JERSEY STREET AND JERSEY LANE
URBAN AND SUBURBAN SKETCHES
BY H. C. BUNNER
ILLUSTRATED BY A. B. FROST, B. WEST CLINEDINST, IRVING R. WILES AND KENNETH FRAZIER
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1896
COPYRIGHT, 1893, 1894, 1895, 1896, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Press of J. J. Little & Co. Astor Place, New York
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A. L. B.
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JERSEY AND MULBERRY 1
TIEMANN'S TO TUBBY HOOK 33
THE BOWERY AND BOHEMIA 67
THE STORY OF A PATH 99
THE LOST CHILD 135
A LETTER TO TOWN 175
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"A tangled path" FRONTISPIECE
"The old lady sat down and wrote that letter" 6
"Sometimes a woman with a shawl over her head * * * exchanges a few words with him" 9
"And down in the big, red chair big sister plunks little sister" 12
"Then there is Mamie, the pretty girl in the window" 14
"And plays on the Italian bagpipes" 16
"A Jewish sweater with coats on his shoulder" 20
"Glass-put-in man" 21
"Poor woman with market-basket" 21
"A Chinaman who stalks on with no expression at all" 24
"The children are dancing" 25
"The girl you loved was * * * really grown up and too old for you" 36
"A few of the old family estates were kept up after a fashion" 40
"A random goat of poverty" 41
"The paint works that had paid for its building" 45
"A mansion imposing still in spite of age" 49
"She wound the great, tall, white columns with these strips" 53
"Here also was a certain dell" 57
"The railroad embankment beyond which lay the pretty, blue Hudson" 59
"The wreck of the woods where I used to scramble" 60
"A little enclosure that is called a park" 63
"It was a very pretty young lady who opened the door" 64
"An old gentleman from Rondout-on-the-Hudson" 70
"Young gentlemen sitting in a pot-house at high noon" 72
"A gentleman permanently in temporary difficulties" 74
"A jackal is a man generally of good address" 81
"The Bowery is the most marvellous thoroughfare in the world" 85
"More and stranger wares than uptown people ever heard of" 89
"Probably the edibles are in the majority" 91
"The Polish Jews with their back-yards full of chickens" 93
"The Anarchist Russians" 94
"The Scandinavians of all sorts who come up from the wharfs" 96
"Through the rich man's country" 108
"A convenient way through the woods" 112
"The lonely old trapper who had dwelt on that mountain" 114
"Malvina Dodd * * * took the winding track that her husband had laid out" 118
"Here the old man would sit down and wait" 120
"He did a little grading with a mattock" 121
"The laborers found it and took it" 125
"The tinkers * * * and the rest of the old-time gentry of the road" 128
"I used to go down that path on the dead run" 131
"'I'm Latimer,' said the man on the horse" 139
"That boy of Penrhyn's—the little one with the yellow hair" 143
"Lanterns and hand lamps dimly lit up faces" 149
"The river, the river,—oh, my boy!" 152
"The father leaned forward and clutched the arms of his chair" 155
"They had just met after a long beat" 164
"Half a dozen men naked to the waist scrubbing themselves" 167
"The mother knew that her lost child was found" 173
"The desperate young men of the bachelor apartments" 180
"The hot, lifeless days of summer in your town house" 183
"'That's no Johnny-jumper!'" 185
"Other local troubles" 189
"You send for Pat Brannigan" 192
"A little plain strip of paper headed 'Memorandum of sale'" 200
JERSEY AND MULBERRY
I found this letter and comment in an evening paper, some time ago, and I cut the slip out and kept it for its cruelty:
TO THE EDITOR OF THE EVENING ——.
SIR: In yesterday's issue you took occasion to speak of the organ-grinding nuisance, about which I hope you will let me ask you the following questions: Why must decent people all over town suffer these pestilential beggars to go about torturing our senses, and practically blackmailing the listeners into paying them to go away? Is it not a most ridiculous excuse on the part of the police, when ordered to arrest these vagrants, to tell a citizen that the city license exempts these public nuisances from arrest? Let me ask, Can the city by any means legalize a common-law misdemeanor? If not, how can the city authorities grant exemption to these sturdy beggars and vagrants by their paying for a license? The Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, it seems, provide for the punishment of gamblers, dive-keepers, and other disorderly persons, among whom organ-grinders fall, as being people who beg, and exhibit for money, and create disorder. If this is so, why can the police not be forced to intervene and forbid them their outrageous behavior?—for these fellows do not only not know or care for the observance of the city ordinance, which certainly is binding on them, but, relying on a fellow-feeling of vulgarity with the mob, resist all attempts made to remove them from the exercise of their most fearful beggary, which is not even tolerated any longer at Naples. R.
NEW YORK, February 20th.
[Our correspondent's appeal should be addressed to the Board of Aldermen and the Mayor. They consented to the licensing of the grinders in the face of a popular protest.—ED. EVENING ——.]
Now certainly that was not a good letter to write, and is not a pleasant letter to read; but the worst of it is, I am afraid that you can never make the writer of it understand why it is unfair and unwise and downright cruel.
For I think we can figure out the personality of that writer pretty easily. She is a nice old or middle-aged lady, unmarried, of course; well-to-do, and likely to leave a very comfortable fortune behind her when she leaves all worldly things; and accustomed to a great deal of deference from her nephews and nieces. She is occasionally subject to nervous headaches, and she wrote this letter while she had one of her headaches. She had been lying down and trying to get a wink of sleep when the organ-grinder came under the window. It was a new organ and very loud, and its organ-grinder was proud of it and ground it with all his might, and it was certainly a very annoying instrument to delicate ears and sensitive nerves.
Now, she might have got rid of the nuisance at once by a very simple expedient. If she had sent Abigail, her maid, down to the street, with a dime, and told her to say: "Sicka lady, no playa," poor Pedro would have swung his box of whistles over his shoulder and trudged contentedly on. But, instead, she sent Abigail down without the dime, and with instructions to threaten the man with immediate arrest and imprisonment. And Abigail went down and scolded the man with the more vigor that she herself had been scolded all day on account of the headache. And so Pedro just grinned at her in his exasperating furrin way, and played on until he got good and ready to go. Then he went, and the old lady sat down and wrote that letter, and gave it to Abigail to post.
Later in the afternoon the old lady drove out, and the fresh air did her a world of good, and she stopped at a toy store and bought some trifles for sister Mary's little girl, who had the measles. Then she came home, and after dinner she read Mr. Jacob Riis's book, "How the Other Half Lives;" and she shuddered at the picture of the Jersey Street slums on the title page, and shuddered more as she read of the fourteen people packed in one room, and of the suffering and squalor and misery of it all. And then she made a memorandum to give a larger check to the charitable society next time. Then she went to bed, not forgetting first to read her nightly chapter in the gospel of the carpenter's son of Nazareth. And she had quite forgotten all about the coarse and unchristian words she had written in the letter that was by that time passing through the hands of the weary night-shift of mail-clerks down in the General Post-office. And when she did read it in print, she was so pleased and proud of the fluency of her own diction, and so many of her nephews and nieces said so many admiring things about what she might have done if she had only gone in for literature, that it really never occurred to her at all to think whether she had been any more just and charitable than the poor ignorant man who had annoyed her.
She was especially pleased with the part that had the legal phraseology in it, and with the scornful rebuke of the police for their unwillingness to disobey municipal ordinances. That was founded partly on something that she had heard nephew John say once, and partly on a general idea she has that the present administration has forcibly usurped the city government.
Now, I have no doubt that when that organ-grinder went home at night, he and his large family laid themselves down to rest in a back room of the Jersey Street slum, and if it be so, I may sometimes see him when I look out of a certain window of the great red-brick building where my office is, for it lies on Mulberry Street, between Jersey and Houston. My own personal and private window looks out on Mulberry Street. It is in a little den at the end of a long string of low-partitioned offices stretching along the Mulberry Street side; and we who tenant them have looked out of the windows for so many years that we have got to know, at least by sight, a great many of the dwellers thereabouts. We are almost in the very heart of that "mob" on whose "fellow-feeling of vulgarity" the fellows who grind the organ rely to sustain them in their outrageous behavior. And, do you know, as we look out of those windows, year after year, we find ourselves growing to have a fellow-feeling of vulgarity with that same mob.
The figure and form which we know best are those of old Judge Phoenix—for so the office-jester named him when we first moved in, and we have known him by that name ever since. He is a fat old Irishman, with a clean-shaven face, who stands summer and winter in the side doorway that opens, next to the little grocery opposite, on the alley-way to the rear tenement. Summer and winter he is buttoned to his chin in a faded old black overcoat. Alone he stands for the most part, smoking his black pipe and teetering gently from one foot to the other. But sometimes a woman with a shawl over her head comes out of the alley-way and exchanges a few words with him before she goes to the little grocery to get a loaf of bread, or a half-pint of milk, or to make that favorite purchase of the poor—three potatoes, one turnip, one carrot, four onions, and the handful of kale—a "b'ilin'." And there is also another old man, a small and bent old man, who has some strange job that occupies odd hours of the day, who stops on his way to and from work to talk with the Judge. For hours and hours they talk together, till one wonders how in the course of years they have not come to talk themselves out. What can they have left to talk about? If they had been Mezzofanti and Macaulay, talking in all known languages on all known topics, they ought certainly to have exhausted the resources of conversation long before this time.
Judge Phoenix must be a man of independent fortune, for he toils not, neither does he spin, and the lilies of the field could not lead a more simple vegetable life, nor stay more contentedly in one place. Perhaps he owns the rear tenement. I suspect so, for he must have been at one time in the labor-contract business. This, of course, is a mere guess, founded upon the fact that we once found the Judge away from his post and at work. It was at the time they were repaving Broadway with the great pavement. We discovered the Judge at the corner of Bleecker Street perched on a pile of dirt, doing duty as sub-section boss. He was talking to the drivers of the vehicles that went past him, through the half-blockaded thoroughfare, and he was addressing them, after the true professional contractor's style, by the names of their loads.
"Hi there, sand," he would cry, "git along lively! Stone, it's you the boss wants on the other side of the street! Dhry-goods, there's no place for ye here; take the next turn!" It was a proud day for the old Judge, and I have no doubt that he talks it over still with his little bent old crony, and boasts of vain deeds that grow in the telling.
Judge Phoenix is not, however, without mute company. Fair days and foul are all one to the Judge, but on fair days his companion is brought out. In front of the grocery is a box with a sloping top, on which are little bins for vegetables. In front of this box, again, on days when it is not raining or snowing, a little girl of five or six comes out of the grocery and sets a little red chair. Then she brings out a smaller girl yet, who may be two or three, a plump and puggy little thing; and down in the red chair big sister plunks little sister, and there till next mealtime little sister sits and never so much as offers to move. She must have been trained to this unchildlike self-imprisonment, for she is lusty and strong enough. Big sister works in the shop, and once in a while she comes out and settles little sister more comfortably in her red chair; and then little sister has the sole moment of relief from a monotonous existence. She hammers on big sister's face with her fat little hands, and with such skill and force does she direct the blows that big sister often has to wipe her streaming eyes. But big sister always takes it in good part, and little sister evidently does it, not from any lack of affection, but in the way of healthy exercise. Then big sister wipes little sister's nose and goes back into the shop. I suppose there is some compact between them.
Of course there is plenty of child life all up and down the sidewalk on both sides, although little sister never joins in it. My side of the street swarms with Italian children, most of them from Jersey Street, which is really not a street, but an alley. Judge Phoenix's side is peopled with small Germans and Irish. I have noticed one peculiar thing about these children: they never change sides. They play together most amicably in the middle of the street or in the gutter, but neither ventures beyond its neutral ground.
Judge Phoenix and little sister are by far the most interesting figures to be seen from my windows, but there are many others whom we know. There is the Italian barber whose brother dropped dead while shaving a customer. You would never imagine, to see the simple and unaffected way in which he comes out to take the air once in a while, standing on the steps of his basement, and twirling his tin-backed comb in idle thought, that he had had such a distinguished death in his family. But I don't let him shave me.
Then there is Mamie, the pretty girl in the window with the lace-curtains, and there is her epileptic brother. He is insane, but harmless, and amusing, although rather trying to the nerves. He comes out of the house in a hurry, walks quickly up the street for twenty or thirty feet, then turns suddenly, as if he had forgotten something, and hurries back, to reappear two minutes later from the basement door, only to hasten wildly in another direction, turn back again, plunge into the basement door, emerge from the upper door, get half way down the block, forget it again, and go back to make a new combination of doors and exits. Sometimes he is ten or twenty minutes in the house at one time. Then we suppose he is having a fit. Now, it seems to me that that modest retirement shows consideration and thoughtfulness on his part.
In the window next to Mamie's is a little, putty-colored face, and a still smaller white face, that just peeps over the sill. One belongs to the mulatto woman's youngster. Her mother goes out scrubbing, and the little girl is alone all day. She is so much alone, that the sage-green old bachelor in the second den from mine could not stand it, last Christmas time, so he sent her a doll on the sly. That's the other face.
Then there is the grocer, who is a groceress, and the groceress's husband. I wish that man to understand, if his eye ever falls upon this page—for wrapping purposes, we will say—that, in the language of Mulberry Street, I am on to him. He has got a job recently, driving a bakery wagon, and he times his route so that he can tie up in front of his wife's grocery every day at twelve o'clock, and he puts in a solid hour of his employer's time helping his wife through the noonday rush. But he need not fear. In the interests of the higher morality I suppose I ought to go and tell his employer about it. But I won't. My morals are not that high.
Of course we have many across-the-street friends, but I cannot tell you of them all. I will only mention the plump widow who keeps the lunch-room and bakery on the Houston Street corner, where the boys go for their luncheon. It is through her that many interesting details of personal gossip find their way into this office.
Jersey Street, or at least the rear of it, seems to be given up wholly to the Italians. The most charming tenant of Jersey Street is the lovely Italian girl, who looks like a Jewess, whose mission in life seems to be to hang all day long out of her window and watch the doings in the little stone-flagged courts below her. In one of these an old man sometimes comes out, sits him down in a shady corner, and plays on the Italian bagpipes, which are really more painful than any hand-organ that ever was made. After a while his wife opens hostilities with him from her window. I suppose she is reproaching him for an idle devotion to art, but I cannot follow the conversation, although it is quite loud enough on both sides. But the handsome Italian girl up at the window follows the changes of the strife with the light of the joy of battle in her beautiful dark eyes, and I can tell from her face exactly which of the old folk is getting the better of it.
But though the life of Jersey and Mulberry Streets may be mildly interesting to outside spectators who happen to have a fellow-feeling of vulgarity with the mob, the mob must find it rather monotonous. Jersey Street is not only a blind alley, but a dead one, so far as outside life is concerned, and Judge Phoenix and little sister see pretty much the same old two-and-sixpence every day. The bustle and clamor of Mulberry Bend are only a few blocks below them, but the Bend is an exclusive slum; and Police Headquarters—the Central Office—is a block above, but the Central Office deals only with the refinements of artistic crime, and is not half so interesting as an ordinary police station. The priests go by from the school below, in their black robes and tall silk hats, always two by two, marching with brisk, business-like tread. An occasional drunken man or woman wavers along, but generally their faces and their conditions are both familiar. Sometimes two men hurry by, pressing side by side. If you have seen that peculiar walk before you know what it means. Two light steel rings link their wrists together. The old man idly watches them until they disappear in the white marble building on the next block. And then, of course, there is always a thin stream of working folk going to and fro upon their business.
In spring and in fall things brighten a little. Those are the seasons of processions and religious festivals. Almost every day then, and sometimes half a dozen times in a day, the Judge and the baby may see some Italian society parading through the street. Fourteen proud sons of Italy, clad in magnificent new uniforms, bearing aloft huge silk banners, strut magnificently in the rear of a German band of twenty-four pieces, and a drum-corps of a dozen more. Then, too, come the religious processions, when the little girls are taken to their first communion. Six sturdy Italians struggle along under the weight of a mighty temple or pavilion, all made of colored candles—not the dainty little pink trifles with rosy shades of perforated paper, that light our old lady's dining-table—but the great big candles of the Romish Church (a church which, you may remember, is much affected of the mob, especially in times of suffering, sickness, or death); mighty candles, six and eight feet tall, and as thick as your wrist, of red and blue and green and yellow, arranged in artistic combinations around a statue of the Virgin. From this splendid structure silken ribbons stream in all directions, and at the end of each ribbon is a little girl—generally a pretty little girl—in a white dress bedecked with green bows. And each little girl leads by the hand one smaller than herself, sometimes a toddler so tiny that you marvel that it can walk at all. Some of the little ones are bare-headed, but most of them wear the square head-cloth of the Italian peasant, such as their mothers and grandmothers wore in Italy. At each side of the girls marches an escort of proud parents, very much mixed up with the boys of the families, who generally appear in their usual street dress, some of them showing through it in conspicuous places. And before and behind them are bands and drum-corps, and societies with banners, and it is all a blare of martial music and primary colors the whole length of the street.
But these are Mulberry Street's brief carnival seasons, and when their splendor is departed the block relapses into workaday dulness, and the procession that marches and counter-marches before Judge Phoenix and little sister in any one of the long hours between eight and twelve and one and six is something like this:
Detective taking prisoner to Central Office. Chinaman. Messenger boy. Two house-painters. Two priests. Boy with basket. Jewish sweater, Boy with tin with coats on beer-pails on a his shoulder. stick. Carpenter. Another Chinaman. Drunken woman (a regular). Glass-put-in man.
Washer woman with clothes. Poor woman with market-basket. Drunken man. Undertaker's man carrying trestles. Butcher's boy. Two priests. Detective coming back from Central Office alone.
Such is the daily march of the mob in Mulberry Street near the mouth of Jersey's blind alley, and such is its outrageous behavior as observed by a presumably decent person from the windows of the big red-brick building across the way.
Suddenly there is an explosion of sound under the decent person's window, and a hand-organ starts off with a jerk like a freight train on a down grade, that joggles a whole string of crashing notes. Then it gets down to work, and its harsh, high-pitched, metallic drone makes the street ring for a moment. Then it is temporarily drowned by a chorus of shrill, small voices. The person—I am afraid his decency begins to drop off him here—leans on his broad window-sill and looks out. The street is filled with children of every age, size, and nationality; dirty children, clean children, well-dressed children, and children in rags, and for every one of these last two classes put together a dozen children who are neatly and cleanly but humbly clad—the children of the self-respecting poor. I do not know where they have all swarmed from. There were only three or four in sight just before the organ came; now there are several dozen in the crowd, and the crowd is growing. See, the women are coming out in the rear tenements. Some male passers-by line up on the edge of the sidewalk and look on with a superior air. The Italian barber has come all the way up his steps, and is sitting on the rail. Judge Phoenix has teetered forward at least half a yard, and stands looking at the show over the heads of a little knot of women hooded with red plaid shawls. The epileptic boy comes out on his stoop and stays there at least three minutes before the area-way swallows him. Up above there is a head in almost every casement. Mamie is at her window, and the little mulatto child at hers. There are only two people who do not stop and look on and listen. One is a Chinaman, who stalks on with no expression at all on his blank face; the other is the boy from the printing-office with a dozen foaming cans of beer on his long stick. But he does not leave because he wants to. He lingers as long as he can, in his passage through the throng, and disappears in the printing-house doorway with his head screwed half way around on his shoulders. He would linger yet, but the big foreman would call him "Spitzbube!" and would cuff his ears.
The children are dancing. The organ is playing "On the Blue Alsatian Mountains," and the little heads are bobbing up and down to it in time as true as ever was kept. Watch the little things! They are really waltzing. There is a young one of four years old. See her little worn shoes take the step and keep it! Dodworth or DeGarmo could not have taught her better. I wonder if either of them ever had so young a pupil. And she is dancing with a girl twice her size. Look at that ring of children—all girls—waltzing round hand in hand! How is that for a ladies' chain? Well, well, the heart grows young to see them. And now look over to the grocery. Big sister has come out and climbed on the vegetable-stand, and is sitting in the potatoes with little sister in her lap. Little sister waves her fat, red arms in the air and shrieks in babyish delight. The old women with the shawls over their heads are talking together, crooning over the spectacle in their Irish way:
"Thot's me Mary Ann, I was tellin' ye about, Mrs. Rafferty, dancin' wid the little one in the green apron."
"It's a foine sthring o' childher ye have, Mrs. Finn!" says Mrs. Rafferty, nodding her head as though it were balanced on wires. And so the dance goes on.
In the centre of it all stands the organ-grinder, swarthy and black-haired. He has a small, clear space so that he can move the one leg of his organ about, as he turns from side to side, gazing up at the windows of the brick building where the great wrought-iron griffins stare back at him from their lofty perches. His anxious black eyes rove from window to window. The poor he has always with him, but what will the folk who mould public opinion in great griffin-decorated buildings do for him?
I think we will throw him down a few nickels. Let us tear off a scrap of newspaper. Here is a bit from the society column of the Evening ——. That will do excellently well. We will screw the money up in that, and there it goes, chink! on the pavement below. There, look at that grin! Wasn't it cheap at the price?
I wish he might have had a monkey to come up and get the nickels. We shall never see the organ-grinder's monkey in the streets of New York again. I see him, though. He comes out and visits me where I live among the trees, whenever the weather is not too cold to permit him to travel with his master. Sometimes he comes in a bag, on chilly days; and my own babies, who seem to be born with the fellow-feeling of vulgarity with the mob, invite him in and show him how to warm his cold little black hands in front of the kitchen range.
I do not suppose, even if it were possible to get our good old maiden lady to come down to Mulberry Street and sit at my window when the organ-grinder comes along, she could ever learn to look at the mob with friendly, or at least kindly, eyes; but I think she would learn—and she is cordially invited to come—that it is not a mob that rejoices in "outrageous behavior," as some other mobs that we read of have rejoiced—notably one that gave a great deal of trouble to some very "decent people" in Paris toward the end of the last century. And I think that she even might be induced to see that the organ-grinder is following an honest trade, pitiful as it be, and not exercising a "fearful beggary." He cannot be called a beggar who gives something that to him, and to thousands of others, is something valuable, in return for the money he asks of you. Our organ-grinder is no more a beggar than is my good friend Mr. Henry Abbey, the honestest and best of operatic impresarios. Mr. Abbey can take the American opera house and hire Mr. Seidl and Mr. —— to conduct grand opera for your delight and mine, and when we can afford it we go and listen to his perfect music, and, as our poor contributions cannot pay for it all, the rich of the land meet the deficit. But this poor, foot-sore child of fortune has only his heavy box of tunes and a human being's easement in the public highway. Let us not shut him out of that poor right because once in a while he wanders in front of our doors and offers wares that offend our finer taste. It is easy enough to get him to betake himself elsewhere, and, if it costs us a few cents, let us not ransack our law-books and our moral philosophies to find out if we cannot indict him for constructive blackmail, but consider the nickel or the dime a little tribute to the uncounted weary souls who love his strains and welcome his coming.
For the editor of the Evening —— was wrong when he said that the Board of Aldermen and the Mayor consented to the licensing of the organ-grinder "in the face of a popular protest." There was a protest, but it was not a popular protest, and it came face to face with a demand that was popular. And the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen did rightly, and did as should be done in this American land of ours, when they granted the demand of the majority of the people, and refused to heed the protest of a minority. For the people who said YEA on this question were as scores of thousands or hundreds of thousands to the thousands of people who said NAY; and the vexation of the few hangs light in the balance against even the poor scrap of joy which was spared to innumerable barren lives.
And so permit me to renew my invitation to the old lady.
TIEMANN'S TO TUBBY HOOK
If you ever were a decent, healthy boy, or if you can make believe that you once were such a boy, you must remember that you were once in love with a girl a great deal older than yourself. I am not speaking of the big school-girl with whom you thought you were in love, for one little while—just because she wouldn't look at you, and treated you like a little boy. She had, after all, but a tuppenny temporary superiority to you; and, after all, in the bottom of your irritated little soul, you knew it. You knew that, proud beauty that she was, she might have to lower her colors to her little sister before that young minx got into the first class and—comparatively—long dresses.
No, I am talking of the girl you loved who was not only really grown up and too old for you, but grown up almost into old-maidhood, and too old perhaps for anyone. She was not, of course, quite an old maid, but she was so nearly an old maid as to be out of all active competition with her juniors—which permitted her to be her natural, simple self, and to show you the real charm of her womanhood. Neglected by the men, not yet old enough to take to coddling young girls after the manner of motherly old maids, she found a hearty and genuine pleasure in your boyish friendship, and you—you adored her. You saw, of course, as others saw, the faded dulness of her complexion; you saw the wee crow's-feet that gathered in the corners of her eyes when she laughed; you saw the faint touches of white among the crisp little curls over her temples; you saw that the keenest wind of Fall brought the red to her cheeks only in two bright spots, and that no soft Spring air would ever bring her back the rosy, pink flush of girlhood: you saw these things as others saw them—no, indeed, you did not; you saw them as others could not, and they only made her the more dear to you. And you were having one of the best and most valuable experiences of your boyhood, to which you may look back now, whatever life has brought you, with a smile that has in it nothing of regret, of derision, or of bitterness.
Suppose that this all happened long ago—that you had left a couple of quarter-posts of your course of three-score-years-and-ten between that young lover and your present self; and suppose that the idea came to you to seek out and revisit this dear faded memory. And suppose that you were foolish enough to act upon the idea, and went in search of her and found her—not the wholesome, autumn-nipped comrade that you remembered, a shade or two at most frostily touched by the winter of old age—but a berouged, beraddled, bedizened old make-believe, with wrinkles plastered thick, and skinny shoulders dusted white with powder—ah me, how you would wish you had not gone!
And just so I wished that I had not gone, when, the other day, I was tempted back to revisit the best beloved of all the homes of my nomadic boyhood.
I remembered four pleasant years of early youth when my lot was cast in a region that was singularly delightful and grateful and lovable, although the finger of death had already touched its prosperity and beauty beyond all requickening.
It was a fair countryside of upland and plateau, lying between a majestic hill-bordered river and an idle, wandering, marshy, salt creek that flowed almost side by side with its nobler companion for several miles before they came together at the base of a steep, rocky height, crowned with thick woods. This whole country was my playground, a strip some four or five miles long, and for the most of the way a mile wide between the two rivers, with the rocky, wooded eminence for its northern boundary.
In the days when the broad road that led from the great city was a famous highway, it had run through a country of comfortable farm-houses and substantial old-fashioned mansions standing in spacious grounds of woodland and meadow. These latter occupied the heights along the great river, like a lofty breastwork of aristocracy, guarding the humbler tillers of the soil in the more sheltered plains and hollows behind them. The extreme north of my playground had been, within my father's easy remembering, a woodland wild enough to shelter deer; and even in my boyhood there remained patches of forest where once in a while the sharp-eyed picked up gun-flints and brass buttons that had been dropped among those very trees by the marauding soldiery of King George III. of tyrannical memory. There was no deer there when I was a boy. Deer go naturally with a hardy peasantry, and not naturally, perhaps, but artificially, with the rich and great. But deer cannot coexist with a population composed of what we call "People of Moderate Means." It is not in the eternal fitness of things that they should.
For, as I first knew our neighborhood, it was a suburb as a physical fact only. As a body politic, we were a part of the great city, and those twain demons of encroachment, Taxes and Assessments, had definitively won in their battle with both the farmers and the country-house gentry. To the south, the farms had been wholly routed out of existence. A few of the old family estates were kept up after a fashion, but it was only as the officers of a defeated garrison are allowed to take their own time about leaving their quarters. Along the broad highway some of them lingered, keeping up a poor pretence of disregarding new grades and levels, and of not seeing the little shanties that squatted under their very windows, or the more offensive habitations of a more pretentious poverty that began to range themselves here and there in serried blocks.
Poor people of moderate means! Nobody wants you, except the real estate speculator, and he wants you only to empty your light pockets for you, and to leave you to die of cheap plumbing in the poor little sham of a house that he builds to suit your moderate means and his immoderate greed. Nowhere are you welcome, except where contractors are digging new roads and blasting rocks and filling sunken lots with ashes and tin cans. The random goat of poverty browses on the very confines of the scanty, small settlement of cheap gentility where you and your neighbors—people of moderate means like yourself—huddle together in your endless, unceasing struggle for a home and self-respect. You know that your smug, mean little house, tricked out with machine-made scroll-work, and insufficiently clad in two coats of ready-mixed paint, is an eyesore to the poor old gentleman who has sold you a corner of his father's estate to build it on. But there it is—the whole hard business of life for the poor—for the big poor and the little poor, and the unhappiest of all, the moderately poor. He must sell strip after strip of the grounds his father laid out with such loving and far-looking pride. You must buy your narrow strip from him, and raise thereon your tawdry little house, calculating the cost of every inch of construction in hungry anxiety of mind. And then you must sit down in your narrow front-room to stare at the squalid shanty of the poor man who has squatted right in your sight, on the land condemned for the new avenue; to wish that the street might be cut through and the unsightly hovel taken away—and then to groan in spirit as you think of the assessment you must pay when the street is cut through.
And yet you must live, oh, people of moderate means! You have your loves and your cares, your tastes and your ambitions, your hopes and your fears, your griefs and your joys, just like the people whom you envy and the people who envy you. As much as any of them, you have the capacity for pain and for pleasure, for loving and for being loved, that gives human beings a right to turn the leaves of the book of life and spell out its lesson for themselves. I know this; I know it well; I was beginning to find it out when I first came to that outpost suburb of New York, in the trail of your weary army.
But I was a boy then, and no moderateness of earthly means could rob me of my inheritance in the sky and the woods and the fields, in the sun and the snow and the rain and the wind, and in every day's weather, of which there never was any kind made that has not some delight in it to a healthful body and heart. And on this inheritance I drew such great, big, liberal, whacking drafts that, I declare, to this very day, some odd silver pieces of the resultant spending-money keep turning up, now and then, in forgotten pockets of my mind.
The field of my boyish activity was practically limited by the existing conditions of the city's growth. With each year there was less and less temptation to extend that field southward. The Bloomingdale Road, with its great arching willows, its hospitable old road-houses withdrawn from the street and hidden far down shady lanes that led riverward—the splendid old highway retained something of its charm; but day by day the gridiron system of streets encroached upon it, and day by day the shanties and the cheap villas crowded in along its sides, between the old farmsteads and the country-places. And then it led only to the raw and unfinished Central Park, and to the bare waste and dreary fag-end of a New York that still looked upon Union Square as an uptown quarter. Besides that, the lone scion of respectability who wandered too freely about the region just below Manhattanville, was apt to get his head most beautifully punched at the hands of some predatory gang of embryonic toughs from the shanties on the line of the aqueduct.
That is how our range—mine and the other boys'—was from Tiemann's to Tubby Hook; that is, from where ex-Mayor Tiemann's fine old house, with its long conservatories, sat on the edge of the Manhattanville bluff and looked down into the black mouths of the chimneys of the paint-works that had paid for its building, up to the little inn near the junction of Spuyten Duyvil Creek and the Hudson River. Occasionally, of course, the delight of the river front tempted us farther down. There was an iron-mill down there (if that is the proper name for a place where they make pig-iron), whose operations were a perpetual joy to boyhood's heart. The benevolent lovers of the picturesque who owned this mill had a most entrancing way of making their castings late in the afternoon, so as to give a boy a chance to coast or skate, an hour after school closed, before it was time to slip down to the grimy building on the river's bank, and peer through the arched doorway into the great, dark, mysterious cavern with its floor of sand marked out in a pattern of trenches that looked as if they had been made by some gigantic double-toothed comb—a sort of right-angled herring-bone pattern. The darkness gathered outside, and deepened still faster within that gloomy, smoke-blackened hollow. The workmen, with long iron rods in their hands, moved about with the cautious, expectant manner of men whose duty brings them in contact with a daily danger. They stepped carefully about, fearful of injuring the regular impressions in the smooth sand, and their looks turned ever with a certain anxiety to the great black furnace at the northern end of the room, where every now and then, at the foreman's order, a fiery eye would open itself for inspection and close sullenly, making everything seem more dark than it was before. At last—sometimes it was long to wait—the eye would open, and the foreman, looking into it, would nod; and then a thrill of excitement ran through the workmen at their stations and the boys in the big doorway; and suddenly a huge red mouth opened beneath the eye, and out poured the mighty flood of molten iron, glowing with a terrible, wonderful, dazzling color that was neither white nor red, nor rose nor yellow, but that seemed to partake of them all, and yet to be strangely different from any hue that men can classify or name. Down it flowed upon the sanded floor, first into the broad trench in front of the furnace, then down the long dorsals of the rectangular herring-bones, spreading out as it went into the depressions to right and left, until the mighty pattern of fire shone in its full length and breadth on the flood of sand; and the workmen, who had been coaxing the sluggish, lava-like flood along with their iron rods, rested from their labors and wiped their hot brows, while a thin cloud of steamy vapor floated up to the begrimed rafters. Standing in the doorway we could watch the familiar pattern—the sow and pigs, it was called—die down to a dull rose red, and then we would hurry away before blackness came upon it and wiped it clean out of memory and imagination.
Below the foundry, too, there was a point of land whereon were certain elevations and depressions of turf-covered earth that were by many, and most certainly by me, supposed to be the ruins of a Revolutionary fort. I have heard long and warm discussions of the nature and history of these mounds and trenches, and I believe the weight of authority was against the theory that they were earthworks thrown up to oppose the passage of a British fleet. But they were good enough earthworks for a boy.
Just above Tiemann's, on the lofty, protrudent corner made by the dropping of the high-road into the curious transverse valley, or swale, which at 125th Street crosses Manhattan Island from east to west, stood, at the top of a steep lawn, a mansion imposing still in spite of age, decay, and sorry days. The great Ionic columns of the portico, which stood the whole height and breadth of the front, were cracked in their length, and rotten in base and capital. The white and yellow paint was faded and blistered. Below the broad flight of crazy front-steps the grass grew rank in the gravel walk, and died out in brown, withered patches on the lawn, where only plantain and sorrel throve. It was a sad and shabby old house enough, but even the patches of newspaper here and there on its broken window-panes could not take away a certain simple, old-fashioned dignity from its weather-beaten face.
Here, the boys used to say, the Crazy Woman lived; but she was not crazy. I knew the old lady well, and at one time we were very good friends. She was the last daughter of an old, once prosperous family; a woman of bright, even brilliant mind, unhinged by misfortune, disappointment, loneliness, and the horrible fascination which an inherited load of litigation exercised upon her. The one diversion of her declining years was to let various parts and portions of her premises, on any ridiculous terms that might suggest themselves, to any tenants that might offer; and then to eject the lessee, either on a nice point of law or on general principles, precisely as she saw fit. She was almost invariably successful in this curious game, and when she was not, she promptly made friends with her victorious tenant, and he usually ended by liking her very much.
Her family, if I remember rightly, had distinguished itself in public service. It was one of those good old American houses where the men-children are born with politics in their veins—that is, with an inherited sense of citizenship, and a conscious pride in bearing their share in the civic burden. The young man just out of college, who has got a job at writing editorials on the Purification of Politics, is very fond of alluding to such men as "indurated professional office-holders." But the good old gentleman who pays the young ex-collegian's bills sometimes takes a great deal of pleasure—in his stupid, old-fashioned way—in uniting with his fellow-merchants of the Swamp or Hanover Square, to subscribe to a testimonial to some one of the best abused of these "indurated" sinners, in honor of his distinguished services in lowering some tax-rate, in suppressing some nuisance, in establishing some new municipal safeguard to life or property. This blood in her may, in some measure, account for the vigor and enthusiasm with which this old lady expressed her sense of the loss the community had sustained in the death of President Lincoln, in April of 1865.
Summoning two or three of us youngsters, and a dazed Irish maid fresh from Castle Garden and a three weeks' voyage in the steerage of an ocean steamer, she led us up to the top of the house, to one of those vast old-time garrets that might have been—and in country inns occasionally were—turned into ballrooms, with the aid of a few lights and sconces. Here was stored the accumulated garmenture of the household for generation upon generation; and as far as I could discover, every member of that family had been born into a profound mourning that had continued unto his or her latest day, unmitigated save for white shirts and petticoats. These we bore down by great armfuls to the front portico, and I remember that the operation took nearly an hour. When at length we had covered the shaky warped floor of the long porch with the strange heaps of black and white—linens, cottons, silks, bombazines, alpacas, ginghams, every conceivable fabric, in fashion or out of fashion, that could be bleached white or dyed black—the old lady arranged us in working order, and, acting at once as directress and chief worker, with incredible quickness and dexterity she rent these varied and multiform pieces of raiment into broad strips, which she ingeniously twisted, two or three together, stitching them at the ends to other sets of strips, until she had formed immensely long rolls of black and white. Mounting a tall ladder, with the help of the strongest and oldest of her assistants, she wound the great tall white columns with these strips, fastening them in huge spirals from top to bottom, black and white entwined. Then she hung ample festoons between the pillars, and contrived something painfully ambitious in the way of rosettes for the cornice and frieze.
Then we all went out in the street and gazed at the work of our hands. The rosettes were a failure, and the old lady admitted it. I have forgotten whether she said they looked "mangy," or "measly," or "peaky;" but she conveyed her idea in some such graphic phrase. But I must ask you to believe me when I tell you that, from the distant street, that poor, weather-worn old front seemed to have taken on the very grandeur of mourning, with its great, clean, strong columns simply wreathed in black and snowy white, that sparkled a little here and there in the fitful, cold, spring sunlight. Of course, when you drew near to it, it resolved itself into a bewildering and somewhat indecent confusion of black petticoats, and starched shirts, and drawers, and skirts, and baby-clothes, and chemises, and dickies, and neck-cloths, and handkerchiefs, all twisted up into the most fantastic trappings of woe that ever decked a genuine and patriotic grief. But I am glad, for myself, that I can look at it all now from even a greater distance than the highway at the foot of the lawn.
I must admit that, even in my day, the shops and houses of the Moderate Means colony had so fringed the broad highway with their trivial, common-place, weakly pretentious architecture, that very little of the distinctive character of the old road was left. Certainly, from Tiemann's to the Deaf and Dumb Asylum—about two miles of straight road—there was little that had any saving grace of honorable age, except here and there where some pioneer shanty had squatted itself long enough ago to have acquired a pleasant look of faded shabbiness. The tavern and the stage-office, it is true, kept enough of their old appearance to make a link between those days and the days when swarms of red-faced drovers, with big woollen comfortables about their big necks, and with fat, greasy, leather wallets stuffed full of bank-notes, gathered noisily there, as it was their wont to gather at all the "Bull's Head Taverns" in and around New York. The omnibuses that crawled out from New York were comparatively modern—that is, a Broadway 'bus rarely got ten or fifteen years beyond the period of positive decrepitude without being shifted to the Washington Heights line. But under the big shed around the corner still stood the great old George Washington coach—a structure about the size and shape of a small canal-boat, with the most beautiful patriotic pictures all over it, of which I only remember Lord Cornwallis surrendering his sword in the politest and most theatrical manner imaginable, although the poignancy of his feelings had apparently turned his scarlet uniform to a pale orange. This magnificent equipage was a trifle rheumaticky about its underpinning, but, drawn by four, six, or eight horses, it still took the road on holidays; and in winter, when the sleighing was unusually fine, with its wheels transformed into sectional runners like a gigantic bob-sled, it swept majestically out upon the road, where it towered above the flock of flying cutters whose bells set the air a-jingle from Bloomingdale to King's Bridge.
But if the beauty of Broadway as a country high-road had been marred by its adaptation to the exigencies of a suburb of moderate means, we boys felt the deprivation but little. To right and to left, as we wandered northward, five minutes' walk would take us into a country of green lanes and meadows and marshland and woodland; where houses and streets were as yet too few to frighten away that kindly old Dame Nature who was always so glad to see us. If you turned to the right—to the east, that is—you found the laurel-bordered fields where we played baseball—I don't mean that the fields sprouted with laurels for us boys in those old days of 29 to 34 scores, but that the Kalmia latifolia crowned the gray rocks that cropped out all around. Farther up was the wonderful and mysterious old house of Madame Jumel—Aaron Burr's Madame Jumel—set apart from all other houses by its associations with the fierce, vindictive passions of that strange old woman, whom, it seems to me, I can still vaguely remember, seated very stiff and upright in her great old family carriage. At the foot of the heights, on this side, the Harlem River flowed between its marshy margins to join Spuyten Duyvil Creek—the Harlem with its floats and boats and bridges and ramshackle docks, and all the countless delights of a boating river. Here also was a certain dell, halfway up the heights overlooking McComb's Dam Bridge, where countless violets grew around a little spring, and where there was a real cave, in which, if real pirates had not left their treasure, at least real tramps had slept and left a real smell. And on top of the cave there was a stone which was supposed to retain the footprint of a pre-historic Indian. From what I remember of that footprint I am inclined to think that it must have been made by the foot of a derrick, and not by that of an Indian.
But it was on the other side of the Island, between the Deaf and Dumb Asylum and Tubby Hook, and between the Ridge and the River, that I most loved to ramble. Here was the slope of a woodland height running down to a broad low strip, whose westernmost boundary was the railroad embankment, beyond which lay the broad blue Hudson, with Fort Lee and the first up-springing of the Palisades, to be seen by glimpses through the tree-trunks. This was, I think, the prettiest piece of flower-spangled wildwood that I have ever seen. For centuries it had drained the richness of that long and lofty ridge. The life of lawns and gardens had gone into it; the dark wood-soil had been washed from out the rocks on the brow of the hill; and down below there, where a vagrom brooklet chirped its way between green stones, the wholesome soil bloomed forth in grateful luxuriance. From the first coming of the anemone and the hepatica, to the time of the asters, there was always something growing there to delight the scent or the sight; and most of all do I remember the huge clumps of Dutchman's-breeches—the purple and the waxy white as well as the honey-tipped scarlet.
There were little sunlit clearings here, and I well recall the day when, looking across one of these, I saw something that stood awkwardly and conspicuously out of the young wood-grass—a raw stake of pine wood, and beyond that, another stake, and another; and parallel with these another row, marking out two straight lines, until the bushes hid them. The surveyors had begun to lay out the line of the new Boulevard, on which you may now roll in your carriage to Inwood, through the wreck of the woods where I used to scramble over rock and tree-trunk, going toward Tubby Hook.
It was on the grayest of gray November days last year that I had the unhappy thought of revisiting this love of my youth. I followed familiar trails, guided by landmarks I could not forget—although they had somehow grown incredibly poor and mean and shabby, and had entirely lost a certain dignity that they had until then kept quite clearly in my remembrance. And behold, they were no longer landmarks except to me. A change had come over the face of this old playground of mine. It had forgotten the withered, modest grace of the time when it was middle-aged, and when I was a boy. It was checkered and gridironed with pavements and electric lights. The Elevated Railroad roared at its doors behind clouds of smoke and steam. Great, cheerless, hideously ornate flat buildings reared their zinc-tipped fronts toward the gray heaven, to show the highest aspirations of that demoralized suburb in the way of domestic architecture. To right, to left, every way I turned, I saw a cheap, tawdry, slipshod imitation of the real city—or perhaps I should say, of all that is ugliest and vulgarest, least desirable, and least calculated to endure, in the troubled face of city life. I was glad to get away; glad that the gray mist that rolled up from the Hudson River hid from my sight within its fleecy bosom some details of that vulgar and pitiful degradation. One place alone I found as I had hoped to find it. Ex-Mayor Tiemann's house was gone, his conservatory was a crumbling ruin; the house we decked for Lincoln's death was a filthy tenement with a tumble-down gallery where the old portico had stood, and I found very little on my upward pilgrimage that had not experienced some change—for the worse, as it seemed to me. The very cemetery that belongs to old Trinity had dandified itself with a wonderful wall and a still more wonderful bridge to its annex—or appendix, or extension, or whatever you call it. But just above it is a little enclosure that is called a park—a place where a few people of modest, old-fashioned, domestic tastes had built their houses together to join in a common resistance against the encroachments of the speculator and the nomad house-hunter. I found this little settlement undisturbed, uninvaded, save by a sort of gentle decay that did it no ill-service, in my eyes. The pale dust was a little deeper in the roadways that had once been paved with limestone, a few more brown autumn leaves had fallen in the corners of the fences, the clustered wooden houses all looked a little more rustily respectable in their reserved and sleepy silence—a little bit more, I thought, as if they sheltered a colony of old maids. Otherwise it looked pretty much as it did when I first saw it, well nigh thirty years ago.
To see if there were anything alive in that misty, dusty, faded little abode of respectability, I rang at the door of one house, and found some inquiries to make concerning another one that seemed to be untenanted.
It was a very pretty young lady who opened the door for me, with such shining dark eyes and with so bright a red in her cheeks, that you felt that she could not have been long in that dull, old-time spot, where life seemed to be all one neutral color. She answered my questions kindly, and then, with something in her manner which told me that strangers did not often wander in there, she said that it was a very nice place to live in. I told her that I knew it had been a very nice place to live in.
THE BOWERY AND BOHEMIA
One day a good many years ago an old gentleman from Rondout-on-the-Hudson—then plain Rondout—was walking up Broadway seeing the sights. He had not been in New York in ten or twelve years, and although he was an old gentleman who always had a cask of good ale in his cellar in the winter-time, yet he had never tasted the strange German beverage called lager-beer, which he had heard and read about. So when he saw its name on a sign he went in and drank a mug, sipping it slowly and thoughtfully, as he would have sipped his old ale. He found it refreshing—peculiar—and, well, on the whole, very refreshing indeed, as he considerately told the proprietor.
But what interested him more than the beer was the sight of a group of young men seated around a table drinking beer, reading—and—yes, actually writing verses, and bandying very lively jests among themselves. The old gentleman could not help hearing their conversation, and when he went out into the street he shook his head thoughtfully.
"I wonder what my father would have said to that?" he reflected. "Young gentlemen sitting in a pot-house at high noon and turning verses like so many ballad-mongers! Well, well, well, if those are the ways of lager-beer drinkers, I'll stick to my good old ale!"
And greatly surprised would that honest old gentleman have been to know that the presence of that little group of poets and humorists attracted as much custom to good Mr. Pfaff's beer-saloon as did his fresh, cool lager; and that young men, and, for the matter of that, men not so young, stole in there to listen to their contests of wit, and to wish and yearn and aspire to be of their goodly company. For the old gentleman little dreamed, as he went on his course up Broadway, that he had seen the first Bohemians of New York, and that these young men would be written about and talked about and versified about for generations to come. Unconscious of this honor he went on to Fourteenth Street to see the new square they were laying out there.
Perhaps nothing better marks the place where the city of New York got clean and clear out of provincial pettiness into metropolitan tolerance than the advent of the Bohemians. Twenty-five years earlier they would have been a scandal and a reproach to the town. Not for their literature, or for their wit, or for their hard drinking, or even for their poverty; but for their brotherhood, and for their calm indifference to all the rest of the world whom they did not care to receive into their kingdom of Bohemia. There is human nature in this; more human nature than there is in most provincialism. Take a community of one hundred people and let any ten of its members join themselves together and dictate the terms on which an eleventh may be admitted to their band. The whole remaining eighty-nine will quarrel for the twelfth place. But take a community of a thousand, and let ten such internal groups be formed, and every group will have to canvass more or less hard to increase its number. For the other nine hundred people, being able to pick and choose, are likely to feel a deep indifference to the question of joining any segregation at all. If group No. 2 says, "Come into my crowd, I understand they don't want you in No. 1," the individual replies: "What the deuce do I care about No. 1 or you either? Here are Nos. 4, 5, 6, and 7 all begging for me. If you and No. 1 keep on in your conceit you'll find yourselves left out in the cold."
And as it frequently happens to turn out that way, the dweller in a great city soon learns, in the first place, that he is less important than he thought he was; in the second place, that he is less unimportant than some people would like to have him think himself. All of which goes to show that when New Yorkers looked with easy tolerance, and some of them with open admiration, upon the Bohemians at Pfaff's saloon, they had come to be citizens of no mean city, and were making metropolitan growth.
A Bohemian may be defined as the only kind of gentleman permanently in temporary difficulties who is neither a sponge nor a cheat. He is a type that has existed in all ages and always will exist. He is a man who lacks certain elements necessary to success in this world, and who manages to keep fairly even with the world, by dint of ingenious shift and expedient; never fully succeeding, never wholly failing. He is a man, in fact, who can't swim, but can tread water. But he never, never, never calls himself a Bohemian—at least, in a somewhat wide experience, I have known only two that ever did, and one of these was a baronet. As a rule, if you overhear a man approach his acquaintance with the formula, "As one Bohemian to another," you may make up your mind that that man means an assault upon the other man's pocket-book, and that if the assault is successful the damages will never be repaired. That man is not a Bohemian; he is a beat. Your true Bohemian always calls himself by some euphemistic name. He is always a gentleman at odds with fortune, who rolled in wealth yesterday and will to-morrow, but who at present is willing to do any work that he is sure will make him immortal, and that he thinks may get him the price of a supper. And very often he lends more largely than he borrows.
Now the crowd which the old gentleman saw in the saloon—and he saw George Arnold, Fitz-James O'Brien, and perhaps N. P. Shepard—was a crowd of Bohemians rather by its own christening than by any ordinary application of the word. They were all young men of ability, recognized in their profession. Of those who have died, two at least have honor and literary consideration to-day; of those who lived, some have obtained celebrity, and all a reasonable measure of success. Muerger's Bohemians would have called them Philistines. But they have started a tradition that will survive from generation unto generation; a tradition of delusion so long as the glamour of poetry, romance, and adventure hang around the mysteriously attractive personality of a Bohemian. Ever since then New York has had, and always will have, the posing Bohemian and his worshippers.
Ten or fifteen years ago the "French Quarter" got its literary introduction to New York, and the fact was revealed that it was the resort of real Bohemians—young men who actually lived by their wit and their wits, and who talked brilliantly over fifty-cent table-d'hote dinners. This was the signal for the would-be Bohemian to emerge from his dainty flat or his oak-panelled studio in Washington Square, hasten down to Bleecker or Houston Street, there to eat chicken badly braise, fried chuck-steak, and soggy spaghetti, and to drink thin blue wine and chicory-coffee that he might listen to the feast of witticism and flow of soul that he expected to find at the next table. If he found it at all, he lost it at once. If he made the acquaintance of the young men at the next table, he found them to be young men of his own sort—agreeable young boys just from Columbia and Harvard, who were painting impressionless pictures for the love of Art for Art's sake, and living very comfortably on their paternal allowances. Any one of the crowd would think the world was coming to pieces if he woke up in the morning to wonder where he could get his breakfast on credit, and wonder where he could earn enough money to buy his dinner. Yet these innocent youngsters continue to pervade "The Quarter," as they call it; and as time goes on, by much drinking of ponies of brandy and smoking of cigarettes, they get to fancy that they themselves are Bohemians. And when they get tired of it all and want something good to eat, they go up to Delmonico's and get it.
And their Bohemian predecessors, who sought the French fifty-cent restaurants as their highest attainable luxury—what has become of them? They have fled before that incursion as a flock of birds before a whirlwind. They leave behind them, perhaps, a few of the more mean-spirited among them, who are willing to degenerate into fawners on the rich, and habitual borrowers of trifling sums. But the true Bohemians, the men who have the real blood in their veins, they must seek some other meeting-place where they can pitch their never-abiding tents, and sit at their humble feasts to recount to each other, amid appreciative laughter, the tricks and devices and pitiful petty schemes for the gaining of daily bread that make up for them the game and comedy of life. Tell me not that Ishmael does not enjoy the wilderness. The Lord made him for it, and he would not be happy anywhere else.
There was one such child of fortune once, who brought his blue eyes over from Ireland. His harmless and gentle life closed after too many years in direst misfortune. But as long as he wandered in the depths of poverty there was one strange and mysterious thing about him. His clothes, always well brushed and well carried on a gallant form, often showed cruel signs of wear, especially when he went for a winter without an overcoat. But shabby as his garments might grow, empty as his pockets might be, his linen was always spotless, stiff, and fresh. Now everybody who has ever had occasion to consider the matter knows that by the aid of a pair of scissors the life of a collar or of a pair of cuffs can be prolonged almost indefinitely—apparent miracles had been performed in this way. But no pair of scissors will pay a laundry bill; and finally a committee of the curious waited upon this student of economics and asked him to say how he did it. He was proud and delighted to tell them.
"I-I-I'll tell ye, boys," he said, in his pleasant Dublin brogue, "but 'twas I that thought it out. I wash them, of course, in the basin—that's easy enough; but you'd think I'd be put to it to iron them, wouldn't ye, now? Well, I've invinted a substischoot for ironing—it's me big books. Through all me vicissichoods, boys, I kept me Bible and me dictionary, and I lay the collars and cuffs in the undher one and get the leg of the bureau on top of them both—and you'd be surprised at the artistic effect."
There is no class in society where the sponge, the toady, the man who is willing to receive socially without giving in return, is more quickly found out or more heartily disowned than among the genuine Bohemians. He is to them a traitor, he is one who plays the game unfairly, one who is willing to fill his belly by means to which they will not resort, lax and fantastic as is their social code. Do you know, for instance, what "Jackaling" is in New York? A Jackal is a man generally of good address, and capable of a display of good fellowship combined with much knowledge of literature and art, and a vast and intimate acquaintance with writers, musicians, and managers. He makes it his business to haunt hotels, theatrical agencies, and managers' offices, and to know whenever, in his language, "a new jay comes to town." The jay he is after is some man generally from the smaller provincial cities, who has artistic or theatrical aspirations and a pocketful of money. It is the Jackal's mission to turn this jay into an "angel." Has the gentleman from Lockport come with the score of a comic opera under his arm, and two thousand dollars in his pocket? Two thousand dollars will not go far toward the production of a comic opera in these days, and the jay finds that out later; but not until after the Jackal has made him intimately acquainted with a very gentlemanly and experienced manager who thinks that it can be done for that price with strict economy. Has the young man of pronounced theatrical talent arrived from Keokuk with gold and a thirst for fame? The Jackal knows just the dramatist who will write him the play that he ought to star in. Does the wealthy and important person from Podunk desire to back something absolutely safe and sure in the line of theatrical speculation? The Jackal has the very thing for which he is looking. And in all these, and in all similar contingencies, it is a poor Jackal who does not get his commission at both ends.
The Jackal may do all these things, but he may not, if he is treated, fail to treat in return. I do not mean to say at all that Jackaling is a business highly esteemed, even in darkest Bohemia, but it is considered legitimate, and I hope that no gentleman doing business in Wall Street, or on the Consolidated Exchange, will feel too deeply grieved when he learns the fact.
But where have the real Bohemians fled to from the presence of the too-well-disposed and too-wealthy children of the Benedick and the Holbein? Not where they are likely to find him, you may be sure. The true Bohemian does not carry his true address on his card. In fact, he is delicate to the point of sensitiveness about allowing any publicity to attach to his address. He communicates it confidentially to those with whom he has business dealings, but he carefully conceals it from the prying world. As soon as the world knows it he moves. I once asked a chief of the Bohemian tribe whose residence was the world, but whose temporary address was sometimes Paris, why he had moved from the Quartier Latin to a place in Montmartre.
"Had to, my dear fellow," he answered, with dignity; "why if you live over on that side of the river they'll call you a Bohemian!"
In Paris the home of wit in poverty has been moved across the Seine to the south side of the hill up which people climb to make pilgrimages to the Moulin Rouge and the church of St. Pierre de Montmartre. In New York it has been moved not only across that river of human intercourse that we call Broadway—a river with a tidal ebb and flow of travel and traffic—but across a wilder, stranger, and more turbulent flood called the Bowery, to a region of which the well-fed and prosperous New Yorker knows very, very little.
As more foreigners walk on the Bowery than walk on any other street in New York; and as more different nationalities are represented there than are represented in any other street in New York; and as the foreigners all say that the Bowery is the most marvellous thoroughfare in the world, I think we are justified in assuming that there is little reason to doubt that the foreigners are entirely right in the matter, especially as their opinion coincides with that of every American who has ever made even a casual attempt to size up the Bowery.
No one man can thoroughly know a great city. People say that Dickens knew London, but I am sure that Dickens would never have said it. He knew enough of London to know that no one human mind, no one mortal life can take in the complex intensity of a metropolis. Try to count a million, and then try to form a conception of the impossibility of learning all the ins and outs of the domicile of a million men, women, and children. I have met men who thought they knew New York, but I have never met a man—except a man from a remote rural district—who thought he knew the Bowery. There are agriculturists, however, all over this broad land who have entertained that supposition and acted on it—but never twice. The sense of humor is the saving grace of the American people.
I first made acquaintance with the Bowery as a boy through some lithographic prints. I was interested in them, for I was looking forward to learning to shoot, and my father had told me that there used to be pretty good shooting at the upper end of the Bowery, though, of course, not so good as there was farther up near the Block House, or in the wood beyond. Besides, the pictures showed a very pretty country road with big trees on both sides of it, and comfortable farm-houses, and, I suppose, an inn with a swinging sign. I was disappointed at first, when I heard it had been all built up, but I was consoled when the glories of the real Bowery were unfolded to my youthful mind, and I heard of the butcher-boy and his red sleigh; of the Bowery Theatre and peanut gallery, and the gods, and Mr. Eddy, and the war-cry they made of his name—and a glorious old war-cry it is, better than any college cries ever invented: "Hi, Eddy-eddy-eddy-eddy-eddy-eddy-eddy-eddy-eddy!" of Mose and his silk locks; of the fire-engine fights, and Big Six, and "Wash-her-down!" of the pump at Houston Street; of what happened to Mr. Thackeray when he talked to the tough; of many other delightful things that made the Bowery, to my young imagination, one long avenue of romance, mystery, and thrilling adventure. And the first time I went in the flesh to the Bowery was to go with an elderly lady to an optician's shop.
"And is this—Yarrow?—This the stream Of which my fancy cherished, So faithfully, a waking dream? An image that hath perished! O that some minstrel's harp were near, To utter notes of gladness, And chase this silence from the air, That fills my heart with sadness!"
But the study of the Bowery that I began that day has gone on with interruption for a good many years, and I think now that I am arriving at the point where I have some faint glimmerings of the littleness of my knowledge of it as compared with what there is to be known. I do not mean to say that I can begin to size the disproportion up with any accuracy, but I think I have accomplished a good deal in getting as far as I have.
The Bowery is not a large place, for I think that, properly speaking, it is a place rather than a street or avenue. It is an irregularly shaped ellipse, of notable width in its widest part. It begins at Chatham Square, which lies on the parallel of the sixth Broadway block above City Hall, and loses its identity at the Cooper Union where Third and Fourth Avenues begin, so that it is a scant mile in all. But it is the alivest mile on the face of the earth. And it either bounds or bisects that square mile that the statisticians say is the most densely populated square mile on the face of the globe. This is the heart of the New York tenement district. As the Bowery is the Broadway of the East Side, the street of its pleasures, it would be interesting enough if it opened up only this one densely populated district. But there is much more to contribute to its infinite variety. It serves the same purpose for the Chinese colony in Mott, Pell, and Doyers Streets, and for the Italian swarms in Mulberry Bend, the most picturesque and interesting slum I have ever seen, and I am an ardent collector of slums. I have missed art galleries and palaces and theatres and cathedrals (cathedrals particularly) in various and sundry cities, but I don't think I ever missed a slum. Mulberry Bend is a narrow bend in Mulberry Street, a tortuous ravine of tall tenement houses, and it is so full of people that the throngs going and coming spread off the sidewalk nearly to the middle of the street. There they leave a little lane for the babies to play in. No, they never get run over. There is a perfect understanding between the babies and the peddlers who drive their wagons in Mulberry Bend. The crowds are in the street partly because much of the sidewalk and all of the gutter is taken up with venders' stands, which give its characteristic feature to Mulberry Bend. There are displayed more and stranger wares than uptown people ever heard of. Probably the edibles are in the majority, certainly they are the queerest part of the show. There are trays and bins there in the Bend, containing dozens and dozens of things that you would never guess were meant to eat if you didn't happen to see a ham or a string of sausages or some other familiar object among them. But the color of the Bend—and its color is its strong point—comes from its display of wearing apparel and candy. A lady can go out in Mulberry Bend and purchase every article of apparel, external or private and personal, that she ever heard of, and some that she never heard of, and she can get them of any shade or hue. If she likes what they call "Liberty" colors—soft, neutral tones—she can get them from the second-hand dealers whose goods have all the softest of shades that age and exposure can give them. But if she likes, as I do, bright, cheerful colors, she can get tints in Mulberry Bend that you could warm your hands on. Reds, greens, and yellows preponderate, and Nature herself would own that the Italians could give her points on inventing green and not exert themselves to do it. The pure arsenical tones are preferred in the Bend, and, by the bye, anybody who remembers the days when ladies wore magenta and solferino, and wants to have those dear old colors set his teeth on edge again, can go to the Bend and find them there. The same dye-stuffs that are popular in the dress-goods are equally popular in the candy, and candy is a chief product of Mulberry Bend. It is piled up in reckless profusion on scores of stands, here, there, and everywhere, and to call the general effect festal, would be to speak slightingly of it. The stranger who enters Mulberry Bend and sees the dress-goods and the candies is sure to think that the place has been decorated to receive him. No, nobody will hurt you if you go down there and are polite, and mind your own business, and do not step on the babies. But if you stare about and make comments, I think those people will be justified in suspecting that the people uptown don't always know how to behave themselves like ladies and gentlemen, so do not bring disgrace on your neighborhood, and do not go in a cab. You will not bother the babies, but you will find it trying to your own nerves.
There is a good deal of money in Mulberry Street, and some of it overflows into the Bowery. From this street also the Baxter Street variety of Jews find their way into the Bowery. These are the Jew toughs, and there is no other type of Jew at all like them in all New York's assortment of Hebrew types, which cannot be called meagre. Of the Jewish types New York has, as the printers say, "a full case."
But it is on the other side of the Bowery that there lies a world to which the world north of Fourteenth Street is a select family party. I could not give even a partial list of its elements. Here dwell the Polish Jews with their back-yards full of chickens. The police raid those back-yards with ready assiduity, but the yards are always promptly replenished. It is the police against a religion, and the odds are against the police. The Jew will die for it, if needs be, but his chickens must be killed kosher way and not Christian way, but that is only the way of the Jews: the Hungarians, the Bohemians, the Anarchist Russians, the Scandinavians of all sorts who come up from the wharfs, the Irish, who are there, as everywhere, the Portuguese Jews, and all the rest of them who help to form that city within a city—have they not, all of them, ways of their own? I speak of this Babylon only to say that here and there on its borders, and, once in a way, in its very heart, are rows or blocks of plain brick houses, homely, decent, respectable relics of the days when the sturdy, steady tradesfolk of New York built here the homes that they hoped to leave to their children. They are boarding-and lodging-houses now, poor enough, but proud in their respectability of the past, although the tide of ignorance, poverty, vice, filth, and misery is surging to their doors and their back-yard fences. And here, in hall bedrooms, in third-story backs and fronts, and in half-story attics, live the Bohemians of to-day, and with them those other strugglers of poverty who are destined to become "successful men" in various branches of art, literature, science, trade, or finance. Of these latter our children will speak with hushed respect, as men who rose from small beginnings; and they will go into the school-readers of our grandchildren along with Benjamin Franklin and that contemptible wretch who got to be a great banker because he picked up a pin, as examples of what perseverance and industry can accomplish. From what I remember I foresee that those children will hate them.
I am not going to give you the addresses of the cheap restaurants where these poor, cheerful children of adversity are now eating goulasch and Kartoffelsalad instead of the spaghetti and tripe a la mode de Caen of their old haunts. I do not know them, and if I did, I should not hand them over to the mercies of the intrusive young men from the studios and the bachelors' chambers. I wish them good digestion of their goulasch: for those that are to climb, I wish that they may keep the generous and faithful spirit of friendly poverty; for those that are to go on to the end in fruitless struggle and in futile hope, I wish for them that that end may come in some gentle and happier region lying to the westward of that black tide that ebbs and flows by night and day along the Bowery Way.
THE STORY OF A PATH
In one of his engaging essays Mr. John Burroughs tells of meeting an English lady in Holyoke, Mass., who complained to him that there were no foot-paths for her to walk on, whereupon the poet-naturalist was moved to an eloquent expression of his grief over America's inferiority in the foot-path line to the "mellow England" which in one brief month had won him for her own. Now I know very little of Holyoke, Mass., of my own knowledge. As a lecture-town I can say of it that its people are polite, but extremely undemonstrative, and that the lecturer is expected to furnish the refreshments. It is quite likely that the English lady was right, and that there are no foot-paths there.
I wish to say, however, that I know the English lady. I know her—many, many of her—and I have met her a-many times. I know the enchanted fairyland in which her wistful memory loves to linger. Often and often have I watched her father's wardian-case grow into "papa's hot-houses;" the plain brick house that he leases, out Notting Hill way, swell into "our family mansion," and the cottage that her family once occupied at Stoke Wigglesworth change itself into "the country place that papa had to give up because it took so much of his time to see that it was properly kept up." And long experience in this direction enables me to take that little remark about the foot-paths, and to derive from it a large amount of knowledge about Holyoke and its surroundings that I should not have had of my own getting, for I have never seen Holyoke except by night, nor am I like to see it again.
From that brief remark I know these things about Holyoke: It is surrounded by a beautiful country, with rolling hills and a generally diversified landscape. There are beautiful green fields, I am sure. There is a fine river somewhere about, and I think there must be water-falls and a pretty little creek. The timber must be very fine, and probably there are some superb New England elms. The roads must be good, uncommonly good; and there must be unusual facilities for getting around and picnicking and finding charming views and all that sort of thing.
Nor does it require much art to learn all this from that pathetic plaint about the foot-paths. For the game of the Briton in a foreign land is ever the same. It changes not from generation unto generation. Bid him to the feast and set before him all your wealth of cellar and garner. Spread before him the meat, heap up for him the fruits of the season. Weigh down the board with every vegetable that the gardener's art can bring to perfection in or out of its time—white-potatoes, sweet-potatoes, lima-beans, string-beans, fresh peas, sweet-corn, lettuce, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, musk-melons and water-melons—all you will—no word will you hear from him till he has looked over the whole assortment and discovered that you have not the vegetable marrow, and that you do not raise it. Then will he break forth and cry out for his vegetable marrow. All these things are naught to him if he cannot have his vegetable marrow, and he will tell you about the exceeding goodness and rarity of the vegetable marrow, until you will figure it in your mind like unto the famous mangosteen fruit of the Malay Peninsula, he who once eats whereof tastes never again any other fruit of the earth, finding them all as dust and ashes by the side of the mangosteen.
That is to say, this will happen unless you have eaten of the vegetable marrow, and have the presence of mind to recall to the Briton's memory the fact that it is nothing but a second-choice summer squash; after which the meal will proceed in silence. Just so might Mr. Burroughs have brought about a sudden change in the topic of conversation by telling the English lady that where the American treads out a path he builds a road by the side of it.
To tell the truth, I think that the English foot-path is something pathetic beyond description. The better it is, the older, the better worn, the more it speaks with a sad significance of the long established inequalities of old-world society. It means too often the one poor, pitiful right of a poor man, the man who must walk all his life, to go hither and thither through the rich man's country. The lady may walk it for pleasure if she likes, but the man who walks it because he must, turns up a little by-path leading from it to a cottage that no industry or thrift will make his own; and for him to aspire to a roadway to his front-door would be a gross piece of impertinence in a man of his station. It is the remembrance of just such right-of-way foot-paths as the English lady's sad heart yearned after that reconciles me to a great many hundreds of houses that have recently been built in the State of New Jersey after designs out of books that cost all the way from twenty-five cents to a dollar. Architecturally these are very much inferior to the English cottager's home, and they occasionally waken thoughts of incendiarism. But the people who live in them are people who insist on having roads right to their front-doors, and I have heard them do some mighty interesting talking in town-meeting about the way those roads shall be laid and who shall do the laying.
As I have before remarked, I am quite willing to believe that Holyoke is a pathless wilderness, in the English lady's sense. But when Mr. Burroughs makes the generalization that there are no foot-paths in this country, it seems to me he must be letting his boyhood get too far away from him.
For there are foot-paths enough, certainly. Of course an old foot-path in this country always serves to mark the line of a new road when the people who had worn it take to keeping horses. But there are thousands of miles of paths criss-crossing the countryside in all of our older States that will never see the dirt-cart or the stone-crusher in the lifetime of any man alive to-day.
Mr. Burroughs—especially when he is published in the dainty little Douglas duodecimos—is one of the authors whose books a busy man reserves for a pocket-luxury of travel. So it was that, a belated reader, I came across his lament over our pathlessness, some years after my having had a hand—or a foot, as you might say—in the making of a certain cross-lots foot-way which led me to study the windings and turnings of the longer countryside walks until I got the idea of writing "The Story of a Path." I am sorry to contradict Mr. Burroughs, but, if there are no foot-paths in America, what becomes of the many good golden hours that I have spent in well-tracked woodland ways and in narrow foot-lanes through the wind-swept meadow grass? I cannot give these up; I can only wish that Mr. Burroughs had been my companion in them.
A foot-path is the most human thing in inanimate nature. Even as the print of his thumb reveals the old offender to the detectives, so the path tells you the sort of feet that wore it. Like the human nature that created it, it starts out to go straight when strength and determination shape its course, and it goes crooked when weakness lays it out. Until you begin to study them you can have no notion of the differences of character that exist among foot-paths. One line of trodden earth seems to you the same as another. But look! Is the path you are walking on fairly straight from point to point, yet deflected to avoid short rises and falls, and is it worn to grade? That is, does it plough a deep way through little humps and hillocks something as a street is cut down to grade? If you see this path before you, you maybe sure that it is made by the heavy shuffle of workingmen's feet. A path that wavers from side to side, especially if the turns be from one bush to another, and that is only a light trail making an even line of wear over the inequalities of the ground—that is a path that children make. The path made by the business man—the man who is anxious to get to his work at one end of the day, and anxious to get to his home at the other—is generally a good piece of engineering. This type of man makes more paths in this country than he does in any other. He carries his intelligence and his energy into every act of life, and even in the half-unconscious business of making his own private trail he generally manages to find the line of least resistance in getting from one given point to another.
This is the story of a path:
It is called Reub Levi's Path, because Reuben Levi Dodd is supposed to have made it, some time in 1830 or thereabout, when he built his house on the hill. But it is much older than Reuben Levi. He probably thought he was telling the truth when, forty years ago, he swore to having broken the path himself twenty years before, through the Jacobus woods, down the hill and across the flat lands that then belonged to the Onderdoncks, and again through the Ogden woods to the county road; but he forgot that on the bright June day when he first started to find a convenient way through the woods and over the broad lowland fields from his own front-door to that of his father-in-law, Evert Ogden, and then through Mr. Ogden's patch of woods to the little town on the bank of the Passaic—he forgot that for a little part of the way he had had the help of a man whose feet had long before done with walking the paths of earth.
The forest, for it was a forest then, was full of heavy underwood and brush, and he had no choice but to dodge his way between the clumps. But when he got out to the broad open space on the brow of the hill, where no trees had ever grown, he found an almost tropical growth of wild grass and azalea, with bull-brier twining over everything in every direction. He found it worse than the dense woods.
"Drat the pesky stuff," he said to himself; "ain't there no way through it?" Then as he looked about he spied a line no broader than his hand at the bottom, that opened clean through the bull-brier and the bushes across the open to where the trees began again on the down-slope of the hill. Grass was growing in it, but he knew it for an old trail.
"'Twas Pelatiah Jinks made that, I'll bet a shilling," he said to himself, remembering the lonely old trapper who had dwelt on that mountain in his father's time. He had once seen old man Jinks's powder-horn, with its elaborate carving, done in the long solitary hours when the old man sat weather-bound in his lofty hermitage.
"Jest like the old critter to make a bee-line track like that. But what in thunder did he want to go that way across the clearing for? I'm much obleeged to him for his trail, but it ain't headed right for town."
No, it was not. But young Dodd did not remember that the trees whose tops he saw just peeping over the hill were young things of forty years' growth that had taken the place of a line of ninety-year-old chestnuts that had died down from the top and been broken down by the wind shortly after old Pelatiah died. The line that the old man had made for himself took him straight to the one little hillock where he could look over this tall screen and get his bearings afresh by the glint of the Passaic's water in the woody valley below, for at no other spot along that ridge was the Passaic visible.
Now in this one act of Reuben Levi Dodd you can see the human nature that lies at the bottom of all path-making. He turned aside from his straight course to walk in the easy way made by another man, and then fetched a compass, as they used to say in the Apostle Paul's time, to get back to his straight bearings. Old Pelatiah had a good reason for deviating from his straight line to the town; young Dodd had none, except that it was wiser to go two yards around than to go one yard straight through the bull-brier. Young Dodd had a powder-horn slung from his shoulder that morning, and the powder-horn had some carving on it, but it was not like the carving on old Pelatiah's horn. There was a letter R, cut with many flourishes, a letter L cut but wanting most of its flourishes, and a letter D half finished, and crooked at that, and without the first trace of a flourish. That was the way his powder-horn looked that day, for that was the way it looked when he died, and his son sold it to a dealer in antiquities.
Young Dodd and his wife found it lonely living up there on the hilltop. They were the first who had pushed so far back from the river and the town. Mrs. Dodd, who had an active and ambitious spirit in her, often reproached her husband for his neglect to make their home more accessible to her old friends in the distant town.
"If you'd take a bill-hook," she would say, "and clean up that snake-fence path of yours a little, may be folks would climb up here to see us once in a blue moon. It's all well enough for you with your breeches, but how are women folks to trail their frocks through that brush?"
Reub Levi would promise and promise, and once he did take his hook and chop out a hundred yards or so. But things did not mend until Big Bill Turnbull, known all over the county as the Hard Job Man, married a widow with five children, bought a little patch of five or six acres next to Dodd's big farm, built a log-cabin for himself and his family, and settled down there.
Now Turnbull's log-cabin was so situated that the line of old Pelatiah's path through the bull-brier, extended about an eighth of a mile, would just reach the front-door. Turnbull saw this, and it was at that point that he tapped Reub Levi's foot-path to the town. But he did his tapping after his own fashion. He took his wife's red flannel petticoat and tied it to a sapling on the top of the mound that the old hunter used to climb, and then with bill-hook and axe he cut a straight swath through the woods. He even cut down through the roots and took out the larger stones.
"That's what you'd ought to have done long ago, Reuben Levi Dodd," said his wife, as she watched this manifestation of energy.
"Guess I didn't lose much by waiting," Reub Levi answered, with a smile that did not look as self-satisfied as he tried to make it. "I'd a-had to do it myself, and now the other fellow's done it for me."
And thereafter he took Bill Turnbull's path just where it touched the corner of his own cleared land. But Malvina Dodd, to the day of her death, never once walked that way, but, going and coming, took the winding track that her husband had laid out for her when their home was built.
The next maker of the path was a boy not ten years old. His name was Philip Wessler, and he was a charity boy of German parentage, who had been adopted by an eccentric old man in the town, an herb-doctor. This calling was in more repute in those days than it is now. Old Doctor Van Wagener was growing feeble, and he relied on the boy, who was grateful and faithful, to search for his stock of simples. When the weather was favorable they would go together through the Ogden woods, and across the meadows to where the other woods began at the bottom of the hill. Here the old man would sit down and wait, while the boy climbed the steep hillside, and ranged hither and thither in his search for sassafras and liverwort, and a hundred and one plants, flowers, and herbs, in which the doctor found virtue. When he had collected his bundle he came running down the path to where the doctor sat, and left them for the old man to pick and choose from, while he darted off after another load.
He did a boy's work with the path. Steep grades were only a delight to him, and so in the course of a year or two he trod out, or jumped out, a series of break-neck short-cuts. William Turnbull—people called him William now, since he had built a clap-board house, and was using the log-cabin for a barn—William Turnbull, observing these short-cuts, approved of their purpose, but not of their method. He went through the woods once or twice on odd days after his hay was in, and did a little grading with a mattock. Here and there he made steps out of flat stones. He told his wife he thought it would be some handier for her, and she told him—they were both from Connecticut—that it was quite some handier, and that it was real thoughtful of him; and that she didn't want to speak no ill of the dead, but if her first man had been that considerate he wouldn't never have got himself drowned going pickerel fishing in March, when the ice was so soft you'd suppose rational folks would keep off of it.