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Laughing Bill Hyde
by [?]

Mr. William Hyde was discharged from Deer Lodge Penitentiary a changed man. That was quite in line with the accepted theory of criminal jurisprudence, the warden’s discipline, and the chaplain’s prayers. Yes, Mr. Hyde was changed, and the change had bitten deep; his humorous contempt for the law had turned to abiding hatred; his sunburned cheeks were pallid, his lungs were weak, and he coughed considerably. Balanced against these results, to be sure, were the benefits accruing from three years of corrective discipline at the State’s expense; the knack of conversing through stone walls, which Mr. Hyde had mastered, and the plaiting of wonderful horsehair bridles, which he had learned. Otherwise he was the same “Laughing Bill” his friends had known, neither more nor less regenerate.

Since the name of Montana promised to associate itself with unpleasant memories, Mr. Hyde determined at once to bury his past and begin life anew in a climate more suited to weak lungs. To that end he stuck up a peaceful citizen of Butte who was hurrying homeward with an armful of bundles, and in the warm dusk of a pleasant evening relieved him of eighty-three dollars, a Swiss watch with an elk’s-tooth fob, a pearl-handled penknife, a key-ring, and a bottle of digestive tablets.

Three wasted years of industry had not robbed Mr. Hyde of the technique of his trade, hence there was nothing amateurish or uproarious about the procedure. He merely back-heeled the pedestrian against a bill-board, held him erect and speechless by placing his left hand upon his victim’s shoulder and pressing his left forearm firmly across the gentleman’s apple, the while with his own dexterous right mit he placed the eighty-three dollars in circulation. During the transaction he laughed constantly. An hour later he was en route for the sunny South, there being good and sufficient reasons why he preferred that direction to any other.

Arizona helped Mr. Hyde’s lungs, for the random town which he selected was high and dry, but, unfortunately, so was Laughing Bill soon after his arrival, and in consequence he was forced to engage promptly in a new business enterprise. This time he raised a pay-roll. It was an easy task, for the custodian of the pay-roll was a small man with a kindly and unsuspicious nature. As a result of this operation Bill was enabled to maintain himself, for some six weeks, in a luxury to which of late he had been unaccustomed. At the end of this time the original bearer of the payroll tottered forth from the hospital and, chancing to overhear Mr. Hyde in altercation with a faro dealer, he was struck by some haunting note in the former’s laughter, and lost no time in shuffling his painful way to the sheriff’s office.

Seeing the man go, Laughing Bill realized that his health again demanded a change of climate, and since it lacked nearly an hour of train time he was forced to leave on horseback. Luckily for him he found a horse convenient. It was a wild horse, with nothing whatever to indicate that it belonged to any one, except the fact that it carried a silver-mounted saddle and bridle, the reins of which were fastened to a post in front of a saloon.

Mr. Hyde enjoyed the ride, for it kept him out in the open air. It grieved him to part with the horse, a few hours later, but being prodigal with personal property he presented the animal to a poor Mexican woman, leaving her to face any resulting embarrassments. Ten minutes later he swung himself under a west-bound freight, and in due time arrived in California, somewhat dirty and fatigued, but in excellent humor.

Laughing Bill’s adventures and his aliases during his slow progress up the coast form no part of this story. It might be said, with a great deal of truth, that he was missed, if not mourned, in many towns. Finally, having found the climates of California, Oregon and Washington uniformly unsuited to one of his habits, force of circumstance in the shape of numerous hand-bills adorned with an unflattering half-tone of himself, but containing certain undeniably accurate data such as diameter of skull, length of nose, angle of ear, and the like, drove him still north and west. Bill was a modest man; he considered these statistics purely personal in character; to see them blazoned publicly on the walls of post-offices, and in the corridors of county buildings, outraged his finer feelings, so he went away from there, in haste, as usual.