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to work than the taskmaster left us to our own sweet will, with nothing to restrain its exercise but an occasional visit from the miller, a weakly expostulating man. Once or twice he came in and said mildly, “ Now then, my men, why don't you stick to it ?” and so went out again.
The result of this laxity of overseeing would have disgusted me at any time, and was intensely disgusting then. At least one half the gang kept their hands from the crank whenever the miller was absent, and betook themselves to their private amusements and pursuits. Some sprawled upon the beds and smoked; some engaged themselves and their friends in tailoring; and one turned hair-cutter for the benefit of a gentleman, who, unlike Kay, had not just come out of prison. There were three tailors; two of them on the beds mending their coats, and the other operating on a recumbent friend in the rearward part of his clothing. Where the needles came from I do not know; but for thread they used a strand of the oakum (evidently easy to deal with) which the boys were picking in the corners. Other loungers strolled about with their hands in their pockets, discussing the topics of the day, and playing practical jokes on the industrious few; a favorite joke being to take a bit of rag, anoint it with grease from the crank axles, and clap it unexpectedly over somebody's eye.
The consequence of all this was that the cranks went round at a very slow rate, and now and then stopped altogether. Then the miller came in; the loungers rose from their couches, the tailors ceased stitching, the smokers dropped their pipes, and every fellow was at his post. The cranks spun round furiously again, the miller's expostulation being drowned amid a shout of, “Slap bang, here we are again!” or this extemporized chorus:
“ We 'll hang up the miller on a sour-apple tree,
Glory, glory, Hallelujah,” etc.
By such ditties the ruffians enlivened their short spell of work. Short indeed! The miller departed, and within a minute afterward beds were reoccupied, pipes lit, and tailoring resumed. So the game continued, — the honest fellows sweating at the cranks, and anxious to get the work done and go out to look for more profitable labor, and the paupers by profession taking matters quite easy. I am convinced that had the work been properly superintended the four measures of corn might have been ground in the space of an hour and a half. As it was, when the little bell had tinkled for the fourth time, and the yard-gate was opened, and we were free to depart, the clock had struck eleven.
I had seen the show; gladly I escaped into the open streets. The sun shone brightly on my ragged, disreputable figure, and showed its squalor with startling distinctness; but within all was rejoicing. A few yards, and then I was blessed with the sight of that same vehicle, waiting for me in the spot where I had parted from it fourteen weary hours before. Did you observe, Mr. Editor, with what alacrity I jumped in ? I have a vivid recollection of you, sir, sitting there with an easy patience, lounging through your Times, and oh! so detestably clean to look at! But though I resented your collar, I was grateful for the sight of a familiar face, and for that draught of sherry which you considerately brought for me, a welcome refreshment after so many weary, waking hours of fasting.
And now I have come to the end I remember many little incidents which until this moment had escaped me. I ought to have told you of two quiet elderly gentlemen who, amid all the blackguardism that went on around, held a discussion on the merits of the English language, - one of the disputants showing an especial admiration for the word “kindle,” — “fine old Saxon word as ever was coined.” Then there were some childish games of “ first and last letters,” to vary such entertainments as that of the Swearing Club. I should also have mentioned that, on the dissolution of the Swearing Club, a game at “dumb motions” was started, which presently led to some talk concerning deaf and dumb people, and their method of conversing with each other by means of fingersigns; as well as to a little story that sounded strangely enough coming from the mouth of the most efficient member of the club. A good memory for details enables me to repeat this story almost, if not quite, exactly. “They are a rummy lot, them deaf and dumb,” said the story-teller. “I was at the workhouse at Stepney when I was a young'un, don't you know; and when I got a holiday I used to go and see my old woman as lived in the Borough. Well, one day a woman as was in the house ses to me, ses she, ‘Don't you go past the Deaf and Dumb School as you goes home ?' So I ses,' Yes.' So ses she, Would you mind callin' there and takin' a message to my little gal as is in there deaf and dumb?' So I ses, 'No.' Well, I goes, and they lets me iş, and I tells the message, and they shows me the kid what it was for. Pooty little gal! So they tells her the message, and then she begins making orts and crosses like on her hands. *What’s she a doin' that for?' I ses. “She's a talkin' to you,' ses they. 'O,' I ses, 'what's she talkin' about?' 'She says you ’re a good boy for comin' and tellin' her about her mother, and she loves you.' Blessed if I could help laughin'! So I ses, “There ain't no call for her to say that.' Pooty little kid she was ! I stayed there a goodish bit, and walked about the garden with her, and what d'ye think ? Presently she takes a fancy for some of my jacket buttons, — brass uns they was, with the name of the ‘house' on 'em, — and I cuts four on 'em off and gives her. Well, when I gave her them blow me if she did n't want one of the brass buckles off my shoes. Well, you might n't think it, but I gave her that too." “Did n’t yer get into a row when you got back ?” some listener asked. “Rather! Got kep without dinner and walloped as well, as I would n't tell what I'd done with 'em. Then they was goin' to wallop me again, so I thought I'd cheek it out; so I up and told the master all about it.” “And got it wuss ?” “No, I did n't. The master give me new buttons and a buckle without saying another word, and my dinner along with my supper as well.”
M OS Mr. John Oakhurst, gambler, stepped into the
main street of Poker Flat, on the morning of See the 23d of November, 1850, he was conscious of a change in its moral atmosphere since the preceding night. Two or three men, conversing earnestly together, ceased as he approached, and exchanged significant glances. There was a Sabbath lull in the air, which, in a settlement unused to Sabbath influences, looked omi
Mr. Oakhurst's calm, handsome face betrayed small concern in these indications. Whether he was conscious of any predisposing cause, was another question. "I reckon they ’re after somebody," he reflected; “likely it's me.” He returned to his pocket the handkerchief with which he had been whipping away the red dust of Poker Flat from his neat boots, and quietly discharged his mind of any further conjecture.
In point of fact, Poker Flat was “after somebody.": It had lately suffered the loss of several thousand dollars,