It was not expected that any one in Virginia City or Carson City would for a moment take any stock in the wild invention, yet so graphic was it that nine out of ten on first reading never stopped to consider the entire impossibility of the locality and circumstance. Even when these things were pointed out many readers at first refused to confess themselves sold. As for the Bulletin and other California papers, they were taken-in completely, and were furious. Many of them wrote and demanded the immediate discharge of its author, announcing that they would never copy another line from the Enterprise, or exchange with it, or have further relations with a paper that had Mark Twain on its staff. Citizens were mad, too, and cut off their subscriptions. The joker was in despair.
“Oh, Joe,” he said, “I have ruined your business, and the only reparation I can make is to resign. You can never recover from this blow while I am on the paper.”
“Nonsense,” replied Goodman. “We can furnish the people with news, but we can’t supply them with sense. Only time can do that. The flurry will pass. You just go ahead. We’ll win out in the long run.”
But the offender was in torture; he could not sleep. “Dan, Dan,” he said, “I am being burned alive on both sides of the mountains.”
“Mark,” said Dan. “It will all blow over. This item of yours will be remembered and talked about when the rest of your Enterprise work is forgotten.”
Both Goodman and De Quille were right. In a month papers and people had forgotten their humiliation and laughed. “The Dutch Nick Massacre” gave to its perpetrator and to the Enterprise an added vogue.
—[For full text of the “Dutch Nick” hoax see Appendix C, at the end of last volume: also, for an anecdote concerning a reporting excursion made by Alf. Doten and Mark Twain.]—
Reference has already been made to the fashion among Virginia City papers of permitting reporters to use the editorial columns for ridicule of one another. This custom was especially in vogue during the period when Dan de Quille and Mark Twain and The Unreliable were the shining journalistic lights of the Comstock. Scarcely a week went by that some apparently venomous squib or fling or long burlesque assault did not appear either in the Union or the Enterprise, with one of those jokers as its author and another as its target. In one of his “home” letters of that year Mark Twain says:
I have just finished writing
up my report for the morning paper and
giving The Unreliable a column of advice about how to conduct
himself in church.
The advice was such as to call for a reprisal, but it apparently made no difference in personal relations, for a few weeks later he is with The Unreliable in San Francisco, seeing life in the metropolis, fairly swimming in its delights, unable to resist reporting them to his mother.