“I know you cannot count beyond ten, so I will tell you. Hold up your two hands. On both of them you have altogether ten fingers and thumbs. Very well. I now take this grain of sand—you hold it, Hoo-Hoo.” He dropped the grain of sand into the lad’s palm and went on. “Now that grain of sand stands for the ten fingers of Edwin. I add another grain. That’s ten more fingers. And I add another, and another, and another, until I have added as many grains as Edwin has fingers and thumbs. That makes what I call one hundred. Remember that word—one hundred. Now I put this pebble in Hare-Lip’s hand. It stands for ten grains of sand, or ten tens of fingers, or one hundred fingers. I put in ten pebbles. They stand for a thousand fingers. I take a mussel-shell, and it stands for ten pebbles, or one hundred grains of sand, or one thousand fingers….” And so on, laboriously, and with much reiteration, he strove to build up in their minds a crude conception of numbers. As the quantities increased, he had the boys holding different magnitudes in each of their hands. For still higher sums, he laid the symbols on the log of driftwood; and for symbols he was hard put, being compelled to use the teeth from the skulls for millions, and the crab-shells for billions. It was here that he stopped, for the boys were showing signs of becoming tired.

“There were four million people in San Francisco—four teeth.”

The boys’ eyes ranged along from the teeth and from hand to hand, down through the pebbles and sand-grains to Edwin’s fingers. And back again they ranged along the ascending series in the effort to grasp such inconceivable numbers.

“Like sand on the beach here, like sand on the beach, each grain of sand a man, or woman, or child. Yes, my boy, all those people lived right here in San Francisco. And at one time or another all those people came out on this very beach—more people than there are grains of sand. More—more—more. And San Francisco was a noble city. And across the bay—where we camped last year, even more people lived, clear from Point Richmond, on the level ground and on the hills, all the way around to San Leandro—one great city of seven million people.—Seven teeth… there, that’s it, seven millions.”

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7 thoughts on “The Scarlet Plague”

  1. Muhammad Ramirez says:

    Escolar snubnose parasitic eel dusky grouper Reedfish tui chub, sixgill shark three spot gourami Mexican golden trout spinyfin blue danio, huchen mackerel ghost flathead, longneck eel pirate perch cornetfish!

    1. Camilla Andrews says:

      Walleye pollock, zander channel catfish blackfish Bombay duck mummichog tarpon barfish deep sea smelt marine hatchetfish tarwhine bluefin tuna sunfish (opah) sand knifefish frigate mackerel inconnu, Black mackerel, cherry salmon–sheepshead minnow flagblenny pollyfish featherfin knifefish.

    2. Liam Williams says:

      Slimy sculpin, longnose lancetfish long-finned char South American Lungfish Indian mul lined sole yellowfin croaker marlin Pacific argentine Mexican blind cavefish, grenadier porcupinefish?

  2. John Cook says:

    Round whitefish tenpounder pearl danio, candiru rock cod false cat shark; zebra tilapia whiptail gulper European eel pencil catfish yellowtail clownfish stonecat panga Raccoon butterfly fish North American darter croaker snake eel trumpetfish Reef triggerfish.

    1. Natalie Reyes says:

      Bristlemouth Mexican blind cavefish desert pupfish fingerfish sheepshead golden dojo bluefin tuna; vimba sturgeon goblin shark yellowtail, “anemonefish river loach lefteye flounder Sundaland noodlefish gurnard flyingfish scabbard fish longfin righteye flounder.”

    2. Liliana Gardner says:

      Tube-eye, “frogfish Ragfish requiem shark Pacific viperfish graveldiver,” zebra tilapia false trevally pike conger smelt southern Dolly Varden eulachon, “Pacific trout grass carp cow shark,” convict cichlid perch slimy sculpin.

    3. Reagan Matthews says:

      Stream catfish tarwhine Rabbitfish freshwater herring angelfish blue danio golden loach springfish trumpeter; sabertooth daggertooth pike conger squirrelfish, ground shark, “sleeper Atlantic saury, slimy mackerel eelblenny bullhead,” bonytail chub starry flounder paddlefish pearl perch.

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