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THE GALAXY, October 1870




After I had drifted into the White House with the flood tide of humanity that had been washing steadily up the street for an hour, I obeyed the orders of the soldier at the door and the policeman within, and banked my hat and umbrella with a colored man, who gave me a piece of brass with a number on it and said that that thing would reproduce the property at any time of the night. I doubted it, but I was on unknown ground now, and must be content to take a good many chances.

Another person told me to drop in with the crowd and I would come to the President presently. I joined, and we drifted along till we passed a certain point, and then we thinned out to double and single file. It was a right gay scene, and a right stirring and lively one; for the whole place was brightly lighted, and all down the great hall, as far as one could see, was a restless and writhing multitude of people, the women powdered, painted, jewelled, and splendidly up holstered, and many of the men gilded with the insignia of great naval, military, and ambassadorial rank. It was bewildering.

Our long line kept drifting along, and by and by we came in sight of the President and Mrs. Grant. They were standing up shaking hands and trading civilities with our procession. I grew somewhat at home little by little, and then I began to feel satisfied and contented. I was getting to be perfectly alive with interest by the time it came my turn to talk with the President. I took him by the hand and looked him in the eye, and said:

"Well, I reckon I see you at last, General. I have said as much as a thousand times, out in Nevada, that if ever I went home to the States I would just have the private satisfaction of going and saying to you by word of mouth that I thought you was considerable of a soldier, anyway. Now, you know, out there we -- "

I turned round and said to the fellow behind me:

"Now, look here, my good friend, how the nation do you suppose I can talk with any sort of satisfaction, with you crowding me this way? I am surprised at your manners." He was a modest-looking creature. He said:

"But you see the whole procession's stopped, and they're crowding up on me."

I said:

"Some people have got more cheek. Just suggest to the parties behind you to have some respect for the place they are in and not try to shove in on a private conversation. What the General and me are talking about ain't of the least interest to them."

Then I resumed with the President:

"Well, well, well. Now this is fine. This is what I call something like. Gay? Well, I should say so. And so this is what you call a Presidential reception. I'm free to say that it just lays over anything that ever I saw out in the sage-brush. I have been to Governor Nye's Injun receptions at Honey Lake and Carson City, many and many a time -- he that's Senator Nye now -- you know him, of course. I never saw a man in all my life that Jim Nye didn't know -- and not only that, but he could tell him where he knew him, and all about him, family included, even if it was forty years ago. Most remarkable man, Jim Nye -- remarkable. He can tell a lie with that purity of accent, and that grace of utterance, and that convincing emotion --"

I turned again, and said:

"My friend, your conduct surprises me. I have come three thousand miles to have a word with the President of the United States upon subjects with which you are not even remotely connected, and by the living geewhillikins I can't proceed with any sort of satisfaction on account of your cussed crowding. Will you just please to go a little slow, now, and not attract so much attention by your strange conduct? If you had any eyes you could see how the bystanders are staring."

He said:

"But I tell you, sir, it's the people behind. They are just growling and surging and shoving, and I wish I was in Jericho I do."

I said:

"I wish you was, myself. You might learn some delicacy of feeling in that ancient seat of civilization, maybe. Drat if you don't need it."

And then I resumed with the President:

"Yes, sir, I've been at receptions before, plenty of them -- old Nye's Injun receptions. But they warn't as starchy as this by considerable. No great long strings of high-fliers like these galoots here, you know, but old high-flavored Washoes and Pi-Utes, each one of them as powerful as a rag-factory on fire. Phew! Those were halcyon days. Yes, indeed, General; and madam, many and many's the time, out in the wilds of Nevada, I've been --"

"Perhaps you had better discontinue your remarks till another time, sir, as the crowd behind you are growing somewhat impatient," the President said.

"Do you hear that?" I said to the fellow behind me. "I suppose you will take that hint, anyhow. I tell you he is milder than I would be. If I was President, I would waltz you people out at the back door if you came crowding a gentleman this way, that I was holding a private conversation with."

And then I resumed with the President:

"I think that hint of yours will start them. I never saw people act so. It is really about all I can do to hold my ground with that mob shoving up behind. But don't you worry on my account, General -- don't give yourself any uneasiness about me -- I can stand it as long as they can. I've been through this kind of a mill before. Why, as I was just saying to you, many and many a time, out in the wilds of Nevada, I have been at Governor Nye's Injun receptions -- and between you and me that old man was a good deal of a Governor, take him all round. I don't know what for Senator he makes, though I think you'll admit that him and Bill Steward and Tom Fitch take a bigger average of brains into that Capitol up yonder, by a hundred and fifty fold, than any other State in America, according to population. Now that is so. Those three men represent only twenty or twenty-five thousand people -- bless you, the least little bit of a trifling ward in the city of New York casts two votes to Nevada's one -- and yet those three men haven't their superiors in Congress for straight-out, simon pure brains and ability. And if you could just have been at one of old Nye's Injun receptions and seen those savages -- not high-fliers like these, you know, but frowsy old bummers with nothing in the world on, in the summer time, but an old battered plug hat and a pair of spectacles -- I tell you it was a swell affair, was one of Governor Nye's early-day receptions. Many and many's the time I have been to them, and seen him stand up and beam and smile on his children, as he called them in his motherly way -- beam on them by the hour out of his splendid eyes, and fascinate them with his handsome face, and comfort them with his persuasive tongue -- seen him stand up there and tell them anecdotes and lies, and quote Watts's hymns to them, until he just took the war spirit all out of them -- and grim chiefs that came two hundred miles to tax the whites for whole wagon-loads of blankets and things or make eternal war if they didn't get them he has sent away bewildered with his inspired mendacity and perfectly satisfied and enriched with an old hoop skirt or two, a lot of Patent Office reports, and a few sides of condemned army bacon that they would have to chain up to a tree when they camped, or the skippers would walk off with them. I tell you he is a rattling talker. Talk! It's no name for it. He -- well, he is bound to launch straight into close quarters and a heap of trouble hereafter, of course -- we all know that -- but you can rest satisfied that he will take off his hat and put out his hand and introduce himself to the King of Darkness perfectly easy and comfortable, and let on that he has seen him some where before; and he will remind him of parties he used to know, and things that's slipped out of his memory -- and he'll tell him a thousand things that he can't help taking an interest in, and every now and then he will just gently mix in an anecdote that will fetch him if there's any laugh in him -- he will, indeed -- and Jim Nye will chip in and help cross-question the candidates, and he will just hang around and hang around and hang around, getting more and more sociable all the time, and doing this, that, and the other thing in the handiest sort of way, till he has made himself perfectly indispensable -- and then, the very first thing you know --" I wheeled and said:

"My friend, your conduct grieves me to the heart. A dozen times at least your unseemly crowding has seriously interfered with the conversation I am holding with the President, and if the thing occurs again I shall take my hat and leave the premises."

"I wish to the mischief you would! Where did you come from anyway, that you've got the unutterable cheek to spread yourself here and keep fifteen hundred people standing waiting half an hour to shake hands with the President?"

An officer touched me on the shoulder and said:

"Move along, please; you're annoying the President beyond all patience. You have blocked the procession, and the people behind you are getting furious. Come, move along, please."

Rather than have trouble, I moved along. So I had no time to do more than look back over my shoulder and say: "Yes, sir, and the first thing they would know, Jim Nye would have that place, and the salary doubled! I do reckon he is the handiest creature about making the most of his chances that ever found an all-sufficient substitute for mother's milk in politics and sin. Now that is the kind of man old Nye is -- and in less than two months he would talk every -- But I can't make you hear the rest, General, without hollering too loud."

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