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Sketches New and Old, Part 7.

Mark Twain

  Produced by David Widger


  by Mark Twain

  Part 7.


  I had never seen him before. He brought letters of introduction frommutual friends in San Francisco, and by invitation I breakfasted withhim. It was almost religion, there in the silver-mines, to precede sucha meal with whisky cocktails. Artemus, with the true cosmopolitaninstinct, always deferred to the customs of the country he was in, and sohe ordered three of those abominations. Hingston was present. I said Iwould rather not drink a whisky cocktail. I said it would go right to myhead, and confuse me so that I would be in a helpless tangle in tenminutes. I did not want to act like a lunatic before strangers. ButArtemus gently insisted, and I drank the treasonable mixture underprotest, and felt all the time that I was doing a thing I might be sorryfor. In a minute or two I began to imagine that my ideas were clouded.I waited in great anxiety for the conversation to open, with a sort ofvague hope that my understanding would prove clear, after all, and mymisgivings groundless.

  Artemus dropped an unimportant remark or two, and then assumed a look ofsuperhuman earnestness, and made the following astounding speech. Hesaid:

  "Now there is one thing I ought to ask you about before I forget it. Youhave been here in Silver land--here in Nevada--two or three years, and,of course, your position on the daily press has made it necessary for youto go down in the mines and examine them carefully in detail, andtherefore you know all about the silver-mining business. Now what I wantto get at is--is, well, the way the deposits of ore are made, you know.For instance. Now, as I understand it, the vein which contains thesilver is sandwiched in between casings of granite, and runs along theground, and sticks up like a curb stone. Well, take a vein forty feetthick, for example, or eighty, for that matter, or even a hundred--sayyou go down on it with a shaft, straight down, you know, or with what youcall 'incline' maybe you go down five hundred feet, or maybe you don't godown but two hundred--anyway, you go down, and all the time this veingrows narrower, when the casings come nearer or approach each other, youmay say--that is, when they do approach, which, of course, they do notalways do, particularly in cases where the nature of the formation issuch that they stand apart wider than they otherwise would, and whichgeology has failed to account for, although everything in that sciencegoes to prove that, all things being equal, it would if it did not, orwould not certainly if it did, and then, of course, they are. Do not youthink it is?"

  I said to myself:

  "Now I just knew how it would be--that whisky cocktail has done thebusiness for me; I don't understand any more than a clam."

  And then I said aloud:

  "I--I--that is--if you don't mind, would you--would you say that overagain? I ought--"

  "Oh, certainly, certainly! You see I am very unfamiliar with thesubject, and perhaps I don't present my case clearly, but I--"

  "No, no-no, no-you state it plain enough, but that cocktail has muddledme a little. But I will no, I do understand for that matter; but I wouldget the hang of it all the better if you went over it again-and I'll paybetter attention this time."

  He said; "Why, what I was after was this."

  [Here he became even more fearfully impressive than ever, and emphasizedeach particular point by checking it off on his finger-ends.]

  "This vein, or lode, or ledge, or whatever you call it, runs alongbetween two layers of granite, just the same as if it were a sandwich.Very well. Now suppose you go down on that, say a thousand feet, ormaybe twelve hundred (it don't really matter) before you drift, and thenyou start your drifts, some of them across the ledge, and others alongthe length of it, where the sulphurets--I believe they call themsulphurets, though why they should, considering that, so far as I cansee, the main dependence of a miner does not so lie, as some suppose, butin which it cannot be successfully maintained, wherein the same shouldnot continue, while part and parcel of the same ore not committed toeither in the sense referred to, whereas, under different circumstances,the most inexperienced among us could not detect it if it were, or mightoverlook it if it did, or scorn the very idea of such a thing, eventhough it were palpably demonstrated as such. Am I not right?"

  I said, sorrowfully: "I feel ashamed of myself, Mr. Ward. I know Iought to understand you perfectly well, but you see that treacherouswhisky cocktail has got into my head, and now I cannot understand eventhe simplest proposition. I told you how it would be."

  "Oh, don't mind it, don't mind it; the fault was my own, no doubt--thoughI did think it clear enough for--"

  "Don't say a word. Clear! Why, you stated it as clear as the sun toanybody but an abject idiot; but it's that confounded cocktail that hasplayed the mischief."

  "No; now don't say that. I'll begin it all over again, and--"

  "Don't now--for goodness' sake, don't do anything of the kind, because Itell you my head is in such a condition that I don't believe I couldunderstand the most trifling question a man could ask me.

  "Now don't you be afraid. I'll put it so plain this time that you can'thelp but get the hang of it. We will begin at the very beginning."[Leaning far across the table, with determined impressiveness wroughtupon his every feature, and fingers prepared to keep tally of each pointenumerated; and I, leaning forward with painful interest, resolved tocomprehend or perish.] "You know the vein, the ledge, the thing thatcontains the metal, whereby it constitutes the medium between all otherforces, whether of present or remote agencies, so brought to bear infavor of the former against the latter, or the latter against the formeror all, or both, or compromising the relative differences existing withinthe radius whence culminate the several degrees of similarity to which--"

  I said: "Oh, hang my wooden head, it ain't any use!--it ain't any use totry--I can't understand anything. The plainer you get it the more Ican't get the hang of it."

  I heard a suspicious noise behind me, and turned in time to see Hingstondodging behind a newspaper, and quaking with a gentle ecstasy oflaughter. I looked at Ward again, and he had thrown off his dreadsolemnity and was laughing also. Then I saw that I had been sold--that Ihad been made a victim of a swindle in the way of a string of plausiblyworded sentences that didn't mean anything under the sun. Artemus Wardwas one of the best fellows in the world, and one of the mostcompanionable. It has been said that he was not fluent in conversation,but, with the above experience in my mind, I differ.