The Wrecker

Page 36

I suppose these vague anticipations added a shade of gloom to that already gloomy place of travel: Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, scowled in my face at least, and seemed to point me back again to that other native land of mine, the Latin Quarter. But when the Sierras had been climbed, and the train, after so long beating and panting, stretched itself upon the downward track--when I beheld that vast extent of prosperous country rolling seaward from the woods and the blue mountains, that illimitable spread of rippling corn, the trees growing and blowing in the merry weather, the country boys thronging aboard the train with figs and peaches, and the conductors, and the very darky stewards, visibly exulting in the change--up went my soul like a balloon; Care fell from his perch upon my shoulders; and when I spied my Pinkerton among the crowd at Sacramento, I thought of nothing but to shout and wave for him, and grasp him by the hand, like what he was--my dearest friend.

"O Loudon!" he cried. "Man, how I've pined for you! And you haven't come an hour too soon. You're known here and waited for; I've been booming you already; you're billed for a lecture to-morrow night: _Student Life in Paris, Grave and Gay_: twelve hundred places booked at the last stock! Tut, man, you're looking thin! Here, try a drop of this." And he produced a case bottle, staringly labelled PINKERTON'S THIRTEEN STAR GOLDEN STATE BRANDY, WARRANTED ENTIRE.

"God bless me!" said I, gasping and winking after my first plunge into this fiery fluid. "And what does 'Warranted Entire' mean?"

"Why, Loudon! you ought to know that!" cried Pinkerton. "It's real, copper-bottomed English; you see it on all the old-time wayside hostelries over there."

"But if I'm not mistaken, it means something Warranted Entirely different," said I, "and applies to the public house, and not the beverages sold."

"It's very possible," said Jim, quite unabashed. "It's effective, anyway; and I can tell you, sir, it has boomed that spirit: it goes now by the gross of cases. By the way, I hope you won't mind; I've got your portrait all over San Francisco for the lecture, enlarged from that carte de visite: H. Loudon Dodd, the Americo-Parisienne Sculptor. Here's a proof of the small handbills; the posters are the same, only in red and blue, and the letters fourteen by one."

I looked at the handbill, and my head turned. What was the use of words? why seek to explain to Pinkerton the knotted horrors of "Americo-Parisienne"? He took an early occasion to point it out as "rather a good phrase; gives the two sides at a glance: I wanted the lecture written up to that." Even after we had reached San Francisco, and at the actual physical shock of my own effigy placarded on the streets I had broken forth in petulant words, he never comprehended in the least the ground of my aversion.

"If I had only known you disliked red lettering!" was as high as he could rise. "You are perfectly right: a clear-cut black is preferable, and shows a great deal further. The only thing that pains me is the portrait: I own I thought that a success. I'm dreadfully and truly sorry, my dear fellow: I see now it's not what you had a right to expect; but I did it, Loudon, for the best; and the press is all delighted."

At the moment, sweeping through green tule swamps, I fell direct on the essential. "But, Pinkerton," I cried, "this lecture is the maddest of your madnesses. How can I prepare a lecture in thirty hours?"

"All done, Loudon!" he exclaimed in triumph. "All ready. Trust me to pull a piece of business through. You'll find it all type-written in my desk at home. I put the best talent of San Francisco on the job: Harry Miller, the brightest pressman in the city."

And so he rattled on, beyond reach of my modest protestations, blurting out his complicated interests, crying up his new acquaintances, and ever and again hungering to introduce me to some "whole-souled, grand fellow, as sharp as a needle," from whom, and the very thought of whom, my spirit shrank instinctively.

Well, I was in for it: in for Pinkerton, in for the portrait, in for the type-written lecture. One promise I extorted--that I was never again to be committed in ignorance; even for that, when I saw how its extortion puzzled and depressed the Irrepressible, my soul repented me; and in all else I suffered myself to be led uncomplaining at his chariot wheels. The Irrepressible, did I say? The Irresistible were nigher truth.

The Wrecker Page 37

Robert Louis Stevenson

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