By O. P. Fitzgerald
With an Introduction by Bishop George F. Pierce.
The bearded men in rude attire, With nerves of steel and hearts of fire, The women few but fair and sweet, Like shadowy visions dim and fleet, Again I see, again I hear, As down the past I dimly peer, And muse o'er buried joy and pain, And tread the hills of youth again.
Encores are usually anticlimaxes. I never did like them. Yet here I am again before the public with another book of "California Sketches." The kind treatment given to the former volume, of which six editions have been printed and sold; the expressed wishes of many friends who have said, Give us another book; and my own impulse, have induced me to venture upon a second appearance. If much of the song is in the minor key, it had to be so: these Sketches are from real life, and "all lives are tragedies."
Nashville, September, 1881.
The first issue of the "California Sketches" was very popular, deservedly so. The distinguished Author has prepared a Second Series. In this fact the reading public will rejoice.
In these hooks we have the romance and prestige of fiction; the thrill of incident and adventure; the wonderful phases of society in a new country, and under the pressure of strong and peculiar excitements; human character loose from the restraints of an old civilization—a settled order of things; individuality unwarped by imitation—free, varied, independent. The materials are rich, and they are embodied in a glowing narrative. The writer himself lived amid the scenes and the people he describes, and, as a citizen, a preacher, and an editor, was an important factor among the forces destined to mold the elements which were to be formulated in the politics of the State and the enterprises of the Church. A close observer, gifted with a keen discrimination and retentive memory, a decided relish for the ludicrous and the sportive, and always ready to give a religions turn to thought and conversation, he is admirably adapted to portray and recite what he saw, heard, and felt.
These Sketches furnish good reading for anybody. For the young they are charming, full of entertainment, and not wanting in moral instruction. They will gratify the taste of those who love to read, and, what is more important, beget the appetite for books among the dull and indifferent. He who can stimulate children and young men and women to read renders a signal service to society at large. Mental growth depends much upon reading, and the fertilization of the original soil by the habit wisely directed connects vitally with the outcome and harvest of the future.
Dr. Fitzgerald is doing good service in the work already done, and I trust the patronage of the people will encourage him to give us another and another of the same sort. At my house we all read the "California Sketches"—old and young—and long for more.
G. F. Pierce.
Dick The Diggers The California Mad-House San Quentin "Corralled" The Reblooming The Emperor Norton Camilla Cain Lone Mountain Newton The California Politician Old Man Lowry Suicide In California Father Fisher Jack White The Rabbi My Mining Speculation Mike Reese Uncle Nolan Buffalo Jones Tod Robinson Ah Lee The Climate of California After The Storm Bishop Kavanaugh In California Sanders A Day Winter-Blossomed A Virginian In California At The End
Dick was a Californian. We made his acquaintance in Sonora about a month before Christmas, Anno Domini 1855. This is the way it happened:
At the request of a number of families, the lady who presided in the curious little parsonage near the church on the hill-side had started a school for little girls. The public schools might do for the boys, but were too mixed for their sisters—so they thought. Boys could rough it —they were a rough set, anyway—but the girls must he raised according to the traditions of the old times and the old homes. That was the view taken of the matter then, and from that day to this the average California girl has been superior to the average California boy. The boy gets his bias from the street; the girl, from her mother at home. The boy plunges into the life that surges around him; the girl only feels the touch of its waves as they break upon the embankments of home. The boy gets more of the father; the girl gets more of the mother. This may explain their relative superiority. The school for girls was started on condition that it should be free, the proposed teacher refusing all compensation. That part of the arrangement was a failure, for at the end of the first month every little girl brought a handful of money, and laid it on the teacher's desk. It must have been a concerted matter. That quiet, unselfish woman had suddenly become a money-maker in spite of herself. (Use was found for the coin in the course of events.) The school was opened with a Psalm, a prayer, and a little song in which the sweet voices of the little Jewish, Spanish, German, Irish, and American maidens united heartily. Dear children! they are scattered now. Some of them have died, and some of them have met with what is worse than death. There was one bright Spanish girl, slender, graceful as a willow, with the fresh Castilian blood mantling her cheeks, her bright eyes beaming with mischief and affection. She was a beautiful child, and her winning ways made her a pet in the little school. But surrounded as the bright, beautiful girl was, Satan had a mortgage on her from her birth, and her fate was too dark and sad to be told in these pages. She inherited evil condition, and perhaps evil blood, and her evil life seemed to be inevitable. Poor child of sin, whose very beauty was thy curse, let the curtain fall upon thy fate and name; we leave thee in the hands of the pitying Christ, who hath said, "Where little is given little will be required." Little was given thee in the way of opportunity, for it was a mother's hand that bound thee with the chains of evil.
Among the children that came to that remarkable academy on the hill was little Mary Kinneth, a thin, delicate child, with mild blue eyes, flaxen hair, a peach complexion, and the blue veins on her temples that are so often the sign of delicacy of organization and the presage of early death. Mike Kinneth,—her father, was a drinking Irishman, a good-hearted fellow when sober, but pugnacious and disposed to beat his wife when drunk. The poor woman came over to see me one day. She had been crying, and there was an ugly bruise on her cheek.
"Your riverence will excuse me," she said, curtseying, "but I wish you would come over and spake a word to me husband. Mike's a kind, good craythur except when he is dhrinking, but then he is the very Satan himself."
"Did he give you that bruise on your face, Mrs. Kinneth?"
"Yis; he came home last night mad with the whisky, and was breaking ivery thing in the house. I tried to stop him, and thin he bate me—O! he never did that before! My heart is broke!"
Here the poor woman broke down and cried, hiding her face in her apron.
"Little Mary was asleep, and she waked up frightened and crying to see her father in such a way. Seeing the child seemed to sober him a little, and he stumbled on to the bed, and fell asleep. He was always kind to the child, dhrunk or sober. And there is a good heart in him if he will only stay away from the dhrink."
"Would he let me talk to him?"
"Yis; we belong to the old Church, but there is no priest here now, and the kindness your lady has shown to little Mary has softened his heart to ye both. And I think he feels a little sick and ashamed this mornin', and he will listen to kind words now if iver."
I went to see Mike, and found him half-sick and in a penitent mood. He called me "Father Fitzgerald," and treated me with the utmost politeness and deference. I talked to him about little Mary, and his warm Irish heart opened to me at once.
"She is a good child, your riverence, and shame on the father that would hurt or disgrace her!"
The tears stood in Mike's eyes as he spoke the words.
"All the trouble comes from the whisky. Why not give it up?"
"By the help of God I will!" said Mike, grasping my hand with energy.
And he did. I confess that the result of my visit exceeded my hopes. Mike kept away from the saloons, worked steadily, little Mary had no lack of new shoes and neat frocks, and the Kinneth family were happy in a humble way. Mike always seemed glad to see me, and greeted me warmly.
One morning about the last of November there was a knock at the door of the little parsonage. Opening the door, there stood Mrs. Kinneth with a turkey under her arm.
"Christmas will soon be coming, and I've brought ye a turkey for your kindness to little Mary and your good talk to Mike. He has not touched a dhrop since the blissed day ye spake to him. Will ye take the turkey, and my thanks wid it?"
The turkey was politely and smilingly accepted, and Mrs. Kinneth went away looking mightily pleased.
I extemporized a little coop for our turkey. Having but little mechanical ingenuity, it was a difficult job, but it resulted more satisfactorily than did my attempt to make a door for the miniature kitchen attached to the parsonage. My object was to nail some cross-pieces on some plain boards, hang it on hinges, and fasten it on the inside by a leather strap attached to a nail. The model in my mind was, as the reader sees, of the most simple and primitive pattern. I spent all my leisure time for a week at work on that door. I spoiled the lumber, I blistered my hands, I broke several dollars' worth of carpenter's tools, which I had to pay, and—then I hired a man to make that door! This was my last effort in that line of things, excepting the turkey-coop, which was the very last. It lasted four days, at the end of which time it just gave way all over, and caved in. Fortunately, it was no longer needed. Our turkey would not leave us. The parsonage fare suited him, and he staid, and throve, and made friends.
We named him Dick. He is the hero of this Sketch. Dick was intelligent, sociable, and had a good appetite. He would eat any thing, from a crust of bread to the pieces of candy that the schoolgirls would give him as they passed. He became as gentle as a dog, and would answer to his name. He had the freedom of the town, and went where he pleased, returning at meal-times, and at night to roost on the western end of the kitchen-roof. He would eat from our hands, looking at us with a sort of human expression in his shiny eyes. If he were a hundred yards away, all we had to do was to go to the door and call out, "Dick!"
"Dick!" once or twice, and here he would come, stretching his long legs, and saying, "Oot," "oot," "oot" (is that the way to spell it?). He got to like going about with me. He would go with me to the post-office, to the market, and sometimes he would accompany me in a pastoral visit. Dick was well known and popular. Even the bad boys of the town did not throw stones at him. His ruling passion was the love of eating. He ate between meals. He ate all that was offered to him. Dick was a pampered turkey, and made the most of his good luck and popularity. He was never in low spirits, and never disturbed except when a dog came about him. He disliked dogs, and seemed to distrust them.
The days rolled by, and Dick was fat and happy. It was the day before Christmas. We had asked two bachelors to take Christmas-dinner with us, having room and chairs for just two more persons. (One of our four chairs was called a stool—it had a bottom and three legs, one of which was a little shaky, and no back.) There was a constraint upon us both all day. I knew what was the matter, but said nothing. About four o'clock in the afternoon Dick's mistress sat down by me, and, after a pause, remarked:
"Do you know that tomorrow is Christmas-day?"
"Yes, I know it."
Another pause. I had nothing to say just then. "Well, if—if—if any thing is to be done about that turkey, it is time it were done."
"Do you mean Dick?"
"Yes," with a little quiver in her voice.
"I understand you—you mean to kill him—poor Dick! the only pet we ever had."
She broke right down at this, and began to cry.
"What is the matter here?" said our kind, energetic neighbor, Mrs. T—, who came in to pay us one of her informal visits. She was from Philadelphia, and, though a gifted woman, with a wide range of reading and observation of human life, was not a sentimentalist. She laughed at the weeping mistress of the parsonage, and, going to the back-door, she called out:
Dick, who was taking the air high up on the hillside, came at the call, making long strides, and sounding his "Oot," "oot," "oot," which was the formula by which he expressed all his emotions, varying only the tone.
Dick, as he stood with outstretched neck and a look of expectation in his honest eyes, was scooped up by our neighbor, and carried off down the hill in the most summary manner.
In about an hour Dick was brought back. He was dressed. He was also stuffed.
The Digger Indian holds a low place in the scale of humanity. He is not intelligent; he is not handsome; he is not very brave. He stands near the foot of his class, and I fear he is not likely to go up any higher. It is more likely that the places that know him now will soon know him no more, for the reason that he seems readier to adopt the bad white man's whisky and diseases than the good white man's morals and religion. Ethnologically he has given rise to much conflicting speculation, with which I will not trouble the gentle reader. He has been in California a long time, and he does not know that he was ever anywhere else. His pedigree does not trouble him; he is more concerned about getting something to eat. It is not because he is an agriculturist that he is called a Digger, but because he grabbles for wild roots, and has a general fondness for dirt. I said he was not handsome, and when we consider his rusty, dark-brown color, his heavy features, fishy black eyes, coarse black hair, and clumsy gait, nobody will dispute the statement. But one Digger is uglier than another, and an old squaw caps the climax.
The first Digger I ever saw was the best-looking. He had picked up a little English, and loafed around the mining-camps picking up a meal where he could get it. He called himself "Captain Charley," and, like a true native American, was proud of his title. If it was self-assumed, he was still following the precedent set by a vast host of captains, majors, colonels, and generals, who never wore a uniform or hurt anybody. He made his appearance at the little parsonage on the hill-side in Sonora one day, and, thrusting his bare head into the door, he said:
"Me Cappin Charley," tapping his chest complacently as he spoke.
Returning his salutation, I waited for him to speak again.
"You got grub—coche carne?" he asked, mixing his Spanish and English.
Some food was given him, which he snatched rather eagerly, and began to eat at once. It was, evident that Captain Charley had not breakfasted that morning. He was a hungry Indian, and when he got through his meal there was no reserve of rations in the unique repository of dishes and food which has been mentioned heretofore in these Sketches. Peering about the premises, Captain Charley made a discovery. The modest little parsonage stood on a steep incline, the upper side resting on the red gravelly earth, while the lower side was raised three or four feet from the ground. The vacant space underneath had been used by our several bachelor predecessors as a receptacle for cast-off clothing. Malone, Lockley, and Evans, had thus disposed of their discarded apparel, and Drury Bond and one or two other miners had also added to the treasures that caught the eye of the inquisitive Digger. It was a museum of sartorial curiosities—seedy and ripped broadcloth coats, vests, and pants, flannel mining-shirts of gay colors and of different degrees of wear and tear, linen shirts that looked like battle-flags that had been through the war, and old shoes and boots of all sorts, from the high rubber water-proofs used by miners to the ragged slippers that had adorned the feet of the lonely single parsons whose names are written above.
"Me take um?" asked Captain Charley, pointing to the treasure he had discovered.
Leave was given, and Captain Charley lost no time in taking possession of the coveted goods. He chuckled to himself as one article after another was drawn forth from the pile which seemed to be almost inexhaustible. When he had gotten all out and piled up together, it was a rare-looking sight.
"Mucho bueno!" exclaimed Captain Charley, as he proceeded to array himself in a pair of trousers. Then a shirt, then a vest, and then a coat, were put on. And then another, and another, and yet another suit was donned in the same order. He was fast becoming a "big Indian" indeed. We looked on and smiled, sympathizing with the evident delight of our visitor in his superabundant wardrobe. He was in full-dress, and enjoyed it. But he made a failure at one point—his feet were too large, or were not the right shape, for white men's boots or shoes. He tried several pairs, but his huge flat foot would not enter them, and finally he threw down the last one tried by him with a Spanish exclamation not fit to be printed in these pages. That language is a musical one, but its oaths are very harsh in sound. A battered "stove-pipe" hat was found among the spoils turned over to Captain Chancy. Placing it on his head jauntily, he turned to us, saying, Adios, and went strutting down the street, the picture of gratified vanity. His appearance on Washington Street, the main thoroughfare of the place, thus gorgeously and abundantly arrayed, created a sensation. It was as good as a "show" to the jolly miners, always ready to be amused. Captain Charley was known to most of them, and they had a kindly feeling for the good-natured "fool Injun," as one of them called him in my hearing.
The next Digger I noticed was of the gentler (but in this case not lovelier) sex. She was an old squaw, who was in mourning. The sign of her grief was the black adobe mud spread over her face. She sat all day motionless and speechless, gazing up into the sky. Her grief was caused by the death of a child, and her sorrowful look showed that she had a mother's heart. Poor, degraded creature! What were her thoughts as she sat there looking so pitifully up into the silent, far-off heavens? All the livelong day she gazed thus fixedly into the sky, taking no notice of the passersby, neither speaking, eating, nor drinking. It was a custom of the tribe, but its peculiar significance is unknown to me.
It was a great night at an adjoining camp when the old chief died. It was made the occasion of a fearful orgy. Dry wood and brush were gathered into a huge pile, the body of the dead chief was placed upon it, and the mass set on fire. As the flames blazed upward with a roar, the Indians, several hundred in number, broke forth into wild wailings and howlings, the shrill soprano of the women rising high above the din, as they marched around the burning pyre. Fresh fuel was supplied from time to time, and all night long the flames lighted up the surrounding hills which echoed with the shouts and howls of the savages. It was a touch of pandemonium. At dawn there was nothing left of the dead chief but ashes. The mourners took up their line of march toward the Stanislaus River, the squaws bearing their papooses on their backs, the "bucks" leading the way.
The Digger believes in a future life, and in future rewards and punishments. Good Indians and bad Indians are subjected to the same ordeal at death. Each one is rewarded according to his deeds.
The disembodied soul comes to a wide, turbid river, whose angry waters rush on to an unknown destination, roaring and foaming. From high banks on either side of the stream is stretched a pole smooth and small, over which he is required to walk. Upon the result of this post-mortem Blondinizing his fate depends. If he was in life a very good Indian he goes over safely, and finds on the other side a paradise, where the skies are cloudless, the air balmy, the flowers brilliant in color and sweet in perfume, the springs many and cool, and the deer plentiful and fat. In this fair clime there are no bad Indians, no briers, no snakes, no grizzly bears. Such is the paradise of good Diggers.
The Indian who was in life a mixed character, not all good or bad, but made up of both, starts across the fateful river, gets on very well until he reaches about half-way over, when his head becomes dizzy, and he tumbles into the boiling flood below. He swims for his life. (Every Indian on earth can swim, and he does not forget the art in the world of spirits.) Buffeting the waters, he is carried swiftly down the rushing current, and at last makes the shore, to find a country which, like his former life, is a mixture of good and bad. Some days are fair, and others are rainy and chilly; flowers and brambles grow together; there are some springs of water, but they are few, and not all cool and sweet; the deer are few, and shy, and lean, and grizzly bears roam the hills and valleys. This is the limbo of the moderately-wicked Digger.
The very bad Indian, placing his feet upon the attenuated bridge of doom, makes a few steps forward, stumbles, falls into the whirling waters below, and is swept downward with fearful velocity. At last, with desperate struggles he half swims, and is half washed ashore on the same side from which he started, to find a dreary land where the sun never shines, and the cold rains always pour down from the dark skies, where the water is brackish and foul, where no flowers ever bloom, where leagues may be traversed without seeing a deer, and grizzly bears abound. This is the hell of very bad Indians—and a very had one it is.
The worst Indians of all, at death, are transformed into grizzly bears.
The Digger has a good appetite, and he is not particular about his eating. He likes grasshoppers, clover, acorns, roots, and fish. The flesh of a dead mule, horse, cow, or hog, does not come amiss to him—I mean the flesh of such as die natural deaths. He eats what he can get, and all he can get. In the grasshopper season he is fat and flourishing. In the suburbs of Sonora I came one day upon a lot of squaws, who were engaged in catching grasshoppers. Stretched along in line, armed with thick branches of pine, they threshed the ground in front of them as they advanced, driving the grasshoppers before them in constantly increasing numbers, until the air was thick with the flying insects. Their course was directed to a deep gully, or gulch, into which they fell exhausted. It was astonishing to see with what dexterity the squaws would gather them up and thrust them into a sort of covered basket; made of willow-twigs or tule-grass, while the insects would be trying to escape; but would fall back unable to rise above the sides of the gulch in which they had been entrapped. The grasshoppers are dried, or cured, for winter use. A white man who had tried them told me they were pleasant eating, having a flavor very similar to that of a good shrimp. (I was content to take his word for it.)
When Bishop Soule was in California, in 1853, he paid a visit to a Digger campoody (or village) in the Calaveras hills. He was profoundly interested, and expressed an ardent desire to be instrumental in the conversion of one of these poor kin. It was yet early in the morning when the Bishop and his party arrived, and the Diggers were not astir, save here and there a squaw, in primitive array, who slouched lazily toward a spring of water hard by. But soon the arrival of the visitors was made known, and the bucks, squaws, and papooses, swarmed forth. They cast curious looks upon the whole party, but were specially struck with the majestic bearing of the Bishop, as were the passing crowds in London, who stopped in the streets to gaze with admiration upon the great American preacher. The Digger chief did not conceal his delight. After looking upon the Bishop fixedly for some moments, he went up to him, and tapping first his own chest and then the Bishop's, he said:
"Me big man—you big man!"
It was his opinion that two great men had met, and that the occasion was a grand one. Moralizers to the contrary notwithstanding, greatness is not always lacking in self-consciousness.
"I would like to go into one of their wigwams, or huts, and see how they really live," said the Bishop.
"You had better drop that idea," said the guide, a white man who knew more about Digger Indians than was good for his reputation and morals, but who was a good-hearted fellow, always ready to do a friendly turn, and with plenty of time on his hands to do it. The genius born to live without work will make his way by his wits, whether it be in the lobby at Washington City, or as a hanger-on at a Digger camp.
The Bishop insisted on going inside the chief's wigwam, which was a conical structure of long tule-grass, air-tight and weather-proof, with an aperture in front just large enough for a man's body in a crawling attitude. Sacrificing his dignity, the Bishop went down on all-fours, and then a degree lower, and, following the chief; crawled in. The air was foul, the smells were strong, and the light was dim. The chief proceeded to tender to his distinguished guest the hospitalities of the establishment, by offering to share his breakfast with him. The bill of fare was grasshoppers, with acorns as a side-dish. The Bishop maintained his dignity as he squatted there in the dirt—his dignity was equal to any test. He declined the grasshoppers tendered him by the chief, pleading that he had already breakfasted, but watched with peculiar sensations the movements of his host, as handful after handful of the crisp and juicy gryllus vulgaris were crammed into his capacious mouth, and swallowed. What he saw and smelt, and the absence of fresh air, began to tell upon the Bishop—he became sick and pale, while a gentle perspiration, like unto that felt in the beginning of seasickness, beaded his noble forehead. With slow dignity, but marked emphasis, he spoke:
"Brother Bristow, I propose that we retire."
They retired, and there is no record that Bishop Soule ever expressed the least desire to repeat his visit to the interior of a Digger Indian's abode.
The whites had many difficulties with the Diggers in the early days. In most cases I think the whites were chiefly to blame. It is very hard for the strong to be just to the weak. The weakest creature, pressed hard, will strike back. White women and children were massacred in retaliation for outrages committed upon the ignorant Indians by white outlaws. Then there would be a sweeping destruction of Indians by the excited whites, who in those days made rather light of Indian shooting. The shooting of a "buck" was about the same thing, whether it was a male Digger or a deer.
"There is not much fight in a Digger unless he's got the dead-wood on you, and then he'll make it rough for you. But these Injuns are of no use, and I'd about as soon shoot one of them as a coyote" (ki-o-te).
The speaker was a very red-faced, sandy-haired man, with blood-shot blue eyes, whom I met on his return to the Humboldt country after a visit to San Francisco.
"Did you ever shoot an Indian?" I asked.
"I first went up into the Eel River country in '46," he answered. "They give us a lot of trouble in them days. They would steal cattle, and our boys would shoot. But we've never had much difficulty with them since the big fight we had with them in 1849. A good deal of devilment had been goin' on all roun', and some had been killed on both sides. The Injuns killed two women on a ranch in the valley, and then we set in just to wipe 'em out. Their camp was in a bend of the river, near the head of the valley, with a deep slough on the right flank. There was about sixty of us, and Dave was our captain. He was a hard rider, a dead shot, and not very tender-hearted. The boys sorter liked him, but kep' a sharp eye on him, knowin' he was so quick and handy with a pistol. Our plan was to git to their camp and fall on em at daybreak, but the sun was risin' just as we come in sight of it. A dog barked, and Dave sung out:
"'Out with your pistols! pitch in, and give 'em the hot lead!'
"In we galloped at full speed, and as the Injuns come out to see what was up, we let 'em have it. We shot forty bucks—about a dozen got away by swimmin' the river."
"Were any of the women killed?"
"A few were knocked over. You can't be particular when you are in a hurry; and a squaw, when her blood is up, will fight equal to a buck."
The fellow spoke with evident pride, feeling that he was detailing a heroic affair, having no idea that he had done any thing wrong in merely killing "bucks." I noticed that this sane man was very kind to an old lady who took the stage for Bloomfield—helping her into the vehicle, and looking after her baggage. When we parted, I did not care to take the hand that had held a pistol that morning when the Digger camp was "wiped out."
The scattered remnants of the Digger tribes were gathered into a reservation in Round Valley, Mendocino county, north of the Bay of San Francisco, and were there taught a mild form of agricultural life, and put under the care of Government agents, contractors, and soldiers, with about the usual results. One agent, who was also a preacher, took several hundred of them into the Christian Church. They seemed to have mastered the leading facts of the gospel, and attained considerable proficiency in the singing of hymns. Altogether, the result of this effort at their conversion showed that they were human beings, and as such could be made recipients of the truth and grace of God, who is the Father of all the families of the earth. Their spiritual guide told me he had to make one compromise with them—they would dance. Extremes meet—the fashionable white Christians of our gay capitals and the tawny Digger exhibit the same weakness for the fascinating exercise that cost John the Baptist his head.
There is one thing a Digger cannot bear, and that is the comforts and luxuries of civilized life. A number of my friends, who had taken Digger children to raise, found that as they approached maturity they fell into a decline and died, in most cases of some pulmonary affection. The only way to save them was to let them rough it, avoiding warm bed-rooms and too much clothing. A Digger girl belonged to my church at Santa Rosa, and was a gentle, kind-hearted, grateful creature. She was a domestic in the family of Colonel H—. In that pleasant Christian household she developed into a pretty fair specimen of brunette young womanhood, but to the last she had an aversion to wearing shoes.
The Digger seems to be doomed. Civilization kills him; and if he sticks to his savagery, he will go down before the bullets, whisky, and vices of his white fellow-sinners.
The California Mad-House.
On my first visit to the State Insane Asylum, at Stockton, I was struck by the beauty of a boy of some seven or eight years, who was moving about the grounds clad in a strait-jacket. In reply to my inquiries, the resident physician told me his history:
"About a year ago he was on his way to California with the family to which he belonged. He was a general pet among the passengers on the steamer. Handsome, confiding, and overflowing with boyish spirits, everybody had a smile and a kind word for the winning little fellow. Even the rough sailors would pause a moment to pat his curly head as they passed. One day a sailor, yielding to a playful impulse in passing, caught up the boy in his arms, crying:
"'I am going to throw you into the sea!'
"The child gave one scream of terror, and went into convulsions. When the paroxysm subsided, he opened his eyes and gazed around with a vacant expression. His mother, who bent over him with a pale face, noticed the look, and almost screamed:
"'Tommy, here is your mother—don't you know me?'
"The child gave no sign of recognition. He never knew his poor mother again. He was literally frightened out of his senses. The mother's anguish was terrible. The remorse of the sailor for his thoughtless freak was so great that it in some degree disarmed the indignation of the passengers and crew. The child had learned to read, and had made rapid progress in the studies suited to his age, but all was swept away by the cruel blow. He was unable to utter a word intelligently. Since he has been here, there have been signs of returning mental consciousness, and we have begun with him as with an infant. He knows and can call his own name, and is now learning the alphabet."
"How is his health?"
"His health is pretty good, except that he has occasional convulsive attacks that can only be controlled by the use of powerful opiates."
I was glad to learn, on a visit made two years later, that the unfortunate boy had died.
This child was murdered by a fool. The fools are always murdering children, though the work is not always done as effectually as in this case. They cripple and half kill them by terror. There are many who will read this Sketch who will carry to the grave, and into the world of spirits, natures out of which half the sweetness, and brightness, and beauty has been crushed by ignorance or brutality. In most cases it is ignorance. The hand that should guide, smites; the voice that should soothe, jars the sensitive chords that are untuned forever. He who thoughtlessly excites terror in a child's heart is unconsciously doing the devil's work; he that does it consciously is a devil.
"There is a lady here whom I wish you would talk to. She belongs to one of the most respectable families in San Francisco, is cultivated, refined, and has been the center of a large and loving circle. Her monomania is spiritual despair. She thinks she has committed the unpardonable sin. There she is now. I will introduce you to her. Talk with her, and comfort her if you can."
She was a tall, well-formed woman in black, with all the marks of refinement in her dress and bearing. She was walking the floor to and fro with rapid steps, wringing her hands, and moaning piteously. Indescribable anguish was in her face—it was a hopeless face. It haunted my thoughts for many days, and it is vividly before me as I write now. The kind physician introduced me, and left the apartment.
There is a sacredness about such an interview that inclines me to veil its details.
"I am willing to talk with you, sir, and appreciate your motive, but I understand my situation. I have committed the unpardonable sin, and I know there is no hope for me."
With the earnestness excited by intense sympathy, I combated her conclusion, and felt certain that I could make her see and feel that she had given way to an illusion. She listened respectfully to all I had to say, and then said again:
"I know my situation. I denied my Saviour after all his goodness to me, and he has left me forever."
There was the frozen calmness of utter despair in look and tone. I left her as I found her.
"I will introduce you to another woman, the opposite of the poor lady you have just seen. She thinks she is a queen, and is perfectly harmless. You must be careful to humor her illusion. There she is—let me present you."
She was a woman of immense size, enormously fat, with broad red face, and a self-satisfied smirk, dressed in some sort of flaming scarlet stuff, profusely tinseled all over, making a gorgeously ridiculous effect. She received me with a mixture of mock dignity and smiling condescension, and surveying herself admiringly, she asked:
"How do you like my dress?"
It was not the first time that royalty had shown itself not above the little weaknesses of human nature. On being told that her apparel was indeed magnificent, she was much pleased, and drew herself up proudly, and was a picture of ecstatic vanity. Are the real queens as happy? When they lay aside their royal robes for their grave clothes, will not the pageantry which was the glory of their lives seem as vain as that of this tinseled queen of the mad-house? Where is happiness, after all? Is it in the circumstances, the external conditions? or, is it in the mind? Such were the thoughts passing through my mind, when a man approached with a violin. Every eye brightened, and the queen seemed to thrill with pleasure in every nerve.
"This is the only way we can get some of them to take any exercise. The music rouses them, and they will dance as long as they are permitted to do so."
The fiddler struck up a lively tune, and the queen, with marvelous lightness of step and ogling glances, ambled up to a tall, raw-boned Methodist preacher, who had come with me, and invited him to dance with her. The poor parson seemed sadly embarrassed, as her manner was very pressing, but he awkwardly and confusedly declined, amid the titters of all present. It was a singular spectacle, that dance of the mad-women. The most striking figure on the floor was the queen. Her great size, her brilliant apparel, her astonishing agility, the perfect time she kept, the bows, the smiles and blandishments, she bestowed on an imaginary partner, were indescribably ludicrous. Now and then, in her evolutions, she would cast a momentary reproachful glance at the ungallant clergyman who had refused to dance with feminine royalty, and who stood looking on with a sheepish expression of face. He was a Kentuckian, and lack of gallantry is not a Kentucky trait.
During the session of the Annual Conference at Stockton, in 1859 or 1860, the resident physician invited me to preach to the inmates of the Asylum on Sunday afternoon. The novelty of the service, which was announced in the daily papers, attracted a large number of visitors, among them the greater part of the preachers. The day was one of those bright, clear, beautiful October days, peculiar to California, that make you think of heaven. I stood on the steps, and the hundreds of men and Women stood below me, with their upturned faces. Among them were old men crushed by sorrow, and old men ruined by vice; aged women with faces that seemed to plead for pity, women that made you shrink from their unwomanly gaze; lion-like young men, made for heroes but caught in the devil's trap and changed into beasts; and boys whose looks showed that sin had already stamped them with its foul insignia, and burned into their souls the shame which is to be one of the elements of its eternal punishment. A less impressible man than I would have felt moved at the sight of that throng of bruised and broken creatures. A hymn was read, and when Burnet, Kelsay, Neal, and others of the preachers, struck up an old tune, voice after voice joined in the melody until it swelled into a mighty volume of sacred song. I noticed that the faces of many were wet with tears, and there was an indescribable pathos in their voices. The pitying God, amid the rapturous hallelujahs of the heavenly hosts, bent to listen to the music of these broken harps. This text was announced, My peace I give unto you; and, the sermon began.
Among those standing nearest to me was "Old Kelley," a noted patient whose monomania was the notion that he was a millionaire, and who spent most of his time in drawing checks on imaginary deposits for vast sums of money. I held one of his checks for a round million, but it has never yet been cashed. The old man pressed up close to me, seeming to feel that the success of the service somehow depended on him. I had not more than fairly begun my discourse, when he broke in:
"That's Daniel Webster!"
I don't mind a judicious "Amen," but this put me out a little. I resumed my remarks, and was getting another good start, when he again broke in enthusiastically:
The preachers standing around me smiled—I think I heard one or two of them titter. I could not take my eyes from Kelley, who stood with open mouth and beaming countenance, waiting for me to go on. He held me with an evil fascination. I did go on in a louder voice, and in a sort of desperation; but again my delighted hearer exclaimed:
"Old Kelley" spoiled that sermon, though he meant kindly. He died not long afterward, gloating over his fancied millions to the last.
"If you have steady nerves, come with me and I will show you the worst case we have—a woman half tigress, and half devil."
Ascending a stairway, I was led to an angle of the building assigned to the patients whose violence required them to be kept in close confinement.
"Hark! don't you hear her? She is in one of her paroxysms now."
The sounds that issued from one of the cells were like nothing I had ever heard before. They were a series of unearthly, fiendish shrieks, intermingled with furious imprecations, as of a lost spirit in an ecstasy of rage and fear.
The face that glared upon me through the iron grating was hideous, horrible. It was that of a woman, or of what had been a woman, but was now a wreck out of which evil passion had stamped all that was womanly or human. I involuntarily shrunk back as I met the glare of those fiery eyes, and caught the sound of words that made me shudder. I never suspected myself of being a coward, but I felt glad that the iron bars of the cell against which she dashed herself were strong. I had read of Furies—one was now before me. The bloated, gin-inflamed face, the fiery-red, wicked eyes, the swinish chin, the tangled coarse hair falling around her like writhing snakes, the tiger-like clutch of her dirty fingers, the horrible words—the picture was sickening, disgust for the time almost, extinguishing pity.
"She was the keeper of a beer-saloon in San Francisco, and led a life of drunkenness and licentiousness until she broke down, and she was brought here."
"Is there any hope of her restoration?"
"I fear not—nothing short of a miracle can, retune an instrument so fearfully broken and jangled."
I thought of her out of whom were cast the seven devils, and of Him who came to seek and to save the lost, and resisting the impulse that prompted me to hurry away from the sight and hearing of this lost woman, I tried to talk with her, but had to retire at last amid a volley of such language as I hope never to hear from a woman's lips again.
"Listen! Did you ever hear a sweeter voice than that?"
I had heard the voice before, and thrilled under its power. It was a female voice of wonderful richness and volume, with a touch of something in it that moved you strangely—a sort of intensity that set your pulses to beating faster, while it entranced you. The whole of the spacious grounds were flooded with the melody, and the passing teamsters on the public highway would pause and listen with wonder and delight. The singer was a fair young girl, with dark auburn hair, large brown eyes, that were at times dreamy and sad, and then again lit up with excitement, as her moods changed from sad to gay.
"She will sit silent for hours gazing listlessly out of the window, and then all at once break forth into a burst of song so sweet and thrilling that the other patients gather near her and listen in rapt silence and delight. Sometimes at a dead hour of the night her voice is heard, and then it seems that she is under a special afflatus—she seems to be inspired by the very soul of music, and her songs, wild and sad, wailing and rollicking, by turns, but all exquisitely sweet, fill the long night-hours with their melody."
The shock caused by the sudden death of her betrothed lover overthrew her reason, and blighted her life. By the mercy of God, the love of music and the gift of song survived the wreck of love and of reason. This girl's voice, pealing forth upon the still summer evening air, is mingled with my last recollection of Stockton and its refuge for the doubly miserable who are doomed to death in life.
"I want you to go with me over to San Quentin next Thursday, and preach a thanksgiving-sermon to the poor fellows in the State-prison."
On the appointed morning, I met our party at the Vallejo-street wharf, and we were soon steaming on our way. Passing under the guns of Fort Alcatraz, past Angel Island—why so called I know not, as in early days it was inhabited not by angels but goats only—all of us felt the exhilaration of the California sunshine, and the bracing November air, as we stood upon the guards, watching the play of the lazy-looking porpoises, that seemed to roll along, keeping up with the swift motion of the boat in such a leisurely way. The porpoise is a deceiver. As he rolls up to the surface of the water, in his lumbering way, he looks as if he were a huge lump of unwieldy awkwardness, floating at random and almost helpless; but when you come to know him better, you find that he is a marvel of muscular power and swiftness. I have seen a "school" of porpoises in the Pacific swimming for hours alongside one of our fleetest ocean-steamers, darting a few yards ahead now and then, as if by mere volition, cutting their way through the water with the directness of an arrow. The porpoise is playful at times, and his favorite game is a sort of leap-frog. A score or more of the creatures, seemingly full of fun and excitement, will chase one another at full speed, throwing themselves from the water and turning somersaults in the air, the water boiling with the agitation, and their huge bodies flashing in the light. You might almost imagine that they had found something in the sea that had made them drunk, or that they had inhaled some sort of piscatorial anaesthetic. But here we are at our destination. The bell rings, we round to, and land.
At San Quentin nature is at her best, and man at his worst. Against the rocky shore the waters of the bay break in gentle splashings when the winds are quiet. When the gales from the southwest sweep through the Golden Gate, and set the white caps to dancing to their wild music, the waves rise high, and dash upon the dripping stones with a hoarse roar, as of anger. Beginning a few hundreds of yards from the water's edge, the hills slope up, and up, and up, until they touch the base of Tamalpais, on whose dark and rugged summit, four thousand feet above the sea that laves his feet on the west, the rays of the morning sun fall with transfiguring, glory while yet the valley below lies in shadow. On this lofty pinnacle linger the last rays of the setting sun, as it drops into the bosom of the Pacific. In stormy weather, the mist and clouds roll in from the ocean, and gather in dark masses around his awful head, as if the sea-gods had risen from their homes in the deep, and were holding a council of war amid the battle of the elements; at other times, after calm, bright days, the thin, soft white clouds that hang about his crest deepen into crimson and gold, and the mountaintop looks as if the angels of God had come down to encamp, and pitched here their pavilions of glory. This is nature at San Quentin, and this is Tamalpais as I have looked upon it many a morning and many an evening from my window above the sea at North Beach.
The gate is opened for us, and we enter the prison-walls. It is a holiday, and the day is fair and balmy; but the chill and sadness cannot be shaken off, as we look around us. The sunshine seems almost to be a mockery in this place where fellow-men are caged and guarded like wild beasts, and skulk about with shaved heads, clad in the striped uniform of infamy. Merciful God! is this what thy creature man was made for? How long, how long?
Seated upon the platform with the prison officials and visitors, I watched my strange auditors as they came in. There were one thousand of them. Their faces were a curious study. Most of them were bad faces. Beast and devil were printed on them. Thick necks, heavy back-heads, and low, square foreheads, were the prevalent types. The least repulsive were those who looked as if they were all animal, creatures of instinct and appetite, good-natured and stupid; the most repulsive were those whose eyes had a gleam of mingled sensuality and ferocity. But some of these faces that met my gaze were startling—they seemed so out of place. One old man with gray hair, pale, sad face, and clear blue eyes, might have passed, in other garb and in other company, for an honored member of the Society of Friends. He had killed a man in a mountain county. If he was indeed a murderer at heart, nature had given him the wrong imprint. My attention was struck by a smooth-faced, handsome young fellow, scarcely of age, who looked as little like a convict as anybody on that platform. He was in for burglary, and had a very bad record. Some came in half laughing, as if they thought the whole affair more a joke than anything else. The Mexicans, of whom there was quite a number, were sullen and scowling. There is gloom in the Spanish blood. The irrepressible good nature of several ruddy-faced Irishmen broke out in sly merriment. As the service began, the discipline of the prison showed itself in the quiet that instantly prevailed; but only a few, who joined in the singing, seemed to feel the slightest interest in it. Their eyes were wandering, and their faces were vacant. They had the look of men who had come to be talked at and patronized, and who were used to it. The prayer that was offered was not calculated to banish such a feeling —it was dry and cold. I stood up to begin the sermon. Never before had I realized so folly that God's message was to lost men, and for lost men. A mighty tide of pity rushed in upon my soul as I looked down into the faces of my hearers. My eyes filled, and my heart melted within me. I could not speak until after a pause, and only then by great effort. There was a deep silence, and every face was lifted to mine as I announced the text. God had touched my heart and theirs at the start. I read the words slowly: God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. Then I said:
"My fellow-men, I come to you today with a message from my Father, and your Father in heaven. It is a message of hope. God help me to deliver it as I ought! God help you to hear it as you ought! I will not insult you by saying that because you have an extra dinner, a few hours respite from your toil, and a little fresh air and sunshine, you ought to have a joyful thanksgiving today. If I should talk thus, you would be ready to ask me how I would like to change places with you. You would despise me, and I would despise myself, for indulging in such cant. Your lot is a hard one. The battle of life has gone against you—whether by your own fault or by hard fortune, it matters not, so far as the fact is concerned; this thanksgiving-day finds you locked in here, with broken lives, and wearing the badge of crime. God alone knows the secrets of each throbbing heart before me, and how it is that you have come to this. Fellow-men, children of my Father in heaven, putting myself for the moment in your place, the bitterness of your lot is real and terrible to me. For some of you there is no happier prospect for this life than to toil within these walls by day, and sleep in yonder cells by night, through the weary, slow-dragging years, and then to die, with only the hands of hired attendants to wipe the death-sweat from your brows; and then to be put in a convict's coffin, and taken up on the hill yonder, and laid in a lonely grave. My God! this is terrible!"
An unexpected dramatic effect followed these words. The heads of many of the convicts fell forward on their breasts, as if struck with sudden paralysis. They were the men who were in for life, and the horror of it overcame them. The silence was broken by sobbings all over the room. The officers and visitors on the platform were weeping. The angel of pity hovered over, the place, and the glow of human sympathy had melted those stony hearts. A thousand strong men were thrilled with the touch of sympathy, and once more the sacred fountain of tears was unsealed. These convicts were men, after all, and deep down under the rubbish of their natures there was still burning the spark of a humanity not yet extinct. It was wonderful to see the softened expression of their faces. Yes, they were men, after all, responding to the voice of sympathy, which had been but too strange to many of them all their evil lives. Many of them had inherited hard conditions; they were literally conceived in sin and born in iniquity; they grew up in the midst of vice. For them pure and holy lives were a moral impossibility. Evil with them was hereditary, organic, and the result of association; it poisoned their blood at the start, and stamped itself on their features from their cradles. Human law, in dealing with these victims of evil circumstance, can make little discrimination. Society must protect itself, treating a criminal as a criminal. But what will God do with them hereafter? Be sure he will do right. Where little is given, little will be required. It shall be better for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for Chorazin and Bethsaida. There is no ruin without remedy, except that which a man makes for himself by abusing mercy, and throwing away proffered opportunity. Thoughts like these rushed through the preacher's mind, as he stood there looking in the tear-bedewed faces of these men of crime. A fresh tide of pity rose in his heart, that he felt came from the heart of the all-pitying One.
"I do not try to disguise from you, or from myself the fact that for this life your outlook is not bright. But I come to you this day with a message of hope from God our Father. He hath not appointed you to wrath. He loves all his children. He sent his Son to die for them. Jesus trod the paths of pain, and drained the cup of sorrow. He died as a malefactor, for malefactors. He died for me. He died for each one of you. If I knew the most broken, the most desolate-hearted, despairing man before me, who feels that he is scorned of men and forsaken of God, I would go to where he sits and put my hand on his head, and tell him that God hath not appointed him to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us. I would tell him that his Father in heaven loves him still, loves him more than the mother that bore him. I would tell him that all the wrongs and follies of his past life may from this hour be turned into so much capital of a warning experience, and that a million of years from today he may be a child of the Heavenly Father, and an heir of glory, having the freedom of the heavens and the blessedness of everlasting life. O brothers, God does love you! Nothing can ruin you but your own despair. No man has any right to despair who has eternity before him. Eternity? Long, long eternity! Blessed, blessed eternity! That is yours—all of it. It may be a happy eternity for each one of you. From this moment you may begin a better life. There is hope for you, and mercy, and love, and heaven. This is the message I bring you warm from a brother's heart, and warm from the heart of Jesus, whose life-blood was poured out for you and me. His loving hand opened the gate of mercy and hope to every man. The proof is that he died for us. O Son of God, take us to thy pitying arms, and lift us up into the light that never, never grows dim—into the love that fills heaven and eternity!"
As the speaker sunk into his seat, there was a silence that was almost painful for a few moments. Then the pent-up emotion of the men broke forth in sobs that shook their strong frames. Dr. Lucky, the prisoner's friend, made a brief, tearful prayer, and then the benediction was said, and the service was at an end. The men sat still in their seats. As we filed out, of the chapel, many hands were extended to grasp mine, holding it with a clinging pressure. I passed out bearing with me the impression of an hour I can never forget; and the images of those thousand faces are still painted in memory.
"So you were corralled last night?"
This was the remark of a friend whom I met in the streets of Stockton the morning after my adventure. I knew what the expression meant as applied to cattle, but I had never heard it before in reference to a human being. Yes, I had been corralled; and this is how it happened:
It was in the old days, before there were any railroads in California. With a wiry, clean-limbed pinto horse, I undertook to drive from Sacramento City to Stockton one day. It was in the winter season, and the clouds were sweeping up from the south-west, the snow-crested Sierras hidden from sight by dense masses of vapor boiling at their bases and massed against their sides. The roads were heavy from the effects of previous rains, and the plucky little pinto sweated as he pulled through the long stretches of black adobe mud. A cold wind struck me in the face, and the ride was a dreary one from the start. But I pushed on confidently, having faith in the spotted mustang, despite the evident fact that he had lost no little of the spirit with which he dashed out of town at starting. When a genuine mustang flags, it is a serious business. The hardiness and endurance of this breed of horses almost exceed belief.
Toward night a cold rain began to fall, driving in my face with the headwind. Still many a long mile lay between me and Stockton. Dark came on, and it was dark indeed. The outline of the horse I was driving could not be seen, and the flat country through which I was driving was a great black sea of night. I trusted to the instinct of the horse, and moved on. The bells of a wagon-team meeting me fell upon my ear. I called out,
"What's the matter?" answered a heavy voice through the darkness.
"Am I in the road to Stockton, and can I get there tonight?"
"You are in the road, but you will never find your way such a night as this. It is ten good miles from here; you have several bridges to cross —you had better stop at the first house you come to, about half a mile ahead. I am going to strike camp myself."
I thanked my adviser, and went on, hearing the sound of the tinkling bells, but unable to see any thing. In a little while I saw a light ahead, and was glad to see it. Driving up in front and halting, I repeated the traveler's "halloo" several times, and at last got a response in a hoarse, gruff voice.
"I am belated on my way to Stockton, and am cold, and tired, and hungry. Can I get shelter with you for the night?"
"You may try it, if you want to," answered the unmusical voice abruptly.
In a few moments a man appeared to take the horse, and taking my satchel in hand, I went into the house. The first thing that struck my attention on entering the room was a big log-fire, which I was glad to see, for I was wet and very cold. Taking a chair in the corner, I looked around. The scene that presented itself was not reassuring. The main feature of the room was a bar, with an ample supply of barrels, demijohns, bottles, tumblers, and all the et ceteras. Behind the counter stood the proprietor, a burly fellow with a buffalo-neck, fair skin and blue eyes, with a frightful scar across his left under-jaw and neck; his shirt-collar was open, exposing, a huge chest, and his sleeves were rolled up above the elbows. I noticed also that one of his hands was minus all the fingers but the half of one—the result probably of some desperate reencounter. I did not like the appearance of my landlord, and he eyed me in a way that led me to fear that he liked my looks as little as I did his; but the claims of other guests soon diverted his attention from me, and I was left to get warm and make further observations. At a table in the middle of the room several hard-looking fellows were betting at cards, amid terrible profanity and frequent drinks of whisky. They cast inquiring and not very friendly glances at me from time to time, once or twice exchanging whispers and giggling. As their play went on, and tumbler after tumbler of whisky was drunk by them, they became more boisterous. Threats were made of using pistols and knives, with which they all seemed to be heavily armed; and one sottish-looking brute actually drew forth a pistol, but was disarmed in no gentle way by the big-limbed landlord. The profanity and other foul language were horrible. Many of my readers have no conception of the brutishness of men when whisky and Satan have full possession of them. In the midst of a volley of oaths and terrible imprecations by one of the most violent of the set, there was a faint gleam of lingering decency exhibited by one of his companions:
"Blast it, Dick, don't cuss so loud—that fellow in the corner there is a preacher!"
There was some potency in "the cloth" even there. How he knew my calling I do not know. The remark directed particular attention to me and I became unpleasantly conspicuous. Scowling glances were bent upon me by two or three of the ruffians, and one fellow made a profane remark not at all complimentary to my vocation—where at there was some coarse laughter. In the meantime I was conscious of being very hungry. My hunger, like that of a boy, is a very positive, thing at, least it was very much so in those days. Glancing toward the maimed and scarred giant who stood behind the bar, I found he was gazing at me with a fixed expression.
"Can I get something to eat? I am very hungry, sir," I said in my blandest tones.
"Yes, we've, plenty of 'cold' goose, and maybe Pete can pick up something else for you if he, is sober and in a good humor. Come this way."
I followed him through a narrow passage-way, which led to a long, low-ceiled room, along nearly the whole length of which was stretched a table, around which were placed rough stools for the rough men about the place.
Pete, the cook; came in and the head of the house turned me over to him, and returned to his duties behind the bar. From the noise of the uproar going on, his presence was doubtless needed. Pete set before me a large roasted wild-goose, not badly cooked, with bread, milk, and the inevitable cucumber pickles. The knives and forks were not very bright —in fact, they had been subjected to influences promotive of oxidation; and the dishes were not free from signs of former use. Nothing could be said against the tablecloth—there was no tablecloth there. But the goose was fat, brown, and tender; and a hungry man defers his criticisms until he is done eating. That is what I did. Pete evidently regarded me with curiosity. He was about fifty years of age, and had the look of a man who had come down in the world. His face bore the marks of the effects of strong drink, but it was not a bad face; it was more weak than wicked.
"Are you a preacher?" he asked.
"I thought so," he added, after getting my answer to his question. "Of what persuasion are you?"! he further inquired.
When I told him I was a Methodist, he said quickly and with some warmth:
"I was sure of it. This is a rough place for a man of your calling. Would you like some eggs? we've plenty on hand. And may be you would like a cup of coffee," he added, with, increasing hospitality.
I took the eggs, but declined the coffee, not liking the looks of the cups and saucers, and not caring to wait.
"I used to be a Methodist myself," said Pete, with a sort of choking in his throat, "but bad luck and bad company have brought me down to this. I have a family in Iowa, a wife and four children. I guess they think I'm dead, and sometimes I wish I was."
Pete stood by my chair, actually crying. The sight of a Methodist preacher brought up old times. He told me his story. He had come to California hoping to make a fortune in a hurry, but had only ill luck from the start. His prospectings were always failures, his partners cheated him, his health broke down, his courage gave way, and—he faltered a little, and then spoke it out—he took to whisky, and then the worst came.
"I have come down to this—cooking for a lot of roughs at five dollars a week, and all the whisky I want. It would have been better for me if I had died when I was in the hospital at San Andreas."
Poor Pete! he had indeed touched bottom. But he had a heart and a conscience still, and my own heart warmed toward my poor backslidden brother.
"You are not a lost man yet. You are worth a thousand dead men. You can get out of this, and you must. You must act the part of a brave man, and not be any longer a coward. Bad luck and lack of success are a disgrace to no man. There is where you went wrong. It was cowardly to give up and not write to your family, and then take to whisky."
"I know all that, Elder. There is no better little woman on earth than my wife"—Pete choked up again.
"You write to her this very night, and go back to her and your children just as soon as you can get the money to pay your way. Act the man, and all will come right yet. I have writing materials here in my satchel —pen, ink, paper, envelopes, stamps, every thing; I am an editor, and go fixed up for writing."
The letter was written, I acting as Pete's amanuensis, he pleading that he was a poor scribe at best and that his nerves were too unsteady for such work. Taking my advice, he made a clean breast of the whole matter, throwing himself on the forgiveness of the wife whom he had so shamefully neglected, and promising by the help of God to make all the amends possible in time to come. The letter was duly directed, sealed, and stamped; and Pete looked as if a great weight had been lifted from his soul, He had made me a fire in the little stove, saying it was better than the barroom; in which opinion I was fully agreed.
"There is no place for you to sleep tonight without corralling you with the fellows; there is but one bedroom, and there are fourteen bunks in it."
I shuddered at the prospect-fourteen bunks in one small room, and those whisky-sodden, loud-cursing card-players to be my roommates for the night!
"I prefer sitting here by the stove all night," I said; "I can employ most of the time writing, if I can have a light."
Pete thought a moment, looked grave, and then said:
"That won't do, Elder; those fellows would take offense, and make trouble. Several of them are out now goose-hunting; they will be coming in at all hours from now till daybreak, and it won't do for them to find you sitting up here alone. The best, thing for you to do is to go in and take one of those bunks; you, needn't takeoff any thing but your coat and boots, and"—here he lowered his voice, looking about him as he spoke—"if you have any money about, keep it next to your body."
The last words were spoken with peculiar emphasis.
Taking the advice given me, I took up my baggage and followed Pete to the room where I was to spend the night. Ugh! it was dreadful. The single window in the room was nailed down, and the air was close and foul. The bunks were damp and dirty beyond belief, grimed with foulness, and reeking with ill odors. This was being corralled.
I turned to Pete, saying:
"I can't stand this—I will go back to the kitchen."
"You had better follow my advice, Elder," said he very gravely. "I know things about here better than you do. It's rough, but you had better stand it."
And I did; being corralled, I had to stand it. That fearful night! The drunken fellows staggered in one by one, cursing and hiccoughing, until every bunk was occupied. They muttered oaths in their sleep, and their stertorous breathings made a concert fit for Tartarus. The sickening odors of whisky, onions, and tobacco filled the room. I lay there and longed for daylight, which seemed as if it never would come. I thought of the descriptions I had heard and read of hell, and just then the most vivid conception of its horror was to be shut up forever with the aggregated impurity of the universe. By contrast I tried to think of that city of God into which, it is said, "there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life." But thoughts of heaven did not suit the situation; it was more suggestive of the other place. The horror of being shut up eternally in hell as the companion of lost spirits was intensified by the experience and reflections of that night when I was corralled.
Day came at last. I rose with the first streaks of the dawn, and not having much toilet to make, I was soon out-of-doors. Never did I breathe the pure, fresh air with such profound pleasure and gratitude. I drew deep inspirations, and, opening my coat and vest, let the breeze that swept up the valley blow upon me unrestricted. How bright, was the face of nature, and how sweet her, breath after the sights, sounds, and smells of the night!
I did not wait for breakfast, but had my pinto and buggy brought out, and, bidding Pete good-by, hurried on to Stockton.
"So you were corralled last night?" was the remark of a friend, quoted at the beginning of this true sketch. "What was the name of the proprietor of the house?"
I gave him the name.
"Dave W—!" he exclaimed with fresh astonishment. "That is the roughest place in the San Joaquin Valley. Several men have been killed and robbed there during the last two or three years."
I hope Pete got back safe to his wife and children in Iowa; and I hope I may never be corralled again.
It is now more than twenty years since the morning a slender youth of handsome face and modest mien came into my office on the corner of Montgomery and Clay streets, San Francisco. He was the son of a preacher well known in Missouri and California, a man of rare good sense, caustic wit, and many eccentricities. The young man became an attache of my newspaper-office and an inmate of my home. He was as fair as a girl, and refined in his taste and manners. A genial taciturnity, if the expression may be allowed, marked his bearing in the social circle. Everybody had a kind feeling and a good word for the quiet, brightfaced youth. In the discharge of his duties in the office he was punctual and trustworthy, showing not only industry but unusual aptitude for business It was with special pleasure that I learned that he was turning his thoughts to the subject of religion. During the services in the little Pine-street church he would sit with thoughtful face, and not seldom with moistened eyes. He read the Bible and prayed in secret. I was not surprised when he came to me one day and opened his heart. The great crisis in his life had come. God was speaking to his soul, and he was listening to his voice. The uplifted cross drew him, and he yielded to the gentle attraction. We prayed together, and henceforth there was a new and sacred bond that bound us to each other. I felt that I was a witness to the most solemn transaction that can take place on earth—the wedding of a soul to a heavenly faith. Soon thereafter he went to Virginia, to attend college. There he united with the Church. His letters to me were full of gratitude and joy. It was the blossoming of his spiritual life, and the air was full of its fragrance, and the earth was flooded with glory. A pedestrian tour among the Virginia hills brought him into communion with Nature at a time when it was rapture to drink in its beauty and its grandeur. The light kindled within his soul by the touch of the Holy Spirit transfigured the scenery upon which he gazed, and the glory of God shone round about the young student in the flush and blessedness of his first love. O blessed days! O days of brightness, and sweetness, and rapture! The soul is then in its blossoming-time, and all high enthusiasms, all bright dreams, all thrilling joys, are realities which inwork themselves into the consciousness, to be forgotten never; to remain with us as prophecies of the eternal springtime that awaits the true-hearted on the hills of God beyond the grave, or as accusing voices charging us with the murder of our dead ideals! Amid the dust and din of the battle in after-years we turn to this radiant spot in our journey with smiles or tears; according as we have been true or false to the impulses, aspirations, and purposes inspired within us by that first, and brightest, and nearest manifestation of God. Such a season is a natural to every life as the April buds and June roses are to forest and garden. The springtime of some lives is deferred by unpropitious circumstance to the time when it should be glowing with autumnal glory, and rich in the fruitage of the closing year. The life that does not blossom into religion in youth may have light at noon, and peace at sunset, but misses the morning glory on the hills, and the dew that sparkles on grass and flower. The call of God to the young to seek him early is the expression of a true psychology no less than of a love infinite in its depth and tenderness.
His college-course finished, my young friend returned to California, and in one of its beautiful valley-towns he entered a law-office, with a view to prepare himself for the legal profession. Here he was thrown into daily association with a little knot of skeptical lawyers. As is often the case, their moral obliquities ran parallel with their errors in opinion. They swore, gambled genteelly, and drank. It is not strange that in this icy atmosphere the growth of any young friend in the Christian life was stunted. Such influences are like the dreaded north wind that at times sweeps over the valleys of California in the spring and early summer, blighting and withering the vegetation it does not kill. The brightness of his hope was dimmed, and his soul knew the torture of doubt—a torture that is always keenest to him who allows himself to sink in the region of fogs after he has once stood upon the sunlit summit of faith. Just at this crisis, a thing little in itself deepened the shadow that was falling upon his life. A personal misunderstanding with the pastor kept him from attending church. Thus he lost the most effectual defense against the assaults that were being made upon his faith and hope, in being separated from the fellowship and cut off from the activities of the Church of God. Have you not noted these malign coincidences in life? There are times when it seems that the tide of events sets against us when, like the princely sufferer of the land of Uz, every messenger that crosses the threshold brings fresh tidings of ill, and our whole destiny seems to be rushing to a predoomed perdition. The worldly call it bad luck; the superstitious call it fate; the believer in God calls it by another name. Always of a delicate constitution, my friend now exhibited symptoms of serious pulmonary disease. It was at that time the fashion in California to prescribe whisky as a specific for that class of ailments. It is possible that there is virtue in the prescription, but I am sure of one thing, namely, that if consumption diminished, drunkenness increased; if fewer died of phthisis, more died of delirium tremens. The physicians of California have sent a host of victims raving and gibbering in drunken frenzy or idiocy down to death and hell! I have reason to believe that my friend inherited a constitutional weakness at this point. As flame to tinder, was the medicinal whisky to him. It grew upon him rapidly, and soon this cloud overshadowed all his life. He struggled hard to break the serpent-folds that were tightening around him; but the fire that had been kindled seemed to be quenchless. An uncontrolled evil passion is hellfire. He writhed in its burnings in an agony that could be understood only by such as knew how almost morbidly sensitive was his nature, and how vital was his conscience. I became a pastor in the town where he lived, and renewed my association with him as far as I could. But there was a constraint unlike the old times. When under the influence of liquor, he would pass me in the streets with his head down, a deeper flush mantling his cheek as he hurried by with unsteady step. Sometimes I met him staggering homeward through a back street, hiding from the gaze of men. He was at first shy of me when sober, but gradually the constraint wore off, and he seemed disposed to draw nearer to me, as in the old days. His struggle went on, days of drunkenness following weeks of soberness, his haggard face after each debauch wearing a look of unspeakable weariness and wretchedness. One of the lawyers who had led him into the mazes of doubt—a man of large and versatile gifts, whose lips were touched with a noble and persuasive eloquence—sunk deeper and deeper into the black depths of drunkenness, until the tragedy ended in a horror that lessened the gains of the saloons for at least a few days. He was found dead in his bed one morning in a pool of blood, his throat cut by his own guilty hand.
My friend had married a lovely girl, and the cottage in which they lived was one of the coziest, and the garden in front was a little paradise of neatness and beauty. Ah! I must drop a veil over a part of this true tale. All along I have written under half protest, the image of a sad, wistful face rising at times between my eyes and the sheet on which these words are traced. They loved each other tenderly and deeply, and both were conscious of the presence of the devil that was turning their heaven into hell.
"Save him, Doctor, save him! He is the noblest of men, and the tenderest, truest husband. He loves you, and he will let you talk to him. Save him, O save him! Help me to pray for him! My heart will break!"
Poor child! her loving heart was indeed breaking; and her fresh young life was crushed under a weight of grief and shame too heavy to be borne.
What he said to me in the interviews held in his sober intervals I have not the heart to repeat now. He still fought against his enemy; he still buffeted the billows that were going over him, though with feebler stroke. When their little child died, her tears fell freely, but he was like one stunned. Stony and silent he stood and saw the little grave filled up, and rode away tearless, the picture of hopelessness.
By a coincidence; after my return to San Francisco, he came thither, and again became my neighbor at North Beach. I went up to see him one evening. He was very feeble, and it was plain that the end was not far off. At the first glance I saw that a great change had taken place in him.
He had found his lost self. The strong drink was shut out from him, and he was shut in with his better thoughts and with God. His religious life rebloomed in wondrous beauty and sweetness. The blossoms of his early joy had fallen off, the storms had torn its branches and stripped it of its foliage, but its root had never perished, because he had never ceased to struggle for deliverance. Aspiration and hope live or die together in the human soul. The link that bound my friend to God was never wholly sundered. His better nature clung to the better way with a grasp that never let go altogether.
"O Doctor, I am a wonder to myself! It does seem to me that God has given back to me every good thing I possessed in the bright and blessed past. It has all come back to me. I see the light and feel the joy as I did when I first entered the new life. O it is wonderful! Doctor, God never gave me up, and I never ceased to yearn for his mercy and love, even in the darkest season of my unhappy life?"
His very face had recovered its old look, and his voice its old tone. There could be no doubt of this soul had rebloomed in the life of God.
The last night came—they sent for me with the message,
"Come quickly! he is dying."
I found him with that look which I have seen on the faces of others who were nearing death—a radiance and a rapture that awed the beholder. O solemn, awful mystery of death! I have stood in its presence in every form of terror and of sweetness, and in every case the thought has been impressed upon me that it was a passage into the Great Realities.
"Doctor," he said, smiling, and holding my hand; "I had hoped to be with you in your office again, as in the old days—not as a business arrangement, but just to be with you, and revive old memories, and to live the old life over again. But that cannot be, and I must wait till we meet in the world of spirits, whither I go before you. It seems to be growing dark. I cannot see your face hold my hand. I am going—going. I am on the waves—on the waves—." The radiance was still upon his face, but the hand I held no longer clasped mine-the wasted form was still. It was the end. He was launched upon the Infinite Sea for the endless voyage.
The Emperor Norton.
That was his title. He wore it with an air that was a strange mixture of the mock-heroic and the pathetic. He was mad on this one point, and strangely shrewd and well-informed on almost every other. Arrayed in a faded-blue uniform, with brass buttons and epaulettes, wearing a cocked-hat with an eagle's feather, and at times with a rusty sword at his side, he was a conspicuous figure in the streets of San Francisco, and a regular habitue of all its public places. In person he was stout, full-chested, though slightly stooped, with a large head heavily coated with bushy black hair, an aquiline nose, and dark gray eyes, whose mild expression added to the benignity of his face. On the end of his nose grew a tuft of long hairs, which he seemed to prize as a natural mark of royalty, or chieftainship. Indeed, there was a popular legend afloat that he was of true royal blood—a stray Bourbon, or something of the sort. His speech was singularly fluent and elegant. The Emperor was one of the celebrities that no visitor failed to see. It is said that his mind was unhinged by a sudden loss of fortune in the early days, by the treachery of a partner in trade. The sudden blow was deadly, and the quiet, thrifty, affable man of business became a wreck. By nothing is the inmost quality of a man made more manifest than by the manner in which he meets misfortune. One, when the sky darkens, having strong impulse and weak will, rushes into suicide; another, with a large vein of cowardice, seeks to drown the sense of disaster in strong drink; yet another, tortured in every fiber of a sensitive organization, flees from the scene of his troubles and the faces of those that know him, preferring exile to shame. The truest man, when assailed by sudden calamity, rallies all the reserved forces of a splendid manhood to meet the shock, and, like a good ship, lifting itself from the trough of the swelling sea, mounts the wave and rides on. It was a curious idiosyncrasy that led this man, when fortune and reason were swept away at a stroke, to fall back upon this imaginary imperialism. The nature that could thus, when the real fabric of life was wrecked, construct such another by the exercise of a disordered imagination, must have been originally of a gentle and magnanimous type. The broken fragments of mind, like those of a statue, reveal the quality of the original creation. It may be that he was happier than many who have worn real crowns. Napoleon at Chiselhurst, or his greater uncle at St. Helena, might have been gainer by exchanging lots with this man, who had the inward joy of conscious greatness without its burden and its perils. To all public places he had free access, and no pageant was complete without his presence. From time to time he issued proclamations, signed "Norton I.," which the lively San Francisco dailies were always ready to print conspicuously in their columns. The style of these proclamations was stately, the royal first person plural being used by him with all gravity and dignity. Ever and anon, as his uniform became dilapidated or ragged, a reminder of the condition of the imperial wardrobe would be given in one or more of the newspapers, and then in a few days he would appear in a new suit. He had the entree of all the restaurants, and he lodged—nobody knew where. It was said that he was cared for by members of the Freemason Society to which he belonged at the time of his fall. I saw him often in my congregation in the Pine-street church, along in 1858, and into the sixties. He was a respectful and attentive listener to preaching. On the occasion of one of his first visits he spoke to me after the service, saying, in a kind and patronizing tone:
"I think it my duty to encourage religion and morality by showing myself at church, and to avoid jealousy I attend them all in turn."
He loved children, and would come into the Sunday-school, and sit delighted with their singing. When, in distributing the presents on a Christmas-tree, a necktie was handed him as the gift of the young ladies, he received it with much satisfaction, making a kingly bow of gracious acknowledgment. Meeting him one day, in the springtime, holding my little girl by the hand, he paused, looked at the child's bright face, and taking a rose-bud from his button-hole, he presented it to her with a manner so graceful, and a smile so benignant, as to show that under the dingy blue uniform there beat the heart of a gentleman. He kept a keen eye on current events, and sometimes expressed his views with great sagacity. One day he stopped me on the street, saying:
"I have just read the report of the political sermon of Dr.—(giving the name of a noted sensational preacher, who was in the habit, at times, of discussing politics from his pulpit). I disapprove political-preaching. What do you think?"
I expressed my cordial concurrence.
"I will put a stop to it. The preachers must stop preaching politics, or they must all come into one State Church. I will at once issue a decree to that effect."
For some unknown reason, that decree never was promulgated.
After the war, he took a deep interest in the reconstruction of the Southern States. I met him one day on Montgomery street, when he asked me in a tone and with a look of earnest solicitude:
"Do you hear any complaint or dissatisfaction concerning me from the South?"
I gravely answered in the negative.
"I was for keeping the country undivided, but I have the kindest feeling for the Southern people, and will see that they are protected in all their rights. Perhaps if I were to go among them in person, it might have a good effect. What do you think?"
I looked at him keenly as I made some suitable reply, but could see nothing in his expression but simple sincerity. He seemed to feel that he was indeed the father of his people. George Washington himself could not have adopted a more paternal tone.
Walking along the street behind the Emperor one day, my curiosity was a little excited by seeing him thrust his hand into the hip-pocket of his blue trousers with sudden energy. The hip-pocket, by the way, is a modern American stupidity, associated in the popular mind with rowdyism, pistol shooting, and murder. Hip-pockets should be abolished wherever there are courts of law and civilized men and women. But what was the Emperor after? Withdrawing his hand just as I overtook him, the mystery was revealed—it grasped a thick Bologna sausage, which he began to eat with unroyal relish. It gave me a shock, but he was not the first royal personage who has exhibited low tastes and carnal hankerings.
He was seldom made sport of or treated rudely. I saw him on one occasion when a couple of passing hoodlums jeered at him. He turned and gave them a look so full of mingled dignity, pain, and surprise, that the low fellows were abashed, and uttering a forced laugh, with averted faces they hurried on. The presence that can bring shame to a San Francisco hoodlum must indeed be kingly, or in some way impressive. In that genus the beastliness and devilishness of American city-life reach their lowest denomination when the brutality of the savage and the lowest forms of civilized vice are combined, human nature touches bottom.
The Emperor never spoke of his early life. The veil of mystery on this point increased the popular curiosity concerning him, and invested him with something of a romantic interest. There was one thing that excited his disgust and indignation. The Bohemians of the San Francisco press got into the practice of attaching his name to their satires and hits at current follies, knowing that the well-known "Norton I." at the end would insure a reading. This abuse of the liberty of the press he denounced with dignified severity, threatening extreme measures unless it were stopped. But nowhere on earth did the press exhibit more audacity, or take a wider range, and it would have required a sterner heart and a stronger hand than that of Norton I. to put a hook into its jaws.