THE CREAM OF COMSTOCK HUMOR
With the adjournment of the legislature, Samuel Clemens returned to Virginia City distinctly a notability—Mark Twain. He was regarded as leading man on the Enterprise—which in itself was high distinction on the Comstock—while his improved dress and increased prosperity commanded additional respect. When visitors of note came along—well-known actors, lecturers, politicians—he was introduced as one of the Comstock features which it was proper to see, along with the Ophir and Gould and Curry mines, and the new hundred-stamp quartz-mill.
He was rather grieved and hurt, therefore, when, after several collections had been taken up in the Enterprise office to present various members of the staff with meerschaum pipes, none had come to him. He mentioned this apparent slight to Steve Gillis:
“Nobody ever gives me a meerschaum pipe,” he said, plaintively. “Don’t I deserve one yet?”
Unhappy day! To that remorseless creature, Steve Gillis, this was a golden opportunity for deviltry of a kind that delighted his soul. This is the story, precisely as Gillis himself told it to the writer of these annals more than a generation later:
“There was a German kept a cigar store in Virginia City and always had a fine assortment of meerschaum pipes. These pipes usually cost anywhere from forty to seventy-five dollars.
“One day Denis McCarthy and I were walking by the old German’s place, and stopped to look in at the display in the window. Among other things there was one large imitation meerschaum with a high bowl and a long stem, marked a dollar and a half.
“I decided that that would be just the pipe for Sam. We went in and bought it, also a very much longer stem. I think the stem alone cost three dollars. Then we had a little German-silver plate engraved with Mark’s name on it and by whom presented, and made preparations for the presentation. Charlie Pope—[afterward proprietor of Pope’s Theater, St. Louis]—was playing at the Opera House at the time, and we engaged him to make the presentation speech.
“Then we let in Dan de Quille, Mark’s closest friend, to act the part of Judas—to tell Mark privately that he, was going to be presented with a fine pipe, so that he could have a speech prepared in reply to Pope’s. It was awful low-down in Dan. We arranged to have the affair come off in the saloon beneath the Opera House after the play was over.
“Everything went off handsomely; but it was a pretty remorseful occasion, and some of us had a hang-dog look; for Sam took it in such sincerity, and had prepared one of the most beautiful speeches I ever heard him make. Pope’s presentation, too, was beautifully done. He told Sam how his friends all loved him, and that this pipe, purchased at so great an expense, was but a small token of their affection. But Sam’s reply, which was supposed to be impromptu, actually brought the tears to the eyes of some of us, and he was interrupted every other minute with applause. I never felt so sorry for anybody.