May 18th, 1867.
THE NUISANCE OF ADVICE
"RIP goes another shirt!"
"Buy your clothes in Paris! buy your clothes in Paris! Blame my cats, the next man that tells me to buy my clothes in Paris, I'll break him in two! I've been trying to hold on and buy 'em in Paris, just as all these thieves tell me, but that Quaker City ain't ever going to sail, I don't believe, and by the time she does I won't have nary rag left "
"Brown, calm yourself-your grammar is infamous."
"Don't talk to me about grammar! I'm fit to cuss or cry, or anything that comes handy now. I was going to get a pair of boots built two weeks ago, and that snivelling Baxter said hold on and buy 'em in Paris - cheaper and better every way - and I've held on till these boots are letting go everywheres, and it rains here every four hours, and I fetch home a bucket of water in 'em every night, and socks can't stand it, and they get caked to my feet, and the bottoms pull out every night, and I wish I may die if I haven't wore out a hundred and fifty pair in - "
"Be reasonable, son."
"I know what I've done. I ain't got but just one sock left, and the bottom of that'll fetch away when I pull that star board boot off; and don't you see that old corn hanging out at that hole in the port boot? Buy your clothes in Paris! I've hung on, and hung on, and hung on, till my coats are all gone to seed, and my pants are all frizzled out at the bottoms, and my boots are busted all out, and my hat is a perfect outrageous old ruin - it is, by George it looks like the picture of that there ratty old ancient Colosseum at Rome all sick, and sorrowful, and rusty, and battered up, and gone in generally. Confound the confounded ."
"Brown, Brown, go slow, lad."
"Buy your clothes in Paris! There's my last solitary shirt come back from the wash with all the after guard clean gone, flush to the waist! and there used to be a thousand buttons on that shirt, and now there ain't nary one of 'em left! I wisht I had a chance to eat a washerwoman once, I do. I'd clean her up so good that they couldn't any more identify her at the resurrection than ."
"Brown, you can't think how it pains me to hear you talk so."
"I don't care - I don't care for nothing, the way I am now. I want to make trouble. I want to do something that's outrageous. I want to set a house a-fire - I want to start a riot - I want to commit a nuisance anything that will make Rome howl is what I'm fixed for at this present writing. Buy your clothes in Paris! All the scoundrels I know have told me that, and now I ain't got any more clothes than they wear in the 'Black Crook,' and I'm a living shame and a degraded lunatic. That's me. Here, you, black them boots, and black the holes in 'em particular."
I am glad he has gone to see that the fellow blacks the holes in his boots "particular," because I can have some peace now. But between you and I, this thing of swallowing everybody's advice has got one or two drawbacks about it. I have been holding on, myself, to buy my clothes in Paris, and I have held on so faithfully that I havn't got a rag of every-day clothing left that is fit to wear in the public street, hardly - and yet the ship will not sail for three weeks yet. And when we get to Paris, suppose they tell us to buy our clothes in Constantinople - how shall we feel then?
The advice we have received from travelled people would fill a volume. We must buy veils for Egypt, saddles for Palestine, field-glasses for landscapes, books for the ship - Oh, a thousand and one things we must do, when I wouldn't give a cent for any thing but a Shakespeare, and a deck of cards, and a couple of shirts. Perdition take the advice - I will none of it.
THE EXCISE LAW
You are aware that in New York, after twelve at night, on week days, you cannot buy a glass of wine or liquor for love or money, and you cannot buy it on Sunday at any time. It is a great thing for the morals of New York, but it is demoralizing to the vicinage. It inflicts twenty thousand beer-swillers upon Hoboken every Sabbath. You remember the pious girl who said, "I found that my ribbons and gew-gaws were dragging me down to hell, and so I took them off and gave them to my sister." Well that is the way we are doing for Hoboken. We found that beer drinkers were debauching our morals, and so we concluded to turn them over to our neighbor. The ferry-boats go over packed and crammed with people all day Sunday, and the beer and such stuff drank in Hoboken on these occasions amounts to oceans, to speak liberally. They say that they are going to inaugurate an excise law over there, next Sunday, and then what will thirsty New York do?
Well, it suits me. The excise has made a sort of decent, orderly place out of this once rowdy, noisy, immoral town. You don't hear ribald songs in beer cellars at dead of night now. You don't hear lawless roughs prowling and howling through the streets at midnight any more. You don't hear shouts, and curses, and blows, and the watchman's shrill whistle and the clatter of flying feet under the sorrowing moon in these better times that are upon us. At one o'clock in the morning you may walk fifty blocks, sometimes, and not see fifty persons other than police men - and such citizens as you do see will be orderly, and quiet and proper. It used to be very different here.
Some of the people growl bitterly because the country governs the city through the Legislature, but I cannot see but that the country does it much more wisely than ever the city would. New York, in some respects, is a big, overgrown, rascally place; but it improves - it improves all the time.
Why, they had an election here a week or two ago, and kept the gin-mills closed all day, and I never heard of three fights in the twelve hours, and never a sign of a riot. How does that sound, for a village with a round million of inhabitants?
THE TRAVELLERS' CLUB
That is a human institution. Its President is a Californian, and its members hail from more places than there are on the Atlas. They have kindly complimented me with the privileges of the place for a month, and I went up the other night at ten and spent a very pleasant evening till two or three o'clock in the morning.
Of course I met pleasant people, because nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people. An Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotchman, an Italian or so, several Frenchmen and a number of Americans were present, and you couldn't ask a question about any possible country under the sun, but some fellow in the crowd had been there and could give the information from personal experience. The Club occupies a worshipful five-story brownstone front on ineffable Fifth Avenue, far up town in the midst of the odor of sanctity that prevails in that thoroughfare, which is so peculiarly sacred to greenbacks and fashion. The drawing-rooms are luxuriously furnished and decorated, and the premises are supplied with a library, reading-rooms, billiard tables, supper saloons, and a couple of elegant grand pianos. Of course there is a sufficiency of wines and liquors there, and within those charmed walls the unholy excise intrudeth not.
They said they were going to send me a formal invitation to make a speech before the Club, as Du Chaillu did, and I said I would be glad to accept it, but I did not know then that they go and invite a whole raft of ladies to be present on such occasions, to look at a poor victim and make him lose his grip, and so I hope they will forget to send the invitation, now.
You ought to start a Travellers' Club in San Francisco. You have got an abundance of material, and that sort of an organization is much pleasanter than political one-idea affairs, such as clubs generally are.
THE BROADWAY BRIDGE
The iron bridge over Broadway and Fulton streets is finished at last, and the people troop over it in crowds now, while it is a novelty. It is really only a necessity in the slushy, snowy winter time, but must be a great convenience at any and all times. There is never a season in daylight when it is not a troublesome job to ferry yourself across Broadway or Fulton street, at that point, through the swarming vehicles.
Somehow, the young ladies haven't taken kindly to it, yet but I suppose they will after a while. But the men and boys and old women hang around it, and tramp over it, and loiter on it to gaze up Broadway, and so it does a very respectable amount of business. Curiosity runs high here. I saw a washerwoman coming along with three or four hundred pounds on her back to-day, and eyeing the bridge with great interest, and I said, principally to myself, I wonder if that old scalliwag really meditates lugging that clothing-store up that tiresome stairway now, when the street below is comparatively free from vehicles? And she not only meditated it, but did it! She tugged, and sweated, and climbed, till she reached the top, cast a critical eye up Broadway, went down on the other side, toiled up again, crossed over to her original point of departure, and went off about her business. There is a great deal of human nature in people.
I have not been by that bridge for a month without yearning to cross it. I have abused the tardy workmen in my heart for keeping this pleasure from me. I have fairly ached to cross it, and have thought I would give anything in reason or out of reason for the privilege, but the entrances were pitilessly closed, and I had to move on and sigh and suffer in silence. But to-day all obstructions were gone and no soul was there to forbid me. I was free to cross as often as I wanted to. But I didn't want to. As soon as the obstructions were gone the desire went also. Verily, there is a large amount of human nature in people.
Crowds stand around all day long and criticise that bridge, and find fault with it, and tell with unlimited frankness how it ought to have been planned, and how they would have built it had the city granted them the $14,000 it cost. It is really refreshing to hang around these and listen to them. A foreigner would come to the conclusion that all America was composed of inspired professional bridge builders.
I have tried to be odd, and refrain from criticism, but it isn't human nature and I cannot do it. I am bound to say it was absurd to paint such portions of the structure as were untouchable a good substantial brown, and paint the hand-rails white, when anybody might know that any inky printer's devil, with a spark of proper human nature in him, would go four blocks out of the way just for the luxury of defiling those stainless railings with his dingy hands. Why, the things are all black as a hat already. And I could not forbear criticising the absurdity of putting four grand costly lamps on the corners of the bridge, when everybody knows that that locality is the most desolate and deserted in New York after nightfall, and that no soul will ever have need of either bridge or lamps between the setting and the rising of the sun, from now till doomsday. I have nothing to say against the shape and general style of the bridge, though. Both are good, I think, both are ornamental, and certainly both are in every way satisfactory to me.
IN THE STATION HOUSE
I have been in the Station House. I staid there all night. I don't mind mentioning it, because anybody can get into the Station House here without committing an offence of any kind. And so he can anywhere that policemen are allowed to cumber the earth. I complimented this police force in a letter some time ago, and felt like a guilty, degraded wretch when I was doing it, and now I am glad I got into the Station House, because it will teach me never to so far forget all moral principle as to compliment a police force again.
I was on my way home with a friend a week ago - it was about midnight - when we came upon two men who were fighting. We interfered like a couple of idiots, and tried to separate them, and a brace of policemen came up and took us all off to the Station House. We offered the officers two or three prices to let us go, (policemen generally charge $5 in assault and battery cases, and $25 for murder in the first degree, I believe,) but there were too many witnesses present, and they actually refused.
They put us in separate cells, and I enjoyed the thing considerably for an hour or so, looking through the bars at the dilapidated old hags, and battered and ragged bummers, sorrowing and swearing in the stone-paved halls, but it got rather tiresome after a while. I fell asleep on my stone bench at 3 o'clock, and was called at dawn and marched to the Police Court with a vile policeman at each elbow, just as if I had been robbing a church, or saying a complimentary word about the police, or doing some other supernaturally mean thing.
We sat on wooden benches in a lock-up partitioned off from the Court Room, for four hours, awaiting judgment -not awaiting trial, because they don't try people there, but only just take a percentage of their cash, and let them go without further ceremony. We were a pretty cheerful crowd, but a rather haggard and sleepy one. Three first-rate young fellows, and well dressed, were in the lot - one a clerk, one a college student, and one an Indiana merchant. Two had been soldiers on the Union side, and one on the other, and all had battled at Antietam together. The merchant was arrested for being drunk, and the other two for assault and battery. An old seedy, scarred, bloated and bleeding bummer was present, who had been kicked out of a gin mill by the barkeeper, he said, and got arrested for it. He said he had been in the Station House a good many times before. I said: "What will they do with you?"
"Ten days, likely," (with a jerk of his thumb over his shoulder, and an expressive shrug). A negro man was there, with his head badly battered and bleeding profusely. He had nothing to say.
A bloated old hag sat in the corner, with a wholesome black eye, a drunken leer in the sound one, and nothing in the world on but a dingy calico dress, a shocking shawl, and a pair of slippers that had seen better days, but long enough ago to have forgotten them. I thought I might as well prospect my company thoroughly while time dragged along, and so I went over and started a conversation with her. She was very communicative; said she lived in the Five Points, and must have been particularly drunk to have wandered so far from home; said she used to have a husband, but he had drifted off somewhere, and so she had taken up with another man; she had had a child, also - a little boy - but it took all her time to get drunk, and keep drunk, and so he starved, one winter's night - or froze, she didn't know which - both, may be, because it snowed in "horrible" through the roof, and he hadn't any bedclothes but a window-shutter. "But it was a d----d good thing for him, anyway," said she, "because he'd have had a miserable rough time of it if he'd a lived"; and then she chuckled a little, and asked me for a chew of tobacco and a cigar. I gave her a cigar and borrowed the tobacco for her, and then she winked a wink of wonderful mystery and drew a flask of gin from under her shawl, and said the police thought they were awful smart when they searched her, but she wasn't born last week. I didn't drink with her, notwithstanding she invited me. She said she was good for ten days, but she guessed she could stand it, because if she had as many dollars as she had been in limbo she could buy a gin-mill.
Two flash girls of sixteen and seventeen were of our little party, and they said they had been arrested for stopping gentlemen in the street in pursuance of their profession, but averred that the charge was false, and that the gentlemen had made the first advances; and then they cried - not because they felt ashamed of having been locked up in a Station House, but because they would have to suffer in jail for several days, in company a little rougher than they were used to. I felt sorry for those two poor girls, and thought it was a pity that the merciful snow had not frozen them into a peaceful rest and forgetfulness of life and its weary troubles, too.
Towards 8 o'clock fresh jail birds began to arrive, and my three young gentlemen grew cheerful, and sang out to each new comer, "Another delegate! Your credentials, if you please, sir. The clerk will enter the gentleman's name on the records and make honorable mention of it - assault and battery, sir? - or disorderly?-= - theft? arson? highway robbery? - ah, drunk, is it? - set him down drunk, but pertinent. Room, gentlemen and ladies, room for the honorable delegate from the purlieus of the Five Points!"
And so we chaffed the cheerful hours away. At last I be held a hand-writing on the wall that made me start! I felt as if an accusing spirit had been raised up to mock me. The legend read (how familiar it was!) "THE TROUBLE WILL BEGIN AT EIGHT o'clock!"' How well I remembered inventing that sentence in the Morning Call office when I was writing the advertisement for my first lecture in San Francisco - and behold how little did I think then that I should live to see it inscribed upon the walls of a prison-house, many and many a hundred miles away! I smiled at the conceit when I first wrote it, but when I thought how sad hearted and how full of dreams of a happier time the poor fellow might have been who scribbled it here, there was a touching pathos about it that I had never suspected it possessed before. I am not writing a fancy sketch, now, but simply jotting down things just as they occurred in that villainous receptacle for rascals and unfortunates down town yonder.
At 9 o'clock we went out, one by one, under guard, and stood up before the Judge. I consulted with him about the practicability of contesting my case on the ground of unjust imprisonment, but he said it would be troublesome, and not worth the bother, inasmuch as nobody would ever know I had been in the Station House unless I told it myself, and then he let me go. I staid by and watched them dispense justice a while observed that in all small offences the policeman's charge on the books was received as entirely sufficient, and sentence passed without a question being asked of either accused or witnesses - and then departed, glad I had been in the Station House, because I knew all about it now from personal experience, but not anxious to pursue my investigations any further in that line.
I am to visit two more of the great churches next Sunday, in company with a California preacher, and Monday night I am to go through the hardest and vilest underground dens and hot-beds of crime round about the Five Points, with two detective policemen. I may chance to stumble upon some of my late fellow-lodgers there, possibly. It is well. They were pretty good sort of people, anyhow, though a little under the weather as to respectability. But even the worst in the lot freely offered to divide her gin with me. It isn't everybody without a cent that would do so much.
Return to Alta index