Dick Baker's Cat

One of my comrades there--another of those victims of eighteen years of

unrequited toil and blighted hopes--was one of the gentlest spirits that

ever bore its patient cross in a weary exile: grave and simple Dick

Baker, pocket-miner of Dead-Horse Gulch. He was forty-six, grey as a

rat, earnest, thoughtful, slenderly educated, slouchily dressed and

clay-soiled, but his heart was finer metal than any gold his shovel ever

brought to light--than any, indeed, that ever was mined or minted.

Whenever he was out of luck and a little downhearted, he would fall to

mourning over the loss of a wonderful cat he used to own (for where

women and children are not, men of kindly impulses take up with pets,

for they must love something). And he always spoke of the strange

sagacity of that cat with the air of a man who believed in his secret

heart that there was something human about it--maybe even supernatural.

I heard him talking about this animal once. He said:

"Gentlemen, I used to have a cat here, by the name of Tom Quartz, which

you'd 'a' took an interest in, I reckon--, most anybody would. I had him

here eight year--and he was the remarkablest cat I ever see. He was a

large grey one of the Tom specie, an' he had more hard, natchral sense

than any man in this camp--'n' a power of dignity--he wouldn't let the

Gov'ner of Californy be familiar with him. He never ketched a rat in

his life--'peared to be above it. He never cared for nothing but mining.

He knowed more about mining, that cat did, than any man I ever, ever

see. You couldn't tell him noth'n' 'bout placer-diggin's--'n' as for

pocket-mining, why he was just born for it. He would dig out after me

an' Jim when we went over the hills prospect'n', and he would trot along

behind us for as much as five mile, if we went so fur. An' he had the

best judgment about mining-ground--why you never see anything like it.

When we went to work, he'd scatter a glance around, 'n' if he didn't

think much of the indications, he would give a look as much as to say,

'Well, I'll have to get you to excuse me,' 'n' without another word

he'd hyste his nose into the air 'n' shove for home. But if the ground

suited him, he would lay low 'n' keep dark till the first pan was

washed, 'n' then he would sidle up 'n' take a look, an' if there was

about six or seven grains of gold he was satisfied--he didn't want no

better prospect 'n' that--'n' then he would lay down on our coats and

snore like a steamboat till we'd struck the pocket, an' then get up 'n'

superintend. He was nearly lightnin' on superintending.

"Well, by an' by, up comes this yer quartz excitement. Everybody was

into it--everybody was pick'n' 'n' blast'n' instead of shovelin' dirt on

the hillside--everybody was putt'n' down a shaft instead of scrapin' the

surface. Noth'n' would do Jim, but we must tackle the ledges, too, 'n'

so we did. We commenced putt'n' down a shaft, 'n' Tom Quartz he begin to

wonder what in the Dickens it was all about. He hadn't ever seen any

mining like that before, 'n' he was all upset, as you may say--he

couldn't come to a right understanding of it no way--it was too many for

him. He was down on it too, you bet you--he was down on it

powerful--'n' always appeared to consider it the cussedest foolishness

out. But that cat, you know, was always agin new-fangled

arrangements--somehow he never could abide 'em. You know how it is

with old habits. But by an' by Tom Quartz begin to git sort of

reconciled a little, though he never could altogether understand that

eternal sinkin' of a shaft an' never pannin' out anything. At last he

got to comin' down in the shaft, hisself, to try to cipher it out. An'

when he'd git the blues, 'n' feel kind o' scruffy, 'n' aggravated 'n'

disgusted--knowin' as he did, that the bills was runnin' up all the time

an' we warn't makin' a cent--he would curl up on a gunny-sack in the

corner an' go to sleep. Well, one day when the shaft was down about

eight foot, the rock got so hard that we had to put in a blast--the

first blast'n' we'd ever done since Tom Quartz was born. An' then we lit

the fuse 'n' clumb out 'n' got off 'bout fifty yards--'n' forgot 'n'

left Tom Quartz sound asleep on the gunny-sack. In 'bout a minute we

seen a puff of smoke bust up out of the hole, 'n' then everything let go

with an awful crash, 'n' about four million ton of rocks 'n' dirt 'n'

smoke 'n' splinters shot up 'bout a mile an' a half into the air, an' by

George, right in the dead centre of it was old Tom Quartz a-goin' end

over end, an' a-snortin' an' a-sneez'n, an' a-clawin' an' a-reach'n' for

things like all possessed. But it warn't no use, you know, it warn't no

use. An' that was the last we see of him for about two minutes 'n' a

half, an' then all of a sudden it begin to rain rocks and rubbage an'

directly he come down ker-whoop about ten foot off f'm where we stood.

Well, I reckon he was p'raps the orneriest-lookin' beast you ever see.

One ear was sot back on his neck, 'n' his tail was stove up, 'n' his

eye-winkers was singed off, 'n' he was all blacked up with powder an'

smoke, an' all sloppy with mud 'n' slush f'm one end to the other. Well,

sir, it warn't no use to try to apologize--we couldn't say a word. He

took a sort of a disgusted look at hisself, 'n' then he looked at

us--an' it was just exactly the same as if he had said--'Gents, maybe

you think it's smart to take advantage of a cat that ain't had no

experience of quartz-minin', but I think different'--an' then he

turned on his heel 'n' marched off home without ever saying another


"That was jest his style. An' maybe you won't believe it, but after that

you never see a cat so prejudiced agin quartz-mining as what he was. An'

by an' by when he did get to goin' down in the shaft ag'in, you'd 'a'

been astonished at his sagacity. The minute we'd tetch off a blast 'n'

the fuse'd begin to sizzle, he'd give a look as much as to say, 'Well,

I'll have to git you to excuse me,' an' it was supris'n' the way he'd

shin out of that hole 'n' go f'r a tree. Sagacity? It ain't no name for

it. 'Twas inspiration!"

I said, "Well, Mr. Baker, his prejudice against quartz-mining was

remarkable, considering how he came by it. Couldn't you ever cure him of


"Cure him! No! When Tom Quartz was sot once, he was always sot--and

you might 'a' blowed him up as much as three million times 'n' you'd

never 'a' broken him of his cussed prejudice ag'in quartz-mining."