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The Fool Of Five Forks
by [?]

He lived alone. I do not think this peculiarity arose from any wish to withdraw his foolishness from the rest of the camp, nor was it probable that the combined wisdom of Five Forks ever drove him into exile. My impression is, that he lived alone from choice,–a choice he made long before the camp indulged in any criticism of his mental capacity. He was much given to moody reticence, and, although to outward appearances a strong man, was always complaining of ill-health. Indeed, one theory of his isolation was, that it afforded him better opportunities for taking medicine, of which he habitually consumed large quantities.

His folly first dawned upon Five Forks through the post-office windows. He was, for a long time, the only man who wrote home by every mail; his letters being always directed to the same person,–a woman. Now, it so happened that the bulk of the Five Forks correspondence was usually the other way. There were many letters received (the majority being in the female hand), but very few answered. The men received them indifferently, or as a matter of course. A few opened and read them on the spot, with a barely repressed smile of self-conceit, or quite as frequently glanced over them with undisguised impatience. Some of the letters began with “My dear husband;” and some were never called for. But the fact that the only regular correspondent of Five Forks never received any reply became at last quite notorious. Consequently, when an envelope was received, bearing the stamp of the “dead letter office,” addressed to “The Fool,” under the more conventional title of “Cyrus Hawkins,” there was quite a fever of excitement. I do not know how the secret leaked out; but it was eventually known to the camp, that the envelope contained Hawkins’s own letters returned. This was the first evidence of his weakness. Any man who repeatedly wrote to a woman who did not reply must be a fool. I think Hawkins suspected that his folly was known to the camp; but he took refuge in symptoms of chills and fever, which he at once developed, and effected a diversion with three bottles of Indian cholagogue and two boxes of pills. At all events, at the end of a week, he resumed a pen stiffened by tonics, with all his old epistolatory pertinacity. This time the letters had a new address.

In those days a popular belief obtained in the mines, that luck particularly favored the foolish and unscientific. Consequently, when Hawkins struck a “pocket” in the hillside near his solitary cabin, there was but little surprise. “He will sink it all in the next hole” was the prevailing belief, predicated upon the usual manner in which the possessor of “nigger luck” disposed of his fortune. To everybody’s astonishment, Hawkins, after taking out about eight thousand dollars, and exhausting the pocket, did not prospect for another. The camp then waited patiently to see what he would do with his money. I think, however, that it was with the greatest difficulty their indignation was kept from taking the form of a personal assault when it became known that he had purchased a draft for eight thousand dollars, in favor of “that woman.” More than this, it was finally whispered that the draft was returned to him as his letters had been, and that he was ashamed to reclaim the money at the express-office. “It wouldn’t be a bad specilation to go East, get some smart gal, for a hundred dollars, to dress herself up and represent that ‘Hag,’ and jest freeze onto that eight thousand,” suggested a far-seeing financier. I may state here, that we always alluded to Hawkins’s fair unknown as the “Hag” without having, I am confident, the least justification for that epithet.

That the “Fool” should gamble seemed eminently fit and proper. That he should occasionally win a large stake, according to that popular theory which I have recorded in the preceding paragraph, appeared, also, a not improbable or inconsistent fact. That he should, however, break the faro bank which Mr. John Hamlin had set up in Five Forks, and carry off a sum variously estimated at from ten to twenty thousand dollars, and not return the next day, and lose the money at the same table, really appeared incredible. Yet such was the fact. A day or two passed without any known investment of Mr. Hawkins’s recently-acquired capital. “Ef he allows to send it to that ‘Hag,'” said one prominent citizen, “suthin’ ought to be done. It’s jest ruinin’ the reputation of this yer camp,–this sloshin’ around o’ capital on non-residents ez don’t claim it!” “It’s settin’ an example o’ extravagance,” said another, “ez is little better nor a swindle. Thais mor’n five men in this camp, thet, hearin’ thet Hawkins hed sent home eight thousand dollars, must jest rise up and send home their hard earnings too! And then to think thet thet eight thousand was only a bluff, after all, and thet it’s lyin’ there on call in Adams & Co.’s bank! Well, I say it’s one o’ them things a vigilance committee oughter look into.”