow. It
was, I imagine, at this very moment that Mr. Smith first realised
that the hotel business formed the natural and proper threshold of
the national legislature.
"Here's the account of the cash registers," said Billy.
"Let me see it," said Mr. Smith. And he studied the figures without a
"And here's the letters about the palms, and here's Alphonse up to
And then an amazing thing happened.
"Billy," said Mr. Smith, "tear'em up. I ain't going to do it. It
ain't right and I won't do it. They got me the license for to keep
the caff and I'm going to keep the caff. I don't need to close her.
The bar's good for anything from forty to a hundred a day now, with
the Rats' Cooler going good, and that caff will stay right here."
And stay it did.
There it stands, mind you, to this day. You've only to step round the
corner of Smith's Hotel on the side street and read the sign: LADIES'
AND GENT'S CAFE, just as large and as imposing as ever.
Mr. Smith said that he'd keep the caff, and when he saida thing he
Of course there were changes, small changes.
I don't say, mind you, that the fillet de beef that you get there now
is perhaps quite up to the level of the filet de boeufs aux
champignons of the days of glory.
No doubt the lamb chops in Smith's Caff are often very much the same,
nowadays, as the lamb chops of the Mariposa House or the Continental.
Of course, things like Omelette aux Trufles practically died out when
Alphonse went. And, naturally, the leaving of Alphonse was
inevitable. No one knew just when he went, or why. But one morning he
was gone. Mr. Smith said that "Alf had to go back to his folks in the
So, too, when Alf left, the use of the French language, as such, fell
off tremendously in the caff. Even now they use it to some extent.
You can still get fillet de beef, and saucisson au juice, but Billy
the desk clerk has considerable trouble with the spelling.
The Rats' Cooler, of course, closed down, or rather Mr. Smith closed
it for repairs, and there is every likelihood that it will hardly
open for three years. But the caff is there. They don't use the
grills, because there's no need to, with the hotel kitchen so handy.
The "girl room," I may say, was never opened. Mr. Smith promised it,
it is true, for the winter, and still talks of it. But somehow
there's been a sort of feeling against it. Every one in town admits
that every big hotel in the city has a "girl room" and that it must
be all right. Still, there's a certain--well, you know how sensitive
opinion is in a place like Mariposa.
The Speculations of Jefferson Thorpe
It was not until the mining boom, at the time when everybody went
simply crazy over the Cobalt and Porcupine mines of the new silver
country near the Hudson Bay, that Jefferson Thorpe reached what you
might call public importance in Mariposa.
Of course everybody knew Jeff and his little barber shop that stood
just across the street from Smith's Hotel. Everybody knew him and
everybody got shaved there. From early morning, when the commercial
travellers off the 6.30 express got shaved into the resemblance of
human beings, there were always people going in and out of the barber
Mullins, the manager of the Exchange Bank, took his morning shave
from Jeff as a form of resuscitation, with enough wet towels laid on
his face to stew him and with Jeff moving about in the steam, razor
in hand, as grave as an operating surgeon.
Then, as I think I said, Mr. Smith came in every morning and there
was a tremendous outpouring of Florida water and rums, essences and
revivers and renovators, regardless of expense. What with Jeff's
white coat and Mr. Smith's flowered waistcoat and the red geranium in
the window and the Florida water and the double extract of hyacinth,
the little shop seemed multi-coloured and luxurious enough for the
annex of a Sultan's harem.
But what I mean is that, till the mining boom, Jefferson Thorpe never
occupied a position of real prominence in Mariposa. You couldn't, for
example, have compared him with a man like Golgotha Gingham, who, as
undertaker, stood in a direct relation to life and death, or to
Trelawney, the postmaster, who drew money from the Federal Government
of Canada, and was regarded as virtually a member of the Dominion
Everybody knew Jeff and liked him, but the odd thing was that till he
made money nobody took any stock in his ideas at all. It was only
after he made the "clean up" that they came to see what a splendid
fellow he was. "Level-headed" I think was the term; indeed in the
speech of Mariposa, the highest form of endowment was to have the
head set on horizontally as with a theodolite.
As I say, it was when Jeff made money that they saw how gifted he
was, and when he lost it,--but still, there's no need to go into
that. I believe it's something the same in other places too.
The barber shop, you will remember, stands across the street from
Smith's Hotel, and stares at it face to face.
It is one of those wooden structures--I don't know whether you know
them--with a false front that sticks up above its real height and
gives it an air at once rectangular and imposing. It is a form of
architecture much used in Mariposa and understood to be in keeping
with the pretentious and artificial character of modern business.
There is a red, white and blue post in front of the shop and the shop
itself has a large square window out of proportion to its little flat
Painted on the panes of the window is the remains of a legend that
once spelt BARBER SHOP, executed with the flourishes that prevailed
in the golden age of sign painting in Mariposa. Through the window
you can see the geraniums in the window shelf and behind them Jeff
Thorpe with his little black scull cap on and his spectacles drooped
upon his nose as he bends forward in the absorption of shaving.
As you open the door, it sets in violent agitation a coiled spring up
above and a bell that almost rings. Inside, there are two shaving
chairs of the heavier, or electrocution pattern, with mirrors in
front of them and pigeon holes with individual shaving mugs. There
must be ever so many of them, fifteen or sixteen. It is the current
supposition of each of Jeff's customers that everyone else but
himself uses a separate mug. One corner of the shop is partitioned
off and bears the sign: HOT AND COLD BATHS, 50 CENTS. There has been
no bath inside the partition for twenty years--only old newspapers
and a mop. Still, it lends distinction somehow, just as do the faded
cardboard signs that hang against the mirror with the legends:
TURKISH SHAMPOO, 75 CENTS, and ROMAN MASSAGE, $1.00.
They said commonly in Mariposa that Jeff made money out of the barber
shop. He may have, and it may have been that that turned his mind to
investment. But it's hard to see how he could. A shave cost five
cents, and a hair-cut fifteen (or the two, if you liked, for a
quarter), and at that it is hard to see how he could make money, even
when he had both chairs going and shaved first in one and then in the
You see, in Mariposa, shaving isn't the hurried, perfunctory thing
that it is in the city. A shave is looked upon as a form of physical
pleasure and lasts anywhere from twenty-five minutes to three-quarters
of an hour.
In the morning hours, perhaps, there was a semblance of haste about
it, but in the long quiet of the afternoon, as Jeff leaned forward
towards the customerand talked to him in a soft confidential
monotone, like a portrait painter, the razor would go slower and
slower, and pause and stop, move and pause again, till the shave died
away into the mere drowse of conversation.
At such hours, the Mariposa barber shop would become a very Palace of
Slumber, and as you waited your turn in one of the wooden arm-chairs
beside the wall, what with the quiet of the hour, and the low drone
of Jeff's conversation, the buzzing of the flies against the window
pane and the measured tick of the clock above the mirror, your head
sank dreaming on your breast, and the Mariposa Newspacket rustled
unheeded on the floor. It makes one drowsy just to think of it!
The conversation, of course, was the real charm of the place. You
see, Jefferson's forte, or specialty, was information. He could tell
you more things within the compass of a half-hour's shave than you
get in days of laborious research in an encyclopaedia. Where he got
it all, I don't know, but I am inclined to think it came more or less
out of the newspapers.
In the city, people never read the newspapers, not really, only
little bits and scraps of them. But in Mariposa it's different. There
they read the whole thing from cover to cover, and they build up on
it, in the course of years, a range of acquirement that would put a
college president to the blush. Anybody who has ever heard Henry
Mullins and Peter Glover talk about the future of China will know
just what I mean.
And, of course, the peculiarity of Jeff's conversation was that he
could suit it to his man every time. He had a kind of divination
about it. There was a certain kind of man that Jeff would size up
sideways as he stropped the razor, and in whose ear he would whisper:
"I see where Saint Louis has took four straight games off
Chicago,"--and so hold him fascinated to the end.
In the same way he would say to Mr. Smith: "I see where it says that
this 'Flying Squirl' run a dead heat for the King's Plate."
To a humble intellect like mine he would explain in full the
relations of the Keesar to the German Rich Dog.
But first and foremost, Jeff's specialty in the way of conversation
was finance and the money market, the huge fortunes that a man with
the right kind of head could make.
I've known Jefferson to pause in his shaving with the razor suspended
in the air as long as five minutes while he described, with his eye
half closed, exactly the kind of a head a man needed in order to make
a "haul" or a "clean up." It was evidently simply a matter of the
head, and as far as one could judge, Jeff's own was the very type
required. I don't know just at what time or how Jefferson first
began his speculative enterprises. It was probably in him from the
start. There is no doubt that the very idea of such things as
Traction Stock and Amalgamated Asbestos went to his head: and
whenever he spoke of Mr. Carnegie and Mr. Rockefeller, the yearning
tone of his voice made it as soft as lathered soap.
I suppose the most rudimentary form of his speculation was the hens.
That was years ago. He kept them out at the back of his house,--which
itself stood up a grass plot behind and beyond the barber shop,--and
in the old days Jeff would say, with a certain note of pride in his
voice, that The Woman had sold as many as two dozen eggs in a day to
the summer visitors.
But what with reading about Amalgamated Asbestos and Consolidated
Copper and all that, the hens began to seem pretty small business,
and, in any case, the idea of two dozen eggs at a cent apiece almost
makes one blush. I suppose a good many of us have felt just as Jeff
did about our poor little earnings. Anyway, I remember Jeff telling
me one day that he could take the whole lot of the hens and sell them
off and crack the money into Chicago wheat on margin and turn it over
in twenty-four hours. He did it too. Only somehow when it was turned
over it came upside down on top of the hens.
After that the hen house stood empty and The Woman had to throw away
chicken feed every day, at a dead loss of perhaps a shave and a half.
But it made no difference to Jeff, for his mind had floated away
already on the possibilities of what he called "displacement" mining
on the Yukon.
So you can understand that when the mining boom struck Mariposa,
Jefferson Thorpe was in it right from the very start. Why, no wonder;
it seemed like the finger of Providence. Here was this great silver
country spread out to north of us, where people had thought there was
only a wilderness. And right at our very doors! You could see, as I
saw, the night express going north every evening; for all one knew
Rockefeller or Carnegie or anyone might be on it! Here was the
wealth of Calcutta, as the Mariposa Newspacket put it, poured out at
our very feet.
So no wonder the town went wild! All day in the street you could hear
men talking of veins, and smelters and dips and deposits and
faults,--the town hummed with it like a geology class on examination
day. And there were men about the hotels with mining outfits and
theodolites and dunnage bags, and at Smith's bar they would hand
chunks of rock up and down, some of which would run as high as ten
drinks to the pound.
The fever just caught the town and ran through it! Within a fortnight
they put a partition down Robertson's Coal and Wood Office and opened
the Mariposa Mining Exchange, and just about every man on the Main
Street started buying scrip. Then presently young Fizzlechip, who had
been teller in Mullins's Bank and that everybody had thought a
worthless jackass before, came back from the Cobalt country with a
fortune, and loafed round in the Mariposa House in English khaki and
a horizontal hat, drunk all the time, and everybody holding him up as
an example of what it was possible to do if you tried.
They all went in. Jim Eliot mortgaged the inside of the drug store
and jammed it into Twin Tamagami. Pete Glover at the hardware store
bought Nippewa stock at thirteen cents and sold it to his brother at
seventeen and bought it back in less than a week at nineteen. They
didn't care! They took a chance. Judge Pepperleigh put the rest of
his wife's money into Temiskaming Common, and Lawyer Macartney got
the fever, too, and put every cent that his sister possessed into
And even when young Fizzlechip shot himself in the back room of the
Mariposa House, Mr. Gingham buried him in a casket with silver
handles and it was felt that there was a Monte Carlo touch about the
They all went in--or all except Mr. Smith. You see, Mr. Smith had
come down from there, and he knew all about rocks and mining and
canoes and the north country. He knew what it was to eat flour-baked
dampers under the lee side of a canoe propped among the underbrush,
and to drink the last drop of whiskey within fifty miles. Mr. Smith
had mighty little use for the north. But what he did do, was to buy
up enough early potatoes to send fifteen carload lots into Cobalt at
a profit of five dollars a bag.
Mr. Smith, I say, hung back. But Jeff Thorpe was in the mining boom
right from the start. He bought in on the Nippewa mine even before
the interim prospectus was out. He took a "block" of 100 shares of
Abbitibbi Development at fourteen cents, and he and Johnson, the
livery stablekeeper next door, formed a syndicate and got a thousand
shares of Metagami Lake at 3 1/4 cents and then "unloaded" them on
one of the sausage men at Netley's butcher shop at a clear cent per
Jeff would open the little drawer below the mirror in the barber shop
and show you all kinds and sorts of Cobalt country mining
certificates,--blue ones, pink ones, green ones, with outlandish and
fascinating names on them that ran clear from the Mattawa to the
And right from the start he was confident of winning. "There ain't
no difficulty to it," he said, "there's lots of silver up there in
that country and if you buy some here and some there you can't fail
to come out somewhere. I don't say," he used to continue, with the
scissors open and ready to cut, "that some of the greenhorns won't
get bit. But if a feller knows the country and keeps his head level,
he can't lose."
Jefferson had looked at so many prospectuses and so many pictures of
mines and pine trees and smelters, that I think he'd forgotten that
he'd never been in the country. Anyway, what's two hundred miles!
To an onlooker it certainly didn't seem so simple. I never knew the
meanness, the trickery, of the mining business, the sheer obstinate
determination of the bigger capitalists not to make money when they
might, till I heard the accounts of Jeff's different mines. Take the
case of Corona Jewel. There was a good mine, simply going to ruin for
lack of common sense.
"She ain't been developed," Jeff would say. "There's silver enough in
her so you could dig it out with a shovel. She's full of it. But they
won't get at her and work her."
Then he'd take a look at the pink and blue certificates of the Corona
Jewel and slam the drawer on them in disgust. Worse than that was
the Silent Pine,--a clear case of stupid incompetence! Utter lack of
engineering skill was all that was keeping the Silent Pine from
making a fortune for its holders.
"The only trouble with that mine," said Jeff, "is they won't go deep
enough. They followed the vein down to where it kind o' thinned out
and then they quit. If they'd just go right into her good, they'd get
it again. She's down there all right."
But perhaps the meanest case of all was the Northern Star. That
always seemed to me, every time I heard of it, a straight case for
the criminal law. The thing was so evidently a conspiracy.
"I bought her," said Jeff, "at thirty-two, and she stayed right there
tight, like she was stuck. Then a bunch of these fellers in the city
started to drive her down and they got her pushed down to
twenty-four, and I held on to her and they shoved her down to
twenty-one. This morning they've got her down to sixteen, but I don't
mean to let go. No, sir."
In another fortnight they shoved her, the same unscrupulous crowd,
down to nine cents, and Jefferson still held on. "They're working
her down," he admitted, "but I'm holding her."
No conflict between vice and virtue was ever grimmer.
"She's at six," said Jeff, "but I've got her. They can't squeeze me."
A few days after that, the same criminal gang had her down further
"They've got her down to three cents," said Jeff, "but I'm with her.
Yes, sir, they think they can shove her clean off the market, but
they can't do it. I've boughten in Johnson's shares, and the whole of
Netley's, and I'll stay with her till she breaks."
So they shoved and pushed and clawed her down--that unseen nefarious
crowd in the city--and Jeff held on to her and they writhed and
twisted at his grip, and then--
And then--well, that's just the queer thing about the mining
business. Why, sudden as a flash of lightning, it seemed, the news
came over the wire to the Mariposa Newspacket, that they had struck a
vein of silver in the Northern Star as thick as a sidewalk, and that
the stock had jumped to seventeen dollars a share, and even at that
you couldn't get it! And Jeff stood there flushed and half-staggered
against the mirror of the little shop, with a bunch of mining scrip
in his hand that was worth forty thousand dollars!
Excitement! It was all over the town in a minutes. They ran off a
news extra at the Mariposa Newspacket, and in less than no time there
wasn't standing room in the barber shop, and over in Smith's Hotel
they had three extra barkeepers working on the lager beer pumps.
They were selling mining shares on the Main Street in Mariposa that
afternoon and people were just clutching for them. Then at night
there was a big oyster supper in Smith's caff, with speeches, and the
Mariposa band outside.
And the queer thing was that the very next afternoon was the funeral
of young Fizzlechip, and Dean Drone had to change the whole text of
his Sunday sermon at two days' notice for fear of offending public
But I think what Jeff liked best of it all was the sort of public
recognition that it meant. He'd stand there in the shop, hardly
bothering to shave, and explain to the men in the arm-chairs how he
held her, and they shoved her, and he clung to her, and what he'd
said to himself--a perfect Iliad--while he was clinging to her.
The whole thing was in the city papers a few days after with a
photograph of Jeff, taken specially at Ed Moore's studio (upstairs
over Netley's). It showed Jeff sitting among palm trees, as all
mining men do, with one hand on his knee, and a dog, one of those
regular mining dogs, at his feet, and a look of piercing intelligence
in his face that would easily account for forty thousand dollars.
I say that the recognition meant a lot to Jeff for its own sake. But
no doubt the fortune meant quite a bit to him too on account of Myra.
Did I mention Myra, Jeff's daughter? Perhaps not. That's the trouble
with the people in Mariposa; they're all so separate and so
different--not a bit like the people in the cities--that unless you
hear about them separately and one by one you can't for a moment
understand what they're like.
Myra had golden hair and a Greek face and would come bursting through
the barber shop in a hat at least six inches wider than what they
wear in Paris. As you saw her swinging up the street to the Telephone
Exchange in a suit that was straight out of the Delineator and brown
American boots, there was style written all over her,--the kind of
thing that Mariposa recognised and did homage to. And to see her in
the Exchange,--she was one of the four girls that I spoke of,--on her
high stool with a steel cap on,--jabbing the connecting plugs in and
out as if electricity cost nothing--well, all I mean is that you
could understand why it was that the commercial travellers would
stand round in the Exchange calling up all sorts of impossible
villages, and waiting about so pleasant and genial!--it made one
realize how naturally good-tempered men are. And then when Myra would
go off duty and Miss Cleghorn, who was sallow, would come on, the
commercial men would be off again like autumn leaves.
It just shows the difference between people. There was Myra who
treated lovers like dogs and would slap them across the face with a
banana skin to show her utter independence. And there was Miss
Cleghorn, who was sallow, and who bought a forty cent Ancient History
to improve herself: and yet if she'd hit any man in Mariposa with a
banana skin, he'd have had her arrested for assault.
Mind you, I don't mean that Myra was merely flippant and worthless.
Not at all. She was a girl with any amount of talent. You should have
heard her recite "The Raven," at the Methodist Social! Simply genius!
And when she acted Portia in the Trial Scene of the Merchant of
Venice at the High School concert, everybody in Mariposa admitted
that you couldn't have told it from the original.
So, of course, as soon as Jeff made the fortune, Myra had her
resignation in next morning and everybody knew that she was to go to
a dramatic school for three months in the fall and become a leading
But, as I said, the public recognition counted a lot for Jeff. The
moment you begin to get that sort of thing it comes in quickly
enough. Brains, you know, are recognized right away. That was why, of
course, within a week from this Jeff received the first big packet of
stuff from the Cuban Land Development Company, with coloured pictures
of Cuba, and fields of bananas, and haciendas and insurrectos with
machetes and Heaven knows what. They heard of him, somehow,--it
wasn't for a modest man like Jefferson to say how. After all, the
capitalists of the world are just one and the same crowd. If you're
in it, you're in it, that's all! Jeff realized why it is that of
course men like Carnegie or Rockefeller and Morgan all know one
another. They have to.
For all I know, this Cuban stuff may have been sent from Morgan
himself. Some of the people in Mariposa said yes, others said no.
There was no certainty.
Anyway, they were fair and straight, this Cuban crowd that wrote to
Jeff. They offered him to come right in and be one of themselves. If
a man's got the brains, you may as well recognize it straight away.
Just as well write him to be a director now as wait and hesitate till
he forces his way into it.
Anyhow, they didn't hesitate, these Cuban people that wrote to Jeff
from Cuba--or from a post-office box in New York--it's all the same
thing, because Cuba being so near to New York the mail is all
distributed from there. I suppose in some financial circles they
might have been slower, wanted guarantees of some sort, and so on,
but these Cubans, you know, have got a sort of Spanish warmth of
heart that you don't see in business men in America, and that touches
you. No, they asked no guarantee. Just send the money whether by
express order or by bank draft or cheque, they left that entirely to
oneself, as a matter between Cuban gentlemen.
And they were quite frank about their enterprise--bananas and tobacco
in the plantation district reclaimed from the insurrectos. You could
see it all there in the pictures--tobacco plants and the
insurrectos--everything. They made no rash promises, just admitted
straight out that the enterprise might realise 400 per cent. or might
conceivably make less. There was no hint of more.
So within a month, everybody in Mariposa knew that Jeff Thorpe was
"in Cuban lands" and would probably clean up half a million by New
Year's. You couldn't have failed to know it. All round the little
shop there were pictures of banana groves and the harbour of Habana,
and Cubans in white suits and scarlet sashes, smoking cigarettes in
the sun and too ignorant to know that you can make four hundred per
cent. by planting a banana tree.
I liked it about Jeff that he didn't stop shaving. He went on just
the same. Even when Johnson, the livery stable man, came in with five
hundred dollars and asked him to see if the Cuban Board of Directors
would let him put it in, Jeff laid it in the drawer and then shaved
him for five cents, in the same old way. Of course, he must have felt
proud when, a few days later, he got a letter from the Cuban people,
from New York, accepting the money straight off without a single
question, and without knowing anything more of Johnson except that he
was a friend of Jeff's. They wrote most handsomely. Any friends of
Jeff's were friends of Cuba. All money they might send would be
treated just as Jeff's would be treated.
One reason, perhaps, why Jeff didn't give up shaving was because it
allowed him to talk about Cuba. You see, everybody knew in Mariposa
that Jeff Thorpe had sold out of Cobalts and had gone into Cuban
Renovated Lands--and that spread round him a kind of halo of wealth
and mystery and outlandishness--oh, something Spanish. Perhaps you've
felt it about people that you know. Anyhow, they asked him about the
climate, and yellow fever and what the negroes were like and all that
sort of thing.
"This Cubey, it appears is an island," Jeff would explain. Of
course, everybody knows how easily islands lend themselves to making
money,--"and for fruit, they say it comes up so fast you can't stop
it." And then he would pass into details about the Hash-enders and
the resurrectos and technical things like that till it was thought a
wonder how he could know it. Still, it was realized that a man with
money has got to know these things. Look at Morgan and Rockefeller
and all the men that make a pile. They know just as much as Jeff did
about the countries where they make it. It stands to reason.
Did I say that Jeff shaved in the same old way? Not quite. There was
something even dreamier about it now, and a sort of new element in
the way Jeff fell out of his monotone into lapses of thought that I,
for one, misunderstood. I thought that perhaps getting so much
money,--well, you know the way it acts on people in the larger
cities. It seemed to spoil one's idea of Jeff that copper and
asbestos and banana lands should form the goal of his thought when,
if he knew it, the little shop and the sunlight of Mariposa was so
In fact, I had perhaps borne him a grudge for what seemed to me his
perpetual interest in the great capitalists. He always had some item
out of the paper about them.
"I see where this here Carnegie has give fifty thousand dollars for
one of them observatories," he would say.
And another day he would pause in the course of shaving, and almost
whisper: "Did you ever _see_ this Rockefeller?"
It was only by a sort of accident that I came to know that there was
another side to Jefferson's speculation that no one in Mariposa ever
knew, or will ever know now.
I knew it because I went in to see Jeff in his house one night. The
house,--I think I said it,--stood out behind the barber shop. You
went out of the back door of the shop, and through a grass plot with
petunias beside it, and the house stood at the end. You could see the
light of the lamp behind the blind, and through the screen door as
you came along. And it was here that Jefferson used to sit in the
evenings when the shop got empty.
There was a round table that The Woman used to lay for supper, and
after supper there used to be a chequered cloth on it and a lamp with
a shade. And beside it Jeff would sit, with his spectacles on and the
paper spread out, reading about Carnegie and Rockefeller. Near him,
but away from the table, was The Woman doing needlework, and Myra,
when she wasn't working in the Telephone Exchange, was there too with
her elbows on the table reading Marie Corelli--only now, of course,
after the fortune, she was reading the prospectuses of Dramatic
So this night,--I don't know just what it was in the paper that
caused it,--Jeff laid down what he was reading and started to talk
"This Carnegie, I bet you, would be worth," said Jeff, closing up his
eyes in calculation, "as much as perhaps two million dollars, if you
was to sell him up. And this Rockefeller and this Morgan, either of
them, to sell them up clean, would be worth another couple of million--"
I may say in parentheses that it was a favourite method in Mariposa
if you wanted to get at the real worth of a man, to imagine him clean
sold up, put up for auction, as it were. It was the only way to test
"And now look at 'em," Jeff went on. "They make their money and what
do they do with it? They give it away. And who do they give it to?
Why, to those as don't want it, every time. They give it to these
professors and to this research and that, and do the poor get any of
it? Not a cent and never will."
"I tell you, boys," continued Jeff (there were no boys present, but
in Mariposa all really important speeches are addressed to an
imaginary audience of boys)--"I tell you, if I was to make a million
out of this Cubey, I'd give it straight to the poor, yes, sir--divide
it up into a hundred lots of a thousand dollars each and give it to
the people that hadn't nothing."
So always after that I knew just what those bananas were being grown
Indeed, after that, though Jefferson never spoke of his intentions
directly, he said a number of things that seemed to bear on them. He
asked me, for instance, one day, how many blind people it would take
to fill one of these blind homes and how a feller could get ahold of
them. And at another time he asked whether if a feller advertised for
some of these incurables a feller could get enough of them to make a
showing. I know for a fact that he got Nivens, the lawyer, to draw up
a document that was to give an acre of banana land in Cuba to every
idiot in Missinaba county.
But still,--what's the use of talking of what Jeff meant to do?
Nobody knows or cares about it now.
The end of it was bound to come. Even in Mariposa some of the people
must have thought so. Else how was it that Henry Mullins made such a
fuss about selling a draft for forty thousand on New York? And why
was it that Mr. Smith wouldn't pay Billy, the desk clerk, his back
wages when he wanted to put it into Cuba?
Oh yes; some of them must have seen it. And yet when it came it
seemed so quiet,--ever so quiet,--not a bit like the Northern Star
mine and the oyster supper and the Mariposa band. It is strange how
quiet these things look, the other way round.
You remember the Cuban Land frauds in New York and Porforio Gomez
shooting the detective, and him and Maximo Morez getting clear away
with two hundred thousand? No, of course you don't; why, even in the
city papers it only filled an inch or two of type, and anyway the
names were hard to remember. That was Jeff's money--part of it.
Mullins got the telegram, from a broker or someone, and he showed it
to Jeff just as he was going up the street with an estate agent to
look at a big empty lot on the hill behind the town--the very place
for these incurables.
And Jeff went back to the shop so quiet--have you ever seen an animal
that is stricken through, how quiet it seems to move?
Well, that's how he walked.
And since that, though it's quite a little while ago, the shop's open
till eleven every night now, and Jeff is shaving away to pay back
that five hundred that Johnson, the livery man, sent to the Cubans,
Pathetic? tut! tut! You don't know Mariposa. Jeff has to work pretty
late, but that's nothing--nothing at all, if you've worked hard all
your lifetime. And Myra is back at the Telephone Exchange--they were
glad enough to get her, and she says now that if there's one thing
she hates, it's the stage, and she can't see how the actresses put up
Anyway, things are not so bad. You see it was just at this time that
Mr. Smith's caff opened, and Mr. Smith came to Jeff's Woman and said
he wanted seven dozen eggs a day, and wanted them handy, and so the
hens are back, and more of them, and they exult so every morning over
the eggs they lay that if you wanted to talk of Rockefeller in the
barber shop you couldn't hear his name for the cackling.
The Marine Excursions of the Knights of Pythias
Half-past six on a July morning! The Mariposa Belle is at the wharf,
decked in flags, with steam up ready to start.
Half past six on a July morning, and Lake Wissanotti lying in the sun
as calm as glass. The opal colours of the morning light are shot from
the surface of the water.
Out on the lake the last thin threads of the mist are clearing away
like flecks of cotton wool.
The long call of the loon echoes over the lake. The air is cool and
fresh. There is in it all the new life of the land of the silent pine
and the moving waters. Lake Wissanotti in the morning sunlight! Don't
talk to me of the Italian lakes, or the Tyrol or the Swiss Alps. Take
them away. Move them somewhere else. I don't want them.
Excursion Day, at half past six of a summer morning! With the boat
all decked in flags and all the people in Mariposa on the wharf, and
the band in peaked caps with big cornets tied to their bodies ready
to play at any minute! I say! Don't tell me about the Carnival of
Venice and the Delhi Durbar. Don't! I wouldn't look at them. I'd shut
my eyes! For light and colour give me every time an excursion out of
Mariposa down the lake to the Indian's Island out of sight in the
morning mist. Talk of your Papal Zouaves and your Buckingham Palace
Guard! I want to see the Mariposa band in uniform and the Mariposa
Knights of Pythias with their aprons and their insignia and their
picnic baskets and their five-cent cigars!
Half past six in the morning, and all the crowd on the wharf and the
boat due to leave in half an hour. Notice it!--in half an hour.
Already she's whistled twice (at six, and at six fifteen), and at any
minute now, Christie Johnson will step into the pilot house and pull
the string for the warning whistle that the boat will leave in half
an hour. So keep ready. Don't think of running back to Smith's Hotel
for the sandwiches. Don't be fool enough to try to go up to the Greek
Store, next to Netley's, and buy fruit. You'll be left behind for
sure if you do. Never mind the sandwiches and the fruit! Anyway,
here comes Mr. Smith himself with a huge basket of provender that
would feed a factory. There must be sandwiches in that. I think I can
hear them clinking. And behind Mr. Smith is the German waiter from
the caff with another basket--indubitably lager beer; and behind him,
the bar-tender of the hotel, carrying nothing, as far as one can see.
But of course if you know Mariposa you will understand that why he
looks so nonchalant and empty-handed is because he has two bottles of
rye whiskey under his linen duster. You know, I think, the peculiar
walk of a man with two bottles of whiskey in the inside pockets of a
linen coat. In Mariposa, you see, to bring beer to an excursion is
quite in keeping with public opinion. But, whiskey,--well, one has to
be a little careful.
Do I say that Mr. Smith is here? Why, everybody's here. There's
Hussell the editor of the Newspacket, wearing a blue ribbon on his
coat, for the Mariposa Knights of Pythias are, by their constitution,
dedicated to temperance; and there's Henry Mullins, the manager of
the Exchange Bank, also a Knight of Pythias, with a small flask of
Pogram's Special in his hip pocket as a sort of amendment to the
constitution. And there's Dean Drone, the Chaplain of the Order, with
a fishing-rod (you never saw such green bass as lie among the rocks
at Indian's Island), and with a trolling line in case of maskinonge,
and a landing net in case of pickerel, and with his eldest daughter,
Lilian Drone, in case of young men. There never was such a fisherman
as the Rev. Rupert Drone.
Perhaps I ought to explain that when I speak of the excursion as
being of the Knights of Pythias, the thing must not be understood in
any narrow sense. In Mariposa practically everybody belongs to the
Knights of Pythias just as they do to everything else. That's the
great thing about the town and that's what makes it so different from
the city. Everybody is in everything.
You should see them on the seventeenth of March, for example, when
everybody wears a green ribbon and they're all laughing and
glad,--you know what the Celtic nature is,--and talking about Home
On St. Andrew's Day every man in town wears a thistle and shakes
hands with everybody else, and you see the fine old Scotch honesty
beaming out of their eyes.
And on St. George's Day!--well, there's no heartiness like the good
old English spirit, after all; why shouldn't a man feel glad that
he's an Englishman?
Then on the Fourth of July there are stars and stripes flying over
half the stores in town, and suddenly all the men are seen to smoke
cigars, and to know all about Roosevelt and Bryan and the Philippine
Islands. Then you learn for the first time that Jeff Thorpe's people
came from Massachusetts and that his uncle fought at Bunker Hill (it
must have been Bunker Hill,--anyway Jefferson will swear it was in
Dakota all right enough); and you find that George Duff has a married
sister in Rochester and that her husband is all right; in fact,
George was down there as recently as eight years ago. Oh, it's the
most American town imaginable is Mariposa,--on the fourth of July.
But wait, just wait, if you feel anxious about the solidity of the
British connection, till the twelfth of the month, when everybody is
wearing an orange streamer in his coat and the Orangemen (every man
in town) walk in the big procession. Allegiance! Well, perhaps you
remember the address they gave to the Prince of Wales on the platform
of the Mariposa station as he went through on his tour to the west. I
think that pretty well settled that question. So you will easily
understand that of course everybody belongs to the Knights of Pythias
and the Masons and Oddfellows, just as they all belong to the Snow
Shoe Club and the Girls' Friendly Society.
And meanwhile the whistle of the steamer has blown again for a
quarter to seven:--loud and long this time, for any one not here now
is late for certain; unless he should happen to come down in the last
What a crowd upon the wharf and how they pile on to the steamer! It's
a wonder that the boat can hold them all. But that's just the
marvellous thing about the Mariposa Belle.
I don't know,--I have never known,--where the steamers like the
Mariposa Belle come from. Whether they are built by Harland and Wolff
of Belfast, or whether, on the other hand, they are not built by
Harland and Wolff of Belfast, is more than one would like to say
The Mariposa Belle always seems to me to have some of those strange
properties that distinguish Mariposa itself. I mean, her size seems
to vary so. If you see her there in the winter, frozen in the ice
beside the wharf with a snowdrift against the windows of the pilot
house, she looks a pathetic little thing the size of a butternut.
But in the summer time, especially after you've been in Mariposa for
a month or two, and have paddled alongside of her in a canoe, she
gets larger and taller, and with a great sweep of black sides, till
you see no difference between the Mariposa Belle and the Lusitania.
Each one is a big steamer and that's all you can say.
Nor do her measurements help you much. She draws about eighteen
inches forward, and more than that,--at least half an inch more,
astern, and when she's loaded down with an excursion crowd she draws
a good two inches more. And above the water,--why, look at all the
decks on her! There's the deck you walk on to, from the wharf, all
shut in, with windows along it, and the after cabin with the long
table, and above that the deck with all the chairs piled upon it, and
the deck in front where the band stand round in a circle, and the
pilot house is higher than that, and above the pilot house is the
board with the gold name and the flag pole and the steel ropes and
the flags; and fixed in somewhere on the different levels is the
lunch counter where they sell the sandwiches, and the engine room,
and down below the deck level, beneath the water line, is the place
where the crew sleep. What with steps and stairs and passages and
piles of cordwood for the engine,--oh no, I guess Harland and Wolff
didn't build her. They couldn't have.
Yet even with a huge boat like the Mariposa Belle, it would be
impossible for her to carry all of the crowd that you see in the boat
and on the wharf. In reality, the crowd is made up of two
classes,--all of the people in Mariposa who are going on the
excursion and all those who are not. Some come for the one reason and
some for the other.
The two tellers of the Exchange Bank are both there standing side by
side. But one of them,--the one with the cameo pin and the long face
like a horse,--is going, and the other,--with the other cameo pin and
the face like another horse,--is not. In the same way, Hussell of the
Newspacket is going, but his brother, beside him, isn't. Lilian Drone
is going, but her sister can't; and so on all through the crowd.
And to think that things should look like that on the morning of a
How strange life is!
To think of all these people so eager and anxious to catch the
steamer, and some of them running to catch it, and so fearful that
they might miss it,--the morning of a steamboat accident. And the
captain blowing his whistle, and warning them so severely that he
would leave them behind,--leave them out of the accident! And
everybody crowding so eagerly to be in the accident.
Perhaps life is like that all through.
Strangest of all to think, in a case like this, of the people who
were left behind, or in some way or other prevented from going, and
always afterwards told of how they had escaped being on board the
Mariposa Belle that day!
Some of the instances were certainly extraordinary. Nivens, the
lawyer, escaped from being there merely by the fact that he was away
in the city.
Towers, the tailor, only escaped owing to the fact that, not
intending to go on the excursion he had stayed in bed till eight
o'clock and so had not gone. He narrated afterwards that waking up
that morning at half-past five, he had thought of the excursion and
for some unaccountable reason had felt glad that he was not going.
The case of Yodel, the auctioneer, was even more inscrutable. He had
been to the Oddfellows' excursion on the train the week before and to
the Conservative picnic the week before that, and had decided not to
go on this trip. In fact, he had not the least intention of going.
He narrated afterwards how the night before someone had stopped him
on the corner of Nippewa and Tecumseh Streets (he indicated the very
spot) and asked: "Are you going to take in the excursion to-morrow?"
and he had said, just as simply as he was talking when narrating it:
"No." And ten minutes after that, at the corner of Dalhousie and
Brock Streets (he offered to lead a party of verification to the
precise place) somebody else had stopped him and asked: "Well, are
you going on the steamer trip to-morrow?" Again he had answered:
"No," apparently almost in the same tone as before.
He said afterwards that when he heard the rumour of the accident it
seemed like the finger of Providence, and fell on his knees in
There was the similar case of Morison (I mean the one in Glover's
hardware store that married one of the Thompsons). He said
afterwards that he had read so much in the papers about accidents
lately,--mining accidents, and aeroplanes and gasoline,--that he had
grown nervous. The night before his wife had asked him at supper:
"Are you going on the excursion?" He had answered: "No, I don't think
I feel like it," and had added: "Perhaps your mother might like to
go." And the next evening just at dusk, when the news ran through the
town, he said the first thought that flashed through his head was:
"Mrs. Thompson's on that boat."
He told this right as I say it--without the least doubt or confusion.
He never for a moment imagined she was on the Lusitania or the
Olympic or any other boat. He knew she was on this one. He said you
could have knocked him down where he stood. But no one had. Not even
when he got halfway down,--on his knees, and it would have been
easier still to knock him down or kick him. People do miss a lot of
Still, as I say, neither Yodel nor Morison nor anyone thought about
there being an accident until just after sundown when they--
Well, have you ever heard the long booming whistle of a steamboat two
miles out on the lake in the dusk, and while you listen and count and
wonder, seen the crimson rockets going up against the sky and then
heard the fire bell ringing right there beside you in the town, and
seen the people running to the town wharf?
That's what the people of Mariposa saw and felt that summer evening
as they watched the Mackinaw life-boat go plunging out into the lake
with seven sweeps to a side and the foam clear to the gunwale with
the lifting stroke of fourteen men!
But, dear me, I am afraid that this is no way to tell a story. I
suppose the true art would have been to have said nothing about the
accident till it happened. But when you write about Mariposa, or hear
of it, if you know the place, it's all so vivid and real that a thing
like the contrast between the excursion crowd in the morning and the
scene at night leaps into your mind and you must think of it.
But never mind about the accident,--let us turn back again to the
The boat was due to leave at seven. There was no doubt about the
hour,--not only seven, but seven sharp. The notice in the Newspacket
said: "The boat will leave sharp at seven;" and the advertising
posters on the telegraph poles on Missinaba Street that began "Ho,
for Indian's Island!" ended up with the words: "Boat leaves at seven
sharp." There was a big notice on the wharf that said: "Boat leaves
sharp on time."
So at seven, right on the hour, the whistle blew loud and long, and
then at seven fifteen three short peremptory blasts, and at seven
thirty one quick angry call,--just one,--and very soon after that
they cast off the last of the ropes and the Mariposa Belle sailed off
in her cloud of flags, and the band of the Knights of Pythias, timing
it to a nicety, broke into the "Maple Leaf for Ever!"
I suppose that all excursions when they start are much the same.
Anyway, on the Mariposa Belle everybody went running up and down all
over the boat with deck chairs and camp stools and baskets, and found
places, splendid places to sit, and then got scared that there might
be better ones and chased off again. People hunted for places out of
the sun and when they got them swore that they weren't going to
freeze to please anybody; and the people in the sun said that they
hadn't paid fifty cents to be roasted. Others said that they hadn't
paid fifty cents to get covered with cinders, and there were still
others who hadn't paid fifty cents to get shaken to death with the
Still, it was all right presently. The people seemed to get sorted
out into the places on the boat where they belonged. The women, the
older ones, all gravitated into the cabin on the lower deck and by
getting round the table with needlework, and with all the windows
shut, they soon had it, as they said themselves, just like being at
All the young boys and the toughs and the men in the band got down
on the lower deck forward, where the boat was dirtiest and where the
anchor was and the coils of rope.
And upstairs on the after deck there were Lilian Drone and
Miss Lawson, the high school teacher, with a book of German
poetry,--Gothey I think it was,--and the bank teller and the
In the centre, standing beside the rail, were Dean Drone and Dr.
Gallagher, looking through binocular glasses at the shore.
Up in front on the little deck forward of the pilot house was a group
of the older men, Mullins and Duff and Mr. Smith in a deck chair,
and beside him Mr. Golgotha Gingham, the undertaker of Mariposa, on a
stool. It was part of Mr. Gingham's principles to take in an outing
of this sort, a business matter, more or less,--for you never know
what may happen at these water parties. At any rate, he was there in
a neat suit of black, not, of course, his heavier or professional
suit, but a soft clinging effect as of burnt paper that combined
gaiety and decorum to a nicety.
"Yes," said Mr. Gingham, waving his black glove in a general way
towards the shore, "I know the lake well, very well. I've been pretty
much all over it in my time."
"Canoeing?" asked somebody.
"No," said Mr. Gingham, "not in a canoe." There seemed a peculiar and
quiet meaning in his tone.
"Sailing, I suppose," said somebody else.
"No," said Mr. Gingham. "I don't understand it."
"I never knowed that you went on to the water at all, Gol," said Mr.
Smith, breaking in.
"Ah, not now," explained Mr. Gingham; "it was years ago, the first
summer I came to Mariposa. I was on the water practically all day.