by Rudyard Kipling
In an issue of the London World in April, 1890, there appeared the following paragraph: "Two small rooms connected by a tiny hall afford sufficient space to contain Mr. Rudyard Kipling, the literary hero of the present hour, 'the man who came from nowhere,' as he says himself, and who a year ago was consciously nothing in the literary world."
Six months previous to this Mr. Kipling, then but twenty-four years old, had arrived in England from India to find that fame had preceded him. He had already gained fame in India, where scores of cultured and critical people, after reading "Departmental Ditties," "Plain Tales from the Hills," and various other stories and verses, had stamped him for a genius.
Fortunately for everybody who reads, London interested and stimulated Mr. Kipling, and he settled down to writing. "The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot," and his first novel, "The Light that Failed," appeared in 1890 and 1891; then a collection of verse, "Life's Handicap, being stories of Mine Own People," was published simultaneously in London and New York City; then followed more verse, and so on through an unending series.
In 1891 Mr. Kipling met the young author Wolcott Balestier, at that time connected with a London publishing house. A strong attachment grew between the two, and several months after their first meeting they came to Mr. Balestier's Vermont home, where they collaborated on "The Naulahka: A Story of West and East," for which The Century paid the largest price ever given by an American magazine for a story. The following year Mr. Kipling married Mr. Balestier's sister in London and brought her to America.
The Balestiers were of an aristocratic New York family; the grandfather of Mrs. Kipling was J. M. Balestier, a prominent lawyer in New York City and Chicago, who died in 1888, leaving a fortune of about a million. Her maternal grandfather was E. Peshine Smith of Rochester, N. Y., a noted author and jurist, who was selected in 1871 by Secretary Hamilton Fish to go to Japan as the Mikado's adviser in international law. The ancestral home of the Balestiers was near Brattleboro', Vt., and here Mr. Kipling brought his bride. The young Englishman was so impressed by the Vermont scenery that he rented for a time the cottage on the "Bliss Farm," in which Steele Mackaye the playwright wrote the well known drama "Hazel Kirke."
The next spring Mr. Kipling purchased from his brother-in-law, Beatty Balestier, a tract of land about three miles north of Brattleboro', Vt., and on this erected a house at a cost of nearly $50,000, which he named "The Naulahka." This was his home during his sojourn in America. Here he wrote when in the mood, and for recreation tramped abroad over the hills. His social duties at this period were not arduous, for to his home he refused admittance to all but tried friends. He made a study of the Yankee country dialect and character for "The Walking Delegate," and while "Captains Courageous," the story of New England fisher life, was before him he spent some time among the Gloucester fishermen with an acquaintance who had access to the household gods of these people.
He returned to England in August, 1896, and did not visit America again till 1899, when he came with his wife and three children for a limited time.
It is hardly fair to Mr. Kipling to call "American Notes" first impressions, for one reading them will readily see that the impressions are superficial, little thought being put upon the writing. They seem super-sarcastic, and would lead one to believe that Mr. Kipling is antagonistic to America in every respect. This, however, is not true. These "Notes" aroused much protest and severe criticism when they appeared in 1891, and are considered so far beneath Mr. Kipling's real work that they have been nearly suppressed and are rarely found in a list of his writings. Their very caustic style is of interest to a student and lover of Kipling, and for this reason the publishers believe them worthy of a good binding.
G. P. T.
AT THE GOLDEN GATE
THE AMERICAN ARMY
AMERICA'S DEFENCELESS COASTS
I. AT THE GOLDEN GATE
"Serene, indifferent to fate, Thou sittest at the Western Gate; Thou seest the white seas fold their tents, Oh, warder of two continents; Thou drawest all things, small and great, To thee, beside the Western Gate."
THIS is what Bret Harte has written of the great city of San Francisco, and for the past fortnight I have been wondering what made him do it.
There is neither serenity nor indifference to be found in these parts; and evil would it be for the continents whose wardship were intrusted to so reckless a guardian.
Behold me pitched neck-and-crop from twenty days of the high seas into the whirl of California, deprived of any guidance, and left to draw my own conclusions. Protect me from the wrath of an outraged community if these letters be ever read by American eyes! San Francisco is a mad city—inhabited for the most part by perfectly insane people, whose women are of a remarkable beauty.
When the "City of Pekin" steamed through the Golden Gate, I saw with great joy that the block-house which guarded the mouth of the "finest harbor in the world, sir," could be silenced by two gunboats from Hong Kong with safety, comfort, and despatch. Also, there was not a single American vessel of war in the harbor.
This may sound bloodthirsty; but remember, I had come with a grievance upon me—the grievance of the pirated English books.
Then a reporter leaped aboard, and ere I could gasp held me in his toils. He pumped me exhaustively while I was getting ashore, demanding of all things in the world news about Indian journalism. It is an awful thing to enter a new land with a new lie on your lips. I spoke the truth to the evil-minded Custom House man who turned my most sacred raiment on a floor composed of stable refuse and pine splinters; but the reporter overwhelmed me not so much by his poignant audacity as his beautiful ignorance. I am sorry now that I did not tell him more lies as I passed into a city of three hundred thousand white men. Think of it! Three hundred thousand white men and women gathered in one spot, walking upon real pavements in front of plate-glass-windowed shops, and talking something that at first hearing was not very different from English. It was only when I had tangled myself up in a hopeless maze of small wooden houses, dust, street refuse, and children who played with empty kerosene tins, that I discovered the difference of speech.
"You want to go to the Palace Hotel?" said an affable youth on a dray. "What in hell are you doing here, then? This is about the lowest ward in the city. Go six blocks north to corner of Geary and Markey, then walk around till you strike corner of Gutter and Sixteenth, and that brings you there."
I do not vouch for the literal accuracy of these directions, quoting but from a disordered memory.
"Amen," I said. "But who am I that I should strike the corners of such as you name? Peradventure they be gentlemen of repute, and might hit back. Bring it down to dots, my son."
I thought he would have smitten me, but he didn't. He explained that no one ever used the word "street," and that every one was supposed to know how the streets ran, for sometimes the names were upon the lamps and sometimes they weren't. Fortified with these directions, I proceeded till I found a mighty street, full of sumptuous buildings four and five stories high, but paved with rude cobblestones, after the fashion of the year 1.
Here a tram-car, without any visible means of support, slid stealthily behind me and nearly struck me in the back. This was the famous cable car of San Francisco, which runs by gripping an endless wire rope sunk in the ground, and of which I will tell you more anon. A hundred yards further there was a slight commotion in the street, a gathering together of three or four, something that glittered as it moved very swiftly. A ponderous Irish gentleman, with priest's cords in his hat and a small nickel-plated badge on his fat bosom, emerged from the knot supporting a Chinaman who had been stabbed in the eye and was bleeding like a pig. The by-standers went their ways, and the Chinaman, assisted by the policeman, his own. Of course this was none of my business, but I rather wanted to know what had happened to the gentleman who had dealt the stab. It said a great deal for the excellence of the municipal arrangement of the town that a surging crowd did not at once block the street to see what was going forward. I was the sixth man and the last who assisted at the performance, and my curiosity was six times the greatest. Indeed, I felt ashamed of showing it.
There were no more incidents till I reached the Palace Hotel, a seven-storied warren of humanity with a thousand rooms in it. All the travel books will tell you about hotel arrangements in this country. They should be seen to be appreciated. Understand clearly—and this letter is written after a thousand miles of experiences—that money will not buy you service in the West. When the hotel clerk—the man who awards your room to you and who is supposed to give you information—when that resplendent individual stoops to attend to your wants he does so whistling or humming or picking his teeth, or pauses to converse with some one he knows. These performances, I gather, are to impress upon you that he is a free man and your equal. From his general appearance and the size of his diamonds he ought to be your superior. There is no necessity for this swaggering self-consciousness of freedom. Business is business, and the man who is paid to attend to a man might reasonably devote his whole attention to the job. Out of office hours he can take his coach and four and pervade society if he pleases.
In a vast marble-paved hall, under the glare of an electric light, sat forty or fifty men, and for their use and amusement were provided spittoons of infinite capacity and generous gape. Most of the men wore frock-coats and top-hats—the things that we in India put on at a wedding-breakfast, if we possess them—but they all spat. They spat on principle. The spittoons were on the staircases, in each bedroom—yea, and in chambers even more sacred than these. They chased one into retirement, but they blossomed in chiefest splendor round the bar, and they were all used, every reeking one of them.
Just before I began to feel deathly sick another reporter grappled me. What he wanted to know was the precise area of India in square miles. I referred him to Whittaker. He had never heard of Whittaker. He wanted it from my own mouth, and I would not tell him. Then he swerved off, just like the other man, to details of journalism in our own country. I ventured to suggest that the interior economy of a paper most concerned the people who worked it.
"That's the very thing that interests us," he said. "Have you got reporters anything like our reporters on Indian newspapers?"
"We have not," I said, and suppressed the "thank God" rising to my lips.
"Why haven't you?" said he.
"Because they would die," I said.
It was exactly like talking to a child—a very rude little child. He would begin almost every sentence with, "Now tell me something about India," and would turn aimlessly from one question to the other without the least continuity. I was not angry, but keenly interested. The man was a revelation to me. To his questions I returned answers mendacious and evasive. After all, it really did not matter what I said. He could not understand. I can only hope and pray that none of the readers of the "Pioneer" will ever see that portentous interview. The man made me out to be an idiot several sizes more drivelling than my destiny intended, and the rankness of his ignorance managed to distort the few poor facts with which I supplied him into large and elaborate lies. Then, thought I, "the matter of American journalism shall be looked into later on. At present I will enjoy myself."
No man rose to tell me what were the lions of the place. No one volunteered any sort of conveyance. I was absolutely alone in this big city of white folk. By instinct I sought refreshment, and came upon a barroom full of bad Salon pictures in which men with hats on the backs of their heads were wolfing food from a counter. It was the institution of the "free lunch" I had struck. You paid for a drink and got as much as you wanted to eat. For something less than a rupee a day a man can feed himself sumptuously in San Francisco, even though he be a bankrupt. Remember this if ever you are stranded in these parts.
Later I began a vast but unsystematic exploration of the streets. I asked for no names. It was enough that the pavements were full of white men and women, the streets clanging with traffic, and that the restful roar of a great city rang in my ears. The cable cars glided to all points of the compass at once. I took them one by one till I could go no further. San Francisco has been pitched down on the sand bunkers of the Bikaneer desert. About one fourth of it is ground reclaimed from the sea—any old-timers will tell you all about that. The remainder is just ragged, unthrifty sand hills, to-day pegged down by houses.
From an English point of view there has not been the least attempt at grading those hills, and indeed you might as well try to grade the hillocks of Sind. The cable cars have for all practical purposes made San Francisco a dead level. They take no count of rise or fall, but slide equably on their appointed courses from one end to the other of a six-mile street. They turn corners almost at right angles, cross other lines, and for aught I know may run up the sides of houses. There is no visible agency of their flight, but once in awhile you shall pass a five-storied building humming with machinery that winds up an everlasting wire cable, and the initiated will tell you that here is the mechanism. I gave up asking questions. If it pleases Providence to make a car run up and down a slit in the ground for many miles, and if for twopence halfpenny I can ride in that car, why shall I seek the reasons of the miracle? Rather let me look out of the windows till the shops give place to thousands and thousands of little houses made of wood (to imitate stone), each house just big enough for a man and his family. Let me watch the people in the cars and try to find out in what manner they differ from us, their ancestors.
It grieves me now that I cursed them (in the matter of book piracy), because I perceived that my curse is working and that their speech is becoming a horror already. They delude themselves into the belief that they talk English—the English—and I have already been pitied for speaking with "an English accent." The man who pitied me spoke, so far as I was concerned, the language of thieves. And they all do. Where we put the accent forward they throw it back, and vice versa where we give the long "a" they use the short, and words so simple as to be past mistaking they pronounce somewhere up in the dome of their heads. How do these things happen?
Oliver Wendell Holmes says that the Yankee school-marm, the cider and the salt codfish of the Eastern States, are responsible for what he calls a nasal accent. I know better. They stole books from across the water without paying for 'em, and the snort of delight was fixed in their nostrils forever by a just Providence. That is why they talk a foreign tongue to-day.
"Cats is dogs, and rabbits is dogs, and so's parrots. But this 'ere tortoise is an insect, so there ain't no charge," as the old porter said.
A Hindoo is a Hindoo and a brother to the man who knows his vernacular. And a Frenchman is French because he speaks his own language. But the American has no language. He is dialect, slang, provincialism, accent, and so forth. Now that I have heard their voices, all the beauty of Bret Harte is being ruined for me, because I find myself catching through the roll of his rhythmical prose the cadence of his peculiar fatherland. Get an American lady to read to you "How Santa Claus Came to Simpson's Bar," and see how much is, under her tongue, left of the beauty of the original.
But I am sorry for Bret Harte. It happened this way. A reporter asked me what I thought of the city, and I made answer suavely that it was hallowed ground to me, because of Bret Harte. That was true.
"Well," said the reporter, "Bret Harte claims California, but California don't claim Bret Harte. He's been so long in England that he's quite English. Have you seen our cracker factories or the new offices of the 'Examiner'?"
He could not understand that to the outside world the city was worth a great deal less than the man. I never intended to curse the people with a provincialism so vast as this.
But let us return to our sheep—which means the sea-lions of the Cliff House. They are the great show of San Francisco. You take a train which pulls up the middle of the street (it killed two people the day before yesterday, being unbraked and driven absolutely regardless of consequences), and you pull up somewhere at the back of the city on the Pacific beach. Originally the cliffs and their approaches must have been pretty, but they have been so carefully defiled with advertisements that they are now one big blistered abomination. A hundred yards from the shore stood a big rock covered with the carcasses of the sleek sea-beasts, who roared and rolled and walloped in the spouting surges. No bold man had painted the creatures sky-blue or advertised newspapers on their backs, wherefore they did not match the landscape, which was chiefly hoarding. Some day, perhaps, whatever sort of government may obtain in this country will make a restoration of the place and keep it clean and neat. At present the sovereign people, of whom I have heard so much already, are vending cherries and painting the virtues of "Little Bile Beans" all over it.
Night fell over the Pacific, and the white sea-fog whipped through the streets, dimming the splendors of the electric lights. It is the use of this city, her men and women folk, to parade between the hours of eight and ten a certain street called Cairn Street, where the finest shops are situated. Here the click of high heels on the pavement is loudest, here the lights are brightest, and here the thunder of the traffic is most overwhelming. I watched Young California, and saw that it was, at least, expensively dressed, cheerful in manner, and self-asserting in conversation. Also the women were very fair. Perhaps eighteen days aboard ship had something to do with my unreserved admiration. The maidens were of generous build, large, well groomed, and attired in raiment that even to my inexperienced eyes must have cost much. Cairn Street at nine o'clock levels all distinctions of rank as impartially as the grave. Again and again I loitered at the heels of a couple of resplendent beings, only to overhear, when I expected the level voice of culture, the staccato "Sez he," "Sez I" that is the mark of the white servant-girl all the world over.
This was depressing because, in spite of all that goes to the contrary, fine feathers ought to make fine birds. There was wealth—unlimited wealth—in the streets, but not an accent that would not have been dear at fifty cents. Wherefore, revolving in my mind that these folk were barbarians, I was presently enlightened and made aware that they also were the heirs of all the ages, and civilized after all. There appeared before me an affable stranger of prepossessing appearance, with a blue and an innocent eye. Addressing me by name, he claimed to have met me in New York, at the Windsor, and to this claim I gave a qualified assent. I did not remember the fact, but since he was so certain of it, why, then—I waited developments.
"And what did you think of Indiana when you came through?" was the next question.
It revealed the mystery of previous acquaintance and one or two other things. With reprehensible carelessness my friend of the light-blue eye had looked up the name of his victim in the hotel register, and read "Indiana" for India.
The provincialism with which I had cursed his people extended to himself. He could not imagine an Englishman coming through the States from west to east instead of by the regularly ordained route. My fear was that in his delight in finding me so responsive he would make remarks about New York and the Windsor which I could not understand. And, indeed, he adventured in this direction once or twice, asking me what I thought of such and such streets, which from his tone I gathered to be anything but respectable. It is trying to talk unknown New York in almost unknown San Francisco. But my friend was merciful. He protested that I was one after his own heart, and pressed upon me rare and curious drinks at more than one bar. These drinks I accepted with gratitude, as also the cigars with which his pockets were stored. He would show me the life of the city. Having no desire to watch a weary old play again, I evaded the offer and received in lieu of the devil's instruction much coarse flattery. Curiously constituted is the soul of man. Knowing how and where this man lied, waiting idly for the finale, I was distinctly conscious, as he bubbled compliments in my ear, of soft thrills of gratified pride stealing from hat-rim to boot-heels. I was wise, quoth he—anybody could see that with half an eye; sagacious, versed in the ways of the world, an acquaintance to be desired; one who had tasted the cup of life with discretion.
All this pleased me, and in a measure numbed the suspicion that was thoroughly aroused. Eventually the blue-eyed one discovered, nay, insisted, that I had a taste for cards (this was clumsily worked in, but it was my fault, for in that I met him half-way and allowed him no chance of good acting). Hereupon I laid my head upon one side and simulated unholy wisdom, quoting odds and ends of poker talk, all ludicrously misapplied. My friend kept his countenance admirably, and well he might, for five minutes later we arrived, always by the purest of chance, at a place where we could play cards and also frivol with Louisiana State Lottery tickets. Would I play?
"Nay," said I, "for to me cards have neither meaning nor continuity; but let us assume that I am going to play. How would you and your friends get to work? Would you play a straight game, or make me drunk, or—well, the fact is, I'm a newspaper man, and I'd be much obliged if you'd let me know something about bunco steering."
My blue-eyed friend erected himself into an obelisk of profanity. He cursed me by his gods—the right and left bower; he even cursed the very good cigars he had given me. But, the storm over, he quieted down and explained. I apologized for causing him to waste an evening, and we spent a very pleasant time together.
Inaccuracy, provincialism, and a too hasty rushing to conclusions, were the rocks that he had split on, but he got his revenge when he said:—"How would I play with you? From all the poppycock Anglice bosh you talked about poker, I'd ha' played a straight game, and skinned you. I wouldn't have taken the trouble to make you drunk. You never knew anything of the game, but how I was mistaken in going to work on you, makes me sick."
He glared at me as though I had done him an injury. To-day I know how it is that year after year, week after week, the bunco steerer, who is the confidence trick and the card-sharper man of other climes, secures his prey. He clavers them over with flattery as the snake clavers the rabbit. The incident depressed me because it showed I had left the innocent East far behind and was come to a country where a man must look out for himself. The very hotels bristled with notices about keeping my door locked and depositing my valuables in a safe. The white man in a lump is bad. Weeping softly for O-Toyo (little I knew then that my heart was to be torn afresh from my bosom) I fell asleep in the clanging hotel.
Next morning I had entered upon the deferred inheritance. There are no princes in America—at least with crowns on their heads—but a generous-minded member of some royal family received my letter of introduction. Ere the day closed I was a member of the two clubs, and booked for many engagements to dinner and party. Now, this prince, upon whose financial operations be continual increase, had no reason, nor had the others, his friends, to put himself out for the sake of one Briton more or less, but he rested not till he had accomplished all in my behalf that a mother could think of for her debutante daughter.
Do you know the Bohemian Club of San Francisco? They say its fame extends over the world. It was created, somewhat on the lines of the Savage, by men who wrote or drew things, and has blossomed into most unrepublican luxury. The ruler of the place is an owl—an owl standing upon a skull and cross-bones, showing forth grimly the wisdom of the man of letters and the end of his hopes for immortality. The owl stands on the staircase, a statue four feet high; is carved in the wood-work, flutters on the frescoed ceiling, is stamped on the note-paper, and hangs on the walls. He is an ancient and honorable bird. Under his wing 'twas my privilege to meet with white men whose lives were not chained down to routine of toil, who wrote magazine articles instead of reading them hurriedly in the pauses of office-work, who painted pictures instead of contenting themselves with cheap etchings picked up at another man's sale of effects. Mine were all the rights of social intercourse, craft by craft, that India, stony-hearted step-mother of collectors, has swindled us out of. Treading soft carpets and breathing the incense of superior cigars, I wandered from room to room studying the paintings in which the members of the club had caricatured themselves, their associates, and their aims. There was a slick French audacity about the workmanship of these men of toil unbending that went straight to the heart of the beholder. And yet it was not altogether French. A dry grimness of treatment, almost Dutch, marked the difference. The men painted as they spoke—with certainty. The club indulges in revelries which it calls "jinks"—high and low, at intervals—and each of these gatherings is faithfully portrayed in oils by hands that know their business. In this club were no amateurs spoiling canvas, because they fancied they could handle oils without knowledge of shadows or anatomy—no gentleman of leisure ruining the temper of publishers and an already ruined market with attempts to write "because everybody writes something these days."
My hosts were working, or had worked for their daily bread with pen or paint, and their talk for the most part was of the shop—shoppy—that is to say, delightful. They extended a large hand of welcome, and were as brethren, and I did homage to the owl and listened to their talk. An Indian club about Christmas-time will yield, if properly worked, an abundant harvest of queer tales; but at a gathering of Americans from the uttermost ends of their own continent, the tales are larger, thicker, more spinous, and even more azure than any Indian variety. Tales of the war I heard told by an ex-officer of the South over his evening drink to a colonel of the Northern army, my introducer, who had served as a trooper in the Northern Horse, throwing in emendations from time to time. "Tales of the Law," which in this country is an amazingly elastic affair, followed from the lips of a judge. Forgive me for recording one tale that struck me as new. It may interest the up-country Bar in India.
Once upon a time there was Samuelson, a young lawyer, who feared not God, neither regarded the Bench. (Name, age, and town of the man were given at great length.) To him no case had ever come as a client, partly because he lived in a district where lynch law prevailed, and partly because the most desperate prisoner shrunk from intrusting himself to the mercies of a phenomenal stammerer. But in time there happened an aggravated murder—so bad, indeed, that by common consent the citizens decided, as a prelude to lynching, to give the real law a chance. They could, in fact, gambol round that murder. They met—the court in its shirt-sleeves—and against the raw square of the Court House window a temptingly suggestive branch of a tree fretted the sky. No one appeared for the prisoner, and, partly in jest, the court advised young Samuelson to take up the case.
"The prisoner is undefended, Sam," said the court. "The square thing to do would be for you to take him aside and do the best you can for him."
Court, jury, and witness then adjourned to the veranda, while Samuelson led his client aside to the Court House cells. An hour passed ere the lawyer returned alone. Mutely the audience questioned.
"May it p-p-please the c-court," said Samuel-son, "my client's case is a b-b-b-bad one—a d-d-amn bad one. You told me to do the b-b-best I c-could for him, judge, so I've jest given him y-your b-b-bay gelding, an' told him to light out for healthier c-climes, my p-p-professional opinion being he'd be hanged quicker'n h-h-hades if he dallied here. B-by this time my client's 'bout fifteen mile out yonder somewheres. That was the b-b-best I could do for him, may it p-p-please the court."
The young man, escaping punishment in lieu of the prisoner, made his fortune ere five years.
Other voices followed, with equally wondrous tales of riata-throwing in Mexico and Arizona, of gambling at army posts in Texas, of newspaper wars waged in godless Chicago (I could not help being interested, but they were not pretty tricks), of deaths sudden and violent in Montana and Dakota, of the loves of half-breed maidens in the South, and fantastic huntings for gold in mysterious Alaska. Above all, they told the story of the building of old San Francisco, when the "finest collection of humanity on God's earth, sir, started this town, and the water came up to the foot of Market Street." Very terrible were some of the tales, grimly humorous the others, and the men in broadcloth and fine linen who told them had played their parts in them.
"And now and again when things got too bad they would toll the city bell, and the Vigilance Committee turned out and hanged the suspicious characters. A man didn't begin to be suspected in those days till he had committed at least one unprovoked murder," said a calm-eyed, portly old gentleman.
I looked at the pictures around me, the noiseless, neat-uniformed waiter behind me, the oak-ribbed ceiling above, the velvet carpet beneath. It was hard to realize that even twenty years ago you could see a man hanged with great pomp. Later on I found reason to change my opinion. The tales gave me a headache and set me thinking. How in the world was it possible to take in even one thousandth of this huge, roaring, many-sided continent? In the tobacco-scented silence of the sumptuous library lay Professor Bryce's book on the American Republic.
"It is an omen," said I. "He has done all things in all seriousness, and he may be purchased for half a guinea. Those who desire information of the most undoubted, must refer to his pages. For me is the daily round of vagabondage, the recording of the incidents of the hour and intercourse with the travelling-companion of the day. I will not 'do' this country at all."
And I forgot all about India for ten days while I went out to dinners and watched the social customs of the people, which are entirely different from our customs, and was introduced to men of many millions. These persons are harmless in their earlier stages—that is to say, a man worth three or four million dollars may be a good talker, clever, amusing, and of the world; a man with twice that amount is to be avoided, and a twenty million man is—just twenty millions. Take an instance. I was speaking to a newspaper man about seeing the proprietor of his journal, as in my innocence I supposed newspaper men occasionally did. My friend snorted indignantly:—"See him! Great Scott! No. If he happens to appear in the office, I have to associate with him; but, thank Heaven! outside of that I move in circles where he cannot come."
And yet the first thing I have been taught to believe is that money was everything in America!
II. AMERICAN POLITICS
I HAVE been watching machinery in repose after reading about machinery in action.
An excellent gentleman, who bears a name honored in the magazine, writes, much as Disraeli orated, of "the sublime instincts of an ancient people," the certainty with which they can be trusted to manage their own affairs in their own way, and the speed with which they are making for all sorts of desirable goals. This he called a statement or purview of American politics.
I went almost directly afterward to a saloon where gentlemen interested in ward politics nightly congregate. They were not pretty persons. Some of them were bloated, and they all swore cheerfully till the heavy gold watch-chains on their fat stomachs rose and fell again; but they talked over their liquor as men who had power and unquestioned access to places of trust and profit.
The magazine writer discussed theories of government; these men the practice. They had been there. They knew all about it. They banged their fists on the table and spoke of political "pulls," the vending of votes, and so forth. Theirs was not the talk of village babblers reconstructing the affairs of the nation, but of strong, coarse, lustful men fighting for spoil, and thoroughly understanding the best methods of reaching it.
I listened long and intently to speech I could not understand—or but in spots.
It was the speech of business, however. I had sense enough to know that, and to do my laughing outside the door.
Then I began to understand why my pleasant and well-educated hosts in San Francisco spoke with a bitter scorn of such duties of citizenship as voting and taking an interest in the distribution of offices. Scores of men have told me, without false pride, that they would as soon concern themselves with the public affairs of the city or state as rake muck with a steam-shovel. It may be that their lofty disdain covers selfishness, but I should be very sorry habitually to meet the fat gentlemen with shiny top-hats and plump cigars in whose society I have been spending the evening.
Read about politics as the cultured writer of the magazine regards 'em, and then, and not till then, pay your respects to the gentlemen who run the grimy reality.
I'm sick of interviewing night editors who lean their chair against the wall, and, in response to my demand for the record of a prominent citizen, answer: "Well, you see, he began by keeping a saloon," etc. I prefer to believe that my informants are treating me as in the old sinful days in India I was used to treat the wandering globe-trotter. They declare that they speak the truth, and the news of dog politics lately vouchsafed to me in groggeries inclines me to believe, but I won't. The people are much too nice to slangander as recklessly as I have been doing.
Besides, I am hopelessly in love with about eight American maidens—all perfectly delightful till the next one comes into the room.
O-Toyo was a darling, but she lacked several things—conversation for one. You cannot live on giggles. She shall remain unmarried at Nagasaki, while I roast a battered heart before the shrine of a big Kentucky blonde, who had for a nurse when she was little a negro "mammy."
By consequence she has welded on California beauty, Paris dresses, Eastern culture, Europe trips, and wild Western originality, the queer, dreamy superstitions of the quarters, and the result is soul-shattering. And she is but one of many stars.
Item, a maiden who believes in education and possesses it, with a few hundred thousand dollars to boot and a taste for slumming.
Item, the leader of a sort of informal salon where girls congregate, read papers, and daringly discuss metaphysical problems and candy—a sloe-eyed, black-browed, imperious maiden she.
Item, a very small maiden, absolutely without reverence, who can in one swift sentence trample upon and leave gasping half a dozen young men.
Item, a millionairess, burdened with her money, lonely, caustic, with a tongue keen as a sword, yearning for a sphere, but chained up to the rock of her vast possessions.
Item, a typewriter maiden earning her own bread in this big city, because she doesn't think a girl ought to be a burden on her parents, who quotes Theophile Gautier and moves through the world manfully, much respected for all her twenty inexperienced summers.
Item, a woman from cloud-land who has no history in the past or future, but is discreetly of the present, and strives for the confidences of male humanity on the grounds of "sympathy" (methinks this is not altogether a new type).
Item, a girl in a "dive," blessed with a Greek head and eyes, that seem to speak all that is best and sweetest in the world. But woe is me! She has no ideas in this world or the next beyond the consumption of beer (a commission on each bottle), and protests that she sings the songs allotted to her nightly without more than the vaguest notion of their meaning.
Sweet and comely are the maidens of Devonshire; delicate and of gracious seeming those who live in the pleasant places of London; fascinating for all their demureness the damsels of France, clinging closely to their mothers, with large eyes wondering at the wicked world; excellent in her own place and to those who understand her is the Anglo-Indian "spin" in her second season; but the girls of America are above and beyond them all. They are clever, they can talk—yea, it is said that they think. Certainly they have an appearance of so doing which is delightfully deceptive.
They are original, and regard you between the brows with unabashed eyes as a sister might look at her brother. They are instructed, too, in the folly and vanity of the male mind, for they have associated with "the boys" from babyhood, and can discerningly minister to both vices or pleasantly snub the possessor. They possess, moreover, a life among themselves, independent of any masculine associations. They have societies and clubs and unlimited tea-fights where all the guests are girls. They are self-possessed, without parting with any tenderness that is their sex-right; they understand; they can take care of themselves; they are superbly independent. When you ask them what makes them so charming, they say:—"It is because we are better educated than your girls, and—and we are more sensible in regard to men. We have good times all round, but we aren't taught to regard every man as a possible husband. Nor is he expected to marry the first girl he calls on regularly."
Yes, they have good times, their freedom is large, and they do not abuse it. They can go driving with young men and receive visits from young men to an extent that would make an English mother wink with horror, and neither driver nor drivee has a thought beyond the enjoyment of a good time. As certain, also, of their own poets have said:—
"Man is fire and woman is tow, And the devil he comes and begins to blow."
In America the tow is soaked in a solution that makes it fire-proof, in absolute liberty and large knowledge; consequently, accidents do not exceed the regular percentage arranged by the devil for each class and climate under the skies.
But the freedom of the young girl has its drawbacks. She is—I say it with all reluctance—irreverent, from her forty-dollar bonnet to the buckles in her eighteen-dollar shoes. She talks flippantly to her parents and men old enough to be her grandfather. She has a prescriptive right to the society of the man who arrives. The parents admit it.
This is sometimes embarrassing, especially when you call on a man and his wife for the sake of information—the one being a merchant of varied knowledge, the other a woman of the world. In five minutes your host has vanished. In another five his wife has followed him, and you are left alone with a very charming maiden, doubtless, but certainly not the person you came to see. She chatters, and you grin, but you leave with the very strong impression of a wasted morning. This has been my experience once or twice. I have even said as pointedly as I dared to a man:—"I came to see you."
"You'd better see me in my office, then. The house belongs to my women folk—to my daughter, that is to say."
He spoke the truth. The American of wealth is owned by his family. They exploit him for bullion. The women get the ha'pence, the kicks are all his own. Nothing is too good for an American's daughter (I speak here of the moneyed classes).
The girls take every gift as a matter of course, and yet they develop greatly when a catastrophe arrives and the man of many millions goes up or goes down, and his daughters take to stenography or typewriting. I have heard many tales of heroism from the lips of girls who counted the principals among their friends. The crash came, Mamie, or Hattie, or Sadie, gave up their maid, their carriages and candy, and with a No. 2 Remington and a stout heart set about earning their daily bread.
"And did I drop her from the list of my friends? No, sir," said a scarlet-lipped vision in white lace; "that might happen to us any day."
It may be this sense of possible disaster in the air that makes San Francisco society go with so captivating a rush and whirl. Recklessness is in the air. I can't explain where it comes from, but there it is. The roaring winds of the Pacific make you drunk to begin with. The aggressive luxury on all sides helps out the intoxication, and you spin forever "down the ringing grooves of change" (there is no small change, by the way, west of the Rockies) as long as money lasts. They make greatly and they spend lavishly; not only the rich, but the artisans, who pay nearly five pounds for a suit of clothes, and for other luxuries in proportion.
The young men rejoice in the days of their youth. They gamble, yacht, race, enjoy prize-fights and cock-fights, the one openly, the other in secret; they establish luxurious clubs; they break themselves over horse-flesh and other things, and they are instant in a quarrel. At twenty they are experienced in business, embark in vast enterprises, take partners as experienced as themselves, and go to pieces with as much splendor as their neighbors. Remember that the men who stocked California in the fifties were physically, and, as far as regards certain tough virtues, the pick of the earth. The inept and the weakly died en route, or went under in the days of construction. To this nucleus were added all the races of the Continent—French, Italian, German, and, of course, the Jew.
The result you can see in the large-boned, deep-chested, delicate-handed women, and long, elastic, well-built boys. It needs no little golden badge swinging from the watch-chain to mark the native son of the golden West, the country-bred of California.
Him I love because he is devoid of fear, carries himself like a man, and has a heart as big as his books. I fancy, too, he knows how to enjoy the blessings of life that his province so abundantly bestows upon him. At least, I heard a little rat of a creature with hock-bottle shoulders explaining that a man from Chicago could pull the eye-teeth of a Californian in business.
Well, if I lived in fairy-land, where cherries were as big as plums, plums as big as apples, and strawberries of no account, where the procession of the fruits of the seasons was like a pageant in a Drury Lane pantomime and the dry air was wine, I should let business slide once in a way and kick up my heels with my fellows. The tale of the resources of California—vegetable and mineral—is a fairy-tale. You can read it in books. You would never believe me.
All manner of nourishing food, from sea-fish to beef, may be bought at the lowest prices, and the people are consequently well-developed and of a high stomach. They demand ten shillings for tinkering a jammed lock of a trunk; they receive sixteen shillings a day for working as carpenters; they spend many sixpences on very bad cigars, which the poorest of them smoke, and they go mad over a prize-fight. When they disagree they do so fatally, with fire-arms in their hands, and on the public streets. I was just clear of Mission Street when the trouble began between two gentlemen, one of whom perforated the other.
When a policeman, whose name I do not recollect, "fatally shot Ed Hearney" for attempting to escape arrest, I was in the next street. For these things I am thankful. It is enough to travel with a policeman in a tram-car, and, while he arranges his coat-tails as he sits down, to catch sight of a loaded revolver. It is enough to know that fifty per cent of the men in the public saloons carry pistols about them.
The Chinaman waylays his adversary, and methodically chops him to pieces with his hatchet. Then the press roars about the brutal ferocity of the pagan.
The Italian reconstructs his friend with a long knife. The press complains of the waywardness of the alien.
The Irishman and the native Californian in their hours of discontent use the revolver, not once, but six times. The press records the fact, and asks in the next column whether the world can parallel the progress of San Francisco. The American who loves his country will tell you that this sort of thing is confined to the lower classes. Just at present an ex-judge who was sent to jail by another judge (upon my word I cannot tell whether these titles mean anything) is breathing red-hot vengeance against his enemy. The papers have interviewed both parties, and confidently expect a fatal issue.
Now, let me draw breath and curse the negro waiter, and through him the negro in service generally. He has been made a citizen with a vote, consequently both political parties play with him. But that is neither here nor there. He will commit in one meal every betise that a senllion fresh from the plow-tail is capable of, and he will continue to repeat those faults. He is as complete a heavy-footed, uncomprehending, bungle-fisted fool as any mem-sahib in the East ever took into her establishment. But he is according to law a free and independent citizen—consequently above reproof or criticism. He, and he alone, in this insane city, will wait at table (the Chinaman doesn't count).
He is untrained, inept, but he will fill the place and draw the pay. Now, God and his father's fate made him intellectually inferior to the Oriental. He insists on pretending that he serves tables by accident—as a sort of amusement. He wishes you to understand this little fact. You wish to eat your meals, and, if possible, to have them properly served. He is a big, black, vain baby and a man rolled into one.
A colored gentleman who insisted on getting me pie when I wanted something else, demanded information about India. I gave him some facts about wages.
"Oh, hell!" said he, cheerfully, "that wouldn't keep me in cigars for a month."
Then he fawned on me for a ten-cent piece. Later he took it upon himself to pity the natives of India. "Heathens," he called them—this woolly one, whose race has been the butt of every comedy on the native stage since the beginning. And I turned and saw by the head upon his shoulders that he was a Yoruba man, if there be any truth in ethnological castes. He did his thinking in English, but he was a Yoruba negro, and the race type had remained the same throughout his generations. And the room was full of other races—some that looked exactly like Gallas (but the trade was never recruited from that side of Africa), some duplicates of Cameroon heads, and some Kroomen, if ever Kroomen wore evening dress.
The American does not consider little matters of descent, though by this time he ought to know all about "damnable heredity." As a general rule he keeps himself very far from the negro, and says things about him that are not pretty. There are six million negroes, more or less, in the States, and they are increasing. The American, once having made them citizens, cannot unmake them. He says, in his newspapers, they ought to be elevated by education. He is trying this, but it is likely to be a long job, because black blood is much more adhesive than white, and throws back with annoying persistence. When the negro gets religion he returns directly as a hiving bee to the first instincts of his people. Just now a wave of religion is sweeping over some of the Southern States.
Up to the present two Messiahs and a Daniel have appeared, and several human sacrifices have been offered up to these incarnations. The Daniel managed to get three young men, who he insisted were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to walk into a blast furnace, guaranteeing non-combustion. They did not return. I have seen nothing of this kind, but I have attended a negro church. They pray, or are caused to pray by themselves in this country. The congregation were moved by the spirit to groans and tears, and one of them danced up the aisle to the mourners' bench. The motive may have been genuine. The movements of the shaken body were those of a Zanzibar stick dance, such as you see at Aden on the coal-boats, and even as I watched the people, the links that bound them to the white man snapped one by one, and I saw before me the hubshi (woolly hair) praying to a God he did not understand. Those neatly dressed folk on the benches, and the gray-headed elder by the window, were savages, neither more nor less.
What will the American do with the negro? The South will not consort with him. In some States miscegenation is a penal offence. The North is every year less and less in need of his services.
And he will not disappear. He will continue as a problem. His friends will urge that he is as good as the white man. His enemies—well, you can guess what his enemies will do from a little incident that followed on a recent appointment by the President. He made a negro an assistant in a post-office where—think of it!—he had to work at the next desk to a white girl, the daughter of a colonel, one of the first families of Georgia's modern chivalry, and all the weary, weary rest of it. The Southern chivalry howled, and hanged or burned some one in effigy. Perhaps it was the President, and perhaps it was the negro—but the principle remains the same. They said it was an insult. It is not good to be a negro in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
But this is nothing to do with San Francisco and her merry maidens, her strong, swaggering men, and her wealth of gold and pride. They bore me to a banquet in honor of a brave lieutenant—Carlin, of the "Vandalia"—who stuck by his ship in the great cyclone at Apia and comported himself as an officer should. On that occasion—'twas at the Bohemian Club—I heard oratory with the roundest of o's, and devoured a dinner the memory of which will descend with me into the hungry grave.
There were about forty speeches delivered, and not one of them was average or ordinary. It was my first introduction to the American eagle screaming for all it was worth. The lieutenant's heroism served as a peg from which the silver-tongued ones turned themselves loose and kicked.
They ransacked the clouds of sunset, the thunderbolts of heaven, the deeps of hell, and the splendor of the resurrection for tropes and metaphors, and hurled the result at the head of the guest of the evening.
Never since the morning stars sung together for joy, I learned, had an amazed creation witnessed such superhuman bravery as that displayed by the American navy in the Samoa cyclone. Till earth rotted in the phosphorescent star-and-stripe slime of a decayed universe, that god-like gallantry would not be forgotten. I grieve that I cannot give the exact words. My attempt at reproducing their spirit is pale and inadequate. I sat bewildered on a coruscating Niagara of blatherum-skite. It was magnificent—it was stupendous—and I was conscious of a wicked desire to hide my face in a napkin and grin. Then, according to rule, they produced their dead, and across the snowy tablecloths dragged the corpse of every man slain in the Civil War, and hurled defiance at "our natural enemy" (England, so please you), "with her chain of fortresses across the world." Thereafter they glorified their nation afresh from the beginning, in case any detail should have been overlooked, and that made me uncomfortable for their sakes. How in the world can a white man, a sahib, of our blood, stand up and plaster praise on his own country? He can think as highly as he likes, but this open-mouthed vehemence of adoration struck me almost as indelicate. My hosts talked for rather more than three hours, and at the end seemed ready for three hours more.
But when the lieutenant—such a big, brave, gentle giant—rose to his feet, he delivered what seemed to me as the speech of the evening. I remember nearly the whole of it, and it ran something in this way:—"Gentlemen—It's very good of you to give me this dinner and to tell me all these pretty-things, but what I want you to understand—the fact is, what we want and what we ought to get at once, is a navy—more ships—lots of 'em—"
Then we howled the top of the roof off, and I for one fell in love with Carlin on the spot. Wallah! He was a man.
The prince among merchants bid me take no heed to the warlike sentiments of some of the old generals.
"The sky-rockets are thrown in for effect," quoth he, "and whenever we get on our hind legs we always express a desire to chaw up England. It's a sort of family affair."
And, indeed, when you come to think of it, there is no other country for the American public speaker to trample upon.
France has Germany; we have Russia; for Italy Austria is provided; and the humblest Pathan possesses an ancestral enemy.
Only America stands out of the racket, and therefore to be in fashion makes a sand-bag of the mother country, and hangs her when occasion requires.
"The chain of fortresses" man, a fascinating talker, explained to me after the affair that he was compelled to blow off steam. Everybody expected it.
When we had chanted "The Star Spangled Banner" not more than eight times, we adjourned. America is a very great country, but it is not yet heaven, with electric lights and plush fittings, as the speakers professed to believe. My listening mind went back to the politicians in the saloon, who wasted no time in talking about freedom, but quietly made arrangements to impose their will on the citizens.
"The judge is a great man, but give thy presents to the clerk," as the proverb saith.
And what more remains to tell? I cannot write connectedly, because I am in love with all those girls aforesaid, and some others who do not appear in the invoice. The typewriter is an institution of which the comic papers make much capital, but she is vastly convenient. She and a companion rent a room in a business quarter, and, aided by a typewriting machine, copy MSS. at the rate of six annas a page. Only a woman can operate a typewriting machine, because she has served apprenticeship to the sewing machine. She can earn as much as one hundred dollars a month, and professes to regard this form of bread-winning as her natural destiny. But, oh! how she hates it in her heart of hearts! When I had got over the surprise of doing business with and trying to give orders to a young woman of coldly, clerkly aspect intrenched behind gold-rimmed spectacles, I made inquiries concerning the pleasures of this independence. They liked it—indeed they did. 'Twas the natural fate of almost all girls—the recognized custom in America—and I was a barbarian not to see it in that light.
"Well, and after?" said I. "What happens?"
"We work for our bread."
"And then what do you expect?"
"Then we shall work for our bread."
"Till you die?"
"Unless what? This is your business, you know. A man works until he dies."
"So shall we"—this without enthusiasm—"I suppose."
Said the partner in the firm, audaciously:—"Sometimes we marry our employees—at least, that's what the newspapers say."
The hand banged on half a dozen of the keys of the machine at once. "Yet I don't care. I hate it—I hate it—I hate it—and you needn't look so!"
The senior partner was regarding the rebel with grave-eyed reproach.
"I thought you did," said I. "I don't suppose American girls are much different from English ones in instinct."
"Isn't it Theophile Gautier who says that the only difference between country and country lie in the slang and the uniform of the police?"
Now, in the name of all the gods at once, what is one to say to a young lady (who in England would be a person) who earns her own bread, and very naturally hates the employ, and slings out-of-the-way quotations at your head? That one falls in love with her goes without saying, but that is not enough.
A mission should be established.
III. AMERICAN SALMON
The race is neither to the swift nor the battle to the strong; but time and chance cometh to all.
I HAVE lived!
The American Continent may now sink under the sea, for I have taken the best that it yields, and the best was neither dollars, love, nor real estate.
Hear now, gentlemen of the Punjab Fishing Club, who whip the reaches of the Tavi, and you who painfully import trout over to Octamund, and I will tell you how old man California and I went fishing, and you shall envy.
We returned from The Dalles to Portland by the way we had come, the steamer stopping en route to pick up a night's catch of one of the salmon wheels on the river, and to deliver it at a cannery downstream.
When the proprietor of the wheel announced that his take was two thousand two hundred and thirty pounds weight of fish, "and not a heavy catch neither," I thought he lied. But he sent the boxes aboard, and I counted the salmon by the hundred—huge fifty-pounders hardly dead, scores of twenty and thirty pounders, and a host of smaller fish. They were all Chenook salmon, as distinguished from the "steel head" and the "silver side." That is to say, they were royal salmon, and California and I dropped a tear over them, as monarchs who deserved a better fate; but the lust of slaughter entered into our souls, and we talked fish and forgot the mountain scenery that had so moved us a day before.
The steamer halted at a rude wooden warehouse built on piles in a lonely reach of the river, and sent in the fish. I followed them up a scale-strewn, fishy incline that led to the cannery. The crazy building was quivering with the machinery on its floors, and a glittering bank of tin scraps twenty feet high showed where the waste was thrown after the cans had been punched.
Only Chinamen were employed on the work, and they looked like blood-besmeared yellow devils as they crossed the rifts of sunlight that lay upon the floor. When our consignment arrived, the rough wooden boxes broke of themselves as they were dumped down under a jet of water, and the salmon burst out in a stream of quicksilver. A Chinaman jerked up a twenty-pounder, beheaded and detailed it with two swift strokes of a knife, flicked out its internal arrangements with a third, and case it into a blood-dyed tank. The headless fish leaped from under his hands as though they were facing a rapid. Other Chinamen pulled them from the vat and thrust them under a thing like a chaff-cutter, which, descending, hewed them into unseemly red gobbets fit for the can.
More Chinamen, with yellow, crooked fingers, jammed the stuff into the cans, which slid down some marvellous machine forthwith, soldering their own tops as they passed. Each can was hastily tested for flaws, and then sunk with a hundred companions into a vat of boiling water, there to be half cooked for a few minutes. The cans bulged slightly after the operation, and were therefore slidden along by the trolleyful to men with needles and soldering-irons who vented them and soldered the aperture. Except for the label, the "Finest Columbia Salmon" was ready for the market. I was impressed not so much with the speed of the manufacture as the character of the factory. Inside, on a floor ninety by forty, the most civilized and murderous of machinery. Outside, three footsteps, the thick-growing pines and the immense solitude of the hills. Our steamer only stayed twenty minutes at that place, but I counted two hundred and forty finished cans made from the catch of the previous night ere I left the slippery, blood-stained, scale-spangled, oily floors and the offal-smeared Chinamen.
We reached Portland, California and I crying for salmon, and a real-estate man, to whom we had been intrusted by an insurance man, met us in the street, saying that fifteen miles away, across country, we should come upon a place called Clackamas, where we might perchance find what we desired. And California, his coat-tails flying in the wind, ran to a livery-stable and chartered a wagon and team forthwith. I could push the wagon about with one hand, so light was its structure. The team was purely American—that is to say, almost human in its intelligence and docility. Some one said that the roads were not good on the way to Clackamas, and warned us against smashing the springs. "Portland," who had watched the preparations, finally reckoned "He'd come along, too;" and under heavenly skies we three companions of a day set forth, California carefully lashing our rods into the carriage, and the by-standers overwhelming us with directions as to the saw-mills we were to pass, the ferries we were to cross, and the sign-posts we were to seek signs from. Half a mile from this city of fifty thousand souls we struck (and this must be taken literally) a plank road that would have been a disgrace to an Irish village.
Then six miles of macadamized road showed us that the team could move. A railway ran between us and the banks of the Willamette, and another above us through the mountains. All the land was dotted with small townships, and the roads were full of farmers in their town wagons, bunches of tow-haired, boggle-eyed urchins sitting in the hay behind. The men generally looked like loafers, but their women were all well dressed.
Brown braiding on a tailor-made jacket does not, however, consort with hay-wagons. Then we struck into the woods along what California called a camina reale—a good road—and Portland a "fair track." It wound in and out among fire-blackened stumps under pine-trees, along the corners of log fences, through hollows, which must be hopeless marsh in the winter, and up absurd gradients. But nowhere throughout its length did I see any evidence of road-making. There was a track—you couldn't well get off it, and it was all you could do to stay on it. The dust lay a foot thick in the blind ruts, and under the dust we found bits of planking and bundles of brushwood that sent the wagon bounding into the air. The journey in itself was a delight. Sometimes we crashed through bracken; anon, where the blackberries grew rankest, we found a lonely little cemetery, the wooden rails all awry and the pitiful, stumpy head-stones nodding drunkenly at the soft green mullions. Then, with oaths and the sound of rent underwood, a yoke of mighty bulls would swing down a "skid" road, hauling a forty-foot log along a rudely made slide.
A valley full of wheat and cherry-trees succeeded, and halting at a house, we bought ten-pound weight of luscious black cherries for something less than a rupee, and got a drink of icy-cold water for nothing, while the untended team browsed sagaciously by the road-side. Once we found a way-side camp of horse-dealers lounging by a pool, ready for a sale or a swap, and once two sun-tanned youngsters shot down a hill on Indian ponies, their full creels banging from the high-pommelled saddle. They had been fishing, and were our brethren, therefore. We shouted aloud in chorus to scare a wild cat; we squabbled over the reasons that had led a snake to cross a road; we heaved bits of bark at a venturesome chipmunk, who was really the little gray squirrel of India, and had come to call on me; we lost our way, and got the wagon so beautifully fixed on a khud-bound road that we had to tie the two hind wheels to get it down.
Above all, California told tales of Nevada and Arizona, of lonely nights spent out prospecting, the slaughter of deer and the chase of men, of woman—lovely woman—who is a firebrand in a Western city and leads to the popping of pistols, and of the sudden changes and chances of Fortune, who delights in making the miner or the lumber-man a quadruplicate millionaire and in "busting" the railroad king.
That was a day to be remembered, and it had only begun when we drew rein at a tiny farm-house on the banks of the Clackamas and sought horse feed and lodging, ere we hastened to the river that broke over a weir not a quarter of a mile away. Imagine a stream seventy yards broad divided by a pebbly island, running over seductive "riffles" and swirling into deep, quiet pools, where the good salmon goes to smoke his pipe after meals. Get such a stream amid fields of breast-high crops surrounded by hills of pines, throw in where you please quiet water, long-fenced meadows, and a hundred-foot bluff just to keep the scenery from growing too monotonous, and you will get some faint notion of the Clackamas. The weir had been erected to pen the Chenook salmon from going further up-stream. We could see them, twenty or thirty pounds, by the score in the deep pools, or flying madly against the weir and foolishly skinning their noses. They were not our prey, for they would not rise at a fly, and we knew it. All the same, when one made his leap against the weir, and landed on the foot-plank with a jar that shook the board I was standing on, I would fain have claimed him for my own capture.
Portland had no rod. He held the gaff and the whiskey. California sniffed up-stream and down-stream, across the racing water, chose his ground, and let the gaudy fly drop in the tail of a riffle. I was getting my rod together, when I heard the joyous shriek of the reel and the yells of California, and three feet of living silver leaped into the air far across the water. The forces were engaged.
The salmon tore up-stream, the tense line cutting the water like a tide-rip behind him, and the light bamboo bowed to breaking. What happened thereafter I cannot tell. California swore and prayed, and Portland shouted advice, and I did all three for what appeared to be half a day, but was in reality a little over a quarter of an hour, and sullenly our fish came home with spurts of temper, dashes head on and sarabands in the air, but home to the bank came he, and the remorseless reel gathered up the thread of his life inch by inch. We landed him in a little bay, and the spring weight in his gorgeous gills checked at eleven and one half pounds. Eleven and one half pounds of fighting salmon! We danced a war-dance on the pebbles, and California caught me round the waist in a hug that went near to breaking my ribs, while he shouted:—"Partner! Partner! This is glory! Now you catch your fish! Twenty-four years I've waited for this!"
I went into that icy-cold river and made my cast just above the weir, and all but foul-hooked a blue-and-black water-snake with a coral mouth who coiled herself on a stone and hissed male-dictions.
The next cast—ah, the pride of it, the regal splendor of it! the thrill that ran down from finger-tip to toe! Then the water boiled. He broke for the fly and got it. There remained enough sense in me to give him all he wanted when he jumped not once, but twenty times, before the up-stream flight that ran my line out to the last half-dozen turns, and I saw the nickelled reel-bar glitter under the thinning green coils. My thumb was burned deep when I strove to stopper the line.
I did not feel it till later, for my soul was out in the dancing weir, praying for him to turn ere he took my tackle away. And the prayer was heard. As I bowed back, the butt of the rod on my left hip-bone and the top joint dipping like unto a weeping willow, he turned and accepted each inch of slack that I could by any means get in as a favor from on high. There lie several sorts of success in this world that taste well in the moment of enjoyment, but I question whether the stealthy theft of line from an able-bodied salmon who knows exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it is not sweeter than any other victory within human scope. Like California's fish, he ran at me head on, and leaped against the line, but the Lord gave me two hundred and fifty pairs of fingers in that hour. The banks and the pine-trees danced dizzily round me, but I only reeled—reeled as for life—reeled for hours, and at the end of the reeling continued to give him the butt while he sulked in a pool. California was further up the reach, and with the corner of my eye I could see him casting with long casts and much skill. Then he struck, and my fish broke for the weir in the same instant, and down the reach we came, California and I, reel answering reel even as the morning stars sing together.
The first wild enthusiasm of capture had died away. We were both at work now in deadly earnest to prevent the lines fouling, to stall off a down-stream rush for shaggy water just above the weir, and at the same time to get the fish into the shallow bay down-stream that gave the best practicable landing. Portland bid us both be of good heart, and volunteered to take the rod from my hands.
I would rather have died among the pebbles than surrender my right to play and land a salmon, weight unknown, with an eight-ounce rod. I heard California, at my ear, it seemed, gasping: "He's a fighter from Fightersville, sure!" as his fish made a fresh break across the stream. I saw Portland fall off a log fence, break the overhanging bank, and clatter down to the pebbles, all sand and landing-net, and I dropped on a log to rest for a moment. As I drew breath the weary hands slackened their hold, and I forgot to give him the butt.
A wild scutter in the water, a plunge, and a break for the head-waters of the Clackamas was my reward, and the weary toil of reeling in with one eye under the water and the other on the top joint of the rod was renewed. Worst of all, I was blocking California's path to the little landing bay aforesaid, and he had to halt and tire his prize where he was.
"The father of all the salmon!" he shouted. "For the love of Heaven, get your trout to bank, Johnny Bull!"
But I could do no more. Even the insult failed to move me. The rest of the game was with the salmon. He suffered himself to be drawn, skip-ping with pretended delight at getting to the haven where I would fain bring him. Yet no sooner did he feel shoal water under his ponderous belly than he backed like a torpedo-boat, and the snarl of the reel told me that my labor was in vain. A dozen times, at least, this happened ere the line hinted he had given up the battle and would be towed in. He was towed. The landing-net was useless for one of his size, and I would not have him gaffed. I stepped into the shallows and heaved him out with a respectful hand under the gill, for which kindness he battered me about the legs with his tail, and I felt the strength of him and was proud. California had taken my place in the shallows, his fish hard held. I was up the bank lying full length on the sweet-scented grass and gasping in company with my first salmon caught, played and landed on an eight-ounce rod. My hands were cut and bleeding, I was dripping with sweat, spangled like a harlequin with scales, water from my waist down, nose peeled by the sun, but utterly, supremely, and consummately happy.
The beauty, the darling, the daisy, my Salmon Bahadur, weighed twelve pounds, and I had been seven-and-thirty minutes bringing him to bank! He had been lightly hooked on the angle of the right jaw, and the hook had not wearied him. That hour I sat among princes and crowned heads greater than them all. Below the bank we heard California scuffling with his salmon and swearing Spanish oaths. Portland and I assisted at the capture, and the fish dragged the spring balance out by the roots. It was only constructed to weigh up to fifteen pounds. We stretched the three fish on the grass—the eleven and a half, the twelve and fifteen pounder—and we gave an oath that all who came after should merely be weighed and put back again.
How shall I tell the glories of that day so that you may be interested? Again and again did California and I prance down that reach to the little bay, each with a salmon in tow, and land him in the shallows. Then Portland took my rod and caught some ten-pounders, and my spoon was carried away by an unknown leviathan. Each fish, for the merits of the three that had died so gamely, was hastily hooked on the balance and flung back. Portland recorded the weight in a pocket-book, for he was a real-estate man. Each fish fought for all he was worth, and none more savagely than the smallest, a game little six-pounder. At the end of six hours we added up the list. Read it. Total: Sixteen fish; aggregate weight, one hundred and forty pounds. The score in detail runs something like this—it is only interesting to those concerned: fifteen, eleven and a half, twelve, ten, nine and three quarters, eight, and so forth; as I have said, nothing under six pounds, and three ten-pounders.
Very solemnly and thankfully we put up our rods—it was glory enough for all time—and returned weeping in each other's arms, weeping tears of pure joy, to that simple, bare-legged family in the packing-case house by the water-side.
The old farmer recollected days and nights of fierce warfare with the Indians "way back in the fifties," when every ripple of the Columbia River and her tributaries hid covert danger. God had dowered him with a queer, crooked gift of expression and a fierce anxiety for the welfare of his two little sons—tanned and reserved children, who attended school daily and spoke good English in a strange tongue.
His wife was an austere woman, who had once been kindly, and perhaps handsome.
Very many years of toil had taken the elasticity out of step and voice. She looked for nothing better than everlasting work—the chafing detail of housework—and then a grave somewhere up the hill among the blackberries and the pines.
But in her grim way she sympathized with her eldest daughter, a small and silent maiden of eighteen, who had thoughts very far from the meals she tended and the pans she scoured.
We stumbled into the household at a crisis, and there was a deal of downright humanity in that same. A bad, wicked dress-maker had promised the maiden a dress in time for a to-morrow's rail-way journey, and though the barefooted Georgy, who stood in very wholesome awe of his sister, had scoured the woods on a pony in search, that dress never arrived. So, with sorrow in her heart and a hundred Sister-Anne glances up the road, she waited upon the strangers and, I doubt not, cursed them for the wants that stood between her and her need for tears. It was a genuine little tragedy. The mother, in a heavy, passionless voice, rebuked her impatience, yet sat up far into the night, bowed over a heap of sewing for the daughter's benefit.
These things I beheld in the long marigold-scented twilight and whispering night, loafing round the little house with California, who un-folded himself like a lotus to the moon, or in the little boarded bunk that was our bedroom, swap-ping tales with Portland and the old man.
Most of the yarns began in this way:—"Red Larry was a bull-puncher back of Lone County, Montana," or "There was a man riding the trail met a jack-rabbit sitting in a cactus," or "'Bout the time of the San Diego land boom, a woman from Monterey," etc.
You can try to piece out for yourselves what sort of stories they were.
IV. THE YELLOWSTONE
ONCE upon a time there was a carter who brought his team and a friend into the Yellowstone Park without due thought. Presently they came upon a few of the natural beauties of the place, and that carter turned his team into his friend's team, howling:—"Get out o' this, Jim. All hell's alight under our noses!"
And they called the place Hell's Half-Acre to this day to witness if the carter lied.
We, too, the old lady from Chicago, her husband, Tom, and the good little mares, came to Hell's Half-Acre, which is about sixty acres in extent, and when Tom said:—"Would you like to drive over it?"
We said:—"Certainly not, and if you do we shall report you to the park authorities."
There was a plain, blistered, peeled, and abominable, and it was given over to the sportings and spoutings of devils who threw mud, and steam, and dirt at each other with whoops, and halloos, and bellowing curses.
The places smelled of the refuse of the pit, and that odor mixed with the clean, wholesome aroma of the pines in our nostrils throughout the day.
This Yellowstone Park is laid out like Ollendorf, in exercises of progressive difficulty. Hell's Half-Acre was a prelude to ten or twelve miles of geyser formation.
We passed hot streams boiling in the forest; saw whiffs of steam beyond these, and yet other whiffs breaking through the misty green hills in the far distance; we trampled on sulphur in crystals, and sniffed things much worse than any sulphur which is known to the upper world; and so journeying, bewildered with the novelty, came upon a really park-like place where Tom suggested we should get out and play with the geysers on foot.
Imagine mighty green fields splattered with lime-beds, all the flowers of the summer growing up to the very edge of the lime. That was our first glimpse of the geyser basins.
The buggy had pulled up close to a rough, broken, blistered cone of spelter stuff between ten and twenty feet high. There was trouble in that place—moaning, splashing, gurgling, and the clank of machinery. A spurt of boiling water jumped into the air, and a wash of water followed.
I removed swiftly. The old lady from Chicago shrieked. "What a wicked waste!" said her husband.
I think they call it the Riverside Geyser. Its spout was torn and ragged like the mouth of a gun when a shell has burst there. It grumbled madly for a moment or two, and then was still. I crept over the steaming lime—it was the burning marl on which Satan lay—and looked fearfully down its mouth. You should never look a gift geyser in the mouth.
I beheld a horrible, slippery, slimy funnel with water rising and falling ten feet at a time. Then the water rose to lip level with a rush, and an infernal bubbling troubled this Devil's Bethesda before the sullen heave of the crest of a wave lapped over the edge and made me run.
Mark the nature of the human soul! I had begun with awe, not to say terror, for this was my first experience of such things. I stepped back from the banks of the Riverside Geyser, saying:—"Pooh! Is that all it can do?"
Yet for aught I knew, the whole thing might have blown up at a minute's notice, she, he, or it being an arrangement of uncertain temper.
We drifted on, up that miraculous valley. On either side of us were hills from a thousand or fifteen hundred feet high, wooded from crest to heel. As far as the eye could range forward were columns of steam in the air, misshapen lumps of lime, mist-like preadamite monsters, still pools of turquoise-blue stretches of blue corn-flowers, a river that coiled on itself twenty times, pointed bowlders of strange colors, and ridges of glaring, staring white.
A moon-faced trooper of German extraction—never was park so carefully patrolled—came up to inform us that as yet we had not seen any of the real geysers; that they were all a mile or so up the valley, and tastefully scattered round the hotel in which we would rest for the night.
America is a free country, but the citizens look down on the soldier. I had to entertain that trooper. The old lady from Chicago would have none of him; so we loafed alone together, now across half-rotten pine logs sunk in swampy ground, anon over the ringing geyser formation, then pounding through river-sand or brushing knee-deep through long grass.
"And why did you enlist?" said I.
The moon-faced one's face began to work. I thought he would have a fit, but he told me a story instead—such a nice tale of a naughty little girl who wrote pretty love letters to two men at once. She was a simple village wife, but a wicked "family novelette" countess couldn't have accomplished her ends better. She drove one man nearly wild with the pretty little treachery, and the other man abandoned her and came West to forget the trickery.
Moon-face was that man.
We rounded and limped over a low spur of hill, and came out upon a field of aching, snowy lime rolled in sheets, twisted into knots, riven with rents, and diamonds, and stars, stretching for more than half a mile in every direction.
On this place of despair lay most of the big, bad geysers who know when there is trouble in Krakatoa, who tell the pines when there is a cyclone on the Atlantic seaboard, and who are exhibited to visitors under pretty and fanciful names.
The first mound that I encountered belonged to a goblin who was splashing in his tub.
I heard him kick, pull a shower-bath on his shoulders, gasp, crack his joints, and rub himself down with a towel; then he let the water out of the bath, as a thoughtful man should, and it all sunk down out of sight till another goblin arrived.
So we looked and we wondered at the Beehive, whose mouth is built up exactly like a hive, at the Turban (which is not in the least like a turban), and at many, many other geysers, hot holes, and springs. Some of them rumbled, some hissed, some went off spasmodically, and others lay dead still in sheets of sapphire and beryl.
Would you believe that even these terrible creatures have to be guarded by the troopers to prevent the irreverent Americans from chipping the cones to pieces, or, worse still, making the geyser sick? If you take a small barrel full of soft-soap and drop it down a geyser's mouth, that geyser will presently be forced to lay all before you, and for days afterward will be of an irritated and inconstant stomach.
When they told me the tale I was filled with sympathy. Now I wish that I had soft-soap and tried the experiment on some lonely little beast far away in the woods. It sounds so probable and so human.
Yet he would be a bold man who would administer emetics to the Giantess. She is flat-lipped, having no mouth; she looks like a pool, fifty feet long and thirty wide, and there is no ornamentation about her. At irregular intervals she speaks and sends up a volume of water over two hundred feet high to begin with, then she is angry for a day and a half—sometimes for two days.
Owing to her peculiarity of going mad in the night, not many people have seen the Giantess at her finest; but the clamor of her unrest, men say, shakes the wooden hotel, and echoes like thunder among the hills.
The congregation returned to the hotel to put down their impressions in diaries and note-books, which they wrote up ostentatiously in the verandas. It was a sweltering hot day, albeit we stood some-what higher than the level of Simla, and I left that raw pine creaking caravansary for the cool shade of a clump of pines between whose trunks glimmered tents.
A batch of United States troopers came down the road and flung themselves across the country into their rough lines. The Mexican cavalryman can ride, though he keeps his accoutrements pig-fashion and his horse cow-fashion.
I was free of that camp in five minutes—free to play with the heavy, lumpy carbines, have the saddles stripped, and punch the horses knowingly in the ribs. One of the men had been in the fight with "Wrap-up-his-Tail," and he told me how that great chief, his horse's tail tied up in red calico, swaggered in front of the United States cavalry, challenging all to single combat. But he was slain, and a few of his tribe with him.
"There's no use in an Indian, anyway," concluded my friend.
A couple of cow-boys—real cow-boys—jingled through the camp amid a shower of mild chaff. They were on their way to Cook City, I fancy, and I know that they never washed. But they were picturesque ruffians exceedingly, with long spurs, hooded stirrups, slouch hats, fur weather-cloth over their knees, and pistol-butts just easy to hand.
"The cow-boy's goin' under before long," said my friend. "Soon as the country's settled up he'll have to go. But he's mighty useful now. What would we do without the cow-boy?"
"As how?" said I, and the camp laughed.
"He has the money. We have the skill. He comes in winter to play poker at the military posts. We play poker—a few. When he's lost his money we make him drunk and let him go. Sometimes we get the wrong man."
And he told me a tale of an innocent cow-boy who turned up, cleaned out, at an army post, and played poker for thirty-six hours. But it was the post that was cleaned out when that long-haired Caucasian removed himself, heavy with everybody's pay and declining the proffered liquor.
"Noaw," said the historian, "I don't play with no cow-boy unless he's a little bit drunk first."
Ere I departed I gathered from more than one man the significant fact that up to one hundred yards he felt absolutely secure behind his revolver.
"In England, I understand," quoth the limber youth from the South,—"in England a man isn't allowed to play with no fire-arms. He's got to be taught all that when he enlists. I didn't want much teaching how to shoot straight 'fore I served Uncle Sam. And that's just where it is. But you was talking about your Horse Guards now?"
I explained briefly some peculiarities of equipment connected with our crackest crack cavalry. I grieve to say the camp roared.
"Take 'em over swampy ground. Let 'em run around a bit an' work the starch out of 'em, an' then, Almighty, if we wouldn't plug 'em at ease I'd eat their horses."
There was a maiden—a very little maiden—who had just stepped out of one of James's novels. She owned a delightful mother and an equally delightful father—a heavy-eyed, slow-voiced man of finance. The parents thought that their daughter wanted change.
She lived in New Hampshire. Accordingly, she had dragged them up to Alaska and to the Yosemite Valley, and was now returning leisurely, via the Yellowstone, just in time for the tail-end of the summer season at Saratoga.
We had met once or twice before in the park, and I had been amazed and amused at her critical commendation of the wonders that she saw. From that very resolute little mouth I received a lecture on American literature, the nature and inwardness of Washington society, the precise value of Cable's works as compared with Uncle Remus Harris, and a few other things that had nothing whatever to do with geysers, but were altogether pleasant.
Now, an English maiden who had stumbled on a dust-grimed, lime-washed, sun-peeled, collarless wanderer come from and going to goodness knows where, would, her mother inciting her and her father brandishing an umbrella, have regarded him as a dissolute adventurer—a person to be disregarded.
Not so those delightful people from New Hampshire. They were good enough to treat him—it sounds almost incredible—as a human being, possibly respectable, probably not in immediate need of financial assistance.
Papa talked pleasantly and to the point.
The little maiden strove valiantly with the accent of her birth and that of her rearing, and mamma smiled benignly in the background.
Balance this with a story of a young English idiot I met mooning about inside his high collar, attended by a valet. He condescended to tell me that "you can't be too careful who you talk to in these parts." And stalked on, fearing, I suppose, every minute for his social chastity.
That man was a barbarian (I took occasion to tell him so), for he comported himself after the manner of the head-hunters and hunted of Assam who are at perpetual feud one with another.
You will understand that these foolish stories are introduced in order to cover the fact that this pen cannot describe the glories of the Upper Geyser Basin. The evening I spent under the lee of the Castle Geyser, sitting on a log with some troopers and watching a baronial keep forty feet high spouting hot water. If the Castle went off first, they said the Giantess would be quiet, and vice versa, and then they told tales till the moon got up and a party of campers in the woods gave us all something to eat.
Then came soft, turfy forest that deadened the wheels, and two troopers on detachment duty stole noiselessly behind us. One was the Wrap-up-his-Tail man, and they talked merrily while the half-broken horses bucked about among the trees. And so a cavalry escort was with us for a mile, till we got to a mighty hill strewn with moss agates, and everybody had to jump out and pant in that thin air. But how intoxicating it was! The old lady from Chicago ducked like an emancipated hen as she scuttled about the road, cramming pieces of rock into her reticule. She sent me fifty yards down to the hill-side to pick up a piece of broken bottle which she insisted was moss agate.
"I've some o' that at home, an' they shine. Yes, you go get it, young man."
As we climbed the long path the road grew viler and viler till it became, without disguise, the bed of a torrent; and just when things were at their rockiest we nearly fell into a little sapphire lake—but never sapphire was so blue—called Mary's Lake; and that between eight and nine thousand feet above the sea.
Afterward, grass downs, all on a vehement slope, so that the buggy, following the new-made road, ran on the two off-wheels mostly till we dipped head-first into a ford, climbed up a cliff, raced along down, dipped again, and pulled up dishevelled at "Larry's" for lunch and an hour's rest.
Then we lay on the grass and laughed with sheer bliss of being alive. This have I known once in Japan, once on the banks of the Columbia, what time the salmon came in and California howled, and once again in the Yellowstone by the light of the eyes of the maiden from New Hampshire. Four little pools lay at my elbow, one was of black water (tepid), one clear water (cold), one clear water (hot), one red water (boiling). My newly washed handkerchief covered them all, and we two marvelled as children marvel.
"This evening we shall do the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone," said the maiden.
"Together?" said I; and she said, "Yes."
The sun was beginning to sink when we heard the roar of falling waters and came to a broad river along whose banks we ran. And then—I might at a pinch describe the infernal regions, but not the other place. The Yellowstone River has occasion to run through a gorge about eight miles long. To get to the bottom of the gorge it makes two leaps, one of about one hundred and twenty and the other of three hundred feet. I investigated the upper or lesser fall, which is close to the hotel.