A Calm by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: Essay

The old Greeley Colony in Colorado, a genuine oasis in the desert, with its huge irrigating canals of mountain water running through the mighty wheat fields, glistening each autumn at the base of the range, affords a good deal that is curious, not only to the mind of the gentleman from the States, but even to the man who lives at Cheyenne, W.T., only a few hours’ journey to the north.

You could hardly pick out two cities so near each other and yet so unlike as Cheyenne and Greeley. The latter is quiet, and even accused of being dull, and yet everybody is steadily getting rich. It is a town of readers, thinkers and mental independents. It is composed of the elements of New England shrewdness and Western push, yet Greeley as compared with Cheyenne would be called a typical New England town in the midst of the active, fluctuating, booming West.

Cheyenne is not so tame. With few natural advantages the reputation of Cheyenne is that, in commercial parlance, she is “A 1” for promptness in paying her debts and absence of failures. There is more wealth there in proportion to the number of inhabitants than elsewhere in the civilized world, no doubt. The people take special pleasure in surprising Eastern people who visit them by a reception very often that they will long remember for cordiality, hospitality, and even magnificence.

Still I didn’t start out to write up either Cheyenne or Greeley. I intended to mention casually Dr. Law, of the latter place, who acted as my physician for a few months and coaxed me back from the great hereafter. I had been under the hands of a physician just before, who was also coroner, and who, I found afterward, was trying to treat me professionally as long as the lamp held out to burn, intending afterward to sit upon me officially. He had treated me professionally until he was about ready to summon his favorite coroner’s jury. Then I got irritated and left the county of his jurisdiction.

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Learning that Dr. Law was relying solely on the practice of medicine for a livelihood, I summoned him, and after explaining the great danger that stood in the way of harmonizing the practice of medicine and the official work of the inquest business, I asked him if he had any business connection with any undertaking establishment or hic jacet business, and learning from him that he had none, I engaged him to solder up my vertebrae and reorganize my spinal duplex.

Sometimes it isn’t entirely the medicine you swallow that paralyzes pain so much as it is the quiet magnetism of a good story and the snap of a pleasant eye. I had one physician who tried to look joyous when he came into the room, but he generally asked me to run my tongue out till he could see where it was tied on, then he would feel my pulse with his cold finger and time it with a $6 watch, and after that he would write a new prescription for horse medicine and heave a sigh, look at me as he might if it had been the last time he ever expected to see me on earth, and then he would sigh and go away. When he came back he generally looked shocked and grieved to find me alive. This was the pro tem physician and ex-officio coroner. I always felt as though I ought to apologize to him for clinging to life so, when no doubt he had the jury in the hall waiting to “view” me.

Dr. Law used to tell me of the early history of the Greeley Colony, and how the original cranks of the community used to be in session most of the time, and how they sometimes neglected to do their planting to do legislating, and how they overdid the council work and neglected to “bug” their potatoes. I remember, also, of his description of how the crew, working on the original big irrigating canal, struck when it was about half done, and swore that from the Poudre the ditch was going to run up hill, and would, therefore, be a failure. The engineer didn’t know at first what was best to do with the belligerent laborers, but finally he took the leader away from the rest of the crew and said, “Now, I tell you this in confidence, because of course I know perfectly well that the stockholders may kick on it if they hear it, but I’m building the blamed thing as level as I can and putting one end of it in the Poudre and one end in the Platte. Now, if I’m building it up hill the water’ll run down from the Platte into the Poudre, and if not it’ll run from the Poudre into the Platte. Sabe?”

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The ditch was built, and now a deep, still river runs from the Poudre to the Platte, according to advertisement.

Greeley is also noted for its watchmakers. I sent my watch to the first one I heard of, and he said it needed cleaning. He cleaned it. I paid him $2 and took it home, when it ran two hours and then suspended. Then I took it to another watchmaker who said that the first man had used machine oil on its works, and had heated the wheels so as to gum the oil on the cogs. He would have to eradicate the cooked oil from the watch, and it would cost me $3. I paid it, and joyfully took the watch home. The next day I found that it had gained time enough to pay for itself. By noon, it had fatigued itself so that it was losing terribly, and by the day following had folded its still hands across its pale face in the sleep that knows no waking. I took it to the third and last jeweler in the town. Everyone said he was a good workman, but a trifle slow. In the afternoon I went in to see how he was getting along with it. He was sitting at his bench with a dice cup in his eye, apparently looking into the digestive economy of the watch.

I looked at him some time, not wishing to disturb him and interfere with his diagnosis. He did not move or say anything. Several people came in to trade and get the correct time, but he paid no attention to them.

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I got tired and changed from one foot to the other several times. Then I asked him how he got along, or something of that kind, but he never opened his head. He was the most preoccupied watch savant I ever saw. No outside influence could break up his chain of thought when he got after a diseased watch.

I finally got around on the outside of the shop and looked in the window, where I could get a good view of his face.

He was asleep.

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