The following is an except from Earle Stanley Gardner's book, "Neighborhood Frontiers", printed in 1954
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 1928, WAS A COLD, BLUSTERY DAY IN the high, elevated desert region in California between Morongo Valley and the Lost Horse Mine. In nearly all of our desert country there are periods of cold, windy weather during the winter months. These usually come in spells of three days at a time. They will be interspersed with days or weeks of warm sunlight, then another three days of cold wind. This section of the desert country is spotted with groves of Joshua trees, studded with almost perpendicular walls of granite.
The Joshua tree is a typical desert growth that resembles a cross between a tree and a cactus. It is like nothing else in this world. Up in the particular section of the desert where I was camped the granite formations were thrust up out of the desert in high, solid walls. Long veins of softer material were weathered out and huge blocks of granite weighing hundreds of tons had been piled one on the other into great walls. In between these granite formations the desert soil was unusually adapted for growing the Joshua palm.
I could have moved the camp wagon down into the shelter of one of the big granite walls and been out of the wind, but since I wanted to be near water, I was camped at Quail Springs. Quail Springs is a typical desert watering hole. The water is a very good quality and comes up out of nothing to form a beautiful clear spring pool in the middle of the desert.
I'd decorated the interior of the camp wagon with Navajo rugs on the floor and across the davenport. Since this was in the days before the well-designed automobile house trailer had been developed, the inside was something of a revelation to people who hardly expected to encounter a portable house in the middle of the desert.
The dry, cold wind howled around the outside and I was pounding away at my typewriter, warm and comfortable, occasionally looking out through the windows at the cold, bleak vista and wondering whether the wind was going to continue to blow for the full three days which, incidentally, it did.
Along late in the afternoon two men drove up to the spring in an old, dilapidated car, pulling a little two-wheeled trailer on behind. A barrel and about fifty feet of rubber hose were lashed to the trailer. I knocked off writing while I watched the two men turn the car into position. One of the men went up and dropped the end of the hose down into Quail Springs and started siphoning off water until the barrel was full.
Noticing the way this man handled the lines and the hose and the way in which the barrel was lashed to the trailer, I became convinced the man was a sailor. I couldn't understand what a sailor would be doing out there in that remote section of the desert. It was a problem that interested me, but the men didn't seem inclined to be sociable so I didn't get out of the camp wagon. I just sat there and watched until they drove away, and then went back to writing the story.
The next day the "sailor," whose name turned out to be Samuelson, was back and in trouble. There is that about the desert which makes it like the ocean. Trouble is a common rallying cry.
Samuelson had a car which wouldn't start and he had to get it started in order to go down the road and rescue the car of another man, who, in turn, was in trouble. So I asked Samuelson to get in my car and we'd go over to the place where his car was stalled.
I watched Samuelson's face light up as he stepped into the camp wagon and seated himself in the little bucket seat on the right of the driver's place.
I had opened a door for him, he had stepped into what looked like a truck, and suddenly that truck had become a home - a cozy little cabin with Navajo rugs, a davenport, folding canvas chair, windows with shades and curtains, enameled walls and ceiling, a place of color, warmth and comfort.
However, Samuelson made no comment. According to his code, that might have been misconstrued as an attempt to pry into my business. But he couldn't keep the expression from his face, and his face showed his feelings. It was an effort for him to avert his eyes from the comfort of the interior, and start looking through the windshield. Then he settled down, giving me road directions, just as though he were riding in a conventional truck filled with boxes, barrels and cases.
So I found Samuelson's home - a place 'well off the road, accessible only to an automobile when piloted by a driver who was familiar with desert sand. The little wood and canvas shack where Samuelson lived was up on a hill, but the car had been left on a flat at the foot of the hill. The battery was evidently completely shot, so I towed the car until the motor roared into rattling, spasmodic life, and Samuelson blared a horn to let me know he was once more traveling under his own power.
We shook hands and went our separate ways, Samuelson to rescue the other car and I to get back to Quail Springs and my recipe for a rejection slip.
I knew that Samuelson, like most of the other outdoor men whom I had met at the time, had completely fallen in love with the interior of that camp wagon and would want to see more of it. I felt certain he would be back, this time as a neighbor. There's a strange thing about the psychology of the desert dweller.
A man who enters the desert with an automobile and a camping outfit is an intruder. He's an outsider. But my movable cabin on wheels made me something of a roving neighbor. All through the years I drove the camp wagon-until house trailers became so common that the snug interior of my portable home ceased to attract undue attention - enjoyed special privileges in the mountains and deserts, the privileges of a neighbor.
It was later on in the day that Samuelson was back at Quail Springs for more water. This time he was alone. I went out to give him a hand, helping him get his trailer into position and the hose rigged up so he could siphon water from the spring. Then when the big barrel was full and the hose neatly coiled, I asked him if he didn't want to come in. I was, I explained, just getting ready for a cup of tea and I had some hot water on the stove.
Samuelson came in. He sat down on the davenport; his eyes looked around the cabin. He looked at the big kettle of water steaming merrily on the stove, and then I suggested that perhaps he would prefer a nice hot toddy to a cup of tea.
Samuelson admitted a hot toddy wouldn't be at all out of place. It had turned cold once more and it was about sunset. That hot toddy really hit the spot. We made no attempt to hurry through it, but as befits true desert men, sat there and sipped the heated beverage and conversed in short sentences and terse monosyllables. I didn't ask him about himself and he didn't ask me anything at all. We simply sat and visited, for the most part in silence. When the cups were emptied I suggested that perhaps we might have another one. So we had another hot toddy, and I will admit that I surreptitiously loaded my visitor's drink.
It took about twenty minutes to consume the second hot toddy and by that time it was getting dark. I lit the gasoline lantern which flooded the interior of our snug little home with warm, white brilliance. The heat from the single burner on the gasoline cooking stove kept the place at just the right temperature, and I kept the big tea kettle filled so there would be plenty of hot water. I could see Samuelson relaxing. And then, because I was more or less an outsider and not expected to know and conform to the strict rules of desert etiquette, I made my break.
“I noticed," I said casually, "that you've been a sailor." He almost dropped the cup, but he made no comment. I talked blithely on as though I had no idea that I had violated a code of ethics. "You certainly can handle a rope!" He grunted. "Just a twist of the wrist and that rope seems to obey orders." I mumbled on in true tenderfoot style. "How long were you on the ocean?" Samuelson was sullenly evasive. "Lots of times," he said, "packers can handle a rope better than most sailors." "They handle a short rope and they tie good knots," I vociferously declared, "but you handle a long rope with just a twist of the wrist and it falls into neat coils and hitches. You've been a real deep-sea sailor.”
I tried to assume an air of positive assurance. To tell the truth, his remark about the packers had made me a lot less certain of my deduction. However, the cozy cabin and the hot drink were doing their work. I could see Samuelson's reserve melting by the minute. His eyes were fixed on the opposite wall, looking right through it out into the memories of a distant past.
Then something happened which surprised me. This hard-bitten, leathery-faced individual with the granite-hard eyes surreptitiously wiped away a tear. For the moment I thought my own eyes had deceived me, but then it became apparent that he actually was crying. So we sat in silence for a matter of minutes, Samuelson wrapped in his memories, the warmth of the cabin and the contents of a couple of hot toddies which would have restored circulation to a floating iceberg.
"I'm sorry," I said sympathetically after a while. "I didn't want to bring up memories that you would prefer not to recall." He didn't even look at me, but sat there with his feet stretched out in front of him, his eyes fixed on the opposite wall of the camp wagon. Then after a while he started to talk. His words were hesitant and halting at first, but as he began to relive the experiences, he talked more fluently, apparently forgetting all about me and talking only for the purpose of getting something off his mind.
I sat completely silent, refraining from interrupting, moving or asking questions, knowing that the minute I did so he would become audience conscious and the spell would be broken. He talked for almost an hour and a half, sometimes rambling down conversational side trails, sometimes talking directly to the point, but for the most part telling a story so weird, so bizarre, that I felt pretty thoroughly convinced he must be recounting some wild adventure story he had read in a magazine. After all, I was a tenderfoot, and I had violated one of the unwritten laws of the desert by trying to inquire into the past of a visitor. If, under those circumstances, he wanted to put me in my place he was certainly entitled to do so. I had, so to speak, opened the season on myself. However, I was still at a loss to account for those tears. They seemed to be genuine tears, and one would hardly have thought this leather-faced desert dweller would have cultivated an ability that could command a high salary in Hollywood. I have known a few attorneys who could shed bona fide tears over some injustice done a client (when the fee was high enough and the circumstances dramatic enough), but I had never yet met anyone who could sit down and shed real tears over a lie he was about to tell a tenderfoot.
Unfortunately I did not dare to take notes at the time. I sat there completely motionless, trying to efface myself as much as possible. Such fragmentary notes as I now have were subsequently written up in a log book that I carried in the camp wagon and which I still have. More notes, which were later elaborated on pieces of paper, I have lost. However, in general, the story starts at Capetown, Africa, where Samuelson, a former able-bodied seaman, was given a drugged drink and shanghaied. He wakened with a terrific headache to find himself on one of the last of the old windjammers, signed on as one of the crew.
The first part of the story was not particularly exceptional. It was a story that has been told hundreds of times, of the reluctant, unwilling seaman who is kicked and cuffed into submission and forced to work on a ship which has, in the course of time, acquired such a reputation among seafaring men that it is impossible to get a crew by legitimate methods.
The unusual part of his story really began with his account of the terrific storm. According to Samuelson it was a humdinger of a storm. The ship tossed around in foaming waters. Huge combers crashed down on the deck, and whirled the length of the ship in a welter of treacherous, swirling water. The ship rolled and twisted, creaked and groaned like some wild thing in agony. Finally, when the worst of the storm had passed, the rudder, weakened by the strain, gave out and the ship started drifting helplessly toward shore.
By the time it was within some half-mile of shore, the storm had gone down, and the captain found holding ground for his anchors. Then he constructed a raft, and, tying it astern, utilized it in repairing the rudder. That night Samuelson, thoroughly disgusted with life on the hell ship, spurred to action by the sight of land which seemed so close and inviting, slid down to the raft, cut the ropes and turned the raft adrift. The big rollers, aftermath of the storm, were sweeping in toward the shore, and, aided by a gentle wind, Samuelson drifted nearer and nearer to the shore line. As he came closer he saw that the breakers were some fifteen feet high and roaring in to the beach line, accompanied by thundering crashes and a curtain of white spray. Suddenly his raft was seized and sent far up in the air where it hung poised for a moment on the very crest of a huge breaker, then the top of the breaker rolled over. Samuelson was wrenched from the raft, rolled over and over in the sand with a crushing weight of water on top of him. When the rolling motion finally ceased, he felt himself dragged by an undertow. Instinctively he clutched with his hands, but the whole sandy beach seemed to be sliding along with him. Then he was caught up by another breaker and for a brief moment came to the surface, long enough for a quick gulp of air. Once more he was slammed down on the sloping, sandy beach and rolled by the great comber until he had swallowed sand and salt water, and had given up all hope. Just as he ceased to struggle the water receded in a swirling torrent. He found himself able to breathe, managed to get to his feet, and started staggering toward the shore. Another breaker crashed behind him. This time he was lifted by the water and washed far up on the beach. Sinking his feet into the sand he struggled to retain his footing, and, as the water washed away from underneath him, he managed to get up above the limit of the surf where he could throw himself down on dry sand.
After a while he got enough strength to stagger up the sand to a cliff where he found a small cave. He flung himself down in the shelter of this cave and went to sleep, only to waken with a start as he found a huge bat sucking blood from the tip of his big toe. Another bat was flitting silently around his face. So Samuelson staggered out to the open beach, lay down and covered himself with the warm sand to protect himself from the bats. Here he dropped into a sleep of exhaustion, from which he was awakened just at daylight by a peculiar rhythmic thump…thump…thump transmitted along the ground. A string of people came into view, and he realized it had been the sound of many feet, keeping perfect time as they pounded and stamped down a hard-packed trail, which had wakened him.
Samuelson rolled his head so he could see what was taking place, and then remained motionless. Led by a sorcerer, or medicine man, this tribe marched down to the edge of the pounding surf and engaged in what Samuelson described as a "ceremonial washing," following which they turned in unison and started marching in single file back up the trail into the jungle interior. Samuelson was weak, hungry, frightened and helpless. He watched them go until the last member of the tribe was about to disappear into the heavy growth.
This straggler was a woman whose small child was toddling along behind her, hardly able to keep up with the rest of the tribe. Samuelson straightened up from his sandy concealment and said “Hello.” The child gave a startled scream and made a leap. The mother caught him up and ran. A moment later Samuelson was surrounded by warriors and taken as a captive to the tribal village. Samuelson passed lightly over the fact that he was held for several days in close captivity. Apparently his fate was under discussion. However, the tribe already had one captive, an English goldsmith who had been shipwrecked and taken in as a permanent working guest. Samuelson went on in the calm, matter-of-fact tones of a person discussing something so familiar to him that he has lost the idea that it could be strange to anyone else. This English goldsmith, Samuelson explained, was pounding out ornaments from a vein of pure gold which the natives had discovered in a ledge of decomposed rock. The gold, Samuelson said "hung from the rocks." Samuelson commented in passing on the fact that the Englishman had clung to a Derby hat even during the harrowing experience of the shipwreck and had retained this hat all through his captivity. Although the crown had deteriorated and disappeared, the rim still remained and the Englishman would never think of going "out" to his work without adjusting the rim of this crownless hat about his forehead.
The chief of the tribe, it seemed, had a young and attractive daughter, and Samuelson, at this stage in his career, was evidently a pretty good-looking individual. He assumed that some of' the dissension as to whether he was to be put to death or held as a permanent captive centered about the fact that the princess was loathe to have him killed and the English goldsmith, who by this time had become a sort of unofficial adviser to the chief, was anxious to have Samuelson remain so that the Englishman could have someone with whom he could talk in his native language, a language in which he was becoming quite rusty. Samuelson went on to describe the people themselves-not too dark, proud, independent, well-formed. Apparently the princess had quite a figure and Samuelson, despite the danger of his predicament, had not been entirely oblivious of the fact. There was, it seemed, a warrior who was an especially ardent suitor for the hand of the princess. He had been making some headway prior to the time Samuelson arrived on the scene, and he listened with growing uneasiness to the arguments of the princess that this man should not be summarily executed. For reasons of policy he didn't at that point come out openly and suggest that Samuelson's carcass be tossed to the fishes, but I gathered from Samuelson's narrative that he may have done a little backstage, behind-the-scenes manipulation, quietly adding fuel to the flames wherever it was possible to do so surreptitiously.
And there was a "monkey man," a fellow whose body was covered with woolly hair, and had (here Samuelson for the first time thought he was in danger of being doubted, for he cautiously lowered his voice) a rudimentary tail. I started to tell him the rudimentary tail was a well-vouched- for phenomenon, but decided it was better to sit still and listen. So Samuelson went back to a description of those first few days of his captivity.
In the end the goldsmith and princess won out. Samuelson was allowed a certain amount of liberty, and in a way was adopted into the tribe, but he was given to understand that any attempt to escape would result in instant execution.
By this time, freed from the suspense of what his fate was to be, Samuelson was able to concentrate upon the two things that a man in his circumstances could be expected to concentrate on-gold and the princess. The gold interested him a lot. He realized that if he could get to this ledge of gold and carry away even a relatively small amount, perhaps twenty pounds or so, he would have something with which to buy his way back to civilization and still have a nest egg left when he arrived. It seemed that Samuelson never really learned the language, but was able to converse by making signs, by using the Englishman as an interpreter and by picking up a few words here and there. This language he assured me was an offshoot of the Fanti and Ashanti dialects which had never been reduced to writing in any form. He said that he had, of course, forgotten most of the words he had known, but he remembered a few significant words of which more later on.
By this time I was interested just as a man would be interested who is reading an exciting adventure story in a magazine, knowing all the time that it was a damn lie, but nevertheless realizing that it was an entertaining lie. So I settled back, an expression of courteous interest on my face, letting the old liar ramble on, and wondering to myself, "What in the world will the guy think of next?" He went on to explain how it happened that it was impossible for him to walk right up to the ledge of gold and take what he wanted. Now this ledge of gold was something in the nature of what is known as frost gold, a vein of more or less pure metal running up through crumbling, decomposed rock. In any event, the ore was so exceedingly rich that it was easy to get the gold free from the ore-but the rub was trying to get to the ledge of gold.
It seemed that there was an ant hill some twenty or thirty feet high, composed of sticks, and great ferocious ants some two inches long sat in this ant hill waiting and watching-apparently a species of trained ant. The goldsmith could go past them to the ledge of gold and he was tolerated. The princess could go and she was tolerated. The chief of the tribe had free access, but no one else.
At this point in Samuelson's story I was about ready to laugh out loud. I expected him to come up with anything after that, perhaps even huge ants which were led around on a leash and taught to follow a trail like bloodhounds. The ants, Samuelson found, were fed a mixture which was prepared by the daughter of the chief. She would go out each evening and place this food around the huge ant heap-apparently a mixture containing all of the delicacies needed to keep the ants home, on the job and fat and satisfied.
Looking away from Samuelson I'd want to laugh, and then looking at the strained lines of his rugged face, listening to him groping for words as he tried to explain what had happened, I would find myself slipping into a state of hypnosis where I, too, could see this thing as a reality, and believed the guy was actually telling the truth. Samuelson found out just how close he could get to the ant heap without inviting trouble. During the nights when there was no moon, he would sleep, but when there was moonlight Samuelson would slip down the path toward the ledge of gold and sit at a safe distance where he could watch the ant heap, trying to find out some method by which he could circumvent the watchfulness of the ants.
One night while he was sitting there in the shadow he saw a dim figure glide noiselessly along the trail, slip quietly and swiftly past the ant heap and start to work on the ledge. Samuelson waited and watched.
Suddenly the warrior, who apparently was from one of the neighboring tribes, reached down and slapped at his legs. Then he began to brush himself frantically, then he started to run.
By that time it was too late. The ants had evidently gathered in force before they launched the first attack, and as the agonized black man stumbled past where Samuelson was standing, he saw to his horror that the man's skin was a crawling, twisting, black mass of writhing ants that were gouging out chunks of flesh with savage jaws. Had the marauder dashed into the ledge of gold, grabbed a few handfuls of the precious ore, then turned and sprinted away, he might have made it; but being greedy and trying to fill a skin sack which he was carrying he had given the ants time to file silently down from their ant heap, form a solid phalanx of black avengers and then, apparently at some given signal, move to the attack.
The fleeing man staggered and fell. He shattered the silence with wild screams. By a superhuman effort he got up. Samuelson saw his face in the moonlight, the tortured horror of features writhing in pain, with the ants already black over his eyes, eating out the eyeballs.
The man stumbled blindly, fell against a tree, then with the strength of sheer desperation, started to climb. He managed to lift himself off the ground and up into the branches. Samuelson swore he could hear blood dripping down on the leaves as the man slowly, painfully elevated himself to the branches. Samuelson, unable to endure any more, his skin clammy with cold perspiration, hurried back to his hut. In the morning there was a pile of bones at the foot of the tree. There wasn't so much as a scrap of flesh on them. The skull stared up at the sky with sightless eye sockets.
It seemed to me that I had a strong recollection of having read something similar to this ant episode, although by no means so vividly told. And this caused me to begin to lose interest in the story itself, although my interest in Samuelson as a graceful, gifted, extemporaneous liar was rapidly mounting. Samuelson went on to tell me how he had the bright idea of feeding the ants himself, how he found out where the food was kept and took out small quantities, not enough to count as much more than a gesture of good will. He would step quickly up to the ant village, deposit the food, and then quickly withdraw. He kept this up night after night until finally he dared to remain to see whether his overtures of friendship had been accepted. He found to his great satisfaction that the ants had now come to regard him as a friend-one of the charmed inner circle. It seemed the princess noticed the shrinkage in the pile of ant food. As Samuelson had tried to get more friendly with the ants he had been taking larger quantities of food, and the princess had come to the conclusion something was wrong.
So one night Samuelson, having satisfied himself that he was now immune from attack, had given the ants an unusually large feast. He had decided the time was ripe to make the gamble by stepping through the narrow passageway to the little amphitheater where the gold was located, when he suddenly realized that he was not alone. He whirled to confront the sad, accusing eyes of the princess. There must have been quite some scene there in the moonlight. Samuelson discovered that the scorn of this beautiful native woman meant a larger entry on the debit side of his ledger than could have been balanced by any quantity of gold.
In short, in that inauspicious moment he realized that he was in love.
The story was now following a conventional gambit. I felt I could take over from there and tell the rest of it, but I underestimated either Samuelson's inventive genius or the extent to which truth is stranger than fiction. Samuelson's face was twitching with emotion. Once more the tears were running down his leathery cheeks. I turned away, feeling that natural embarrassment which a spectator always feels when he watches a strong man openly giving way to tears. And as I did so, a strange feeling suddenly possessed me. Had this man told his story so many times he had really come to believe it?
Good heavens, was there any faint possibility the thing could be true? For a while Samuelson couldn't talk. Then he resumed his narrative. It seemed that he had managed to tell his side of the story so that the princess understood. She was in love with him and so she agreed to accompany him back to the land of his people, helping him take enough gold so that he could support her as the daughter of a chieftain should be supported in a civilized community. But they reckoned without the jealous suitor who had noticed a growing coolness on the part of the princess of late, and who had begun to suspect the cause. Apparently he had no idea that Samuelson was making surreptitious visits to the ant heap and the ledge of gold, but had concentrated on guarding the hut of the princess to make sure that Samuelson's wandering feet didn't take him upon a somnambulistic excursion into the boudoir of the native beauty. Therefore when he had seen the princess slip out into the moonlit night he had naturally assumed she was keeping a rendezvous with her white lover, and so he had followed, intent upon wreaking vengeance. When he found out what was actually happening, he had withdrawn, wakened the chief and the medicine man.
By the time Samuelson and the princess, loaded with gold, were ready to make their dash for civilization, they found themselves surrounded by a ring of angry, accusing warriors ready to exact the tribal punishment for treason. But because of the high rank of the princess she was not to be executed, and apparently because Samuelson had either been "consorting" with the princess, or was presumed to have done so, his life was spared. The decree was that they were to be banished from the tribe, that they were to eat the "Bread of Forgetfulness."
The Bread of Forgetfulness, Samuelson went on to explain, was a peculiar bread which was concocted by the medicine man. When a person ate it his mind immediately blanked out and he lost his memory. Samuelson could even recall the native name for this concoction. It was composed of two words. Surreptitiously I wrote them down. Samuelson went on with. his story. He described the gathering of the tribe, the huge circle, the princess at one end of the ceremonial fire, Samuelson at the other end. Then the medicine man produced the Bread of Forgetfulness, and on pain of death they were ordered to eat. Samuelson gave one last glance at the princess, ate the bread, and immediately felt an overwhelming wall of blackness engulfing him. Samuelson sat silent for some minutes. Knowing the rough humor of the West, I suddenly felt that this was the culmination of the entire hoax. I was expected to ask Samuelson how, if he had eaten the Bread of Forgetfulness, he could remember about having eaten it, and then Samuelson would make the devastating comment that would brand me as a gullible tenderfoot and would break into a roar of laughter. However, after such a superb performance I felt that Samuelson had it coming, so for the first time I opened my mouth and asked him the question, how could he remember all this if he had eaten the Bread of Forgetfulness? He turned to me in simple sincerity, his dusty, tan cheeks still showing the tracks of the tears. "That's what I'm trying to tell you," he said, simply.
And if the man wasn't baring a tortured soul in the hope that the recital would give him some ease from an inner pain, he was the best actor I have ever seen. Suddenly at this point the man sold me. I tried to fight against it, but it was no use. I actually came to believe the preposterous utterly illogical, thoroughly cockeyed story. I felt dazed, as though I had tried to solve some problem by carrying a fallacy to a reductio ad absurdum and then suddenly found that the reductio ad absurdum was the real solution. Samuelson resumed his narrative.
When he regained consciousness he was in a little hut in the jungle, a place known as Cape Coast Castle, and there were two white men living there. These men explained to him that about a week earlier they had heard the sound of bare feet tramping along the trail from the jungle and out to the little road in front of the house. They had grabbed rifles and had waited behind barred doors, hardly knowing what to expect, but after a minute or two the feet had again made noise, this time marching away from the cabin.
The next morning they found a rude stretcher supported by poles which had been thrust into the ground, and on the stretcher the unconscious figure of Samuelson. They had taken him in and done what they could to nurse him back to health.
They told Samuelson he was suffering from sleeping sickness. Samuelson took their word for it. He could remember nothing of his past, nothing that had happened. As far as he was concerned, life began that morning when he opened his eyes in the little rough cabin in Cape Coast Castle, a far-flung out- post of civilization. Samuelson hung around Cape Coast Castle for a while, helping with the work as best he could in between intermittent spells of blacking-out for several days at a time, having not the faintest idea of who he was or what he was doing there. It seemed that some doctor in Boston was studying sleeping sickness and had asked for an opportunity to examine some victims of the disease, and in due course Samuelson was put aboard a boat and sent to Boston.
The doctor studied Samuelson's case for some time and then made a strange pronouncement. "You haven't sleeping sickness," he told Samuelson. "You are the victim of mental suggestion, probably as a result of some post-hypnotic suggestion." I have noticed that your spells of sleeping always come on after a rain, when there is the smell of damp green vegetation in the air. Now my suggestion to you is that you go out to California, some place in the desert where it never rains, and in the course of time I feel that you will completely recover.
So Samuelson drifted out into the California desert and started living the life of a prospector. The section of desert that he chose wasn't entirely free from rain, but there would perhaps be only one or two good rains in the course of a year. After those rains, when Samuelson smelled damp vegetation, he promptly lost consciousness and would remain asleep sometimes for several days at a time.
In recent years, however, his deep sleep had begun to be troubled by dreams, and gradually it had dawned on him that these were not dreams at all but were memories beginning to return. And so, of late, he had been able to put together a pretty coherent picture, the story of the shanghaied seaman, the daughter of the chief, the ledge of gold, the Bread of Forgetfulness, the monkey man, and all the rest of it. Samuelson ceased talking.
He didn't ask me what I thought of his story. He didn't make any apologies. He didn't seem to care very much about me, except that 1 had given him an excuse to talk, to get it off his chest. He was still wrapped in memories of a distant past. Never have I been more torn between conflicting emotions and desires.
There was an impulse to laugh. There was a half-formed decision to start cross-examining him on his story, to tell him that I thought he was the biggest liar I had ever encountered, and force him to admit that he had read the story somewhere and tell me where he had read it. Then there was a strange feeling which persisted in spite of my better judgment that the man had been telling me the truth, or what he thought was the truth. I knew that it was possible Samuelson had been building up "visions" which he had finally come to accept as memories.
But where had the ideas been generated? What was behind them? How had a man like Samuelson ever conceived such a sequence of events? We sat there, saying nothing. Samuelson was silent, either wrapped in his memories of the daughter of the chieftain or else waiting to see if I had taken the bait. I was silent because I was pulled in three different directions at once by three different impulses. Finally I took a deep breath and said to Samuelson, "I'm a writer. I think I could use that story. I'll tell you what I'll do. If you can convince me the story is not your recital of another story that has been published somewhere and read by you, I'll make you a proposition. I'll either give you one-third of whatever I receive from selling the story, provided the story is sold after I write it up, or I'll pay you twenty dollars spot cash right now for all rights to the story." Samuelson didn't hesitate for a tenth of a second. He said eagerly, "Give me the twenty dollars."
I felt certain then I was hooked, but I also felt I'd had twenty dollars' worth of entertainment. I drew up a document by which Samuelson acknowledged the receipt of twenty dollars and gave me all rights to the story. Then I pulled out my notebook, sat down across from him and started taking down data. I find I have lost those notes, but I remember that I gave him a pretty searching cross-examination, and in particular I wanted some words, any words, of the peculiar dialect spoken by this tribe. I felt certain that if Samuelson were telling me a story he had read some place he would be completely unable to give me any significant words. If he started making up mere jumbles of sound I would phonetically copy those sounds and then by asking him to repeat the words after an interval, prove that he had been merely making up jibberish. If, by any remote chance, he had been telling the truth, he could search the depths of his mind and dredge out some word of the peculiar language he had described. Samuelson cudgeled his brains. He finally said he could remember the word for the Bread of Forgetfulness. As I have mentioned, it was a compound word. I took it down phonetically, got all the data I could, and finally Samuelson got up to go home.
I watched him go over to his car and start driving back toward the little hill where he had his domicile. I regarded the man somewhat ruefully. He was a better storyteller than I was. He had also proven himself a better salesman. He had dropped in to see me and sold me a story for twenty dollars. It was a better story than I could ever have thought up, and now that he had presented me with the story I probably would never be able to sell it for as much as twenty dollars.
The next day Samuelson was back. He seemed friendly in a shy, diffident sort of way. He made no reference whatever to the story he had told or to his past life, but wanted to know if I would like to come over and see his carved rock. I asked him about the rock. Samuelson explained to me gravely that he had carved the "Rock of Truth." Unfortunately, he went on to explain, his formal education had been sadly neglected. He didn't know much about reading and writing. He didn't realize that "truth" was spelled t-r-u-t-h, but had had the idea it was spelled t-r-u-h-t. He was, he explained, somewhat embarrassed due to the fact that he had perpetuated his ignorance by carving the word in solid rock, but, despite the fact that someone to whom he had shown the rock had pointed out the error in spelling-an error which had been duplicated when he also spelled "faith" f-a-i-h-t Samuelson was proud of his Rock of Truth. It embodied, he explained, the eternal verities of existence in a brief statement of philosophy which he had carved into the rock so that all mankind could see and observe. So, as much by way of courtesy as anything else, I accompanied Samuelson back over to the base of the hill where he lived, and then he piloted me around to where a huge rock had weathered out along a seam so that there was a great, smooth, granite face on which Samuelson had inscribed his creed. The inscription was as follows:
THE ROCK OF FAIHT AND TRUHT. NATURE IS GOD. THE KEY TO LIFE IS CONTACT. EVOLUTION IS THE MOTHER AND FATHER OF MANKIND WITHOUT THEM WE BE NOTHING.
JOHN SAMUELSON 1927
Samuelson was proud of his work. It would, he explained, be there for centuries, a reminder long after he had passed away that there were eternal verities which had come to him in the desert from his communion with nature. Samuelson then took me up to his home, a little wood and canvas structure which had been built of odds and ends evidently picked up here and there. Samuelson was obviously living on virtually nothing, and my twenty dollars must have been a godsend to him. A few days later I had to pull out and go back to the grind of the law business, but I had a story which I couldn't for the life of me get out of my mind. So at the first available opportunity I went down to the library in Los Angeles and started doing research work. There was nothing that I could find dealing with that particular section of the country.
Then I struck pay dirt. There was a book some twenty or thirty years old. It had been written by an Englishman who had gone into the interior, and at a point which must have been about opposite to the place where Samuelson had drifted ashore, he had encountered natives wearing gold ornaments that had been hammered out of the virgin metal yet showed some traces of civilized workmanship. The natives had a story of a tribe on the coast that manufactured these ornaments and gave them in trade, and the Englishman wanted to push on and find the source of the gold. The natives, however, were unanimous in their statement that this could not be done. They said the entire party would be killed. The Englishman insisted. They moved slowly forward. The explorer encountered a tribe speaking the Fanti dialect. They gave him more information about the mysterious tribe on the coast, whetting the explorer's desire to push forward. And then a strange thing happened. His bearers began to disappear. He realized suddenly that if he insisted on going ahead he would be left entirely alone. So, reluctantly, he turned back. The Englishman had made quite a story of it. It was the highlight of his explorations, and the nearest he came to anything really spectacular. The book was written with a certain scrupulous accuracy but also with a deadly dullness which meant that its entire sale would be an occasional copy here and there to one of the large libraries.
But there was one thing which hit me between the eyes with the impact of a sledge-hammer blow. In describing the diet of the tribe speaking the Fanti dialect the English author described among other things a peculiar bread which they made, and he gave the native word for this bread. To my surprise that word was one of the compound words in Samuelson's Bread of Forgetfulness. And, on the strength of that evidence, I decided to write the story.
I was inexperienced as a writer in those days. Nowadays I wouldn't touch anything like that with a ten-foot pole. The chances were probably ninety-nine out of a hundred that Samuelson had read that story somewhere and that his word for the Bread of Forgetfulness was merely a coincidence and nothing else.
However, I wrote the story up. It was called "Rain Magic." I sent it in to one of the Fawcett magazines and received a letter from the editor stating that the story had impressed him enormously, that it wasn't his type of story, but that he felt it was the sort of story Argosy magazine (which was then a wood pulp adventure magazine years before it moved into the present slick paper format) might be interested in publishing; so he had taken the liberty of forwarding the story to Argosy. Parenthetically I have often thought back on the cooperation of editors in their desire to help a beginning writer who shows that he can take criticism and who is evidencing a sincere desire to make the grade. Of course, editors have to be ruthlessly impersonal with the huge volume of unsolicited manuscripts which pour in on them, until by constant repetition they become familiar with the work of certain authors. The stories of these beginning authors aren't quite what they want, are still amateurish-and yet the editor, thanklessly for the most part, takes time from a busy day to try and help these authors along, a little penciled suggestion on the rejection slip, a terse comment here and there, occasionally a pat on the back and a word of encouragement.
So this editor, who, as I remember it, was Dave Redstone, forwarded my manuscript to Argosy magazine, and Argosy magazine liked it immensely and sent me a check for two hundred and fifty dollars. Then I really began to sweat blood. Argosy magazine was one of the leaders in the field. Selling .a story to that magazine was a very important milestone in my career, and by the same token if that story should turn out to be a plagiarism I knew that my writing career was finished.
The story was published. I waited in agony, hardly daring to open the mail, feeling almost certain that at any time there would be a reproachful letter from the editor pointing out that some reader had called his attention to the fact that this was virtually the same story which had been published in such and such a magazine on such and such a date, and would I please consult the files of the magazine and forthwith forward an explanation. But nothing happened. A week lengthened into a month, a month into two months, and then I knew that whatever else might have happened Samuelson hadn't read the story in a magazine. The readers of those adventure magazines have remarkable memories. You can't publish a story which has been printed within the last fifty years without getting a dozen letters within two days after the magazine hits the stands. So Samuelson's story hadn't ever appeared in print. He hadn't read it anywhere because it hadn't been published anywhere. That being the case, where the devil did he get the story? I decided to have another visit with Samuelson and try to find out more about his background. It was several months before I had an opportunity to wheel out my camp wagon again and get back to the vicinity of Quail Springs. In the meantime I had sent Samuelson a copy of the magazine containing the published story and had written him once or twice.
I found Samuelson rather uncordial. Not that there was any feeling of hostility, but there was just a little reserve. It might have been that he was reproaching himself for not having decided to take a third of whatever I had received from the sale of the story. Argosy had played it up in a big way, spreading it all over the cover and giving it quite a play in the editorial columns. In common with the average layman, Samuelson probably thought the earnings of a writer were beyond the dreams of avarice and he perhaps felt that I had made a pretty quick turn on a twenty-dollar investment. Or it may have been that Samuelson was now feeling embarrassed that he had disclosed so much of his past life to me, and that I had turned the white light of publicity on it and on him. I had here and there taken liberties with Samuelson's story in order to work in what I felt at the time was just the right amount of conflict, plot suspense, etc., and Samuelson didn't react very kindly to those liberties. He pointed out that there were several inaccuracies in the story as I had written it. Because of this attitude I didn't get very far with the searching cross-examination I had intended to give Samuelson concerning his past and the extent of his returning memories. Samuelson didn't seem to want to talk about it at all. He seemed to regret having told me as much as he had. However, Samuelson had a new rock carving that he was proud of. It was, he explained, in a lighter vein than the basic philosophy which had been carved on the Rock of Truth.
So we climbed up to a place near the top of Samuelson's hill, where a big granite boulder had been split neatly in two by action of the weather, and there Samuelson pointed out his latest rock carving.
GOD MADE MAN BUT HENRY FORD PUT WHEELS UNDER , EM. THO A MASTER OF THE GOLD N RULE HE MUST DIE TO BE APPRICIATED.
There were, Samuelson pointed out apologetically, a few little technical defects in his carving. He had, for instance, spelled "Henry" H-e-r-y, but he had discovered his mistake and had made a very small n in between the e and the r. He had forgotten to put an e in golden but had neatly rectified this oversight by putting in an apostrophe between the d and the n. Apparently it had never occurred to him that "appreciated" was not spelled a-p-p-r-i-c-i-a-t-e-d, and beyond question Samuelson was proud of his work. I assured him it was a fine sentiment and no one would ever notice the slight inaccuracies in spelling. This cheered Samuelson up enormously, and we parted good friends once more.
I went back to Quail Springs a couple of times within the next year, but both times Samuelson was away. His little canvas- roofed house was cold and silent. There was no smoke coming up from his chimney. In the meantime the camp wagon was valiantly exploring a vast empire of desert and giving me a whole new series of adventures. My fiction was beginning to sell and I was keeping my nose closer to the grindstone than ever before. I started writing stories about the Mexican border. It was during the era of prohibition and there were places on the border which were very tough indeed.
I started prowling around with my camp wagon until the border officials began to regard me with a jaundiced eye, wondering whether I was really gathering local color or engaged in some more sinister activity. Since I had exhausted the adventure and story possibilities around Quail Springs, I kept following these new leads in connection with border adventures and getting material on some of the famous lost mines of the desert. Meanwhile, house trailers had begun to be built. The house trailer had some decided disadvantages compared with the camp wagon, but it also had decided advantages. With the camp wagon a complete unit of transportation had to be tied up all of the time simply in order to make an occasional trip out into the open. Moreover, after I had made camp, if I wanted to move even just a mile or two, or wished to go to the post office and get mail, I had to pack up the whole camp wagon as though I were going to travel for two hundred miles, putting everything away, making certain that things wouldn't shake about.
With a trailer a man could use his automobile for running around. He could hook on to his trailer when he wanted to, could travel over the roads at much greater speed than with the camp wagon, could make camp, cut loose the car, and when it was necessary to run to town for provisions or mail, simply lock up the trailer, drive in and back without having to put everything away, and, so to speak, batten down the hatches. Moreover, when I wanted to return to the law business it wouldn't be necessary to drag the trailer all the way back. I could simply go to the nearest town, arrange to back the trailer in a garage for a month or so of dead storage, lock the door, cut loose the car and make time back to work. So while I still kept the camp wagon for the more rugged trips, I also purchased a trailer which I used far more often than I did the camp wagon. The camp wagon jolted and crashed around over the wash-boarded desert roads. The trailer rode more smoothly. However, in sand a trailer was pretty much out of the question, and I found myself sticking more and more to the better roads and not getting out into the "unexplored" sections of the desert. Nowadays, it is possible to set up a base of operations with a trailer and then explore with a jeep. In those days there were no Jeeps.
Then one night I was talking with a prospector who was the friend of a friend who was visiting me in my trailer. The trailer was of course, a lot bigger than the camp wagon and there was plenty of elbow room for the three of us to sit and chat. The prospector was commenting about some of his experiences and then shook his head sadly as he mentioned the time he went out with a man who started to die on him. Pressed for particulars he told about how this man had gone to sleep and simply failed to wake up. He had tried for two or three days to get the man awake but the fellow simply slipped down deeper and deeper into oblivion. The prospector, of course, thought his partner was dying. They were in a remote section of the desert country, far removed from any of the aids of civilization. They were also short of provisions. The prospector didn't know whether to take it for granted his partner was too far gone for help despite gentle, rhythmic breathing, or to wait there trying frantically and futilely to wake the man up. Eventually he had decided to stick it out. After another day or two he had managed to shake enough wakefulness into his partner to get a cup of coffee down him, and an hour or so later the partner woke up, but refused to discuss what had happened and seemed moody and morose as though reliving some dream which he had had while he was asleep. The prospector shook his head. He was certainly fed up with that kind of stuff. He got back to town and he and his partner split up their blankets right then. I waited until he had finished and it was apparent that no more was coming, then I said to him, "I wonder if I can't tell you two things about your experience." "What are they?" "One of them," I said, "was that it had rained the day your partner went to sleep. The other was that his name was John Samuelson." The fellow jumped as though I had jabbed him with a hot branding iron. "You win on one of them," he said. "The man's name was Samuelson, all right. I can't remember whether it had rained or not-what would that have to do with it?" "Nothing," I said. "I just know the guy, that's all."
A short time later, my writing work began to pay real dividends. I gradually eased out of the practice of law and started putting in full time on story writing. Magazines began to buy just about all of the fiction I could write. My quota was a novelette every third day. While I had severed my connection with the law business there was still a lot of work to be done in connection with winding up old cases. From time to time there were conferences.
I began to sell motion picture rights and started writing books. I began to have all sorts of business problems, a terrific volume of correspondence about motion picture rights, radio rights. My publisher wired for me to come East on an important conference, and just as I was taking off for New York I received a letter from John Samuelson. Samuelson was in jail. He was, he explained, charged with murder. He had an attorney who was representing him but he had to raise some money to pay the attorney, and he was willing to give me a bargain price on his mine up near Quail Springs. I didn't have time to inquire into the details. I hurriedly dictated a letter telling him that I was simply up to my ears in work. I fully intended to make a rush trip to New York and get back and look into Samuelson's case and see if there was anything I could do, but the New York trip took longer than I expected and by the time I got back I found such a stack of piled-up business that I didn't have time to bother about Samuelson.
Years passed. Then in connection with Dr. LeMoyne Snyder, the famous medicolegal expert; Raymond Schindler, the private detective; Alex Gregory, the polygraph man; Tom Smith, penologist, and Harry Steeger, President of Popular Publications, we began to investigate cases where men had been wrongfully convicted of serious crime, and were serving time in prison for something they hadn't done. In those days Argosy's now famous "Court of Last Resort" was in its inception, and one of the very first of the cases we investigated was that of a homicide out in the desert country near Quail Springs where a man had been convicted of manslaughter on circumstantial evidence. A preliminary survey indicated that the conviction had been unjust, and we spent some little time in making a complete investigation.
And so once more I found myself in the vicinity of Quail Springs. Old memories began tugging at my mind and I decided to see what had happened to Samuelson's unpretentious domicile. I found that there had been a great change in the country. Now it had been declared a national monument. Roads were graded and the road up to the entrance of the "monument" had been surfaced. Quail Springs still showed on the map, but the old road had been entirely eliminated and there were now a couple of modern desert houses in the vicinity of the old Quail Springs. I told Steeger about Samuelson and he became interested. We decided to look up the place where Samuelson had lived and to try and find out what had happened to him. Finding Samuelson's old living place was something of a job. There was no trace of the old road. All of the landmarks which I remembered had been in relation to that old road. I went to Quail Springs and tried to orient myself, and then started on a blind search, trying to investigate every hill which looked promising. The people out there had never heard of any John Samuelson. It seemed impossible to find anyone who knew anything about him.
Then finally we found what we were looking for, the hill where Samuelson had lived. I felt certain this was the hill all right, and walked around to the eastern face. Sure enough there was the Rock of Truth bearing its carved inscription, looking just as it had that first day I had seen it some twenty-three years earlier. We found the .washed-out remnants of the old road leading up to Samuelson's house. A few charred embers indicated where the house had once stood. That reminded us of a way of getting rid of people that is unfortunately too much in vogue in the wide-open spaces. You simply wait until a man has gone to town and then set fire to his house. When he comes back all his worldly possessions have been reduced to charred cinders. There is no place for him to stay. He has no shelter, no grub. He may be resentful. He may have an idea who started the fire. He may even try to retaliate, but the chances are that his rifle, if he had one, was burnt up in the fire, his ammunition is all gone, he has no blankets, no food, no cooking utensils. Had Samuelson been the victim of one of these "desert evictions?" It was a question which occurred to us because there would normally be such a minimum fire risk in a house of this nature. A stove could, of course, have furnished a spark, but that would have presupposed Samuelson was there at the time and a bucket of water could have extinguished any fire started by a spark.
The destruction had been so complete that it seemed the fire must have taken place in the absence of the owner. So we started prowling around, trying to find some indication of what had happened, and then we found that Samuelson had continued with his rock carving. Samuelson must have suffered during the depression, for his philosophy had started taking on lines of political thought. We found a brand-new rock that was carved:
WAKE UP YOU TAX AND BOND SLAVES. A POLITICAN IS A BIRD THAT GETS IN ON THE TAXPAYORS POKET BOOK FOR A FAT RAKE OF AND HIS FREE KEEPS. HE LEADS YOU BY THE NOOSE WITH ONE HAND WITH THE OTHER HE DIGS IN YOUR POCKET A FREIND OF THE BANKER AND BIG BUSINESS WHY.
Despite errors of spelling the nature of the carving indicated that Samuelson had been studying and had had some practice. It was also interesting to note that "pocket" was spelled p-o-k-e-t the first time and p-o-c-k-e-t the second time the word was used.
Another rock face had evidently been inspired by taxation and contained a message addressed to " Andy" Mellon.
ARE YOU THE FELLOW MR MELON THAT GRABED ALL OUR DOUGH, AINT YOU BETTER UP AND TELL US WHERE IN HELL DID IT GO
Then around on the west side of the mountain we stumbled on more evidence of Samuelson's cynical, depression-inspired outlook. In very neat carving the rock proclaimed:
THE MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS AINT GOT THICK CREAM ON IT FOR ALL OF us ASK HOOVER
I began to feel that the pinch of the depression had warped Samuelson's judgment and deprived the world of carved philosophies in favor of a political satire, but prowling around through the rocks on the hill we found one that evidently went back to the earlier era. There were two inscriptions on it. One of them was:
JUDGE BEN LINDSEY A MAN THAT UNDERSTANDS HUMANETY AND BIG ANOUGH TO LIVE IT
Underneath this inscription was another philosophical one:
STUDY NATURE OBEY THE LAWS OF IT YOU CAN T GO WRONG IT PAYES COMPOUND ENTEREST FOR LIFE AND NOT ONE PENNY ENVESTED?
The assurance of this statement was somewhat nullified by the fact that apparently at a later date Samuelson had placed a question mark after the carving. Quite possibly during the period of his political sarcasm and resentment he had even gone so far as to question some of his earlier philosophies.
Then, however, we found another rock which I like to think represents his final comment on the subject, because the nature of the carving indicates that it was one of the later works and it marks a return to his philosophy. It read:
MOTHER TIME NEITHER WEALTH LAWS NOR ARMIES CAN STOP THE HUMAN MIND FROM CREATING NEW OR EMPROVE UP ON THE PRESENT DAY RELIGION AND GOVERMENT WATER IS SOFT ONLEY HARD IN THE CHEMICALLS BUT WITH TIME THE OCEAN CAN GRIEND THE HARDEST GRANIT TO A POWDERED SAND SO WITH TIME WILL THE HUMAN RACE GRIEND OUT ITS OWN DESTINY’S REGARDLESS. OF THE OPPOSITION OR PARTY IN POWER
There may have been more carvings but we didn't find any in the brief time we had at our disposal for a search, so we scrambled back down off the hill, walked through the ankle~ deep sand to the place where we had left our car and returned once more to civilization, where I made a determined attempt to find out what had happened to John Samuelson.
Finally I stumbled on the trail by remembering that he had written me he was in jail, charged with murder. I started looking up the court records. The court clerk advised me that Samuelson had never been tried for murder, but it turned out on investigation that after his arrest, and prior to the trial, he had been adjudged insane and sent to California's State Hospital at Mendocino. I corresponded with the hospital, wondering if Samuelson was still there. It seems that Samuelson is not still there.
Samuelson was crazy enough to get himself committed as insane so that he wouldn't be tried for murder. He was smart enough to conform docilely to the routine of the institution until the guard over him was relaxed. Then one day he simply vanished into thin air. He hasn't been heard of since. If he should be discovered he would be returned to the institution unless it should appear that he had recovered his sanity in the meantime, in which event he would be tried for murder and quite possibly convicted and executed. Knowing Samuelson as I do, I feel that his native ingenuity enabled him to work out a means of "beating the rap" that was fully as effective as that which even the shrewdest lawyer could have thought out for him. Knowing the patient persistence of the man's mind I could well appreciate his quietly awaiting the best opportunity to escape and then simply vanishing so effectively that he has never been heard of from that day to this.
I wonder if perhaps somewhere around the Gold Coast of Africa a leather-faced prospector is not searching for a princess, who, years ago, when she was young and comely, was fed the Bread of Forgetfulness? I wonder if he has found her? Or I wonder if perhaps the entire story was the figment of an insane imagination? If so, it was a brand of insanity that many a writer would like to acquire. But if that is the case why did he go to sleep whenever the smell of damp vegetation brought back the jungle hypnosis? Was it perhaps that the shrewd witch doctor of the tribe used a special posthypnotic suggestion for which the Bread of Forgetfulness was merely the stage setting? Then this post-hypnotic suggestion had to do with the smell of damp vegetation-a formula which was certain to get Samuelson out of the jungle and keep him out of the jungle.
Perhaps, in his later years, life in the desert had broken the hypnotic spell and Samuelson decided to go back to search for the princess. And if we are going into the field of pure speculation, how about indulging in the fantasy that perhaps somewhere in Africa there is a happy couple enjoying the twilight of life-a grizzled desert prospector and a native princess.
Perhaps they have now shaken off the spell of the Bread of Foregtfulness and are living happily ever after.