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 manner said:
"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
"David Fagg," I said with sudden severity, "you're of no account!"
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