I will now relate an affecting incident of my meeting with Uncle Lige, as a companion novelette to the one published by Dan the other day, entitled "Uncle Henry."
A day or two since - before the late stormy weather - I was taking a quiet stroll in the western suburbs of the city. The day was sunny and pleasant. In front of a small but neat "bit house," seated upon a bank - a worn out and discarded faro bank - I saw a man and a little girl. The sight was too much for me, and I burst into tears. Oh, God! I cried, this is too rough! After the violence of my emotion had in a manner spent itself, I ventured to look once more upon that touching picture. The left hand of the girl (how well I recollect which hand it was! by the warts on it) - a fair-haired, sweet-faced child of about eight years of age - rested upon the right shoulder (how perfectly I remember it was his right shoulder, because his left shoulder had been sawed off in a saw-mill) of the man by whose side she was seated. She was gazing toward the summit of Lone Mountain, and prating of the gravestones on the top of it and of the sunshine and Diggers resting on its tomb-clad slopes. The head of the man drooped forward till his face almost rested upon his breast, and he seemed intently listening. It was only a pleasing pretence, though, for there was nothing for him to hear save the rattling of the carriages on the gravel road beside him, and he could have straightened himself up and heard that easy enough, poor fellow. As I approached, the child observed me, notwithstanding her extreme youth, and ceasing to talk, smilingly looked at me, strange as it may seem. I stopped, again almost overpowered, but after a struggle I mastered my feelings sufficiently to proceed. I gave her a smile - or rather, I swapped her one in return for the one I had just received, and she said:
"This is Uncle Lige - poor blind-drunk Uncle Lige."
This burst of confidence from an entire stranger, and one so young withal, caused my subjugated emotions to surge up in my breast once more, but again, with a strong effort, I controlled them. I looked at the wine-bred cauliflower on the poor man's nose and saw how it had all happened.
"Yes," said he, noticing by my eloquent countenance that I had seen how it had all happened, notwithstanding nothing had been said yet about anything having happened, "Yes, it happened in Reeseriv' a year ago; since tha(ic)at time been living here with broth - Robert'n lill Addie (e-ick.')."
"Oh, he's the best uncle, and tells me such stories!" cried the little girl.
"At's aw-ri, you know (ick!) - at's aw ri," said the kind hearted, gentle old man, spitting on his shirt bosom and slurring it off with his hand.
The child leaned quickly forward and kissed his poor blossomy face. We beheld two great tears start from the man's sightless eyes, but when they saw what sort of country they had got to travel over, they went back again. Kissing the child again and again and once more and then several times, and afterwards repeating it, he said:
"H(o-ook!) - oorah for Melical eagle star-spalgle baller! At's aw-ri, you know - (ick!) - at's aw-ri" - and he stroked her sunny curls and spit on his shirt bosom again.
This affecting scene was too much for my already over charged feelings, and I burst into a flood of tears and hurried from the spot.
Such is the touching story of Uncle Lige. It may not be quite as sick as Dan's, but there is every bit as much reasonable material in it for a big calf like either of us to cry over. Cannot you publish the two novelettes in book form and send them forth to destroy such of our fellow citizens as are spared by the cholera?
The Works of Mark Twain; Early Tales & Sketches, Vol. 2 1864-1865,
(Univ. of California Press, 1981), pp. 378-79.]
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