Samuel L. Clemens (18361902). Jim Smily and His Jumping Frog.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Jim Smily and His Jumping Frog
MR. A. WARD,1 DEAR SIR: Well, I called on good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler, and I inquired after your friend Leonidas W. Smily, as you requested me to do, and I hereunto append the result. If you can get any information out of it you are cordially welcome to it. I have a lurking suspicion that your Leonidas W. Smily is a myththat you never knew such a personage, and that you only conjectured that if I asked old Wheeler about him it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smily, and he would go to work and bore me nearly to death with some infernal reminiscence of him as long and tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was your design, Mr. Ward, it will gratify you to know that it succeeded.
I found Simon Wheeler dozing comfortably by the barroom stove of the little old dilapidated tavern in the ancient mining camp of Boomerang, and I noticed that he was fat and bald-headed, and had an expression of winning gentleness and simplicity upon his tranquil countenance. He roused up and gave me good-day. I told him a friend of mine had commissioned me to make some inquiries about a cherished companion of his boyhood named Leonidas W. SmilyRev. Leonidas W. Smilya young minister of the gospel, who he had heard was at one time a resident of this village of Boomerang. I added that if Mr. Wheeler could tell me anything about this Rev. Leonidas W. Smily, I would feel under many obligations to him.
Simon Wheeler backed me into a corner and blockaded me there with his chairand then sat down and reeled off the monotonous narrative which follows this paragraph. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the quiet, gently-flowing key to which he turned the initial sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasmbut all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressive earnestness and sincerity, which showed me plainly that so far from his imagining that there was anything ridiculous or funny about his story, he regarded it as a really important matter, and admired its two heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse. To me, the spectacle of a man drifting serenely along through such a queer yarn without ever smiling was exquisitely absurd. As I said before, I asked him to tell me what he knew of Rev. Leonidas W. Smily, and he replied as follows. I let him go on in his own way, and never interrupted him once:
There was a feller here once by the name of Jim Smily, in the winter of 49or maybe it was the spring of 50I dont recollect exactly, somehow, though what makes me think it was one or the other is because I remember the big flume wasnt finished when he first come to the camp; but anyway, he was the curiosest man about always betting on anything that turned up you ever see, if he could get anybody to bet on the other side, and if he couldnt hed change sidesany way that suited the other man would suit himany way just sos he got a bet, he was satisfied. But still, he was luckyuncommon lucky; he most always come out winner. He was always ready and laying for a chance; there couldnt be no solitary thing mentioned but what that fellerd offer to bet on itand take any side you please, as I was just telling you; if there was a horse race, youd find him flush or youd find him busted at the end of it; if there was a dog-fight, hed bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, hed bet on it; if there was a chicken-fight, hed bet on it; why if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly firstor if there was a camp-meeting he would be there reglar to bet on parson Walker, which he judged to be the best exhorter about here, and so he was, too, and a good man; if he even see a straddle-bug start to go anywheres, he would bet you how long it would take him to get wherever he was going to, and if you took him up he would foller that straddle-bug to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was on the road. Lots of the boys here has seen that Smily and can tell you about him. Why, it never made no difference to himhe would bet on anythingthe dangdest feller. Parson Walkers wife laid very sick, once, for a good while, and it seemed as if they warnt going to save her; but one morning he come in and Smily asked him how she was, and he said she was considerable betterthank the Lord for his infinite mercyand coming on so smart that with the blessing of Providence shed get well yetand Smily, before he thought, says, Well, Ill resk two-and-a-half that she dont, anyway.
Thish-yer Smily had a marethe boys called her the fifteen-minute nag, but that was only in fun, you know, because, of course, she was faster than thatand he use to win money on that horse, for all she was so slow and always had the asthma, or the distemper, or the consumption, or something of that kind. They use to give her two or three hundred yards start, and then pass her under way; but always at the fag-end of the race shed get excited and desperate-like, and come cavorting and spraddling up, and scattering her legs around limber, sometimes in the air, and sometimes out to one side amongst the fences, and kicking up m-o-r-e dust, and raising m-o-r-e racket with her coughing and sneezing and blowing her noseand always fetch up at the stand just about a neck ahead, as near as you could cipher it down.
And he had a little small bull-pup, that to look at him youd think he warnt worth a cent, but to set around and look onery, and lay for a chance to steal something. But as soon as money was up on him he was a different doghis under-jawd begin to stick out like the forcastle of a steamboat, and his teeth would uncover, and shine savage like the furnaces. And a dog might tackle him, and bullyrag him, and bite him, and throw him over his shoulder two or three times, and Andrew Jacksonwhich was the name of the pupAndrew Jackson would never let on but what he was satisfied, and hadnt expected nothing elseand the bets being doubled and doubled on the other side all the time, till the money was all upand then all of a sudden he would grab that other dog just by the joint of his hind legs and freeze to itnot chaw, you understand, but only just grip and hang on till they throwed up the sponge, if it was a year. Smily always came out winner on that pup till he harnessed a dog once that didnt have no hind legs, because theyd been sawed off in a circular saw, and when the thing had gone along far enough, and the money was all up, and he came to make a snatch for his pet holt, he saw in a minute how hed been imposed on, and how the other dog had him in the door, so to speak, and he peared surprised, and then he looked sorter discouraged like, and didnt try no more to win the fight, and so he got shucked out bad. He gave Smily a look as much as to say his heart was broke, and it was his fault, for putting up a dog that hadnt no hind legs for him to take holt of, which was his main dependence in a fight, and then he limped off a piece, and laid down and died. It was a good pup, was that Andrew Jackson, and would have made a name for hisself if hed lived, for the stuff was in him, and he had geniusI know it, because he hadnt no opportunities to speak of, and it dont stand to reason that a dog could make such a fight as he could under them circumstances, if he hadnt no talent. It always makes me feel sorry when I think of that last fight of hisn, and the way it turned out.
Well, thish-yer Smily had rat-terriers and chicken-cocks, and tom-cats, and all them kind of things, till you couldnt rest, and you couldnt fetch nothing for him to bet on but hed match you. He ketched a frog one day and took him home and said he callated to educate him; and so he never done nothing for three months but set in his back yard and learn that frog to jump. And you bet you he did learn him, too. Hed give him a little hunch behind, and the next minute youd see that frog whirling in the air like a doughnutsee him turn one summerset, or maybe a couple, if he got a good start, and come down flat-footed and all right, like a cat. He got him up so in the matter of ketching flies, and kept him in practice so constant, that hed nail a fly every time as far as he could see him. Smily said all a frog wanted was education, and he could do most anythingand I believe him. Why, Ive seen him set Danl Webster down here on this floorDanl Webster was the name of the frogand sing out, Flies! Danl, flies, and quickern you could wink, hed spring straight up, and snake a fly offn the counter there, and flop down on the floor again as solid as a gob of mud, and fall to scratching the side of his head with his hind foot as indifferent as if he hadnt no idea hed done any moren any frog might do. You never see a frog so modest and straightforard as he was, for all he was so gifted. And when it come to fair-and-square jumping on a dead level, he could get over more ground at one straddle than any animal of his breed you ever see. Jumping on a dead level was his strong suit, you understand, and when it come to that, Smily would ante up money on him as long as he had a red. Smily was monstrous proud of his frog, and well he might be, for fellers that had travelled and been everywheres all said he laid over any frog that ever they see.
Well, Smily kept the beast in a little lattice box, and he used to fetch him down town sometimes and lay for a bet. One day a fellera stranger in the camp, he wascome across him with his box, and says:
The feller took the box again, and took another long, particular look, and give it back to Smily and says very deliberate, WellI dont see no points about that frog thats any bettern any other frog.
Maybe you dont, Smily says. Maybe you understand frogs, and maybe you dont understand em; maybe youve had experience, and maybe you aint only a amature, as it were. Anyways, Ive got my opinion, and Ill resk forty dollars that he can outjump ary frog in Calaveras county.
And then Smily says, Thats all rightthats all rightif youll hold my box a minute Ill go and get you a frog; and so the feller took the box, and put up his forty dollars along with Smilys, and set down to wait.
So he set there a good while thinking and thinking to hisself, and then he got the frog out and prized his mouth open and took a teaspoon and filled him full of quail-shotfilled him pretty near up to his chinand set him on the floor. Smily he went out to the swamp and slopped around in the mud for a long time, and finally he ketched a frog and fetched him in and give him to this feller and says:
Now if youre ready, set him alongside of Danl, with his fore-paws just even with Danls, and Ill give the word. Then he says, onetwothreejump! and him and the feller touched up the frogs from behind, and the new frog hopped off lively, but Danl give a heave, and hysted up his shoulderssolike a Frenchman, but it wasnt no usehe couldnt budge; he was planted as solid as a anvil, and he couldnt no more stir than if he was anchored out. Smily was a good deal surprised, and he was disgusted too, but he didnt have no idea what the matter was, of course.
The feller took the money and started away, and when he was going out at the door he sorter jerked his thumb over his shoulderthis wayat Danl, and says again, very deliberate, WellI dont see no points about that frog thats any bettern any other frog.
Smily he stood scratching his head and looking down at Danl a long time, and at last he says, I do wonder what in the nation that frog throwed off forI wonder if there aint something the matter with himher pears to look mighty baggy, somehowand he ketched Danl by the nap of the neck, and lifted him up and says, Why blame my cats if he dont weigh five poundand turned him upside down, and he belched out about a double-handful of shot. And then he see how it was, and he was the maddest manhe set the frog down and took out after that feller, but he never ketched him. And
[Here Simon Wheeler heard his name called from the front-yard, and got up to go and see what was wanted.] And turning to me as he moved away, he said: Just sit where you are, stranger, and rest easyI aint going to be gone a second.
But by your leave, I did not think that a continuation of the history of the enterprising vagabond Jim Smily would be likely to afford me much information concerning the Rev. Leonidas W. Smily, and so I started away.