"THE BUBBLE REPUTATION"
HOW ANOTHER MAN'S WAS SOUGHT AND PRICKED
by Ambrose Bierce
It was a stormy night in the autumn of 1930. The hour
was about eleven. San Francisco lay in darkness, for
the laborers at the gas works had struck and destroyed
the company's property because a newspaper to which a
cousin of the manager was a subscriber had censured
the course of a potato merchant related by marriage to
a member of the Knights of Leisure. Electric lights
had not at that period been reinvented. The sky was
filled with great masses of black cloud which, driven
rapidly across the star-fields by winds unfelt on the
earth and momentarily altering their fantastic forms,
seemed instinct with a life and activity of their own
and endowed with awful powers of evil, to the exercise
of which they might at any time set their malignant
An observer standing, at this time, at the corner of
Paradise avenue and Great White Throne walk in Sorrel
Hill cemetery would have seen a human figure moving
among the graves toward the Superintendent's residence.
Dimly and fitfully visible in the intervals of thinner
gloom, this figure had a most uncanny and disquieting
aspect. A long black cloak shrouded it from neck to
heel. Upon its head was a slouch hat, pulled down
across the forehead and almost concealing the face,
which was further hidden by a half-mask, only the
beard being occasionally visible as the head was
lifted partly above the collar of the cloak. The man
wore upon his feet jack-boots whose wide, funnel-shaped
legs had settled down in many a fold and crease about
his ankles, as could be seen whenever accident parted
the bottom of the cloak. His arms were concealed, but
sometimes he stretched out the right to steady himself
by a headstone as he crept stealthily but blindly over
the uneven ground. At such times a close scrutiny of
the hand would have disclosed in the palm the hilt of
a poniard, the blade of which lay along the wrist,
hidden in the sleeve. In short, the man's garb, his
movements, the hour--everything proclaimed him a
But what did he there?
On the morning of that day the editor of the Daily
Malefactor had touched the button of a bell numbered
216 and in response to the summons Mr. Longbo Spittleworth,
reporter, had been shot into the room out of an
"I understand," said the editor, "that you are 216--am
"That," said the reporter, catching his breath and
adjusting his clothing, both somewhat disordered by
the celerity of his flight through the tube,--"that
is my number."
"Information has reached us," continued the editor,
"that the Superintendent of the Sorrel Hill cemetery--one
Inhumio, whose very name suggests inhumanity--is
guilty of the grossest outrages in the administration
of the great trust confided to his hands by the sovereign
"The cemetery is private property," faintly suggested
"It is alleged," continued the great man, disdaining
to notice the interruption, "that in violation of popular
rights he refuses to permit his accounts to be inspected
by representatives of the press."
"Under the law, you know, he is responsible to the
directors of the cemetery company," the reporter
ventured to interject.
"They say," pursued the editor, heedless, "that the
inmates are in many cases badly lodged and insufficiently
clad, and that in consequence they are usually cold.
It is asserted that they are never fed--except to the
worms. Statements have been made to the effect that
males and females are permitted to occupy the same
quarters, to the incalculable detriment of public
morality. Many clandestine villainies are alleged of
this fiend in human shape, and it is desirable that
his underground methods be unearthed in the Malefactor.
If he resists we will drag his family skeleton from
the privacy of his domestic closet. There is money in
it for the paper, fame for you--are you ambitious, 216?"
"Go, then," cried the editor, rising and waving his
hand imperiously--"go and 'seek the bubble reputation'."
"The bubble shall be sought," the young man replied,
and leaping into a man-hole in the floor, disappeared.
A moment later the editor, who after dismissing his
subordinate, had stood motionless, as if lost in
thought, sprang suddenly to the man-hole and shouted
down it: "Hello, 216?"
"Aye, aye, sir," came up a faint and far reply.
"About that 'bubble reputation'--you understand, I
suppose, that the reputation which you are to seek
is that of the other man."
In the execution of his duty, in the hope of his
employer's approval, in the costume of his profession,
Mr. Longbo Spittleworth, otherwise known as 216, has
already occupied a place in the mind's eye of the
intelligent reader. Alas for poor Mr. Inhumio!
A few days after these events that fearless, independent
and enterprising guardian and guide of the public, the
San Francisco Daily Malefactor, contained a
whole-page article whose headlines are here presented
with some necessary typographical mitigation:
"Hell Upon Earth! Corruption Rampant in the Management
of the Sorrel Hill Cemetery. The Sacred City of the
Dead in the Leprous Clutches of a Demon in Human Form.
Fiendish Atrocities Committed in 'God's Acre.' The
Holy Dead Thrown around Loose. Fragments of Mothers.
Segregation of a Beautiful Young Lady Who in Life Was
the Light of a Happy Household. A Superintendent Who
Is an Ex-Convict. How He Murdered His Neighbor to
Start the Cemetery. He Buries His Own Dead Elsewhere.
Extraordinary Insolence to a Representative of the
Public Press. Little Eliza's Last Words: 'Mamma, Feed
Me to the Pigs.' A Moonshiner Who Runs an Illicit
Bone-Button Factory in One Corner of the Grounds.
Buried Head Downward. Revolting Mausoleistic Orgies.
Dancing on the Dead. Devilish Mutilation--a Pile of
Late Lamented Noses and Sainted Ears. No Separation
of the Sexes; Petitions for Chaperons Unheeded. 'Veal'
as Supplied to the Superintendent's Employees. A
Miscreant's Record from His Birth. Disgusting
Subserviency of Our Contemporaries and Strong
Indications of Collusion. Nameless Abnormalities.
'Doubled Up Like a Nut-Cracker.' 'Wasn't Planted
White.' Horribly Significant Reduction in the Price
of Lard. The Question of the Hour: Whom Do You Fry
Your Doughnuts In?"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~