In compliance with the request of a friend of mine, who wrote me from the East, I called on good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler, and inquired after my friend's friend, Leonidas W. Smiley, as requested to do, and I hereunto append the result.
I have a lurking suspicion that Leonidas W. Smiley is
a myth; that my friend never knew such a personage;
and that he only conjectured that, if I asked old
Wheeler about him, it would remind him of his
infamous Jim Smiley, and he would go to work and
bore me to death with some infernal
reminiscence of him as long and as tedious as it
should be useless to me.
If that was the design, it succeeded.
I found Simon Wheeler dozing comfortably by
the bar-room stove of the dilapidated
tavern in the decayed mining camp of Angel's,
and I noticed that he was fat and bald-headed,
and had an expression of winning gentleness
and simplicity upon his tranquil countenance.
He roused up and gave me good-day. I told him that
a friend of mine had commissioned me to make
some inquiries about a cherished companion of his
boyhood named Leonidas W. Smiley--Reverend
Leonidas W. Smiley, a young minister of the Gospel,
who he had heard was at one time a resident of
I added that, if Mr. Wheeler could tell
me anything about this Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley,
I would feel under many obligations to him.
Simon Wheeler backed me into a corner and
blockaded me there with his chair, and then sat me
down and reeled off the monotonous narrative
which follows this paragraph. He never smiled, he
never frowned, he never changed his voice from the
gentle-flowing key to which he tuned the initial
sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion
of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable
narrative there ran a vein of impressive earnestness
and sincerity, which showed me plainly that, so far
from his imagining that there was anything
ridiculous or funny about his story, he regarded it as
a really important matter, and admired its two
heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse.
I let him go on in his own way, and
never interrupted him once:
HERE ARE THE WORDS OF SIMON WHEELER:
Well, there was a feller here once by the name of Jim Smiley, in the
winter of '49 or maybe it was the spring of '50. I
don't recollect exactly--somehow, though, what
makes me think it was one or the other is because I
remember the big flume wasn't finished when he
first came to the camp; but, anyway, he was the
curiosest man about always betting on anything that
turned up you ever see, if he could get anybody to
bet on the other side; and if he couldn't, he'd change
Any way that suited the other man would suit him any way just so's he got a bet, he was satisfied. But still he was lucky, uncommon lucky; he most always come out winner. He was always ready and laying for a chance; there couldn't be no solittry thing mentioned but that feller'd offer to bet on it, and -take any side you please, as I was just telling you. If there was a horse-race, you'd find him flush, or you'd find him busted at the end of it; if there was a dog-fight, he'd bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, he'd bet on it; if there was a chicken-fight, he'd bet on it; why, if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first; or if there was a camp-meeting, he would be there reg'lar, to bet on Parson Walker, which he judged to be the best exhorter about here, and so he was, too, and a good man. If he even seen a straddle-bug start to go anywheres, he would bet you how long it would take him to get wherever he was going to, and if you took him up, he would foller that straddle-bug to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was on the road. Lots of the boys here has seen that Smiley, and can tell you about him. Why, it never made no difference to him he would bet on any thing the dangdest feller. Parson Walker's wife laid very sick once, for a good while, and it seemed as if they warn's going to save her; but one morning he come in, and Smiley asked how she was, and he said she was considerable better thank the Lord for his inftnit mercy and coming on so smart that, with the blessing of Providence, she'd get well yet; and Smiley, before he thought, says, "Well, I'll risk two- and-a-half that she don't, anyway."
Thish-yer Smiley had a mare the boys called her the fifteen- minute nag, but that was only in fun, you know, because, of course, she was faster than that and he used to win money on that horse, for all she was so slow and always had the asthma, or the distemper, or the consumption, or something of that kind. They used to give her two or three hundred yards start, and then pass her under way; but always at the fag-end of the race she'd get excited and desperate- like, and come cavorting and straddling up, and scattering her legs around limber, sometimes in the air...