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How Old Man Plunkett Went Home
by [?]

I think we all loved him. Even after he mismanaged the affairs of the Amity Ditch Company, we commiserated him, although most of us were stockholders, and lost heavily. I remember that the blacksmith went so far as to say that “them chaps as put that responsibility on the old man oughter be lynched.” But the blacksmith was not a stockholder; and the expression was looked upon as the excusable extravagance of a large, sympathizing nature, that, when combined with a powerful frame, was unworthy of notice. At least, that was the way they put it. Yet I think there was a general feeling of regret that this misfortune would interfere with the old man’s long-cherished plan of “going home.”

Indeed, for the last ten years he had been “going home.” He was going home after a six-months’ sojourn at Monte Flat; he was going home after the first rains; he was going home when the rains were over; he was going home when he had cut the timber on Buckeye Hill, when there was pasture on Dow’s Flat, when he struck pay-dirt on Eureka Hill, when the Amity Company paid its first dividend, when the election was over, when he had received an answer from his wife. And so the years rolled by, the spring rains came and went, the woods of Buckeye Hill were level with the ground, the pasture on Dow’s Flat grew sear and dry, Eureka Hill yielded its pay-dirt and swamped its owner, the first dividends of the Amity Company were made from the assessments of stockholders, there were new county officers at Monte Flat, his wife’s answer had changed into a persistent question, and still old man Plunkett remained.

It is only fair to say that he had made several distinct essays toward going. Five years before, he had bidden good-by to Monte Hill with much effusion and hand-shaking. But he never got any farther than the next town. Here he was induced to trade the sorrel colt he was riding for a bay mare,–a transaction that at once opened to his lively fancy a vista of vast and successful future speculation. A few days after, Abner Dean of Angel’s received a letter from him, stating that he was going to Visalia to buy horses. “I am satisfied,” wrote Plunkett, with that elevated rhetoric for which his correspondence was remarkable,–“I am satisfied that we are at last developing the real resources of California. The world will yet look to Dow’s Flat as the great stock-raising centre. In view of the interests involved, I have deferred my departure for a month.” It was two before he again returned to us–penniless. Six months later, he was again enabled to start for the Eastern States; and this time he got as far as San Francisco. I have before me a letter which I received a few days after his arrival, from which I venture to give an extract: “You know, my dear boy, that I have always believed that gambling, as it is absurdly called, is still in its infancy in California. I have always maintained that a perfect system might be invented, by which the game of poker may be made to yield a certain percentage to the intelligent player. I am not at liberty at present to disclose the system; but before leaving this city I intend to perfect it.” He seems to have done so, and returned to Monte Flat with two dollars and thirty-seven cents, the absolute remainder of his capital after such perfection.

It was not until 1868 that he appeared to have finally succeeded in going home. He left us by the overland route,–a route which he declared would give great opportunity for the discovery of undeveloped resources. His last letter was dated Virginia City. He was absent three years. At the close of a very hot day in midsummer, he alighted from the Wingdam stage, with hair and beard powdered with dust and age. There was a certain shyness about his greeting, quite different from his usual frank volubility, that did not, however, impress us as any accession of character. For some days he was reserved regarding his recent visit, contenting himself with asserting, with more or less aggressiveness, that he had “always said he was going home, and now he had been there.” Later he grew more communicative, and spoke freely and critically of the manners and customs of New York and Boston, commented on the social changes in the years of his absence, and, I remember, was very hard upon what he deemed the follies incidental to a high state of civilization. Still later he darkly alluded to the moral laxity of the higher planes of Eastern society; but it was not long before he completely tore away the veil, and revealed the naked wickedness of New York social life in a way I even now shudder to recall. Vinous intoxication, it appeared, was a common habit of the first ladies of the city. Immoralities which he scarcely dared name were daily practised by the refined of both sexes. Niggardliness and greed were the common vices of the rich. “I have always asserted,” he continued, “that corruption must exist where luxury and riches are rampant, and capital is not used to develop the natural resources of the country. Thank you–I will take mine without sugar.” It is possible that some of these painful details crept into the local journals. I remember an editorial in “The Monte Flat Monitor,” entitled “The Effete East,” in which the fatal decadence of New York and New England was elaborately stated, and California offered as a means of natural salvation. “Perhaps,” said “The Monitor,” “we might add that Calaveras County offers superior inducements to the Eastern visitor with capital.”