THE MAN OF NO ACCOUNT
by Bret Harte
His name was Fagg--David Fagg. He came to California in
'52 with us, in the "Skyscraper." I don't think he did it
in an adventurous way. He probably had no other place to
go to. When a knot of us young fellows would recite what
splendid opportunities we resigned to go, and how sorry
our friends were to have us leave, and show daguerreotypes
and locks of hair, and talk of Mary and Susan, the man of
no account used to sit by and listen with a pained, mortified
expression on his plain face, and say nothing. I think he
had nothing to say. He had no associates except when we
patronized him; and, in point of fact, he was a good deal
of sport to us. He was always seasick whenever we had a
capful of wind. He never got his sea-legs on, either. And
I never shall forget how we all laughed when Rattler took
him the piece of pork on a string, and--But you know that
time-honored joke. And then we had such a splendid lark
with him. Miss Fanny Twinkler couldn't bear the sight of
him, and we used to make Fagg think that she had taken a
fancy to him, and send him little delicacies and books
from the cabin. You ought to have witnessed the rich scene
that took place when he came up, stammering and very sick,
to thank her! Didn't she flash up grandly and beautifully
and scornfully? So like "Medora," Rattler said,--Rattler
knew Byron by heart,--and wasn't old Fagg awfully cut up?
But he got over it, and when Rattler fell sick at Valparaiso,
old Fagg used to nurse him. You see he was a good sort of
fellow, but he lacked manliness and spirit.
He had absolutely no idea of poetry. I've seen him sit
stolidly by, mending his old clothes, when Rattler delivered
that stirring apostrophe of Byron's to the ocean. He asked
Rattler once, quite seriously, if he thought Byron was ever
seasick. I don't remember Rattler's reply, but I know we all
laughed very much, and I have no doubt it was something good,
for Rattler was smart.
When the "Skyscraper" arrived at San Francisco, we had a
grand "feed." We agreed to meet every year and perpetuate
the occasion. Of course we didn't invite Fagg. Fagg was
a steerage passenger, and it was necessary, you see, now
we were ashore, to exercise a little discretion. But Old
Fagg, as we called him,--he was only about twenty-five years
old, by the way,--was the source of immense amusement to us
that day. It appeared that he had conceived the idea that
he could walk to Sacramento, and actually started off afoot.
We had a good time, and shook hands with one another all
around, and so parted. Ah me! only eight years ago, and yet
some of those hands then clasped in amity have been clenched
at each other, or have dipped furtively in one another's
pockets. I know that we didn't dine together the next year,
because young Barker swore he wouldn't put his feet under
the same mahogany with such a very contemptible scoundrel
as that Mixer; and Nibbles, who borrowed money at Valparaiso
of young Stubbs, who was then a waiter in a restaurant,
didn't like to meet such people.
When I bought a number of shares in the Coyote Tunnel at
Mugginsville, in '54, I thought I'd take a run up there
and see it. I stopped at the Empire Hotel, and after dinner
I got a horse and rode round the town and out to the claim.
One of those individuals whom newspaper correspondents call
"our intelligent informant," and to whom in all small
communities the right of answering questions is tacitly
yielded, was quietly pointed out to me. Habit had enabled
him to work and talk at the same time, and he never
pretermitted either. He gave me a history of the claim,
and added: "You see, stranger," (he addressed the bank
before him), "gold is sure to come out 'er that theer claim,
(he put in a comma with his pick), but the old pro-pri-e-tor
(he wriggled out the word and the point of his pick) warn't
of much account (a long stroke of the pick for a period). He
was green, and let the boys about here jump him,"--and the
rest of his sentence was confided to his hat, which he had
removed to wipe his manly brow with his red bandanna.
I asked him who was the original proprietor.
"His name war Fagg."
I went to see him. He looked a little older and plainer.
He had worked hard, he said, and was getting on "so-so." I
took quite a liking to him, and patronized him to some extent.
Whether I did so because I was beginning to have a distrust
for such fellows as Rattler and Mixer is not necessary for
me to state.
You remember how the Coyote Tunnel went in, and how awfully
we shareholders were done! Well, the next thing I heard was
that Rattler, who was one of the heaviest shareholders, was
up at Mugginsville keeping bar for the proprietor of the
Mugginsville Hotel, and that old Fagg had struck it rich,
and didn't know what to do with his money. All this was
told me by Mixer, who had been there, settling up matters,
and likewise that Fagg was sweet upon the daughter of the
proprietor of the aforesaid hotel. And so by hearsay and
letter I eventually gathered that old Robins, the hotel man,
was trying to get up a match between Nellie Robins and Fagg.
Nellie was a pretty, plump, and foolish little thing, and
would do just as her father wished. I thought it would be
a good thing for Fagg if he should marry and settle down;
that as a married man he might be of some account. So I
ran up to Mugginsville one day to look after things.
It did me an immense deal of good to make Rattler mix my
drinks for me,--Rattler! the gay, brilliant, and unconquerable
Rattler, who had tried to snub me two years ago. I talked
to him about old Fagg and Nellie, particularly as I thought
the subject was distasteful. He never liked Fagg, and he was
sure, he said, that Nellie didn't. Did Nellie like anybody
else? He turned around to the mirror behind the bar and
brushed up his hair; I understood the conceited wretch. I
thought I'd put Fagg on his guard and get him to hurry up
matters. I had a long talk with him. You could see by the
way the poor fellow acted that he was badly stuck. He sighed,
and promised to pluck up courage to hurry matters to a crisis.
Nellie was a good girl, and I think had a sort of quiet
respect for old Fagg's unobtrusiveness. But her fancy was
already taken captive by Rattler's superficial qualities,
which were obvious and pleasing. I don't think Nellie was
any worse than you or I. We are more apt to take acquaintances
at their apparent value than their intrinsic worth. It's less
trouble, and, except when we want to trust them, quite as
convenient. The difficulty with women is that their feelings
are apt to get interested sooner than ours, and then, you
know, reasoning is out of the question. This is what old
Fagg would have known had he been of any account. But he
wasn't. So much the worse for him.
It was a few months afterward, and I was sitting in my
office, when in walked old Fagg. I was surprised to see
him down, but we talked over the current topics in that
mechanical manner of people who know that they have
something else to say, but are obliged to get at it in
that formal way. After an interval Fagg in his natural
"I'm going home!"
"Yes,--that is, I think I'll take a trip to the Atlantic
States. I came to see you, as you know I have some
little property, and I have executed a power of attorney
for you to manage my affairs. I have some papers I'd
like to leave with you. Will you take charge of them?"
"Yes," I said. "But what of Nellie?"
His face fell. He tried to smile, and the combination
resulted in one of the most startling and grotesque
effects I ever beheld. At length he said:
"I shall not marry Nellie,--that is,"--he seemed to
apologize internally for the positive form of
expression,--"I think that I had better not."
"David Fagg," I said with sudden severity, "you're of
To my astonishment his face brightened. "Yes," said he,
"that's it!--I'm of no account! But I always knew it. You
see I thought Rattler loved that girl as well as I did,
and I knew she liked him better than she did me, and would
be happier I dare say with him. But then I knew that old
Robins would have preferred me to him, as I was better
off,--and the girl would do as he said,--and, you see, I
thought I was kinder in the way,--and so I left. But," he
continued, as I was about to interrupt him, "for fear the
old man might object to Rattler, I've lent him enough to
set him up in business for himself in Dogtown. A pushing,
active, brilliant fellow, you know, like Rattler can get
along, and will soon be in his old position again,--and
you needn't be hard on him, you know, if he doesn't.
I was too much disgusted with his treatment of that Rattler
to be at all amiable, but as his business was profitable, I
promised to attend to it, and he left. A few weeks passed.
The return steamer arrived, and a terrible incident occupied
the papers for days afterward. People in all parts of the
State conned eagerly the details of an awful shipwreck, and
those who had friends aboard went away by themselves, and
read the long list of the lost under their breath. I read
of the gifted, the gallant, the noble, and loved ones who
had perished, and among them I think I was the first to read
the name of David Fagg. For the "man of no account" had
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