HIGHPOCKETS. A dude, in the old sense of the word, specially one with an exalted opinion of himself and his raiment (which, to-day, would be ‘designer’). A highpockets usually conducts himself in such a manner as to make you think there is a vacancy in the Trinity and he is going to be picked to fill it.
Grandma recounted this tale several times, in several different versions; her sisters, too, had their variants, and while all the versions agreed in general the details tended to change from telling to telling. One can but assume that it took place in Atlanta, and proceed accordingly. The hotel was called ‘The Idan-ha’, which you might assume would help to locate the scene, but research shows that most of the hotels in the Territory were called ‘Idan-ha’ or ‘Idanha’. That can disorder the mind. To continue . . .
Back in the days of Pappy’s extreme youth, a highpockets – son or nephew or something of that sort of Atlanta’s grand panjandrum – came to town for the Christmas ball. He had been to college; he had been visiting the fleshpots of San Francisco and Boise; he had seen the big cities and the horse-cars and the indoor plumbing, and he even had a store-bought suit of clothes, made to his exalted measure. He was a bird of spectacular plumage, and knew it better than anyone.
Now, this ball was the highlight of the Atlanta social season. It was held in the second-floor ballroom of the finest (and only) hotel in town, which had been decorated for the occasion with all manner of festoonery, tinsel, candles, kerosene lamps, and a great Christmas tree in the middle of the floor. Many of the miners took their annual baths, and had their annual haircuts, in honor of this ball. Some went so far as to trim their beards and make some attempt at landscaping them. If they had a set of Sunday best clothes they fetched them out and brushed off the dust and put them under the mattress to refresh the creases in the trousers. Bear-grease liberally applied to the boots, combined with the mothballs from the fine clothes and bay rum from the miners’ hair, made it quite a fragrant occasion.
The miners may not have been in the height of fashion but they didn’t care. They looked good enough to suit themselves, and good enough to impress the young ladies of the town. And don’t think these young ladies were wearing flour-sacks and calico, either. Their gowns were as close as could be to the New York and Paris ideals, and all made by hand.
The ball had just got under way, the band was doing its very best with one of those daring Vienna waltzes, and good cheer was flowing by the quart when Highpockets strutted in. He delivered himself of a few sparkling aphorisms, borrowed from the newspapers, at the expense of the assembled company, the event, and the town, then stood there basking in his own admiration. Soon he spied a particularly attractive and modest and well-dressed young lady, and proceeded to attach himself to her. He tried some of his San Francisco compliments on her and was quite taken aback when she remained aloof. She did not appreciate his blandishments or want them and she said so.
He persisted, inflating himself the while and loading compliment upon compliment and attracting more attention than was good for him. She invited him to make himself scarce. The band stopped playing and everyone gathered round to see what would develop. He – unconscious as an oyster – kept flattering and bragging and bragging and flattering and embarrassing the young lady no end; she, for her part, kept quiet except for the look of derision in her eyes.
Uncle R. B. had been observing with interest. Stepping to the front of the now silent throng, he picked the sprout up by the collar of his San Francisco coat and the seat of his San Francisco trousers and without further ado deposited the entire arrangement out of the nearest window. Fortunately for Highpockets, there was a convenient snowbank beneath the window, and he landed in it with no damage save a severe lesion on his ego.
As it happened, Highpockets’ nabob relation was coming up the walk at just that moment and saw the young scion of his house finish his plummet. R. B., admiring his handiwork, noticed the newcomer and immediately regretted that he had, out of respect for the occasion, omitted to heel himself. This put him at a disadvantage, for Nabob was known to be of a quarrelsome disposition and very big in the honor department where his family was concerned. He had brought this attitude with him from Georgia, and kept it in fighting trim for forty years.
Assuming that he would soon face a gentleman with two revolvers, a Bowie knife, and the temperament of a bear wearing a steel-wool union suit, R. B. suddenly remembered some urgent business in Silver City and stood out from under, using a horse that did not belong to him. When he returned a week or two later (for R. B. was honest as the day is long, most of the time) the first person he saw was Nabob. R. B. counted up his chances and it didn’t take very long.
Nabob hailed him. R. B. acknowledged his putative antagonist and tried to remember some prayers. Nabob, with a grin on him that would stretch across a couple of counties, took R. B. by the elbow and steered him into the nearest watering hole. There he proceeded to fill R. B. with tanglefoot whiskey, allowing the while that it was the finest thing he had seen in a lifetime of fine things. Indeed, he only wished that someone had done Highpockets that favor sooner; as it was, R. B. had saved Nabob the trouble.
This story is true. I know it to be so, for Grandma had a picture of the hotel which showed as plain as anything the place where the snowdrift used to be.
GREAT SNAKES. An interjection-of-all-work which Pappy used to express:
Utter astonishment. ‘You won second prize in the lottery. ‘Great snakes!’
Disagreement, second class. ‘I don’t think Senator Blank ought to be hanged.’ ‘Well, great snakes! – what do you think he ought to be – shot?’
It’s about time. ‘Pappy, I cleaned my room.’ ‘ We-e-e-ll, ga-reat sa-nakes alive!!’
GRUB PILE. How supper was announced in Grandma’s boarding-house, and how dinner was announced by Pappy when the extended family was around, or someone was dilatory in arriving at table, or both. The cat was never late and didn’t need to be called, but being courteous, as cats usually are, waited to be served. As to the genesis of the term . . .
Grandma’s boarders liked to eat, and seldom missed a meal entirely, but because they were working men, and men working at an arduous trade in a dusty climate, it wasn’t unusual for one or more of them to stop off at one of the local fountains to slake his thirst with a lemon phosphate before returning to the boarding-house for supper. ‘Tis rumored that some of them preferred stronger libations, but there is not a shred of proof. I sha’n’t attest to the veracity of the rumor. We should always be respectful toward the dead, anyway, because whether we like it or not we shall one day join them, and I for one would not care for anyone spreading scurrilous tales about me if I couldn’t find a lawyer when I needed one, or had misplaced my self-cocking pick handle.
Whatever the cause, the boarding-house keepers didn’t want to wait supper for the dawdlers, and each one had a different way of fetching them along home when the food was ready. Mrs Campbell called her crowd by whaling the daylights out of an old wash-tub with an ax handle. Mrs O’Connor, whose boarders were Irish to a