Experience on the Feverish Hornet

Edgar Wilson Nye (aka Bill Nye)

from Chestnuts Old and New

"Yes, that's so," said Woodtick Williams thoughtfully, as he looked out toward the top of the range where the eternal snow was glittering in the summer sun.

"You are eminently correct. The gentleman from Buckskin has stated the exact opinion of the subscriber, sure as death and semi-annual assessments.

"Every profession has its style of lead and its peculiar dip toward the horizon. From the towering congressman, down to the neglected advance agent of the everlasting gospel, every profession, I allow, has its peculiar lingo. Every pork-and-beans pilgrim from the States that's been in my camp for twenty-seven years has said that the miner slings more unnecessary professional racket than anybody else; but that ain't so. Take folks as they assay, from blossom rock to lower level, there ain't much difference.

"Nine years ago, I and Timberline Monroe and Katooter Lemons, from Zion, struck the Feverish Hornet up on Slippery Ellum. First we knew the prospecting season has closed up on us, and, as the lay-out for the surface had pinched out, we decided to sink on the Hornet, just for luck.

"So Timberline, Katooter and me went over to Huckleberry Oleson's store at the lower camp and soaked our physiognomy for chuck, and valley tan, and a blastin' outfit for the job.

"Down five feet she showed 150 colors to a hunk of rock no bigger'n a plug of tobacker, with wall rocks well defined on both sides and foot wall slick as a confidence game in 'Frisco.

"The quartz, with a light coat of gouge, looked as if she'd been jammed through the formation like a Sabbath-school scholar's elbow through a custard pie, and it had crushed the prehistoric stuffin' and pre-adamite sawdust out of the geological crust in good shape.

"'Katooter', says I, 'if she shows up this way all the way down, I be teetotally dodbuttered if I don't think we've cornered the sugar at last. We'll run her down to ten foot and see how she looks to the naked eye.'

"Ten foot down she'd widen to three foot between walls, with solid gray quartz as pretty as a bank book. Then we made a mill run of five pounds in a half gallon mortar and cleared up a dollar's worth of dust on the blade of a long-handled shovel.

"The prospectus of the Feverish Hornet was very cheering indeed.

"I sat down on a candle-box and sang something. I always twitter a few notes when I feel tickled about anything.

"Katooter listened to my singing a little while, and then we went down the gulch murmuring something about my music and intimating that prosperity always had its little drawbacks after all.

"He slid down to the Frescoed Hell and jammed his old freckled hide so full of horse liniment of the vintage of '49 that he got entirely off the lead, and drifted so far into poverty rock that he didn't know Timberline nor me from a stomach pump.

"That's generally the way with men that turn up their noses at vocal music.

"Well, he got no better so rapidly that the next day he was occupying a front seat at the biggest delirium triangle matinee you ever heard of, and was the sole proprieter of the biggest aggregation of seal-brown tarantulas and variegated caterpillers and imported centipedes that ever exhibited in Columbia's fair domain.

"Every little while he'd nail some diabolical insect crawling up his sleeve or gently walking through his hair, and then he'd yell like a maniac and pray and swear like a hired man.

"The atmosphere seemed to be level-full of bumblebees as big as a cookstove, and every time they'd cuddle up to him or sink on him with their sultry little gimlets, Katooter would jump up and whoop like a Piute medicine man trying to assuage a wide waste of turbulent cucumber.

"At those times Katooter would lay aside his wardrobe, and throwing me into the fireplace and Timerline under the bed, he would wander forth into the starlight, with the thermometer down to 37 degrees, and wrapped in nothing but his surging thoughts.

"By the time Timberline and me would get up and swab the cobwebs and cinders out of our eyes, Katooter would be half-way up the gulch and lighting out like a freckled Greek slave hunting for a clothing store.

"First along we used to run after him and try to tire him out and corral him, but he was most too skipful, and apparently so all-fired anxious to put all the intervening distance he could between himself and the fuzzy tarantulas and the fall style of centipedes, that he made some pretty tall time, considering the poor trail and the light mountain air.

"Then another thing; when we got to him he was so pesky mean to hang on to.

"You've probably tried before now, when you was small, to catch the boy who tied your shirt to the top limb of a dead tree, and you have thrown all your energy into the effort, but you decided after a while to wait till he got his clothes on before you punished him.

"That's the way it was with Katooter. He was the smartest man I ever tried to gather into the fold. We'd think we had him, and all at once he'd glide between our legs like a yaller dog and laugh a wild kind of laugh that would run the thermometer down 13 degrees, and away he'd glimmer up the trail like a red-headed right of way.

"So I got mad at last, and used to chase him with a lariat and Yellow Fever.

"Yellow Fever was a sorrel mule that belonged to the firm. We called him Yellow Fever because he was so fatal.

"Well, when Yellow Fever and me got after Katooter with the lariat, we most always gathered him in--[Bless my soul, how long I'm stringing this yarn out.]

"Well, to make a long story short, Katooter rallied after a while, and during the spell his chilblains was convalescing, and some more new skin growing on his system where he had barked it off running through the sage-brush and falling into old deserted prospect holes, I had an offer of $50,000 for my third in the Feverish Hornet, and sold.

"Then I went down to Truckee and bought a little house of an old railroad man down there, and grubstaked myself for the winter, and allowed I'd lay off till the snow left the range in the spring.

"One night, about half after 12, I judge, I heard somebody step along to the window of my boudoir. Hearing it at that time of night, I reckoned that something crooked was going on, so I slid out of bed and got my Great Blood Searcher and Liver Purifier, with the new style of center fire and cartridge ejector, and slid up to the window, calculating to shove a tonic into whoever it might be that was picnicking around my claim.

"I looked out so as to get a good idea of where I wanted to sink on him, and then I thought before I mangled him I'd ask him if he had any choice about which part of his vitals he wanted to preserve, so I sang out to him:

"Look out below there, pard, for I'm going to call the meeting to order in a minute! Just throw up your hands, if you please, and make the grand hailing sign of distress, or I'll have to mutilate you! Just show me where about you'd like to have the fatal wound, and be spry about it, too, because I've got my brief costume on, and the evening air is chill!"

"He didn't understand me, apparently, for a gurgling laugh welled up from below, and the party sings back:

"'Hullo, Fatty, is that you? Just lookin' to see if you'd fired up yet. You know I was to come round and flag you if second seven was out. Well, I've been down to the old man's to see what's on the board. Three is two hours late and four is on time. There's two sevens out and two sections of nine. Skinney'll take out the first seven and Shorty'll pull her with 102. It's you and me for the second seven, with Limber Jim on front and Frenchy to hold down the caboose. First fire is wrong side up in a washout this side of Ogallalla, and old Whatshisname that runs 258 got his crown sheet caved in and telescoped his headlight into the middle of the New Jerusalem. You know the little Swede that used to run extra for Old Hotbox on the emigrant awhile? Well, he was firing on 258 and he's under three flats and a coal-oil tank, with a brake beam across his coupler, and his system more or less relaxed. He's gone to the sweet subsequently too. Rest of the boys are more or less demoralized, and side-tracked for repairs. Now you don't want to monkey around much, for if you don't loom up like six bits and go out on the tick, the old man'll give you a time check and the oriental grand bounce. You hear the mellow trill of my bazoo?

"Then I slowly uncorked the Great Blood Purifier, and moving to the footlights where the silvery moonbeams could touch up my dazzling outlines, I said: `Partner, I am pleased and gratified to have met you. I don't know the first ding busted thing you have have said to me, but that is my misfortune. I am a plain miner, and my home is the digestive apparatus of the earth, but for professional melody of the chin, you certainly take the cake. You also take the cake basket and what cold pie there is on the dump. My name is Woodtick Williams. I discovered the Feverish Hornet up on Slippery Elm. I am proud, you know. Keep right on getting more and more familiar with your profession, and by and by, when nobody can understand you, you will be promoted and respected, and you will at last be a sleeping-car conductor, and revel in the biggest mental calm, and wide shoreless sea of intellectual stagnation that the world ever saw. You will ----'

"But he was gone.

"Then I took a pillow sham and wiped some pulverized crackers off the soles of my feet, and went to bed, enveloped in a large gob of gloom."