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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




AFTER half a year's luxurious vagrancy in the islands, I
took shipping in a sailing vessel, and regretfully returned
to San Francisco—a voyage in every way delightful,
but without an incident: unless lying two long weeks in a dead
calm, eighteen hundred miles from the nearest land, may rank
as an incident. Schools of whales grew so tame that day after
day they played about the ship among the porpoises and the
sharks without the least apparent fear of us, and we pelted them
with empty bottles for lack of better sport. Twenty-four hours
afterward these bottles would be still lying on the glassy water
under our noses, showing that the ship had not moved out of
her place in all that time. The calm was absolutely breathless,
and the surface of the sea absolutely without a wrinkle. For a
whole day and part of a night we lay so close to another ship
that had drifted to our vicinity, that we carried on conversations
with her passengers, introduced each other by name, and
became pretty intimately acquainted with people we had never
heard of before, and have never heard of since. This was the
only vessel we saw during the whole lonely voyage. We had
fifteen passengers, and to show how hard pressed they were at
last for occupation and amusement, I will mention that the
gentlemen gave a good part of their time every day, during the
calm, to trying to sit on an empty champagne bottle (lying on
its side), and thread a needle without touching their heels to
the deck, or falling over; and the ladies sat in the shade of the


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 559. In-line image of a man sitting on the floor with a bottle next to him.]
mainsail, and watched the enterprise with absorbing interest.
We were at sea five Sundays; and yet, but for the almanac,
we never would have known but that all the other days were
Sundays too.

I was home again, in
San Francisco, without
means and without employment.
I tortured my
brain for a saving scheme
of some kind, and at last
a public lecture occurred
to me! I sat down and
wrote one, in a fever of
hopeful anticipation. I
showed it to several friends,
but they all shook their heads. They
said nobody would come to hear me,
and I would make a humiliating failure
of it. They said that as I had never spoken in public, I
would break down in the delivery, anyhow. I was disconsolate
now. But at last an editor slapped me on the back and told
me to “go ahead.” He said, “Take the largest house in town,
and charge a dollar a ticket.” The audacity of the proposition
was charming; it seemed fraught with practical worldly wisdom,
however. The proprietor of the several theatres endorsed
the advice, and said I might have his handsome new opera-house
at half price—fifty dollars. In sheer desperation I took it—on
credit, for sufficient reasons. In three days I did a hundred and
fifty dollars' worth of printing and advertising, and was the
most distressed and frightened creature on the Pacific coast. I
could not sleep—who could, under such circumstances? For
other people there was facetiousness in the last line of my
posters, but to me it was plaintive with a pang when I wrote it:

“Doors open at 7½. The trouble will begin at 8.”

That line has done good service since. Showmen have
borrowed it frequently. I have even seen it appended to a


Page 560
newspaper advertisement reminding school pupils in vacation
what time next term would begin. As those three days of
suspense dragged by, I grew more and more unhappy. I had
sold two hundred tickets among my personal friends, but I feared
they might not come. My lecture, which had seemed “humorous”
to me, at first, grew steadily more and more dreary, till
not a vestige of fun seemed left, and I grieved that I could not
bring a coffin on the stage and turn the thing into a funeral.
I was so panic-stricken, at last, that I went to three old friends,
giants in stature, cordial by nature, and stormy-voiced, and said:

“This thing is going to be a failure; the jokes in it are so
dim that nobody will ever see them; I would like to have you
sit in the parquette, and help me through.”

They said they would. Then I went to the wife of a popular
citizen, and said that if she was willing to do me a very
great kindness, I would be glad if she and her husband would
sit prominently in the left-hand stage-box, where the whole
house could see them. I explained that I should need help, and
would turn toward her and smile, as a signal, when I had been
delivered of an obscure joke—“and then,” I added, “don't
wait to investigate, but respond!

She promised. Down the street I met a man I never had
seen before. He had been drinking, and was beaming with
smiles and good nature. He said:

“My name's Sawyer. You don't know me, but that don't
matter. I haven't got a cent, but if you knew how bad I wanted
to laugh, you'd give me a ticket. Come, now, what do you

“Is your laugh hung on a hair-trigger?—that is, is it critical,
or can you get it off easy?

My drawling infirmity of speech so affected him that he
laughed a specimen or two that struck me as being about the
article I wanted, and I gave him a ticket, and appointed him to
sit in the second circle, in the centre, and be responsible for
that division of the house. I gave him minute instructions
about how to detect indistinct jokes, and then went away, and
left him chuckling placidly over the novelty of the idea.


Page 561



[Description: 504EAF. Page 561. In-line image of a man standing next to a table looking ver nervous.]

I ate nothing on the last of the three eventful days—I only
suffered. I had advertised that on this third day the box-office
would be opened for the sale of reserved seats. I crept down
to the theatre at four in the afternoon to see if any sales had
been made. The ticket seller was gone, the box-office was
locked up. I had to swallow suddenly, or my heart would have
got out. “No sales,” I said to myself; “I might have known
it.” I thought of suicide, pretended illness, flight. I thought
of these things in earnest, for I was very miserable and scared.
But of course I had to drive them away, and prepare to meet my
fate. I could not wait for half-past seven—I wanted to face the
horror, and end it—the feeling of many a man doomed to hang,
no doubt. I went down
back streets at six o'clock,
and entered the theatre by
the back door. I stumbled
my way in the dark among
the ranks of canvas scenery,
and stood on the
stage. The house was gloomy
and silent, and its emptiness
depressing. I went
into the dark among the
scenes again, and for an
hour and a half gave myself
up to the horrors, wholly
unconscious of everything
else. Then I heard a murmur;
it rose higher and
higher, and ended in a
crash, mingled with cheers.
It made my hair raise, it
was so close to me, and so
loud. There was a pause,
and then another; presently
came a third, and before I well knew what I was about, I
was in the middle of the stage, staring at a sea of faces, bewildered


Page 562


[Description: 504EAF. Page 562. In-line image of a group of men cheering with canes in their hands.]
by the fierce glare of the lights, and quaking in every limb
with a terror that seemed like to take my life away. The
house was full, aisles and all!

The tumult in my heart and brain and legs continued a full
minute before I could gain any command over myself. Then
I recognized the charity and the friendliness in the faces before
me, and little by little my fright melted away, and I began to
talk. Within three or four minutes I was comfortable, and
even content. My three chief allies, with three auxiliaries,
were on hand, in the parquette, all sitting together, all armed
with bludgeons, and all
ready to make an onslaught
upon the feeblest joke that
might show its head. And
whenever a joke did fall,
their bludgeons came down
and their faces seemed to
split from ear to ear; Sawyer,
whose hearty countenance
was seen looming
redly in the centre of the
second circle, took it up,
and the house was carried
handsomely. Inferior jokes
never fared so royally before. Presently I delivered a bit of


Page 563
serious matter with impressive unction (it was my pet), and
the audience listened with an absorbed hush that gratified me
more than any applause; and as I dropped the last word of
the clause, I happened to turn and catch Mrs. —'s intent
and waiting eye; my conversation with her flashed upon me,
and in spite of all I could do I smiled. She took it for the
signal, and promptly delivered a mellow laugh that touched
off the whole audience; and the explosion that followed was
the triumph of the evening. I thought that that honest man
Sawyer would choke himself; and as for the bludgeons, they
performed like pile-drivers. But my poor little morsel of
pathos was ruined. It was taken in good faith as an intentional
joke, and the prize one of the entertainment, and I
wisely let it go at that.

All the papers were kind in the morning; my appetite
returned; I had abundance of money. All's well that ends