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Mr. Thompson’s Prodigal
by [?]

We all knew that Mr. Thompson was looking for his son, and a pretty bad one at that. That he was coming to California for this sole object was no secret to his fellow-passengers; and the physical peculiarities, as well as the moral weaknesses, of the missing prodigal were made equally plain to us through the frank volubility of the parent. “You was speaking of a young man which was hung at Red Dog for sluice-robbing,” said Mr. Thompson to a steerage passenger, one day; “be you aware of the color of his eyes?” “Black,” responded the passenger. “Ah,” said Mr. Thompson, referring to some mental memoranda, “Char-les’s eyes was blue.” He then walked away. Perhaps it was from this unsympathetic mode of inquiry, perhaps it was from that Western predilection to take a humorous view of any principle or sentiment persistently brought before them, that Mr. Thompson’s quest was the subject of some satire among the passengers. A gratuitous advertisement of the missing Charles, addressed to “Jailers and Guardians,” circulated privately among them; everybody remembered to have met Charles under distressing circumstances. Yet it is but due to my countrymen to state that when it was known that Thompson had embarked some wealth in this visionary project, but little of this satire found its way to his ears, and nothing was uttered in his hearing that might bring a pang to a father’s heart, or imperil a possible pecuniary advantage of the satirist. Indeed, Mr. Bracy Tibbets’s jocular proposition to form a joint-stock company to “prospect” for the missing youth received at one time quite serious entertainment.

Perhaps to superficial criticism Mr. Thompson’s nature was not picturesque nor lovable. His history, as imparted at dinner, one day, by himself, was practical even in its singularity. After a hard and wilful youth and maturity,–in which he had buried a broken-spirited wife, and driven his son to sea,–he suddenly experienced religion. “I got it in New Orleans in ’59,” said Mr. Thompson, with the general suggestion of referring to an epidemic. “Enter ye the narrer gate. Parse me the beans.” Perhaps this practical quality upheld him in his apparently hopeless search. He had no clew to the whereabouts of his runaway son; indeed, scarcely a proof of his present existence. From his indifferent recollection of the boy of twelve, he now expected to identify the man of twenty-five.

It would seem that he was successful. How he succeeded was one of the few things he did not tell. There are, I believe, two versions of the story. One, that Mr. Thompson, visiting a hospital, discovered his son by reason of a peculiar hymn, chanted by the sufferer, in a delirious dream of his boyhood. This version, giving as it did wide range to the finer feelings of the heart, was quite popular; and as told by the Rev. Mr. Gushington, on his return from his California tour, never failed to satisfy an audience. The other was less simple, and, as I shall adopt it here, deserves more elaboration.

It was after Mr. Thompson had given up searching for his son among the living, and had taken to the examination of cemeteries, and a careful inspection of the “cold hic jacets of the dead.” At this time he was a frequent visitor of “Lone Mountain,”–a dreary hill-top, bleak enough in its original isolation, and bleaker for the white-faced marbles by which San Francisco anchored her departed citizens, and kept them down in a shifting sand that refused to cover them, and against a fierce and persistent wind that strove to blow them utterly away. Against this wind the old man opposed a will quite as persistent,–a grizzled, hard face, and a tall, crape-bound hat drawn tightly over his eyes,–and so spent days in reading the mortuary inscriptions audibly to himself. The frequency of Scriptural quotation pleased him, and he was fond of corroborating them by a pocket Bible. “That’s from Psalms,” he said, one day, to an adjacent grave-digger. The man made no reply. Not at all rebuffed, Mr. Thompson at once slid down into the open grave, with a more practical inquiry, “Did you ever, in your profession, come across Char-les Thompson?” “Thompson be d—-d!” said the grave-digger, with great directness. “Which, if he hadn’t religion, I think he is,” responded the old man, as he clambered out of the grave.