Mark Twain's personal narrative under the above title is a spicy, interesting and instructive book abounding in brave though brilliant exaggerations, yet containing no inconsiderable amount of useful information. He mirrors the scenes in Nevada and California during the famous Washoe silver excitement, gives an amusing account of a journey overland by coach, describes the salient features of the Sandwich Islands, and tells us about his early experience in lecturing. Those who are familiar with the scenes he locates in Nevada and our own State, will of course form their own opinions of all the statements, knowing how to take them, and people abroad must accept the toughest cum grano salis. His conscience never prevents him from bringing a story to a triumphant conclusion. At least he always does it. In his prefatory remarks he says the volume is a record of several years of variegated vagabondizing, and its object is rather to help the resting reader while away an idle hour than afflict him with metaphysics or goad him with science. Thus he puts the reader on the right scent at the outset; and if, through plausibility and a fertile imagination, the author manages to give extravagant yarns the color of truth, it is to be hoped that the preface will act as a balance in the reader's mind and influence him to believe only what comes within the natural range of possibility. His essays on mining, for some of the chapters are sufficiently erudite and elaborate to be worthy of that distinction, contain descriptions and suggestions which are correct, both in theory and practice, and will be readily endorsed by experienced miners; and his pictures of Wahoe society, as it existed during the silver-mining fever, however much he may embellish in individual instances, are at times remarkably faithful. In a literary point of view the work is hardly up to the standard of The Innocents Abroad. We miss that eloquence of description adorning a few of his sketches of France. It is full of genial humor, however, has a great deal of that pungent flavor of Western life, and is sure to be appreciated by Mark Twain's legion of admirers. The book is published in good shape, and contains hundreds of striking illustrations. It is "inscribed to Calvin H. Higbie, of California, by the author, in memory of the curious time when we two were millionaires for ten days." Higbie figures as the second person in the annexed extract:
He said once or twice that he meant to have a look into the Wide West shaft if he got shot for it. I was wretched, and did not care whether he got a look into it or not. He failed that day, and tried again at night; failed again; got up at dawn and tried, and failed again. Then he lay in ambush in the sage brush hour after hour, waiting for the two or three hands to adjourn to the shade of a boulder for dinner; made a start once, but was premature--one of the men came back for something; tried it again, but when almost at the mouth of the shaft, another of the men rose up from behind the boulder as if to reconnoitre, and he dropped on the ground and lay quiet; presently he crawled on his hands and knees to the mouth of the shaft, gave a quick glance around, then seized the rope and slid down the shaft. He disappeared in the gloom of a "side drift" just as a head appeared in the mouth of the shaft and somebody shouted "Hello!"--which he did not answer. He was not disturbed any more. An hour later he entered the cabin, hot, red, and ready to burst with smothered excitement, and exclaimed in a stage whisper:
"I knew it! We are rich! IT'S A BLIND LEAD!"
I thought the very earth reeled under me. Doubt--conviction--doubt again--exultation--hope, amazement, belief, unbelief--every emotion imaginable swept in wild procession through my heart and brain, and I could not speak a word. After a moment or two of this mental fury, I shook myself to rights, and said:
"Say it again!"
"It's blind lead!"
"Cal., let's--let's burn the house--or kill somebody! Let's get out where there's room to hurrah! But what is the use? It is a hundred times too good to be true."
"It's a blind lead, for a million!--hanging wall--foot wall--clay casings--everything complete!" He swung his hat and gave three cheers, and I cast doubt to the winds and chimed in with a will. For I was worth a million dollars, and did not care "whether school kept or not!"
But perhaps I ought to explain. A "blind lead" is a lead or ledge that does not "crop out" above the surface. A miner does not know where to look for such leads, but they are often stumbled upon by accident in the course of driving a tunnel or sinking a shaft. Higbie knew the Wide West rock perfectly well, and the more he had examined the new developments the more he was satisfied that the ore could not have come from the Wide West vein. And so had it occurred to him alone, of all the camp, that there was a blind lead down in the shaft, and that even the Wide West people themselves did not suspect it. He was right. When he went down the shaft, he found that the blind lead held its independent way through the Wide West vein, cutting it diagonally, and that it was enclosed in its own well-defined casing-rocks and clay. Hence it was public property. Both leads being perfectly well defined, it was easy for any miner to see which one belonged to the Wide West and which did not.
We thought it well to have a strong friend, and therefore we brought the foreman of the Wide West to our cabin that night and revealed the great surprise to him. Higbie said:
"We are going to take possession of this blind lead, record it and establish ownership, and then forbid the Wide West company to take out any more of the rock. You cannot help your company in this matter--nobody can help them. I will go into the shaft with you and prove to your entire satisfaction that it is a blind lead. Now we propose to take you in with us, and claim the blind lead in our three names. What do you say?"
What could a man say who had an opportunity to simply stretch forth his hand and take possession of a fortune without risk of any kind and without wronging any one or attaching the least taint of dishonor to his name? He could only say, "Agreed."