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Editorial wild oats, p.3
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       Editorial Wild Oats, p.3

           Mark Twain
 
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  Nicodemus Dodge--Printer

  When I was a boy in a printing-office in Missouri, aloose-jointed, long-legged, tow-headed, jeans-clad, countrified cubof about sixteen lounged in one day, and without removing his handsfrom the depths of his trousers pockets or taking off his fadedruin of a slouch hat, whose broken rim hung limp and ragged abouthis eyes and ears like a bug-eaten cabbage-leaf, staredindifferently around, then leaned his hip against the editors'table, crossed his mighty brogans, aimed at a distant fly from acrevice in his upper teeth, laid him low, and said, with composure:

  "Whar's the boss?"

  "I am the boss," said the editor, following this curious bit ofarchitecture wonderingly along up to its clock-face with his eye.

  "Don't want anybody fur to learn the business, 'tain't likely?"

  "Well, I don't know. Would you like to learn it?"

  "Pap's so po' he cain't run me no mo', so I want to git a showsomers if I kin, 'tain't no diffunce what--I'm strong and hearty,and I don't turn my back on no kind of work, hard nur soft."

  "Do you think you would like to learn the printing business?"

  "Well, I don't re'ly k'yer a durn what I _do_ learn, so's I git achance fur to make my way. I'd jist as soon learn print'n' 'sanything."

  "Can you read?"

  "Yes--middlin'."

  "Write?"

  "Well, I've seed people could lay over me thar."

  "Cipher?"

  "Not good enough to keep store, I don't reckon, but up as fur astwelve-times-twelve I ain't no slouch. 'Tother side of that is whatgits me."

  "Where is your home?"

  "I'm f'm old Shelby."

  "What's your father's religious denomination?"

  "Him? Oh, he's a blacksmith."

  "No, no--I don't mean his trade. What's his _religious_denomination?"

  "_Oh_--I didn't understand you befo'. He's a Freemason."

  "No, no; you don't get my meaning yet. What I mean is, does hebelong to any _church_?"

  "_Now_ you're talkin'! Gouldn't make out what you wasa-tryin' to git through yo' head no way. B'long to a _church_! Why,boss, he's be'n the pizenest kind of a Free-will Babtis' for fortyyear. They ain't no pizener ones 'n' what _he_ is. Mighty good man,pap is. Everybody says that. If they said any diffrunt theywouldn't say it whar _I_ wuz--not _much_ they wouldn't."

  "What is your own religion?"

  "Well, boss, you've kind o' got me thar--and yit you hain't got meso mighty much, nuther. I think 't if a feller he'ps another fellerwhen he's in trouble, and don't cuss, and don't do no mean things,nur noth'n' he ain' no business to do, and don't spell theSaviour's name with a little g, he ain't runnin' no resks--he'sabout as saift as if he b'longed to a church."

  "But suppose he did spell it with a little g--what then?"

  "Well, if he done it a-purpose, I reckon he wouldn't stand nochance,--he _oughtn't_ to have no chance, anyway, I'm most rottencertain 'bout that."

  "What is your name?"

  "Nicodemus Dodge."

  "I think maybe you'll do, Nicodemus. We'll give you a trial,anyway."

  "All right."

  "When would you like to begin?"

  "Now."

  So, within ten minutes after we had first glimpsed this nondescripthe was one of us, and with his coat off and hard at it.

  Beyond that end of our establishment which was farthest from thestreet was a deserted garden, pathless, and thickly grown with thebloomy and villanous "jimpson" weed and its common friend thestately sunflower. In the midst of this mournful spot was a decayedand aged little "frame" house with but one room, one window, and noceiling--it had been a smoke-house a generation before. Nicodemuswas given this lonely and ghostly den as a bedchamber.

  The village smarties recognized a treasure in Nicodemus rightaway--a butt to play jokes on. It was easy to see that he wasinconceivably green and confiding. George Jones had the glory ofperpetrating the first joke on him; he gave him a cigar with afire-cracker in it and winked to the crowd to come; the thingexploded presently and swept away the bulk of Nicodemus's eyebrowsand eyelashes. He simply said:

  "I consider them kind of seeg'yars dangersome"--and seemed tosuspect nothing. The next evening Nicodemus waylaid George andpoured a bucket of ice-water over him.

  One day, while Nicodemus was in swimming, Tom McElroy "tied" hisclothes. Nicodemus made a bonfire of Tom's by way of retaliation.

  A third joke was played upon Nicodemus a day or two later--hewalked up the middle aisle of the village church, Sunday night,with a staring hand-bill pinned between his shoulders. The jokerspent the remainder of the night, after church, in the cellar of adeserted house, and Nicodemus sat on the cellar door till towardsbreakfast-time to make sure that the prisoner remembered that ifany noise was made some rough treatment would be the consequence.The cellar had two feet of stagnant water in it, and was bottomedwith six inches of soft mud.

  But I wander from the point. It was the subject of skeletons thatbrought this boy back to my recollection. Before a very long timehad elapsed, the village smarties began to feel an uncomfortableconsciousness of not having made a very shining success out oftheir attempts on the simpleton from "old Shelby." Experimentersgrew scarce and chary. Now the young doctor came to the rescue.There was delight and applause when he proposed to scare Nicodemusto death, and explained how he was going to do it. He had a noblenew skeleton--the skeleton of the late and only local celebrity,Jimmy Finn, the village drunkard--a grisly piece of property whichhe had bought of Jimmy Finn himself, at auction, for fifty dollars,under great competition, when Jimmy lay very sick in the tanyard afortnight before his death. The fifty dollars had gone promptly forwhiskey and had considerably hurried up the change of ownership inthe skeleton. The doctor would put Jimmy Finn's skeleton inNicodemus's bed!

  This was done--about half-past ten in the evening. About Nicodemus'susual bedtime--midnight--the village jokers came creeping stealthilythrough the jimpson weeds and sunflowers towards the lonely frameden. They reached the window and peeped in. There sat the long-leggedpauper, on his bed, in a very short shirt, and nothing more; he wasdangling his legs contentedly back and forth, and wheezing the musicof "Camptown Races" out of a paper-overlaid comb which he was pressingagainst his mouth; by him lay a new jews-harp, a new top, a solidindia-rubber ball, a handful of painted marbles, five pounds of"store" candy, and a well-knawed slab of gingerbread as big and asthick as a volume of sheet music. He had sold the skeleton to atravelling quack for three dollars and was enjoying the result!

  "WHEEZING THE MUSIC OF 'CAMPTOWN RACES'"]

 
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