Dick Baker's Cat
One of my comrades there--another of those victims of eighteen years of
unrequited toil and blighted hopes--was one of the gentlest spirits that
ever bore its patient cross in a weary exile: grave and simple Dick
Baker, pocket-miner of Dead-Horse Gulch. He was forty-six, grey as a
rat, earnest, thoughtful, slenderly educated, slouchily dressed and
clay-soiled, but his heart was finer metal than any gold his shovel ever
brought to light--than any, indeed, that ever was mined or minted.
Whenever he was out of luck and a little downhearted, he would fall to
mourning over the loss of a wonderful cat he used to own (for where
women and children are not, men of kindly impulses take up with pets,
for they must love something). And he always spoke of the strange
sagacity of that cat with the air of a man who believed in his secret
heart that there was something human about it--maybe even supernatural.
I heard him talking about this animal once. He said:
"Gentlemen, I used to have a cat here, by the name of Tom Quartz, which
you'd 'a' took an interest in, I reckon--, most anybody would. I had him
here eight year--and he was the remarkablest cat I ever see. He was a
large grey one of the Tom specie, an' he had more hard, natchral sense
than any man in this camp--'n' a power of dignity--he wouldn't let the
Gov'ner of Californy be familiar with him. He never ketched a rat in
his life--'peared to be above it. He never cared for nothing but mining.
He knowed more about mining, that cat did, than any man I ever, ever
see. You couldn't tell him noth'n' 'bout placer-diggin's--'n' as for
pocket-mining, why he was just born for it. He would dig out after me
an' Jim when we went over the hills prospect'n', and he would trot along
behind us for as much as five mile, if we went so fur. An' he had the
best judgment about mining-ground--why you never see anything like it.
When we went to work, he'd scatter a glance around, 'n' if he didn't
think much of the indications, he would give a look as much as to say,
'Well, I'll have to get you to excuse me,' 'n' without another word
he'd hyste his nose into the air 'n' shove for home. But if the ground
suited him, he would lay low 'n' keep dark till the first pan was
washed, 'n' then he would sidle up 'n' take a look, an' if there was
about six or seven grains of gold he was satisfied--he didn't want no
better prospect 'n' that--'n' then he would lay down on our coats and
snore like a steamboat till we'd struck the pocket, an' then get up 'n'
superintend. He was nearly lightnin' on superintending.
"Well, by an' by, up comes this yer quartz excitement. Everybody was
into it--everybody was pick'n' 'n' blast'n' instead of shovelin' dirt on
the hillside--everybody was putt'n' down a shaft instead of scrapin' the
surface. Noth'n' would do Jim, but we must tackle the ledges, too, 'n'
so we did. We commenced putt'n' down a shaft, 'n' Tom Quartz he begin to
wonder what in the Dickens it was all about. He hadn't ever seen any
mining like that before, 'n' he was all upset, as you may say--he
couldn't come to a right understanding of it no way--it was too many for
him. He was down on it too, you bet you--he was down on it
powerful--'n' always appeared to consider it the cussedest foolishness
out. But that cat, you know, was always agin new-fangled
arrangements--somehow he never could abide 'em. You know how it is
with old habits. But by an' by Tom Quartz begin to git sort of
reconciled a little, though he never could altogether understand that
eternal sinkin' of a shaft an' never pannin' out anything. At last he
got to comin' down in the shaft, hisself, to try to cipher it out. An'
when he'd git the blues, 'n' feel kind o' scruffy, 'n' aggravated 'n'
disgusted--knowin' as he did, that the bills was runnin' up all the time
an' we warn't makin' a cent--he would curl up on a gunny-sack in the
corner an' go to sleep. Well, one day when the shaft was down about
eight foot, the rock got so hard that we had to put in a blast--the
first blast'n' we'd ever done since Tom Quartz was born. An' then we lit
the fuse 'n' clumb out 'n' got off 'bout fifty yards--'n' forgot 'n'
left Tom Quartz sound asleep on the gunny-sack. In 'bout a minute we
seen a puff of smoke bust up out of the hole, 'n' then everything let go
with an awful crash, 'n' about four million ton of rocks 'n' dirt 'n'
smoke 'n' splinters shot up 'bout a mile an' a half into the air, an' by
George, right in the dead centre of it was old Tom Quartz a-goin' end
over end, an' a-snortin' an' a-sneez'n, an' a-clawin' an' a-reach'n' for
things like all possessed. But it warn't no use, you know, it warn't no
use. An' that was the last we see of him for about two minutes 'n' a
half, an' then all of a sudden it begin to rain rocks and rubbage an'
directly he come down ker-whoop about ten foot off f'm where we stood.
Well, I reckon he was p'raps the orneriest-lookin' beast you ever see.
One ear was sot back on his neck, 'n' his tail was stove up, 'n' his
eye-winkers was singed off, 'n' he was all blacked up with powder an'
smoke, an' all sloppy with mud 'n' slush f'm one end to the other. Well,
sir, it warn't no use to try to apologize--we couldn't say a word. He
took a sort of a disgusted look at hisself, 'n' then he looked at
us--an' it was just exactly the same as if he had said--'Gents, maybe
you think it's smart to take advantage of a cat that ain't had no
experience of quartz-minin', but I think different'--an' then he
turned on his heel 'n' marched off home without ever saying another
"That was jest his style. An' maybe you won't believe it, but after that
you never see a cat so prejudiced agin quartz-mining as what he was. An'
by an' by when he did get to goin' down in the shaft ag'in, you'd 'a'
been astonished at his sagacity. The minute we'd tetch off a blast 'n'
the fuse'd begin to sizzle, he'd give a look as much as to say, 'Well,
I'll have to git you to excuse me,' an' it was supris'n' the way he'd
shin out of that hole 'n' go f'r a tree. Sagacity? It ain't no name for
it. 'Twas inspiration!"
I said, "Well, Mr. Baker, his prejudice against quartz-mining was
remarkable, considering how he came by it. Couldn't you ever cure him of
"Cure him! No! When Tom Quartz was sot once, he was always sot--and
you might 'a' blowed him up as much as three million times 'n' you'd
never 'a' broken him of his cussed prejudice ag'in quartz-mining."