On this day of practical jokes and amusing oneself at the expense of others, a true local historical account gives any would-be jokester, schemer or deceiver cause to pause for some wise reconsideration. This cautionary tale is a story of a karmic twist of fate found in an 1880s Napa Register article.
The Register began this story with a provocative headline: “‘Sit Down!’—An Hour of Terror—The Escape.”
It continued, “A young man of this city who rejoices in the possession of a portly figure, met another young man from St. Helena on Thursday night who had imbibed more strongly than he should of that which doth intoxicate.”
Realizing his unfair advantage, the Napan began to scheme. The Register reported, “The before mentioned young man resolved to have some sport with the St. Helenaite. In accordance with this resolution he cultivated the acquaintance of the St. Helenaite and invited him to have a social game of cards in a well-known ‘resort.’ The invitation was accepted and from playing for drinks they went to putting up small amounts until the stranger’s whole wad, four to five dollars, reposed in the pockets of the Napa y.m.”
Being pleased with himself and his scheme’s outcome, the Napan decided to get out while he was ahead. But his gloating soon met with the harshness of reality. “Then came something which was wholly unlooked for on the part of the winner, who remarked, ‘Well, I guess I will be going.’ And, suiting the action to the words, he arose from his chair.
“The command, ‘Sit Down!’ came in stern accents from the resident of the upper valley while also placing his hand on his pistol pocket.
“The command was obeyed and the Napaite dropped into his chair, pale and trembling. Perfect silence reigned for a few minutes.”
After the initial shock that his brilliant scheme had gone awry, the Napa concocted yet another plan. The newspaper added, “The scared y.m. resolved to put on a bold front and got out as if nothing had happened. But, again, came the command in sterner tones than before and accompanied by another reach for the ‘gun.’ Worse frightened than before our hero sank in a subdued heap in a chair. There he sat until the small and slim aggressor arose and went from the cardroom into the liquor dispensary.”
Seizing that opportunity, “the muchly terrorized young man made a break for the door. Just as he reached it he heard the order, ‘Come back!’ But he answered only by fleeing into the darkness...”
After his frantic departure, the cardroom and bar were filled with a momentary silence followed by thunderous laughter. The Register elaborated, “The mixalogist, who viewed the whole affair and knew the St. Helena terror had no weapon, laughed until he had to lean against the wall for support.”
Meanwhile, although confident he was safe, the Napan worried his sudden flight would haunt him. So, once again, he devised a scheme to protect his dignity, reputation and manliness. This involved his returning to the scene, the St. Helena “resort.” However, there was a major wrinkle in his scheme”
“The climax was reached the next morning,” The Register reported. “It began when the upholder of Napa’s laurels went into the same place and remarked to the bartender, ‘That young fellow from St. Helena appeared to be on the fight last night. I left because I knew if I stayed I would have had to kill him.’” With that said, the Napan left feeling confident that his feeble fabrication had worked and his reputation was now safe and intact.
But he was wrong which he soon became painfully aware. Apparently, the details of his and his would-be victim’s actions had already circulated throughout the valley.
The Register continued, “Now even the small boys on the street yell ‘Sit Down!’ as he passes by and his life is made a burden by the constant invitations to ‘sit down’ that are heard on all sides. The Napa young man who resolved to have some sport with the inebriated young St. Helenaite now wishes he had not!”
Happy April Fool’s Day!