by Bill Nye
Public Domain Books
My name is Kaulbach. William J. Kaulbach is my name, and I am spending the summer in Canada. I may remain here during the winter, also. My parents are very poor. They had never been wealthy, and at the time of my birth they were even less wealthy than they had been before. As soon as I was born the poverty of my parents attracted my attention. I decided at once to relieve their distress. I intended to aid them from my own pocket, but found upon examination that I had no funds in my pocket; also, no pocket; also, no place to put a pocket if I had brought one with me. So my parents continued to be poor, and to put by a little poverty for a rainy day. I was sole heir to the poverty they had acquired in all these years.
Nature did not do much for me in the way of beauty, either. I was quite plain when born and may still be identified by that peculiarity. Plainess with me is not only a characteristic, but it is a passion. My whole being is wrapped up in it. My hair is a sort of neutral brindle, such as grows upon the top of a retired hair trunk, and my freckles are olive green, fading into a delicate, crushed-bran color. They are very large, and actually pain me at times.
My teacher tried to encourage me by telling me of other poor boys who had grown up to be president of the United States, and he tried to get me to consent to having my name used as a candidate; but I refrained from doing so. I knew that, although I was deserving of the place, I could not endure the bitterness of a campaign, and that the illustrated papers would enlarge upon my personal appearance and bring out my freckles till you could hang your hat on them.
So I grew up to be a stage robber.
When I have my mask on my freckles do not show. I lectured on phrenology at first to get means to prosecute my studies as a stage robber, and when I had perfected myself as a burglar I went abroad to study the methods of the Italian banditti. I was two years under the teaching of the old masters, and acquired great fluency as a robber while there. I studied from nature all the time, and some of my best work was taken from life. I had an opportunity to observe all the methods of the most celebrated garroting maestro and stilletto virtuoso. He was an enthusiast and thoroughly devoted to his art. He had a large price on his head, also. Aside from that he went bareheaded winter and summer.
Finally I returned to my own native land, poor, but fired with a mighty ambition. I went west and proceeded at once to debut. I went west to hold up the country. I was very successful, indeed, and have had my hands in the pockets of our most eminent men.
We were isolated from society a good deal, but we met the better class of people now and then in the course of our business. I did not like so much night work, and sometimes we had to eat raw pork because we did not wish to build a fire that would attract mosquitoes and sheriffs. So we were liable more or less to trichina and insomnia, but still we were free from sewer gas and poll tax. We did not get our mail with much regularity, but we got a lick at some mighty fine scenery.
But all this is only incidental. What I desired to say was this: Fame and distinction come high, and when we have them in our grasp at last we find that they bring their resultant sorrows. I worked long and hard for fame, and sat up nights and rode through alkali dust for thousands of miles, that I might be known as the leading robber of the age in which I lived, only to find at last that my great fame was the source of my chief annoyance. It made me so widely known that I felt, as Christine Nilsson says, “as though I lived in a glass case.” Everyone wanted to see me. Everyone wanted my autograph. Everyone wanted my skeleton to hang up in the library.
I could have traveled with a show and drawn a large salary, but I hated to wear a boiler iron overcoat all through the hot weather, after having lived so wild and free. But all this attention worried me so that I could not sleep, and many a night I would arise from the lava bed on which I had reclined, and putting on my dressing-gown and slippers, I would wander about under the stars and wish that I could be an unknown boy again in my far away home. But I could not. I often wished that I could die a natural death, but that was out of the question.
Finally, it got so that I did not dare to take a chew of tobacco, unless I did so under an assumed name. I hardly dared to let go of my six-shooter long enough to wipe my nose, for fear that someone might get the drop on me.
That is the reason why I came to Canada. Here among so many criminals, I do not attract attention, but I use a nom de plume all the time, even here, and all these hot nights, while others take off their clothing, I lie and swelter in my heavy winter nom de plume.