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 in chorus.

"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 mother."

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 he said:

"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 isn't level!"

"So'll I!" repeated the others.