A Letter from the East
One day a friend of mine from the East wrote me a letter. He asked me to visit an old man named Simon Wheeler. My friend wanted me to ask Simon Wheeler about a childhood companion, Leonidas W. Smiley.
I found Simon Wheeler sleeping by the stove of the old tavern in Angel's Mining Camp. I noticed that he was fat. His face was simple and peaceful. When he woke up, I told him that a friend of mine wanted to know about a childhood companion named Leonidas W. Smiley.
Simon Wheeler blocked me with his chair in a corner of the tavern. Then, very seriously, he began to tell me the story that follows.
There was once a fellow at the mining camp named Jim Smiley. It was the winter of 1849 or maybe the spring of 1850. He was an unusual man. He always bet money on anything that happened at the mining camp, and he usually won. Jim Smiley was a very lucky man. When there was a horse race, a dog-fight, a cat-fight or a chicken-fight he always bet on them.
Bets and Races
Smiley owned an old horse that was slow and sick, but he won money on her. The poor horse had asthma and other animal illnesses. At races she had a head start, because of her health problems. Near the end of every race, she became very excited and desperate. She galloped wildly, kicked her legs in the air, to the sides, raised the dust, coughed, and blew her nose. At the end of the race, she was always the happy winner.
Smiley also had a small bulldog named Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson was a lazy dog and did nothing all day long. But when Smiley bet money on him, he was lively and ready to fight. When there was an important dog-fight at the mining camp, Andrew Jackson always grabbed the back leg of the other dog. He didn't chew on it. He only kept it between his strong teeth. He didn't let go until Smiley won the bet.
Smiley found a frog one day and named it Daniel Webster. He took it home and planned to teach it a lot of things. For three months, Smiley sat outside his house and taught his frog how to jump far. Daniel Webster was a clever frog and learned quickly. Smiley gave him a little push from behind, and Daniel Webster flew into the air like a doughnut. He even turned one or two somersaults in the air.
Smiley taught his frog to catch flies. «Flies, Daniel, flies!» Smiley shouted. Daniel jumped up and caught the fly with his long tongue.
Daniel Webster was the champion jumping frog of Calaveras County. Smiley won all bets with his handsome frog. He was very proud of Daniel Webster.
A Stranger at Angel's Camp
Smiley kept his frog in a box with small holes in it. One day a stranger came to the mining camp. He saw Smiley holding the box.
«What's in that box?» asked the stranger.
«Maybe a parrot, maybe a canary! No, it's a frog,» answered Smiley.
The stranger took the box and looked at it carefully.
«Yes, it is. Well, what's he good for?»
«Well,» Smiley said, «he's good for ONE thing: he can out jump any frog in Calaveras County.»
The stranger took the box again. He looked at the frog for a long time. Then he returned it to Smiley and said, «I don't see anything special about this frog.»
«Maybe you don't,» said Smiley. «Maybe you understand frogs and maybe you don't understand them. But, I'll bet forty dollars that he can out jump any frog in Calaveras County.»
The fellow answered, «Well, I'm only a stranger here and I don't have a frog. I can't bet.»
«That's all right, that's all right. Hold my box a minute. I'll go to the river and find a frog for you,» said Smiley.
The stranger took the box and bet his forty dollars. Smiley bet his forty dollars too and went to the river. The stranger sat down and waited for Smiley.
He sat there a long time and he began to think. Suddenly, he took Daniel Webster out of the box and opened his mouth. With a teaspoon, he put some shotgun pellets into the frog's mouth. Then he put him on the floor.
The Big Bet
After some time, Smiley returned holding a frog and said, «Now put him next to Daniel, with his front paws in the same place. I'll give the word!»
Then Smiley said, «One — two — three — GO!» He and the stranger pushed the frogs from behind. The new frog jumped forward, but Daniel didn't budge. He tried to move his shoulders, but he was anchored to the floor. Smiley was very surprised and unhappy.
The stranger won the bet. «Well,» he said, «I don't see anything special about this frog.» He took the money and left.
Smiley looked at Daniel for a long time. Finally he said, «What has happened to Daniel? He looks terribly fat.»
He caught Daniel by the back of his neck and lifted him. «Cats alive! You weigh five pounds!»
He turned Daniel upside down, and the frog spit out a big number of shotgun pellets. Now he understood what happened to Daniel. Smiley was furious. He looked for the stranger everywhere, but he never found him. Simon Wheeler's story ended here. I didn't really want to hear another story about Smiley's bets, so I got up from my chair and left.
— THE END -