Cap. De Costa

Those who read a previous paper in this volume entitled “Posie Van Dusen,” may remember that a gentleman bearing the name of Cap. De Costa was incidentally introduced. Less attention was devoted to him than to the others, because he had never performed any of the marvellous feats which so redounded to the glory of Jim Lawless, nor had he ever won distinction in the peculiar respects in which it is vouchsafed that none but McCloskys shall achieve victory and renown; and yet De Costa was an original in his way—a genuine ingot in the mine of humanity. It was his misfortune, however, in common with most of his class, that the retention of lucrative situations is not compatible with a free indulgence in wine and wassail. And thus it came to pass, in the year of our Lord 1860, that Mr. De Costa had been so regularly and persistently dismissed from the service of the American Company, in New York, as to render it somewhat difficult to persuade managers that he deserved a situation.

From August, 1860, until June, 1862, very little is known of the gentleman’s history or his whereabouts. Vague rumors are still whispered concerning his operations during the period mentioned, but the theories of his disappearance are so diverse in their nature that unless Mr. De Costa possessed the unusual boon of ubiquity he could scarcely have filled the bill. One story runs that he passed the interval in driving a mule team on some route having Sante Fé for its remoter terminus; another says he was engaged in New Jersey, where he flourished a shepherd’s staff and looked after a flock as pastoral in their seeming, no doubt, as the average arrivals from the West, as seen at Communipaw; while still another informant holds that, at intervals during the entire period, telegraphers seeking relaxation in a game of billiards at the National, saw sometimes hovering in a dark corner a face mysteriously familiar, though changed and shy of notice, and others dropping in at Branch’s after “30” for a lunch or some liquid comfort, noticed that a figure, which, according to Mike’s testimony had been “hanging over that chair and baking himself all night in a comatose sthate,” always came quickly to an upright posture and disclosed that it possessed legs and the faculty of locomotion, by speedily gliding up the steep stairs, and disappearing down Ann Street as if propelled by shame and humiliation.

But these distracting theories of De Costa’s whereabouts do not alter the circumstance that on the 8th of July, 1862, he appeared in a terribly demoralized condition at the office of a western superintendent, between whom and himself a dialogue, something as given below, is said to have taken place:

“I hear operators is skurce” said De Costa, with the skill of a diplomat. “Good many gone to the war and more going d—n soon; I’m an operator, old man, and, look here—I want a job.”

“Indeed!” returned the gentleman, “but your manner, sir, is hardly what is due to men in my position, and you seem to have been drinking. I really fear we have no vacan—”

“Oh, that’s played!” broke in the Captain. “I’ve been here before; I’m sorry if I haven’t been respectful, but, d—n it, man, you don’t seem to understand that good operators are skurce.” And, as if in atonement for anything unfriendly in his manner, he squirted a stream of tobacco juice in very inconvenient proximity to the official boot, and fell to whistling “Auld Lang Syne.”

What he said was true; the demand for operators was threatening to exceed the supply; circulars calling for “sound operators,” to go into the army were freely distributed, and telegraphic officials were well aware that the facilities for handling the wonderfully increasing business were likely to be crippled from a lack of operators. But the superintendent did not fancy the manner of the applicant and he prepared to annihilate him.

“No,” he began, “old acquaintance should not be forgot, and with the record which you have, Mr. De Costa, the company is not likely to let your fame pass from memory; but we really don’t need you. We only want a few operators just now, and it is essential that those should be absolutely first class—men capable of sending a message with one hand and receiving one with the other—who can work two wires at once, so that—”

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