Old Jim Lawless

[Note.—When the following sketch originally appeared, a young man in Boston inquired of a gentleman, who communicated the fact to me, if he had read, “Old Jim Lawless,” and asked what he thought of it. Upon the latter replying that he had and appreciated the sketch, his interrogator stared at him in blank astonishment for a moment and then said: “Why, you must be as crazy as Oakum—it is the biggest lie I ever read.” I doubt if there are many men in the country who will fail to see that my hero is a man of straw. I have merely given an actual episode or two in the life of a well-known “Rounder,” and then proceeded to burlesque a style of talk which almost every operator has had to listen to some time in his life. I make mention of this for fear that there may be one other man somewhere as obtuse as our Boston friend, who might accuse me of being conspicuously inexact. Sometimes, when telegraphy is the topic of conversation, I am flattered to hear some one preface his remarks with: “Now, this is no Jim Lawless business.” Again, I notice that there is a marked decrease in the sort of talk I have burlesqued, and, then, I feel that Jim Lawless has not lived in vain.]

Poor, old boy! the western pines wave over his grave now. He has been dead some time. I do not remember just what took him from us, but as he was “Jim” to everybody, and prone to go on “jams” in spite of all opposition, I have a suspicion that it was a combination of the two. He did not work at the business for several years prior to his decease; certain disturbances with telegraph managers and railroad superintendents had rendered him unpopular with employers, and he had officiated in a Cheyenne restaurant—with bar attached—up to within a short time previous to his death. But neither in this field of enterprise was he entirely successful. On the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy, an attempt, while train dispatcher, to pass two trains on the same track, had worked his ruin. Dropping into a beery slumber, which lasted until daybreak, while he was attending a button repeater at Corinne, had resulted in a similar disaster. His troubles with trains and repeaters ended, however, when he quitted the service, and he thought he had gravitated to his level in the “hash and jig water business,” as he facetiously termed it, and he confidently looked forward to less turbulent scenes and experiences. But one day the proprietor, who had just refitted the saloon in gorgeous shape, went to Omaha, and left Jim “chief in charge.” The next day several kegs of new ale arrived, and Jim was busy all day getting them in. In the evening his friends found him unusually genial and generous, and they unanimously responded in person to his cheery invitation to “Drinkwymeboys, whasserods.” In attempting to tap one of the new arrivals the bung flew out of the keg, and for a moment the air was fragrant with its contents. All that new paper, the mirror and its drapery of brocade and tassels, the pictures over the bar, and everything around wept tears of hops and malt. Jim gave the newly garnished room one sorrowful look, and it sobered him instantly. Then turning to his friends, he said: “Good-bye, boys, there goes another situation,” and, like the “Tall Alcalde”

“He strode him out of the abode door,
And ne’er was seen or heard of more,”

by Cheyenne eyes or ears, at least. There was a legend floating about Red Buttes in 1870, which assigned him to the position of a water drawer for the railroad at a station near there; I can not vouch for the truth of it, but certain it is he dropped out of telegraphing some years ago, and died engaged in some lowlier pursuit than ours.

But Jim Lawless was the biggest kind of a telegrapher. I’ve seen the whole of them work; know them all by heart, and there never was a man who snatched brass that could touch him. I’ll tell you what he did in Savannah, Ga. Old “Dad” Sullivan was in Charleston, and in those times “Dad” could average about eightythree words a minute. He got Jim the first night Lawless struck the town, and Jim had been around the block, and was so drunk the boys had to prop him up in his chair; but he sat there and took three hundred and eleven messages without a “break,” besides a short “special” for the Savannah News. Sullivan did his level best. And the copy Jim took! gilt-edged, copperplate; couldn’t be “rushed” out of it any how. And talk about copying behind! Why, that night when “Dad” said “N M—U’r no slouch.—G N.,” old man Jim was three social messages, a Government “cypher,” and the short “special” behind. The boys all stood around and watched him, and after he gave “O K” and signed, he went right on and copied out all that stuff he had laid back there in his head. Jim used to take “State Press” at Albany a long time ago, when they sent it abbreviated—E for “of the,” “tt” for “that,” “ts” for “this,” etc. Most of the men took it by registers, but Jim just took it by sound, and wrote it out in full. The editors never saw

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