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July 14, 1867

Jim Wolf and the Tom-Cats

I knew by the sympathetic glow upon his bald head -- I knew by the thoughtful look upon his face -- I knew by the emotional flush upon the strawberry on the end of the old liver's nose, that Simon Wheeler's memory was busy with the olden time. And so I prepared to leave, because all these were symptoms of a reminiscence -- signs that he was going to be delivered of another of his tiresome personal experiences -- but I was too slow; he got the start of me. As nearly as I can recollect, the infliction was couched in the following language:

"We was all boys, then, and didn't care for nothing, and didn't have no troubles, and didn't worry about nothing only how to shirk school and keep up a revivin' state of devilment all the time. Thish-yar Jim Wolf I was a talking about, was the 'prentice, and he was the best-hearted feller, he was, and the most forgivin' and onselfish I ever see -- well, there couldn't a more bullier boy than what he was, take him how you would; and sorry enough I was when I see him for the last time.

"Me and Henry was always pestering him and plastering hoss-bills on his back and putting bumble-bees in his bed, and so on, and some times we'd crowd in and bunk with him, not'thstanding his growling, and then we'd let on to get mad and fight acrost him, so as to keep him stirred up like. He was nineteen, he was, and long, and lank, and bashful, and we was fifteen and sixteen, and tolerable lazy and worthless.
"So, that night, you know, that my sister Mary give the candy-pullin', they started us off to bed early, so as the comp'ny could have full swing, and we rung in on Jim to have some fun.

"Our winder looked out onto the roof of the ell, and about ten o'clock a couple of old tom-cats got to rairin' and chargin' around on it and carryin' on like sin. There was four inches of snow on the roof, and it was froze so that there was a right smart crust of ice on it, and the moon was shining bright, and we could see them cats like daylight. First, they'd stand off and e-yow-yow-yow, just the same as if they was a cussin' one another, you know, and bow up their backs and bush up their tails, and swell around and spit, and then all of a sudden the gray cat he'd snatch a handful of fur out of the yaller cat's ham, and spin him eround, like the button on a barn-door, But the yaller cat was game, and he'd come and clinch, and the way they'd gouge, and bite, and howl; and the way they'd make the fur fly was powerful.

"Well, Jim, he got disgusted with the row, and 'lowed he'd climb out there and snake him off'n that roof. He hadn't reely no notion of doin' it, likely, but we everlastin'ly dogged him and bullyragged him, and 'lowed he'd always bragged how he wouldn't take a dare, and so on, till bimeby he highsted up the winder, and lo and behold you, he went -- went exactly as he was -- nothin' on but a shirt, and it was short. But you ought to a seen him! You ought to seen him cre-e-epin' over that ice, and diggin' his toe nails and his finger-nails in for to keep from slippin'; and 'bove all, you ought to seen that shirt a flappin' in the wind, and them long, ridicklous shanks of his'n a-glistenin' in the moonlight.

"Them comp'ny folks was down there under the eaves, the whole squad of 'em under that ornery shed of old dead Washn'ton Bower vines -- all sett'n round about two dozen sassers of hot candy, which they'd sot in the snow to cool. And they was laughin' and talkin' lively; but bless you, they didn't know nothin' 'bout the panorama that was goin' on over their heads. Well, Jim, he went a-sne-akin' and a sneakin' up, onbeknowns to them tom-cats -- they was a swishin' their tails and yow-yowin' and threatenin' to clinch, you know, and not payin' any attention -- he went a-sne-eakin' and a-sne-eakin' right up to the comb of the roof, till he was, in a foot 'n' a half of 'em, and then all of a sudden he made a grab for the yaller cat! But by Gosh he missed fire and slipped his holt, and his heels flew up and he flopped on his back and shot off'n that roof like a dart! -- went a smashin' and a-crashin' down through them old rusty vines and landed right in the dead centre of all them comp'ny-people! -- sot down like a yearth-quake in them two dozen sassers of red-hot candy, and let off a howl that was hark f'm the tomb! Them girls -- well they left, you know. They see he warn't dressed for comp'ny, and so they left. All done in a second, it was just one little war whoop and a whish! of their dresses, and blame the wench of was in sight anywhers!

"Jim, he was a sight. He was gormed with that bilin' hot molasses candy clean down to his heels, and had more busted sassers hanging' to him than if he was a Injun princess - and he came a prancin' up-stairs just a-whoopin' and a cussin', and every jump he give he shed some china, and every squirm he fetched he dripped some candy!

"And blistered! Why bless your soul, that pore cretur couldn't reely set down comfortable for as much as four weeks."

[Text from Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays, 1852 - 1890, edited by Louis J. Budd.]

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