What ailed "Ugly Sam",
from the Detroit Free Press
HE had been missing from the "Potomac" for
several days, and Cleveland Tom, Port Huron
Bill, Tall Chicago, and the rest of the boys who were
wont to get drunk with him, couldn't make out what
had happened. They hadn't heard that there was
a warrant out for him, had never known of his being
sick for a day, and his absence from the old haunts
puzzled them. They were in the Hole-in-the-Wall
saloon yesterday morning, nearly a dozen of them,
drinking, smoking, and playing cards, when in
walked Ugly Sam.
There was a deep silence for a moment as they
looked at him. Sam had a new hat, had been
shaved clean, had on a clean collar and a white
shirt, and they didn't know him at first. When
they saw that it was Ugly Sam, they uttered a shout
and leaped up.
"Cave in that hat!" cried one.
"Yank that collar off!" shouted another.
"Let's roll him on the floor!" screamed a third.
There was something in his look and bearing
which made them hesitate. The whiskey-red had
almost faded from his face, and he looked sober
and dignified. His features expressed disgust and
contempt as he looked around the room, and then
revealed pity as his eyes fell upon the red eyes and
bloated faces of the crowd before him.
"Why, what ails ye, Sam?" inquired Tall
Chicago, as they all stood there.
"I've come down to bid ye good-bye, boys!" he
replied, removing his hat and drawing a clean
handkerchief from his pocket.
"What! Hev ye turned preacher?" they shouted
"Boys, ye know I can lick any two of ye; but I
hain't on the fight any more, an' I've put down the
last drop of whiskey which is ever to go into my
mouth! I've switched off. I've taken an oath.
I'm going to be decent!"
"Sam, be you crazy?" asked Port Huron Bill,
coming nearer to him.
"I've come down here to tell ye all about it,"
answered Sam. "Move the cha'rs back a little and
give me room. Ye all know I've been rough, and
more too. I've been a drinker, a fighter, a gambler,
and a loafer. I can't look back and remember
when I've earned an honest dollar. The police hez
chased me around like a wolf, and I've been in jail
and the work-house, and the papers has said that
Ugly Sam was the terror of the Potomac. Ye all
know this, boys, but ye didn't know I had an old
The faces of the crowd expressed amazement.
"I never mentioned it to any of ye, for I was
neglecting her," he went on. "She was a poor
old body living up here in the alley, and if the
neighbours hadn't helped her to fuel and food, she'd
have been found dead long ago. I never helped
her to a cent—didn't see her for weeks and weeks,
and I used to feel mean about it. When a feller
goes back on his old mother, he's a-gittin' purty
low, and I know it. Well, she's dead—buried
yesterday! I was up there afore she died. She
sent for me by Pete, and when I got there I seen it
was all day with her."
"Did she say anything?" asked one of the boys,
as Sam hesitated.
"That's what ails me now," he went on.
"When I went she reached out her hand to me,
and says she, 'Samuel, I'm going to die, and I
know'd you'd want to see me afore I passed away!'
I sat down, feeling queer like. She didn't go on
and say as how I was a loafer, and had neglected
her, and all that, but says she, 'Samuel, you'll
be all alone when I'm gone. I've tried to be a
good mother to you, and have prayed for you
hundreds o' nights and cried about you till my
old heart was sore!' Some o' the neighbours had
dropped in, and the women were crying, and I tell
you, boys, I felt weak."
He paused for a moment, and then continued:
"And the old woman said she'd like to kiss me
afore death came, and that broke me right down.
She kept hold of my hand, and by-and-by she
whispered; 'Samuel, you are throwing your life
away. You've got it in you to be a man if you will
only make up your mind, I hate to die and feel
that my only son and the last of our family may go
to the gallows. If I had your promise that you'd
turn over a new leaf and try and be good, it seems
as if I'd die easier. Won't you promise me, my
son?' And I promised her, boys, and that's what
ails me! She died holding my hand, and I promised
to quit this low business and go to work. I
came down to tell ye, and now you won't see me
on the Potomac again. I've bought an axe, and
am going up in Canada to Winter."
There was a dead silence for a moment, and then
"Well, boys, I'll shake hands with ye all around
afore I go. Good-by, Pete—good-by, Jack—Tom—Jim.
I hope you won't fling any bricks at me,
and I shan't never fling any at any of ye. It's
a dying promise, ye see, and I'll keep it if it
takes a right arm!"
The men looked reflectively at each other after
he had passed out, and it was a long time before
any one spoke. Then Tall Chicago flung his clay
pipe into a corner, and said:
"I'll lick the man who says Ugly Sam's head
"So'll I!" repeated the others.