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Title: Urban Sketches
Author: Harte, Bret
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Urban Sketches" ***


by Bret Harte
















As I glance across my table, I am somewhat distracted by the spectacle
of a venerable head whose crown occasionally appears beyond, at about
its level. The apparition of a very small hand--whose fingers are bunchy
and have the appearance of being slightly webbed--which is frequently
lifted above the table in a vain and impotent attempt to reach the
inkstand, always affects me as a novelty at each recurrence of the
phenomenon. Yet both the venerable head and bunchy fingers belong to
an individual with whom I am familiar, and to whom, for certain reasons
hereafter described, I choose to apply the epithet written above this

His advent in the family was attended with peculiar circumstances. He
was received with some concern--the number of retainers having been
increased by one in honor of his arrival. He appeared to be weary,--his
pretence was that he had come from a long journey,--so that for days,
weeks, and even months, he did not leave his bed except when he was
carried. But it was remarkable that his appetite was invariably regular
and healthy, and that his meals, which he required should be brought to
him, were seldom rejected. During this time he had little conversation
with the family, his knowledge of our vernacular being limited, but
occasionally spoke to himself in his own language,--a foreign tongue.
The difficulties attending this eccentricity were obviated by the young
woman who had from the first taken him under her protection,--being,
like the rest of her sex, peculiarly open to impositions,--and who at
once disorganized her own tongue to suit his. This was affected by the
contraction of the syllables of some words, the addition of syllables to
others, and an ingenious disregard for tenses and the governing powers
of the verb. The same singular law which impels people in conversation
with foreigners to imitate their broken English governed the family in
their communications with him. He received these evidences of his power
with an indifference not wholly free from scorn. The expression of his
eye would occasionally denote that his higher nature revolted from them.
I have no doubt myself that his wants were frequently misinterpreted;
that the stretching forth of his hands toward the moon and stars might
have been the performance of some religious rite peculiar to his own
country, which was in ours misconstrued into a desire for physical
nourishment. His repetition of the word “goo-goo,”--which was subject to
a variety of opposite interpretations,--when taken in conjunction with
his size, in my mind seemed to indicate his aboriginal or Aztec origin.

I incline to this belief, as it sustains the impression I have already
hinted at, that his extreme youth is a simulation and deceit; that he
is really older and has lived before at some remote period, and that his
conduct fully justifies his title as A Venerable Impostor. A variety of
circumstances corroborate this impression: His tottering walk, which is
a senile as well as a juvenile condition; his venerable head, thatched
with such imperceptible hair that, at a distance, it looks like a mild
aureola, and his imperfect dental exhibition. But beside these physical
peculiarities may be observed certain moral symptoms, which go to
disprove his assumed youth. He is in the habit of falling into
reveries, caused, I have no doubt, by some circumstance which suggests
a comparison with his experience in his remoter boyhood, or by some
serious retrospection of the past years. He has been detected lying
awake, at times when he should have been asleep, engaged in curiously
comparing the bed-clothes, walls, and furniture with some recollection
of his youth. At such moments he has been heard to sing softly to
himself fragments of some unintelligible composition, which probably
still linger in his memory as the echoes of a music he has long
outgrown. He has the habit of receiving strangers with the familiarity
of one who had met them before, and to whom their antecedents and
peculiarities were matters of old acquaintance, and so unerring is
his judgment of their previous character that when he withholds his
confidence I am apt to withhold mine. It is somewhat remarkable that
while the maturity of his years and the respect due to them is denied by
man, his superiority and venerable age is never questioned by the brute
creation. The dog treats him with a respect and consideration accorded
to none others, and the cat permits a familiarity which I should shudder
to attempt. It may be considered an evidence of some Pantheistic quality
in his previous education, that he seems to recognize a fellowship even
in inarticulate objects; he has been known to verbally address plants,
flowers, and fruit, and to extend his confidence to such inanimate
objects as chairs and tables. There can be little doubt that, in the
remote period of his youth, these objects were endowed with not only
sentient natures, but moral capabilities, and he is still in the habit
of beating them when they collide with him, and of pardoning them with a

As he has grown older--rather let me say, as we have approximated to his
years--he has, in spite of the apparent paradox, lost much of his senile
gravity. It must be confessed that some of his actions of late appear to
our imperfect comprehension inconsistent with his extreme age. A habit
of marching up and down with a string tied to a soda-water bottle, a
disposition to ride anything that could by any exercise of the liveliest
fancy be made to assume equine proportions, a propensity to blacken his
venerable white hair with ink and coal dust, and an omnivorous appetite
which did not stop at chalk, clay, or cinders, were peculiarities not
calculated to excite respect. In fact, he would seem to have become
demoralized, and when, after a prolonged absence the other day, he was
finally discovered standing upon the front steps addressing a group of
delighted children out of his limited vocabulary, the circumstance could
only be accounted for as the garrulity of age.

But I lay aside my pen amidst an ominous silence and the disappearance
of the venerable head from my plane of vision. As I step to the other
side of the table, I find that sleep has overtaken him in an overt act
of hoary wickedness. The very pages I have devoted to an exposition
of his deceit he has quietly abstracted, and I find them covered
with cabalistic figures and wild-looking hieroglyphs traced with his
forefinger dipped in ink, which doubtless in his own language conveys
a scathing commentary on my composition. But he sleeps peacefully,
and there is something in his face which tells me that he has already
wandered away to that dim region of his youth where I cannot follow him.
And as there comes a strange stirring at my heart when I contemplate the
immeasurable gulf which lies between us, and how slight and feeble as
yet is his grasp on this world and its strange realities, I find, too
late, that I also am a willing victim of the Venerable Impostor.


The little stone balcony, which, by a popular fallacy, is supposed to be
a necessary appurtenance of my window, has long been to me a source of
curious interest. The fact that the asperities of our summer weather
will not permit me to use it but once or twice in six months does not
alter my concern for this incongruous ornament. It affects me as I
suppose the conscious possession of a linen coat or a nankeen trousers
might affect a sojourner here who has not entirely outgrown his memory
of Eastern summer heat and its glorious compensations,--a luxurious
providence against a possible but by no means probable contingency. I do
no longer wonder at the persistency with which San Franciscans adhere
to this architectural superfluity in the face of climatical
impossibilities. The balconies in which no one sits, the piazzas
on which no one lounges, are timid advances made to a climate whose
churlishness we are trying to temper by an ostentation of confidence.
Ridiculous as this spectacle is at all seasons, it is never more so than
in that bleak interval between sunset and dark, when the shrill
scream of the factory whistle seems to have concentrated all the hard,
unsympathetic quality of the climate into one vocal expression. Add to
this the appearance of one or two pedestrians, manifestly too late for
their dinners, and tasting in the shrewish air a bitter premonition of
the welcome that awaits them at home, and you have one of those ordinary
views from my balcony which makes the balcony itself ridiculous.

But as I lean over its balustrade to-night--a night rare in its kindness
and beauty--and watch the fiery ashes of my cigar drop into the abysmal
darkness below, I am inclined to take back the whole of that preceding
paragraph, although it cost me some labor to elaborate its polite
malevolence. I can even recognize some melody in the music which comes
irregularly and fitfully from the balcony of the Museum on Market
Street, although it may be broadly stated that, as a general thing,
the music of all museums, menageries, and circuses becomes greatly
demoralized,--possibly through associations with the beasts. So soft and
courteous is this atmosphere that I have detected the flutter of one or
two light dresses on the adjacent balconies and piazzas, and the front
parlor windows of a certain aristocratic mansion in the vicinity, which
have always maintained a studious reserve in regard to the interior,
to-night are suddenly thrown into the attitude of familiar disclosure. A
few young people are strolling up the street with a lounging step which
is quite a relief to that usual brisk, business-like pace which the
chilly nights impose upon even the most sentimental lovers. The genial
influences of the air are not restricted to the opening of shutters
and front doors; other and more gentle disclosures are made, no doubt,
beneath this moonlight. The bonnet and hat which passed beneath my
balcony a few moments ago were suspiciously close together. I argued
from this that my friend the editor will probably receive any quantity
of verses for his next issue, containing allusions to “Luna,” in which
the original epithet of “silver” will be applied to this planet, and
that a “boon” will be asked for the evident purpose of rhyming with
“moon,” and for no other. Should neither of the parties be equal to this
expression, the pent-up feelings of the heart will probably find vent
later in the evening over the piano, in “I Wandered by the Brookside,”
 or “When the Moon on the Lake is Beaming.” But it has been permitted me
to hear the fulfilment of my prophecy even as it was uttered. From the
window of number Twelve Hundred and Seven gushes upon the slumberous
misty air the maddening ballad, “Ever of Thee,” while at Twelve Hundred
and Eleven the “Star of the Evening” rises with a chorus. I am inclined
to think that there is something in the utter vacuity of the refrain
in this song which especially commends itself to the young. The simple
statement, “Star of the evening,” is again and again repeated with an
imbecile relish; while the adjective “beautiful” recurs with a steady
persistency, too exasperating to dwell upon here. At occasional
intervals, a base voice enunciates “Star-r! Star-r!” as a solitary and
independent effort. Sitting here in my balcony, I picture the possessor
of that voice as a small, stout young man, standing a little apart from
the other singers, with his hands behind him, under his coat-tail, and
a severe expression of countenance. He sometimes leans forward, with
a futile attempt to read the music over somebody else’s shoulder, but
always resumes his old severity of attitude before singing his part.
Meanwhile the celestial subjects of this choral adoration look down upon
the scene with a tranquillity and patience which can only result from
the security with which their immeasurable remoteness invests them.
I would remark that the stars are not the only topics subject to
this “damnable iteration.” A certain popular song, which contains the
statement, “I will not forget you, mother,” apparently reposes all its
popularity on the constant and dreary repetition of this unimportant
information, which at least produces the desired result among the
audience. If the best operatic choruses are not above this weakness,
the unfamiliar language in which they are sung offers less violation to
common sense.

It may be parenthetically stated here that the songs alluded to above
may be found in sheet music on the top of the piano of any young
lady who has just come from boarding-school. “The Old Arm-Chair,” or
“Woodman, spare that Tree,” will be also found in easy juxtaposition.
The latter songs are usually brought into service at the instance of
an uncle or bachelor brother, whose request is generally prefaced by a
remark deprecatory of the opera, and the gratuitous observation that “we
are retrograding, sir,--retrograding,” and that “there is no music
like the old songs.” He sometimes condescends to accompany “Marie” in a
tremulous barytone, and is particularly forcible in those passages where
the word “repeat” is written, for reasons stated above. When the song is
over, to the success of which he feels he has materially contributed, he
will inform you that you may talk of your “arias,” and your “romanzas,”
 “but for music, sir,--music--” at which point he becomes incoherent and
unintelligible. It is this gentleman who suggests “China,” or “Brattle
Street,” as a suitable and cheerful exercise for the social circle.
There are certain amatory songs, of an arch and coquettish character,
familiar to these localities, which the young lady, being called upon
to sing, declines with a bashful and tantalizing hesitation. Prominent
among these may be mentioned an erotic effusion entitled “I’m talking
in my Sleep,” which, when sung by a young person vivaciously and with
appropriate glances, can be made to drive languishing swains to the
verge of madness. Ballads of this quality afford splendid opportunities
for bold young men, who, by ejaculating “Oh!” and “Ah!” at the affecting
passages, frequently gain a fascinating reputation for wildness and

But the music which called up these parenthetical reflections has died
away, and with it the slight animosities it inspired. The last song has
been sung, the piano closed, the lights are withdrawn from the windows,
and the white skirts flutter away from stoops and balconies. The silence
is broken only by the rattle and rumble of carriages coming from theatre
and opera. I fancy that this sound--which, seeming to be more distinct
at this hour than at any other time, might be called one of the civic
voices of the night--has certain urbane suggestions, not unpleasant to
those born and bred in large cities. The moon, round and full, gradually
usurps the twinkling lights of the city, that one by one seem to fade
away and be absorbed in her superior lustre. The distant Mission hills
are outlined against the sky, but through one gap the outlying fog which
has stealthily invested us seems to have effected a breach, and only
waits the co-operation of the laggard sea-breezes to sweep down and
take the beleaguered city by assault. An ineffable calm sinks over the
landscape. In the magical moonlight the shot-tower loses its angular
outline and practical relations, and becomes a minaret from whose
balcony an invisible muezzin calls the Faithful to prayer. “Prayer is
better than sleep.” But what is this? A shuffle of feet on the
pavement, a low hum of voices, a twang of some diabolical instrument,
a preliminary hem and cough. Heavens! it cannot be! Ah, yes--it is--it

Anathema Maranatha! May purgatorial pains seize you, William, Count
of Poitou, Girard de Boreuil, Arnaud de Marveil, Bertrand de Born,
mischievous progenitors of jongleurs, troubadours, provencals,
minnesingers, minstrels, and singers of cansos and love chants!
Confusion overtake and confound your modern descendants, the “metre
ballad-mongers,” who carry the shamelessness of the Middle Ages into
the nineteenth century, and awake a sleeping neighborhood to the
brazen knowledge of their loves and wanton fancies! Destruction and
demoralization pursue these pitiable imitators of a barbarous age,
when ladies’ names and charms were shouted through the land, and
modest maiden never lent presence to tilt or tourney without hearing a
chronicle of her virtues go round the lists, shouted by wheezy heralds
and taken up by roaring swashbucklers! Perdition overpower such
ostentatious wooers! Marry! shall I shoot the amorous feline who nightly
iterates his love songs on my roof, and yet withhold my trigger finger
from yonder pranksome gallant? Go to! Here is an orange left of last
week’s repast. Decay hath overtaken it,--it possesseth neither savor nor
cleanliness. Ha! cleverly thrown! A hit--a palpable hit! Peradventure I
have still a boot that hath done me service, and, barring a looseness of
the heel, an ominous yawning at the side, ‘tis in good case! Na’theless,
‘twill serve. So! so! What! dispersed! Nay, then, I too will retire.


As I do not suppose the most gentle of readers will believe that
anybody’s sponsors in baptism ever wilfully assumed the responsibility
of such a name, I may as well state that I have reason to infer that
Melons was simply the nickname of a small boy I once knew. If he had any
other, I never knew it.

Various theories were often projected by me to account for this strange
cognomen. His head, which was covered with a transparent down, like that
which clothes very small chickens, plainly permitting the scalp to show
through, to an imaginative mind might have suggested that succulent
vegetable. That his parents, recognizing some poetical significance in
the fruits of the season, might have given this name to an August child,
was an Oriental explanation. That from his infancy, he was fond of
indulging in melons, seemed on the whole the most likely, particularly
as Fancy was not bred in McGinnis’s Court. He dawned upon me as Melons.
His proximity was indicated by shrill, youthful voices, as “Ah, Melons!”
 or playfully, “Hi, Melons!” or authoritatively, “You, Melons!”

McGinnis’s Court was a democratic expression of some obstinate
and radical property-holder. Occupying a limited space between two
fashionable thoroughfares, it refused to conform to circumstances, but
sturdily paraded its unkempt glories, and frequently asserted itself in
ungrammatical language. My window--a rear room on the ground floor--in
this way derived blended light and shadow from the court. So low was the
window-sill, that had I been the least predisposed to somnambulism, it
would have broken out under such favorable auspices, and I should have
haunted McGinnis’s Court. My speculations as to the origin of the court
were not altogether gratuitous, for by means of this window I once saw
the Past, as through a glass darkly. It was a Celtic shadow that early
one morning obstructed my ancient lights. It seemed to belong to an
individual with a pea-coat, a stubby pipe, and bristling beard. He was
gazing intently at the court, resting on a heavy cane, somewhat in the
way that heroes dramatically visit the scenes of their boyhood. As
there was little of architectural beauty in the court, I came to the
conclusion that it was McGinnis looking after his property. The fact
that he carefully kicked a broken bottle out of the road somewhat
strengthened me in the opinion. But he presently walked away, and the
court knew him no more. He probably collected his rents by proxy--if he
collected them at all.

Beyond Melons, of whom all this is purely introductory, there was little
to interest the most sanguine and hopeful nature. In common with all
such localities, a great deal of washing was done, in comparison with
the visible results. There was always something whisking on the line,
and always something whisking through the court, that looked as if
it ought to be there. A fish-geranium--of all plants kept for the
recreation of mankind, certainly the greatest illusion--straggled
under the window. Through its dusty leaves I caught the first glance of

His age was about seven. He looked older, from the venerable whiteness
of his head, and it was impossible to conjecture his size, as he always
wore clothes apparently belonging to some shapely youth of nineteen.
A pair of pantaloons, that, when sustained by a single suspender,
completely equipped him, formed his every-day suit. How, with this
lavish superfluity of clothing, he managed to perform the surprising
gymnastic feats it has been my privilege to witness, I have never been
able to tell. His “turning the crab,” and other minor dislocations, were
always attended with success. It was not an unusual sight at any hour of
the day to find Melons suspended on a line, or to see his venerable head
appearing above the roofs of the outhouses. Melons knew the exact height
of every fence in the vicinity, its facilities for scaling, and the
possibility of seizure on the other side. His more peaceful and quieter
amusements consisted in dragging a disused boiler by a large string,
with hideous outcries, to imaginary fires.

Melons was not gregarious in his habits. A few youth of his own age
sometimes called upon him, but they eventually became abusive, and their
visits were more strictly predatory incursions for old bottles and junk
which formed the staple of McGinnis’s Court. Overcome by loneliness one
day, Melons inveigled a blind harper into the court. For two hours did
that wretched man prosecute his unhallowed calling, unrecompensed, and
going round and round the court, apparently under the impression that it
was some other place, while Melons surveyed him from an adjoining fence
with calm satisfaction. It was this absence of conscientious motives
that brought Melons into disrepute with his aristocratic neighbors.
Orders were issued that no child of wealthy and pious parentage should
play with him. This mandate, as a matter of course, invested Melons with
a fascinating interest to them. Admiring glances were cast at Melons
from nursery windows. Baby fingers beckoned to him. Invitations to tea
(on wood and pewter) were lisped to him from aristocratic back-yards. It
was evident he was looked upon as a pure and noble being, untrammelled
by the conventionalities of parentage, and physically as well as
mentally exalted above them. One afternoon an unusual commotion
prevailed in the vicinity of McGinnis’s Court. Looking from my window I
saw Melons perched on the roof of a stable, pulling up a rope by which
one “Tommy,” an infant scion of an adjacent and wealthy house, was
suspended in mid-air. In vain the female relatives of Tommy congregated
in the back-yard, expostulated with Melons; in vain the unhappy father
shook his fist at him. Secure in his position, Melons redoubled his
exertions and at last landed Tommy on the roof. Then it was that the
humiliating fact was disclosed that Tommy had been acting in collusion
with Melons. He grinned delightedly back at his parents, as if “by merit
raised to that bad eminence.” Long before the ladder arrived that was
to succor him, he became the sworn ally of Melons, and, I regret to say,
incited by the same audacious boy, “chaffed” his own flesh and blood
below him. He was eventually taken, though, of course, Melons escaped.
But Tommy was restricted to the window after that, and the companionship
was limited to “Hi, Melons!” and “You, Tommy!” and Melons, to all
practical purposes, lost him forever. I looked afterward to see some
signs of sorrow on Melons’s part, but in vain; he buried his grief, if
he had any, somewhere in his one voluminous garment.

At about this time my opportunities of knowing Melons became more
extended. I was engaged in filling a void in the Literature of the
Pacific Coast. As this void was a pretty large one, and as I was
informed that the Pacific Coast languished under it, I set apart two
hours each day to this work of filling in. It was necessary that I
should adopt a methodical system, so I retired from the world and locked
myself in my room at a certain hour each day, after coming from my
office. I then carefully drew out my portfolio and read what I had
written the day before. This would suggest some alteration, and I would
carefully rewrite it. During this operation I would turn to consult a
book of reference, which invariably proved extremely interesting and
attractive. It would generally suggest another and better method of
“filling in.” Turning this method over reflectively in my mind, I would
finally commence the new method which I eventually abandoned for the
original plan. At this time I would become convinced that my exhausted
faculties demanded a cigar. The operation of lighting a cigar usually
suggested that a little quiet reflection and meditation would be of
service to me, and I always allowed myself to be guided by prudential
instincts. Eventually, seated by my window, as before stated, Melons
asserted himself, though our conversation rarely went further than
“Hello, Mister!” and “Ah, Melons!” a vagabond instinct we felt in common
implied a communion deeper than words. In this spiritual commingling the
time passed, often beguiled by gymnastics on the fence or line (always
with an eye to my window) until dinner was announced and I found a more
practical void required my attention. An unlooked for incident drew us
in closer relation.

A sea-faring friend just from a tropical voyage had presented me with
a bunch of bananas. They were not quite ripe, and I hung them before my
window to mature in the sun of McGinnis’s Court, whose forcing qualities
were remarkable. In the mysteriously mingled odors of ship and
shore which they diffused throughout my room, there was a lingering
reminiscence of low latitudes. But even that joy was fleeting and
evanescent: they never reached maturity.

Coming home one day, as I turned the corner of that fashionable
thoroughfare before alluded to, I met a small boy eating a banana.
There was nothing remarkable in that, but as I neared McGinnis’s Court I
presently met another small boy, also eating a banana. A third small
boy engaged in a like occupation obtruded a painful coincidence upon
my mind. I leave the psychological reader to determine the exact
co-relation between this circumstance and the sickening sense of loss
that overcame me on witnessing it. I reached my room--and found the
bunch of bananas was gone.

There was but one who knew of their existence, but one who frequented
my window, but one capable of the gymnastic effort to procure them,
and that was--I blush to say it--Melons. Melons the depredator--Melons,
despoiled by larger boys of his ill-gotten booty, or reckless and
indiscreetly liberal; Melons--now a fugitive on some neighboring
house-top. I lit a cigar, and, drawing my chair to the window, sought
surcease of sorrow in the contemplation of the fish-geranium. In a few
moments something white passed my window at about the level of the edge.
There was no mistaking that hoary head, which now represented to me only
aged iniquity. It was Melons, that venerable, juvenile hypocrite.

He affected not to observe me, and would have withdrawn quietly, but
that horrible fascination which causes the murderer to revisit the scene
of his crime, impelled him toward my window. I smoked calmly and gazed
at him without speaking. He walked several times up and down the court
with a half-rigid, half-belligerent expression of eye and shoulder,
intended to represent the carelessness of innocence.

Once or twice he stopped, and putting his arms their whole length into
his capacious trousers, gazed with some interest at the additional
width they thus acquired. Then he whistled. The singular conflicting
conditions of John Brown’s body and soul we’re at that time beginning to
attract the attention of youth, and Melons’s performance of that melody
was always remarkable. But to-day he whistled falsely and shrilly
between his teeth. At last he met my eye. He winced slightly, but
recovered himself, and going to the fence, stood for a few moments
on his hands, with his bare feet quivering in the air. Then he turned
toward me and threw out a conversational preliminary.

“They is a cirkis”--said Melons gravely, hanging with his back to
the fence and his arms twisted around the palings--“a cirkis over
yonder!”--indicating the locality with his foot--“with hosses, and
hossback riders. They is a man wot rides six hosses to onct--six hosses
to onct--and nary saddle”--and he paused in expectation.

Even this equestrian novelty did not affect me. I still kept a fixed
gaze on Melons’s eye, and he began to tremble and visibly shrink in his
capacious garment. Some other desperate means--conversation with Melons
was always a desperate means--must be resorted to. He recommenced more

“Do you know Carrots?”

I had a faint remembrance of a boy of that euphonious name, with scarlet
hair, who was a playmate and persecutor of Melons. But I said nothing.

“Carrots is a bad boy. Killed a policeman onct. Wears a dirk knife in
his boots, saw him to-day looking in your windy.”

I felt that this must end here. I rose sternly and addressed Melons.

“Melons, this is all irrelevant and impertinent to the case. YOU took
those bananas. Your proposition regarding Carrots, even if I were
inclined to accept it as credible information, does not alter the
material issue. You took those bananas. The offence under the statutes
of California is felony. How far Carrots may have been accessory to the
fact either before or after, is not my intention at present to discuss.
The act is complete. Your present conduct shows the animo furandi to
have been equally clear.”

By the time I had finished this exordium, Melons had disappeared, as I
fully expected.

He never reappeared. The remorse that I have experienced for the part
I had taken in what I fear may have resulted in his utter and complete
extermination, alas, he may not know, except through these pages. For
I have never seen him since. Whether he ran away and went to sea to
reappear at some future day as the most ancient of mariners, or whether
he buried himself completely in his trousers, I never shall know. I have
read the papers anxiously for accounts of him. I have gone to the Police
Office in the vain attempt of identifying him as a lost child. But
I never saw him or heard of him since. Strange fears have sometimes
crossed my mind that his venerable appearance may have been actually the
result of senility, and that he may have been gathered peacefully to his
fathers in a green old age. I have even had doubts of his existence,
and have sometimes thought that he was providentially and mysteriously
offered to fill the void I have before alluded to. In that hope I have
written these pages.


At exactly half past nine o’clock on the morning of Saturday, August
26, 1865, Master Charles Summerton, aged five years, disappeared
mysteriously from his paternal residence on Folsom Street, San
Francisco. At twenty-five minutes past nine he had been observed, by the
butcher, amusing himself by going through that popular youthful
exercise known as “turning the crab,” a feat in which he was singularly
proficient. At a court of inquiry summarily held in the back parlor at
10.15, Bridget, cook, deposed to have detected him at twenty minutes
past nine, in the felonious abstraction of sugar from the pantry, which,
by the same token, had she known what was a-comin’, she’d have never
previnted. Patsey, a shrill-voiced youth from a neighboring alley,
testified to have seen “Chowley” at half past nine, in front of the
butcher’s shop round the corner, but as this young gentleman chose
to throw out the gratuitous belief that the missing child had been
converted into sausages by the butcher, his testimony was received with
some caution by the female portion of the court, and with downright
scorn and contumely by its masculine members. But whatever might have
been the hour of his departure, it was certain that from half past ten
A. M. until nine P. M., when he was brought home by a policeman, Charles
Summerton was missing. Being naturally of a reticent disposition, he has
since resisted, with but one exception, any attempt to wrest from him a
statement of his whereabouts during that period. That exception has been
myself. He has related to me the following in the strictest confidence.

His intention on leaving the door-steps of his dwelling was to proceed
without delay to Van Dieman’s Land, by way of Second and Market streets.
This project was subsequently modified so far as to permit a visit
to Otaheite, where Captain Cook was killed. The outfit for his voyage
consisted of two car-tickets, five cents in silver, a fishing-line,
the brass capping of a spool of cotton, which, in his eyes, bore some
resemblance to metallic currency, and a Sunday-school library ticket.
His garments, admirably adapted to the exigencies of any climate, were
severally a straw hat with a pink ribbon, a striped shirt, over which
a pair of trousers, uncommonly wide in comparison to their length,
were buttoned, striped balmoral stockings, which gave his youthful legs
something of the appearance of wintergreen candy, and copper-toed shoes
with iron heels, capable of striking fire from any flagstone. This
latter quality, Master Charley could not help feeling, would be of
infinite service to him in the wilds of Van Dieman’s Land, which, as
pictorially represented in his geography, seemed to be deficient in
corner groceries and matches.

Exactly as the clock struck the half-hour, the short legs and straw
hat of Master Charles Summerton disappeared around the corner. He ran
rapidly, partly by way of inuring himself to the fatigues of the journey
before him, and partly by way of testing his speed with that of a North
Beach car which was proceeding in his direction. The conductor, not
being aware of this generous and lofty emulation, and being somewhat
concerned at the spectacle of a pair of very short, twinkling legs so
far in the rear, stopped his car and generously assisted the youthful
Summerton upon the platform. From this point a hiatus of several hours’
duration occurs in Charles’s narrative. He is under the impression that
he “rode out” not only his two tickets, but that he became subsequently
indebted to the company for several trips to and from the opposite
termini, and that at last, resolutely refusing to give any explanation
of his conduct, he was finally ejected, much to his relief, on a street
corner. Although, as he informs us, he felt perfectly satisfied with
this arrangement, he was impelled under the circumstances to hurl after
the conductor an opprobrious appellation which he had ascertained
from Patsey was the correct thing in such emergencies, and possessed
peculiarly exasperating properties.

We now approach a thrilling part of the narrative, before which most of
the adventures of the “Boys’ Own Book” pale into insignificance. There
are times when the recollection of this adventure causes Master Charles
to break out in a cold sweat, and he has several times since its
occurrence been awakened by lamentations and outcries in the night
season by merely dreaming of it. On the corner of the street lay several
large empty sugar hogsheads. A few young gentlemen disported themselves
therein, armed with sticks, with which they removed the sugar which
still adhered to the joints of the staves, and conveyed it to their
mouths. Finding a cask not yet preempted, Master Charles set to work,
and for a few moments revelled in a wild saccharine dream, whence he was
finally roused by an angry voice and the rapidly retreating footsteps
of his comrades. An ominous sound smote his ear, and the next moment he
felt the cask wherein he lay uplifted and set upright against the wall.
He was a prisoner, but as yet undiscovered. Being satisfied in his mind
that hanging was the systematic and legalized penalty for the outrage he
had committed, he kept down manfully the cry that rose to his lips.

In a few moments he felt the cask again lifted by a powerful hand, which
appeared above him at the edge of his prison, and which he concluded
belonged to the ferocious giant Blunderbore, whose features and limbs he
had frequently met in colored pictures. Before he could recover from
his astonishment, his cask was placed with several others on a cart, and
rapidly driven away. The ride which ensued he describes as being fearful
in the extreme. Rolled around like a pill in a box, the agonies which
he suffered may be hinted at, not spoken. Evidences of that protracted
struggle were visible in his garments, which were of the consistency of
syrup, and his hair, which for several hours, under the treatment of hot
water, yielded a thin treacle. At length the cart stopped on one of the
wharves, and the cartman began to unload. As he tilted over the cask in
which Charles lay, an exclamation broke from his lips, and the edge of
the cask fell from his hands, sliding its late occupant upon the wharf.
To regain his short legs, and to put the greatest possible distance
between himself and the cartman, were his first movements on regaining
his liberty. He did not stop until he reached the corner of Front

Another blank succeeds in this veracious history. He cannot remember
how or when he found himself in front of the circus tent. He has an
indistinct recollection of having passed through a long street of stores
which were all closed, and which made him fear that it was Sunday, and
that he had spent a miserable night in the sugar cask. But he remembers
hearing the sound of music within the tent, and of creeping on his hands
and knees, when no one was looking, until he passed under the canvas.
His description of the wonders contained within that circle; of the
terrific feats which were performed by a man on a pole, since practised
by him in the back yard; of the horses, one of which was spotted
and resembled an animal in his Noah’s Ark, hitherto unrecognized and
undefined; of the female equestrians, whose dresses could only be
equalled in magnificence by the frocks of his sister’s doll; of the
painted clown, whose jokes excited a merriment, somewhat tinged by
an undefined fear, was an effort of language which this pen could but
weakly transcribe, and which no quantity of exclamation points could
sufficiently illustrate. He is not quite certain what followed. He
remembers that almost immediately on leaving the circus it became dark,
and that he fell asleep, waking up at intervals on the corners of the
streets, on front steps, in somebody’s arms, and finally in his own bed.
He was not aware of experiencing any regret for his conduct; he does
not recall feeling at any time a disposition to go home; he remembers
distinctly that he felt hungry.

He has made this disclosure in confidence. He wishes it to be respected.
He wants to know if you have five cents about you.


The time occupied in walking to and from my business I have always
found to yield me a certain mental enjoyment which no other part of the
twenty-four hours could give. Perhaps the physical exercise may
have acted as a gentle stimulant of the brain, but more probably the
comfortable consciousness that I could not reasonably be expected to
be doing anything else--to be studying or improving my mind, for
instance--always gave a joyous liberty to my fancy. I once thought it
necessary to employ this interval in doing sums in arithmetic,--in which
useful study I was and still am lamentably deficient,--but after one or
two attempts at peripatetic computation, I gave it up. I am satisfied
that much enjoyment is lost to the world by this nervous anxiety to
improve our leisure moments, which, like the “shining hours” of Dr.
Watts, unfortunately offer the greatest facilities for idle pleasure. I
feel a profound pity for those misguided beings who are still impelled
to carry text-books with them in cars, omnibuses, and ferry-boats, and
who generally manage to defraud themselves of those intervals of rest
they most require. Nature must have her fallow moments, when she covers
her exhausted fields with flowers instead of grain. Deny her this, and
the next crop suffers for it. I offer this axiom as some apology for
obtruding upon the reader a few of the speculations which have engaged
my mind during these daily perambulations.

Few Californians know how to lounge gracefully. Business habits, and a
deference to the custom, even with those who have no business, give an
air of restless anxiety to every pedestrian. The exceptions to this rule
are apt to go to the other extreme, and wear a defiant, obtrusive kind
of indolence which suggests quite as much inward disquiet and unrest.
The shiftless lassitude of a gambler can never be mistaken for the
lounge of a gentleman. Even the brokers who loiter upon Montgomery
Street at high noon are not loungers. Look at them closely and you will
see a feverishness and anxiety under the mask of listlessness. They do
not lounge--they lie in wait. No surer sign, I imagine, of our peculiar
civilization can be found than this lack of repose in its constituent
elements. You cannot keep Californians quiet even in their amusements.
They dodge in and out of the theatre, opera, and lecture-room; they
prefer the street cars to walking because they think they get along
faster. The difference of locomotion between Broadway, New York, and
Montgomery Street, San Francisco, is a comparative view of Eastern and
Western civilization.

There is a habit peculiar to many walkers, which Punch, some years ago,
touched upon satirically, but which seems to have survived the jester’s
ridicule. It is that custom of stopping friends in the street, to whom
we have nothing whatever to communicate, but whom we embarrass for no
other purpose than simply to show our friendship. Jones meets his friend
Smith, whom he has met in nearly the same locality but a few hours
before. During that interval, it is highly probable that no event of
any importance to Smith, nor indeed to Jones, which by a friendly
construction Jones could imagine Smith to be interested in, has
occurred, or is likely to occur. Yet both gentlemen stop and shake hands
earnestly. “Well, how goes it?” remarks Smith with a vague hope that
something may have happened. “So so,” replies the eloquent Jones,
feeling intuitively the deep vacuity of his friend answering to his
own. A pause ensues, in which both gentlemen regard each other with an
imbecile smile and a fervent pressure of the hand. Smith draws a long
breath and looks up the street; Jones sighs heavily and gazes down
the street. Another pause, in which both gentlemen disengage their
respective hands and glance anxiously around for some conventional
avenue of escape. Finally, Smith (with a sudden assumption of having
forgotten an important engagement) ejaculates, “Well, I must be off”--a
remark instantly echoed by the voluble Jones, and these gentlemen
separate, only to repeat their miserable formula the next day. In the
above example I have compassionately shortened the usual leave-taking,
which, in skilful hands, may be protracted to a length which I shudder
to recall. I have sometimes, when an active participant in these
atrocious transactions, lingered in the hope of saying something natural
to my friend (feeling that he, too, was groping in the mazy labyrinths
of his mind for a like expression), until I have felt that we ought to
have been separated by a policeman. It is astonishing how far the most
wretched joke will go in these emergencies, and how it will, as it were,
convulsively detach the two cohering particles. I have laughed (albeit
hysterically) at some witticism under cover of which I escaped, that
five minutes afterward I could not perceive possessed a grain of humor.
I would advise any person who may fall into this pitiable strait,
that, next to getting in the way of a passing dray and being forcibly
disconnected, a joke is the most efficacious. A foreign phrase often
may be tried with success; I have sometimes known Au revoir pronounced
“O-reveer,” to have the effect (as it ought) of severing friends.

But this is a harmless habit compared to a certain reprehensible
practice in which sundry feeble-minded young men indulge. I have been
stopped in the street and enthusiastically accosted by some fashionable
young man, who has engaged me in animated conversation, until (quite
accidentally) a certain young belle would pass, whom my friend, of
course, saluted. As, by a strange coincidence, this occurred several
times in the course of the week, and as my young friend’s conversational
powers invariably flagged after the lady had passed, I am forced
to believe that the deceitful young wretch actually used me as a
conventional background to display the graces of his figure to the
passing fair. When I detected the trick, of course I made a point of
keeping my friend, by strategic movements, with his back toward the
young lady, while I bowed to her myself. Since then, I understand that
it is a regular custom of these callow youths to encounter each other,
with simulated cordiality, some paces in front of the young lady they
wish to recognize, so that she cannot possibly cut them. The corner of
California and Montgomery streets is their favorite haunt. They may be
easily detected by their furtive expression of eye, which betrays them
even in the height of their apparent enthusiasm.

Speaking of eyes, you can generally settle the average gentility and
good breeding of the people you meet in the street by the manner in
which they return or evade your glance. “A gentleman,” as the Autocrat
has wisely said, is always “calm-eyed.” There is just enough abstraction
in his look to denote his individual power and the capacity for
self-contemplation, while he is, nevertheless, quietly and unobtrusively
observant. He does not seek, neither does he evade your observation.
Snobs and prigs do the first; bashful and mean people do the second.
There are some men who, on meeting your eye, immediately assume an
expression quite different from the one which they previously
wore, which, whether an improvement or not, suggests a disagreeable
self-consciousness. Perhaps they fancy they are betraying something.
There are others who return your look with unnecessary defiance, which
suggests a like concealment. The symptoms of the eye are generally borne
out in the figure. A man is very apt to betray his character by the
manner in which he appropriates his part of the sidewalk. The man who
resolutely keeps the middle of the pavement, and deliberately brushes
against you, you may be certain would take the last piece of pie at the
hotel table, and empty the cream-jug on its way to your cup. The man who
sidles by you, keeping close to the houses, and selecting the easiest
planks, manages to slip through life in some such way, and to evade its
sternest duties. The awkward man, who gets in your way, and throws you
back upon the man behind you, and so manages to derange the harmonious
procession of an entire block, is very apt to do the same thing in
political and social economy. The inquisitive man, who deliberately
shortens his pace, so that he may participate in the confidence you
impart to your companion, has an eye not unfamiliar to keyholes, and
probably opens his wife’s letters. The loud man, who talks with the
intention of being overheard, is the same egotist elsewhere. If there
was any justice in Iago’s sneer, that there were some “so weak of soul
that in their sleep they mutter their affairs,” what shall be said of
the walking revery-babblers? I have met men who were evidently rolling
over, “like a sweet morsel under the tongue,” some speech they were
about to make, and others who were framing curses. I remember once
that, while walking behind an apparently respectable old gentleman, he
suddenly uttered the exclamation, “Well, I’m d----d!” and then quietly
resumed his usual manner. Whether he had at that moment become impressed
with a truly orthodox disbelief in his ultimate salvation, or whether he
was simply indignant, I never could tell.

I have been hesitating for some time to speak--or if indeed to speak
at all--of that lovely and critic-defying sex, whose bright eyes
and voluble prattle have not been without effect in tempering the
austerities of my peripatetic musing. I have been humbly thankful that
I have been permitted to view their bright dresses and those charming
bonnets which seem to have brought the birds and flowers of spring
within the dreary limits of the town, and--I trust I shall not be deemed
unkind in saying it--my pleasure was not lessened by the reflection that
the display, to me at least, was inexpensive. I have walked in--and
I fear occasionally on--the train of the loveliest of her sex who has
preceded me. If I have sometimes wondered why two young ladies always
began to talk vivaciously on the approach of any good-looking fellow;
if I have wondered whether the minor-like qualities of all large
show-windows at all influenced their curiosity regarding silks and
calicoes; if I have ever entertained the same ungentlemanly thought
concerning daguerreotype show-cases; if I have ever misinterpreted the
eye-shot which has passed between two pretty women--more searching,
exhaustive and sincere than any of our feeble ogles; if I have ever
committed these or any other impertinences, it was only to retire beaten
and discomfited, and to confess that masculine philosophy, while it
soars beyond Sirius and the ring of Saturn, stops short at the steel
periphery which encompasses the simplest school-girl.


As I lift my eyes from the paper, I observe a dog lying on the steps
of the opposite house. His attitude might induce passers-by and casual
observers to believe him to belong to the people who live there, and to
accord to him a certain standing position. I have seen visitors pat
him, under the impression that they were doing an act of courtesy to his
master, he lending himself to the fraud by hypocritical contortions
of the body. But his attitude is one of deceit and simulation. He has
neither master nor habitation. He is a very Pariah and outcast; in
brief, “A Boys’ Dog.”

There is a degree of hopeless and irreclaimable vagabondage expressed in
this epithet, which may not be generally understood. Only those who are
familiar with the roving nature and predatory instincts of boys in large
cities will appreciate its strength. It is the lowest step in the social
scale to which a respectable canine can descend. A blind man’s dog, or
the companion of a knife-grinder, is comparatively elevated. He at least
owes allegiance to but one master. But the Boys’ Dog is the thrall of an
entire juvenile community, obedient to the beck and call of the smallest
imp in the neighborhood, attached to and serving not the individual boy
so much as the boy element and principle. In their active sports, in
small thefts, raids into back-yards, window-breaking, and other minor
juvenile recreations, he is a full participant. In this way he is the
reflection of the wickedness of many masters, without possessing the
virtues or peculiarities of any particular one.

If leading a “dog’s life” be considered a peculiar phase of human
misery, the life of a Boys’ Dog is still more infelicitous. He is
associated in all schemes of wrong-doing, and unless he be a dog of
experience is always the scapegoat. He never shares the booty of his
associates. In absence of legitimate amusement, he is considered fair
game for his companions; and I have seen him reduced to the ignominy of
having a tin kettle tied to his tail. His ears and tail have generally
been docked to suit the caprice of the unholy band of which he is a
member; and if he has any spunk, he is invariably pitted against
larger dogs in mortal combat. He is poorly fed and hourly abused; the
reputation of his associates debars him from outside sympathies; and
once a Boys’ Dog, he cannot change his condition. He is not unfrequently
sold into slavery by his inhuman companions. I remember once to have
been accosted on my own doorsteps by a couple of precocious youths, who
offered to sell me a dog which they were then leading by a rope. The
price was extremely moderate, being, if I remember rightly, but fifty
cents. Imagining the unfortunate animal to have lately fallen into
their wicked hands, and anxious to reclaim him from the degradation of
becoming a Boys’ Dog, I was about to conclude the bargain, when I saw
a look of intelligence pass between the dog and his two masters. I
promptly stopped all negotiation, and drove the youthful swindlers
and their four-footed accomplice from my presence. The whole thing was
perfectly plain. The dog was an old, experienced, and hardened Boys’
Dog, and I was perfectly satisfied that he would run away and rejoin his
old companions at the first opportunity. This I afterwards learned he
did, on the occasion of a kind-hearted but unsophisticated neighbor
buying him; and a few days ago I saw him exposed for sale by those two
Arcadians, in another neighborhood, having been bought and paid for half
a dozen times in this.

But, it will be asked, if the life of a Boys’ Dog is so unhappy, why
do they enter upon such an unenviable situation, and why do they not
dissolve the partnership when it becomes unpleasant? I will confess that
I have been often puzzled by this question. For some time I could not
make up my mind whether their unholy alliance was the result of the
influence of the dog on the boy, or vice versa, and which was the
weakest and most impressible nature. I am satisfied now that, at first,
the dog is undoubtedly influenced by the boy, and, as it were, is led,
while yet a puppy, from the paths of canine rectitude by artful and
designing boys. As he grows older and more experienced in the ways of
his Bohemian friends, he becomes a willing decoy, and takes delight in
leading boyish innocence astray, in beguiling children to play truant,
and thus revenges his own degradation on the boy nature generally. It is
in this relation, and in regard to certain unhallowed practices I
have detected him in, that I deem it proper to expose to parents and
guardians the danger to which their offspring is exposed by the Boys’

The Boys’ Dog lays his plans artfully. He begins to influence the
youthful mind by suggestions of unrestrained freedom and frolic which he
offers in his own person. He will lie in wait at the garden gate for a
very small boy, and endeavor to lure him outside its sacred precincts,
by gambolling and jumping a little beyond the inclosure. He will set off
on an imaginary chase and run around the block in a perfectly frantic
manner, and then return, breathless, to his former position, with a look
as of one who would say, “There, you see how perfectly easy it’s done!”
 Should the unhappy infant find it difficult to resist the effect which
this glimpse of the area of freedom produces, and step beyond the gate,
from that moment he is utterly demoralized. The Boys’ Dog owns him
body and soul. Straightway he is led by the deceitful brute into the
unhallowed circle of his Bohemian masters. Sometimes the unfortunate
boy, if he be very small, turns up eventually at the station-house as
a lost child. Whenever I meet a stray boy in the street looking utterly
bewildered and astonished, I generally find a Boys’ Dog lurking on the
corner. When I read the advertisements of lost children, I always add
mentally to the description, “was last seen in company with a Boys’
Dog.” Nor is his influence wholly confined to small boys. I have seen
him waiting patiently for larger boys on the way to school, and by
artful and sophistical practices inducing them to play truant. I have
seen him lying at the school-house door, with the intention of enticing
the children on their way home to distant and remote localities. He has
led many an unsuspecting boy to the wharves and quays by assuming the
character of a water-dog, which he was not, and again has induced others
to go with him on a gunning excursion by pretending to be a sporting
dog, in which quality he was knowingly deficient. Unscrupulous,
hypocritical, and deceitful, he has won many children’s hearts by
answering to any name they might call him, attaching himself to their
persons until they got into trouble, and deserting them at the very
moment they most needed his assistance. I have seen him rob small
school-boys of their dinners by pretending to knock them down by
accident; and have seen larger boys in turn dispossess him of his
ill-gotten booty for their own private gratification. From being a
tool, he has grown to be an accomplice; through much imposition, he
has learned to impose on others; in his best character, he is simply a
vagabond’s vagabond.

I could find it in my heart to pity him, as he lies there through the
long summer afternoon, enjoying brief intervals of tranquillity and
rest which he surreptitiously snatches from a stranger’s doorstep. For
a shrill whistle is heard in the streets, the boys are coming home from
school, and he is startled from his dreams by a deftly thrown potato,
which hits him on the head, and awakens him to the stern reality that he
is now and forever--a Boys’ Dog.


As the new Benevolent Association has had the effect of withdrawing
beggars from the streets, and as Professional Mendicancy bids fair to
be presently ranked with the Lost Arts, to preserve some records of this
noble branch of industry, I have endeavored to recall certain traits and
peculiarities of individual members of the order whom I have known,
and whose forms I now miss from their accustomed haunts. In so doing,
I confess to feeling a certain regret at this decay of Professional
Begging, for I hold the theory that mankind are bettered by the
occasional spectacle of misery, whether simulated or not, on the same
principle that our sympathies are enlarged by the fictitious woes of
the Drama, though we know that the actors are insincere. Perhaps I
am indiscreet in saying that I have rewarded the artfully dressed and
well-acted performance of the begging impostor through the same impulse
that impelled me to expend a dollar in witnessing the counterfeited
sorrows of poor “Triplet,” as represented by Charles Wheatleigh. I did
not quarrel with deceit in either case. My coin was given in recognition
of the sentiment; the moral responsibility rested with the performer.

The principal figure that I now mourn over as lost forever is one
that may have been familiar to many of my readers. It was that of a
dark-complexioned, black-eyed, foreign-looking woman, who supported
in her arms a sickly baby. As a pathological phenomenon the baby was
especially interesting, having presented the Hippocratic face and other
symptoms of immediate dissolution, without change, for the past three
years. The woman never verbally solicited alms. Her appearance was
always mute, mysterious, and sudden. She made no other appeal than
that which the dramatic tableau of herself and baby suggested, with an
outstretched hand and deprecating eye sometimes superadded. She usually
stood in my doorway, silent and patient, intimating her presence, if
my attention were preoccupied, by a slight cough from her baby, whom I
shall always believe had its part to play in this little pantomime, and
generally obeyed a secret signal from the maternal hand. It was useless
for me to refuse alms, to plead business, or affect inattention. She
never moved; her position was always taken with an appearance of latent
capabilities of endurance and experience in waiting which never failed
to impress me with awe and the futility of any hope of escape. There was
also something in the reproachful expression of her eye which
plainly said to me, as I bent over my paper, “Go on with your mock
sentimentalities and simulated pathos; portray the imaginary sufferings
of your bodiless creations, spread your thin web of philosophy, but look
you, sir, here is real misery! Here is genuine suffering!” I confess
that this artful suggestion usually brought me down. In three minutes
after she had thus invested the citadel I usually surrendered at
discretion, without a gun having been fired on either side. She received
my offering and retired as mutely and mysteriously as she had appeared.
Perhaps it was well for me that she did not know her strength. I might
have been forced, had this terrible woman been conscious of her real
power, to have borrowed money which I could not pay, or have forged a
check to purchase immunity from her awful presence. I hardly know if I
make myself understood, and yet I am unable to define my meaning
more clearly when I say that there was something in her glance which
suggested to the person appealed to, when in the presence of others,
a certain idea of some individual responsibility for her sufferings,
which, while it never failed to affect him with a mingled sense of
ludicrousness and terror, always made an impression of unqualified
gravity on the minds of the bystanders. As she has disappeared within
the last month, I imagine that she has found a home at the San Francisco
Benevolent Association,--at least, I cannot conceive of any charity,
however guarded by wholesome checks or sharp-eyed almoners, that could
resist that mute apparition. I should like to go there and inquire
about her, and also learn if the baby was convalescent or dead, but I
am satisfied that she would rise up, a mute and reproachful appeal, so
personal in its artful suggestions, that it would end in the Association
instantly transferring her to my hands.

My next familiar mendicant was a vender of printed ballads. These
effusions were so stale, atrocious, and unsalable in their character,
that it was easy to detect that hypocrisy, which--in imitation of more
ambitious beggary--veiled the real eleemosynary appeal under the thin
pretext of offering an equivalent. This beggar--an aged female in
a rusty bonnet--I unconsciously precipitated upon myself in an evil
moment. On our first meeting, while distractedly turning over the
ballads, I came upon a certain production entitled, I think, “The Fire
Zouave,” and was struck with the truly patriotic and American manner
in which “Zouave” was made to rhyme in different stanzas with “grave,
brave, save, and glaive.” As I purchased it at once, with a gratified
expression of countenance, it soon became evident that the act was
misconstrued by my poor friend, who from that moment never ceased to
haunt me. Perhaps in the whole course of her precarious existence she
had never before sold a ballad. My solitary purchase evidently made
me, in her eyes, a customer, and in a measure exalted her vocation; so
thereafter she regularly used to look in at my door, with a chirping,
confident air, and the question, “Any more songs to-day?” as though it
were some necessary article of daily consumption. I never took any more
of her songs, although that circumstance did not shake her faith in my
literary taste; my abstinence from this exciting mental pabulum being
probably ascribed to charitable motives. She was finally absorbed by the
S. F. B. A., who have probably made a proper disposition of her effects.
She was a little old woman, of Celtic origin, predisposed to melancholy,
and looking as if she had read most of her ballads.

My next reminiscence takes the shape of a very seedy individual, who
had, for three or four years, been vainly attempting to get back to
his relatives in Illinois, where sympathizing friends and a comfortable
almshouse awaited him. Only a few dollars, he informed me,--the
uncontributed remainder of the amount necessary to purchase a steerage
ticket,--stood in his way. These last few dollars seem to have been
most difficult to get, and he had wandered about, a sort of antithetical
Flying Dutchman, forever putting to sea, yet never getting away from
shore. He was a “49-er,” and had recently been blown up in a tunnel, or
had fallen down a shaft, I forget which. This sad accident obliged him
to use large quantities of whiskey as a liniment, which, he informed
me, occasioned the mild fragrance which his garments exhaled. Though
belonging to the same class, he was not to be confounded with the
unfortunate miner who could not get back to his claim without pecuniary
assistance, or the desolate Italian, who hopelessly handed you
a document in a foreign language, very much bethumbed and
illegible,--which, in your ignorance of the tongue, you couldn’t help
suspiciously feeling might have been a price current, but which you
could see was proffered as an excuse for alms. Indeed, whenever any
stranger handed me, without speaking, an open document, which bore the
marks of having been carried in the greasy lining of a hat, I always
felt safe in giving him a quarter and dismissing him without further
questioning. I always noticed that these circular letters, when written
in the vernacular, were remarkable for their beautiful caligraphy and
grammatical inaccuracy, and that they all seem to have been written by
the same hand. Perhaps indigence exercises a peculiar and equal effect
upon the handwriting.

I recall a few occasional mendicants whose faces were less familiar.
One afternoon a most extraordinary Irishman, with a black eye, a bruised
hat, and other traces of past enjoyment, waited upon me with a pitiful
story of destitution and want, and concluded by requesting the usual
trifle. I replied, with some severity, that if I gave him a dime he
would probably spend it for drink. “Be Gorra! but you’re roight--I
wad that!” he answered promptly. I was so much taken aback by this
unexpected exhibition of frankness that I instantly handed over the
dime. It seems that Truth had survived the wreck of his other virtues;
he did get drunk, and, impelled by a like conscientious sense of duty,
exhibited himself to me in that state a few hours after, to show that my
bounty had not been misapplied.

In spite of the peculiar characters of these reminiscences, I cannot
help feeling a certain regret at the decay of Professional Mendicancy.
Perhaps it may be owing to a lingering trace of that youthful
superstition which saw in all beggars a possible prince or fairy, and
invested their calling with a mysterious awe. Perhaps it may be from
a belief that there is something in the old-fashioned alms-givings
and actual contact with misery that is wholesome for both donor and
recipient, and that any system which interposes a third party between
them is only putting on a thick glove, which, while it preserves us from
contagion, absorbs and deadens the kindly pressure of our hand. It is a
very pleasant thing to purchase relief from the annoyance and trouble
of having to weigh the claims of an afflicted neighbor. As I turn
over these printed tickets, which the courtesy of the San Francisco
Benevolent Association has--by a slight stretch of the imagination in
supposing that any sane unfortunate might rashly seek relief from a
newspaper office--conveyed to these editorial hands, I cannot help
wondering whether, when in our last extremity we come to draw upon the
Immeasurable Bounty, it will be necessary to present a ticket.


I have sometimes thought, while watching the departure of an Eastern
steamer, that the act of parting from friends--so generally one of
bitterness and despondency--is made by an ingenious Californian custom
to yield a pleasurable excitement. This luxury of leave-taking, in which
most Californians indulge, is often protracted to the hauling in of the
gang-plank. Those last words, injunctions, promises, and embraces, which
are mournful and depressing perhaps in that privacy demanded on other
occasions, are here, by reason of their very publicity, of an edifying
and exhilarating character. A parting kiss, blown from the deck of a
steamer into a miscellaneous crowd, of course loses much of that
sacred solemnity with which foolish superstition is apt to invest it. A
broadside of endearing epithets, even when properly aimed and apparently
raking the whole wharf, is apt to be impotent and harmless. A husband
who prefers to embrace his wife for the last time at the door of
her stateroom, and finds himself the centre of an admiring group of
unconcerned spectators, of course feels himself lifted above any feeling
save that of ludicrousness which the situation suggests. The mother,
parting from her offspring, should become a Roman matron under the like
influences; the lover who takes leave of his sweetheart is not apt to
mar the general hilarity by any emotional folly. In fact, this system of
delaying our parting sentiments until the last moment--this removal of
domestic scenery and incident to a public theatre--may be said to be
worthy of a stoical and democratic people, and is an event in our lives
which may be shared with the humblest coal-passer or itinerant vender
of oranges. It is a return to that classic out-of-door experience
and mingling of public and domestic economy which so ennobled the
straight-nosed Athenian.

So universal is this desire to be present at the departure of any
steamer that, aside from the regular crowd of loungers who make their
appearance confessedly only to look on, there are others who take
advantage of the slightest intimacy to go through the leave-taking
formula. People whom you have quite forgotten, people to whom you have
been lately introduced, suddenly and unexpectedly make their appearance
and wring your hands with fervor. The friend, long estranged, forgives
you nobly at the last moment, to take advantage of this glorious
opportunity of “seeing you off.” Your bootmaker, tailor, and
hatter--haply with no ulterior motives and unaccompanied by official
friends--visit you with enthusiasm. You find great difficulty in
detaching your relatives and acquaintances from the trunks on which
they resolutely seat themselves, up to the moment when the paddles are
moving, and you are haunted continually by an ill-defined idea that
they may be carried off, and foisted on you--with the payment of their
passage, which, under the circumstances, you could not refuse--for the
rest of the voyage. Your friends will make their appearance at the most
inopportune moments, and from the most unexpected places,--dangling from
hawsers, climbing up paddle-boxes, and crawling through cabin windows at
the imminent peril of their lives. You are nervous and crushed by this
added weight of responsibility. Should you be a stranger, you will find
any number of people on board, who will cheerfully and at a venture take
leave of you on the slightest advances made on your part. A friend
of mine assures me that he once parted, with great enthusiasm and
cordiality, from a party of gentlemen, to him personally unknown, who
had apparently mistaken his state-room. This party,--evidently connected
with some fire company,--on comparing notes on the wharf, being somewhat
dissatisfied with the result of their performances, afterward rendered
my friend’s position on the hurricane deck one of extreme peril and
inconvenience, by reason of skilfully projected oranges and apples,
accompanied with some invective. Yet there is certainly something to
interest us in the examination of that cheerless damp closet, whose
painted wooden walls no furniture or company can make habitable, wherein
our friend is to spend so many vapid days and restless nights. The sight
of these apartments, yclept STATE-ROOMS,--Heaven knows why, except it
be from their want of cosiness,--is full of keen reminiscences to most
Californians who have not outgrown the memories of that dreary interval
when, in obedience to nature’s wise compensations, homesickness was
blotted out by sea-sickness, and both at last resolved into a chaotic
and distempered dream, whose details we now recognize. The steamer chair
that we used to drag out upon the narrow strip of deck and doze in,
over the pages of a well-thumbed novel; the deck itself, of afternoons,
redolent with the skins of oranges and bananas, of mornings, damp with
salt-water and mopping; the netted bulwark, smelling of tar in the
tropics, and fretted on the weather side with little saline crystals;
the villanously compounded odors of victuals from the pantry, and oil
from the machinery; the young lady that we used to flirt with, and with
whom we shared our last novel, adorned with marginal annotations; our
own chum; our own bore; the man who was never sea-sick; the two events
of the day, breakfast and dinner, and the dreary interval between; the
tremendous importance giver, to trifling events and trifling people; the
young lady who kept a journal; the newspaper, published on board, filled
with mild pleasantries and impertinences, elsewhere unendurable; the
young lady who sang; the wealthy passenger; the popular passenger; the--

[Let us sit down for a moment until this qualmishness, which these
associations and some infectious quality of the atmosphere seem to
produce, has passed away. What becomes of our steamer friends? Why are
we now so apathetic about them? Why is it that we drift away from them
so unconcernedly, forgetting even their names and faces? Why, when we
do remember them, do we look at them so suspiciously, with an undefined
idea that, in the unrestrained freedom of the voyage, they became
possessed of some confidence and knowledge of our weaknesses that we
never should have imparted? Did we make any such confessions? Perish the
thought. The popular man, however, is not now so popular. We have heard
finer voices than that of the young lady who sang so sweetly. Our chum’s
fascinating qualities, somehow, have deteriorated on land; so have
those of the fair young novel-reader, now the wife of an honest miner in
Virginia City.]

--The passenger who made so many trips, and exhibited a reckless
familiarity with the officers; the officers themselves, now so
modest and undemonstrative, a few hours later so all-powerful and
important,--these are among the reminiscences of most Californians, and
these are to be remembered among the experiences of our friend. Yet he
feels, as we all do, that his past experience will be of profit to him,
and has already the confident air of an old voyager.

As you stand on the wharf again, and listen to the cries of itinerant
fruit venders, you wonder why it is that grief at parting and the
unpleasant novelties of travel are supposed to be assuaged by
oranges and apples, even at ruinously low prices. Perhaps it may be,
figuratively, the last offering of the fruitful earth, as the passenger
commits himself to the bosom of the sterile and unproductive ocean. Even
while the wheels are moving and the lines are cast off, some hardy
apple merchant, mounted on the top of a pile, concludes a trade with
a steerage passenger,--twenty feet interposing between buyer and
seller,--and achieves, under these difficulties, the delivery of his
wares. Handkerchiefs wave, hurried orders mingle with parting blessings,
and the steamer is “off.” As you turn your face cityward, and glance
hurriedly around at the retreating crowd, you will see a reflection of
your own wistful face in theirs, and read the solution of one of the
problems which perplex the California enthusiast. Before you lies San
Francisco, with her hard angular outlines, her brisk, invigorating
breezes, her bright, but unsympathetic sunshine, her restless and
energetic population; behind you fades the recollection of changeful,
but honest skies; of extremes of heat and cold, modified and made
enjoyable through social and physical laws, of pastoral landscapes,
of accessible Nature in her kindliest forms, of inherited virtues, of
long-tested customs and habits, of old friends and old faces,--in a word
of HOME!



A bay-window once settled the choice of my house and compensated for
many of its inconveniences. When the chimney smoked, or the doors
alternately shrunk and swelled, resisting any forcible attempt to
open them, or opening of themselves with ghostly deliberation, or when
suspicious blotches appeared on the ceiling in rainy weather, there was
always the bay-window to turn to for comfort. And the view was a fine
one. Alcatraz, Lime Point, Fort Point, and Saucelito were plainly
visible over a restless expanse of water that changed continually,
glittering in the sunlight, darkening in rocky shadow, or sweeping in
mimic waves on a miniature beach below.

Although at first the bay-window was supposed to be sacred to myself
and my writing materials, in obedience to some organic law, it by and by
became a general lounging-place. A rocking-chair and crochet basket
one day found their way there. Then the baby invaded its recesses,
fortifying himself behind intrenchments of colored worsteds and spools
of cotton, from which he was only dislodged by concerted assault, and
carried lamenting into captivity. A subtle glamour crept over all who
came within its influence. To apply one’s self to serious work there was
an absurdity. An incoming ship, a gleam on the water, a cloud lingering
about Tamalpais, were enough to distract the attention. Reading or
writing, the bay-window was always showing something to be looked at.
Unfortunately, these views were not always pleasant, but the window gave
equal prominence and importance to all, without respect to quality.

The landscape in the vicinity was unimproved, but not rural. The
adjacent lots had apparently just given up bearing scrub-oaks, but had
not seriously taken to bricks and mortar. In one direction the vista was
closed by the Home of the Inebriates, not in itself a cheerful-looking
building, and, as the apparent terminus of a ramble in a certain
direction, having all the effect of a moral lesson. To a certain extent,
however, this building was an imposition. The enthusiastic members of
my family, who confidently expected to see its inmates hilariously
disporting themselves at its windows in the different stages of
inebriation portrayed by the late W. E. Burton, were much disappointed.
The Home was reticent of its secrets. The County Hospital, also in range
of the bay-window, showed much more animation. At certain hours of the
day convalescents passed in review before the window on their way to
an airing. This spectacle was the still more depressing from a singular
lack of sociability that appeared to prevail among them. Each man
was encompassed by the impenetrable atmosphere of his own peculiar
suffering. They did not talk or walk together. From the window I have
seen half a dozen sunning themselves against a wall within a few feet
of each other, to all appearance utterly oblivious of the fact. Had they
but quarrelled or fought,--anything would have been better than this
horrible apathy.

The lower end of the street on which the bay-window was situate, opened
invitingly from a popular thoroughfare; and after beckoning the unwary
stranger into its recesses, ended unexpectedly at a frightful precipice.
On Sundays, when the travel North-Beachwards was considerable, the
bay-window delighted in the spectacle afforded by unhappy pedestrians
who were seduced into taking this street as a short-cut somewhere else.
It was amusing to notice how these people invariably, on coming to the
precipice, glanced upward to the bay-window and endeavored to assume a
careless air before they retraced their steps, whistling ostentatiously,
as if they had previously known all about it. One high-spirited young
man in particular, being incited thereto by a pair of mischievous bright
eyes in an opposite window, actually descended this fearful precipice
rather than return, to the great peril of life and limb, and manifest
injury to his Sunday clothes.

Dogs, goats, and horses constituted the fauna of our neighborhood.
Possessing the lawless freedom of their normal condition, they still
evinced a tender attachment to man and his habitations. Spirited steeds
got up extempore races on the sidewalks, turning the street into a
miniature Corso; dogs wrangled in the areas; while from the hill beside
the house a goat browsed peacefully upon my wife’s geraniums in the
flower-pots of the second-story window. “We had a fine hail-storm last
night,” remarked a newly arrived neighbor, who had just moved into the
adjoining house. It would have been a pity to set him right, as he
was quite enthusiastic about the view and the general sanitary
qualifications of the locality. So I didn’t tell him anything about the
goats who were in the habit of using his house as a stepping-stone to
the adjoining hill.

But the locality was remarkably healthy. People who fell down the
embankments found their wounds heal rapidly in the steady sea-breeze.
Ventilation was complete and thorough. The opening of the bay-window
produced a current of wholesome air which effectually removed all
noxious exhalations, together with the curtains, the hinges of the back
door, and the window-shutters. Owing to this peculiarity, some of
my writings acquired an extensive circulation and publicity in the
neighborhood, which years in another locality might not have produced.
Several articles of wearing apparel, which were mysteriously transposed
from our clothes-line to that of an humble though honest neighbor, was
undoubtedly the result of these sanitary winds. Yet in spite of these
advantages I found it convenient in a few months to move. And the result
whereof I shall communicate in other papers.


“A house with a fine garden and extensive shrubbery, in a genteel
neighborhood,” were, if I remember rightly, the general terms of an
advertisement which once decided my choice of a dwelling. I should add
that this occurred at an early stage of my household experience, when I
placed a trustful reliance in advertisements. I have since learned
that the most truthful people are apt to indulge a slight vein of
exaggeration in describing their own possessions, as though the mere
circumstance of going into print were an excuse for a certain kind of
mendacity. But I did not fully awaken to this fact until a much later
period, when, in answering an advertisement which described a highly
advantageous tenement, I was referred to the house I then occupied, and
from which a thousand inconveniences were impelling me to move.

The “fine garden” alluded to was not large, but contained several
peculiarly shaped flower-beds. I was at first struck with the singular
resemblance which they bore to the mutton-chops that are usually brought
on the table at hotels and restaurants,--a resemblance the more striking
from the sprigs of parsley which they produced freely. One plat in
particular reminded me, not unpleasantly, of a peculiar cake, known
to my boyhood as “a bolivar.” The owner of the property, however, who
seemed to be a man of original aesthetic ideas, had banked up one of
these beds with bright-colored sea-shells, so that in rainy weather
it suggested an aquarium, and offered the elements of botanical and
conchological study in pleasing juxtaposition. I have since thought
that the fish-geraniums, which it also bore to a surprising extent, were
introduced originally from some such idea of consistency. But it was
very pleasant, after dinner, to ramble up and down the gravelly paths
(whose occasional boulders reminded me of the dry bed of a somewhat
circuitous mining stream), smoking a cigar, or inhaling the rich aroma
of fennel, or occasionally stopping to pluck one of the hollyhocks with
which the garden abounded. The prolific qualities of this plant alarmed
us greatly, for although, in the first transport of enthusiasm, my wife
planted several different kinds of flower-seeds, nothing ever came up
but hollyhocks; and although, impelled by the same laudable impulse, I
procured a copy of “Downing’s Landscape Gardening,” and a few gardening
tools, and worked for several hours in the garden, my efforts were
equally futile.

The “extensive shrubbery” consisted of several dwarfed trees. One was
a very weak young weeping willow, so very limp and maudlin, and so
evidently bent on establishing its reputation, that it had to be tied up
against the house for support. The dampness of that portion of the house
was usually attributed to the presence of this lachrymose shrub. And
to these a couple of highly objectionable trees, known, I think, by the
name of Malva, which made an inordinate show of cheap blossoms that they
were continually shedding, and one or two dwarf oaks, with scaly leaves
and a generally spiteful exterior, and you have what was not inaptly
termed by our Milesian handmaid “the scrubbery.”

The gentility of our neighbor suffered a blight from the unwholesome
vicinity of McGinnis Court. This court was a kind of cul de sac that,
on being penetrated, discovered a primitive people living in a state of
barbarous freedom, and apparently spending the greater portion of their
lives on their own door-steps. Many of those details of the toilet which
a popular prejudice restricts to the dressing-room in other localities,
were here performed in the open court without fear and without reproach.
Early in the week the court was hid in a choking, soapy mist, which
arose from innumerable washtubs. This was followed in a day or two later
by an extraordinary exhibition of wearing apparel of divers colors,
fluttering on lines like a display of bunting on ship-board, and whose
flapping in the breeze was like irregular discharges of musketry. It was
evident also that the court exercised a demoralizing influence over the
whole neighborhood. A sanguine property-owner once put up a handsome
dwelling on the corner of our street, and lived therein; but although
he appeared frequently on his balcony, clad in a bright crimson
dressing-gown, which made him look like a tropical bird of some rare
and gorgeous species, he failed to woo any kindred dressing-gown to the
vicinity, and only provoked opprobrious epithets from the gamins of the
court. He moved away shortly after, and on going by the house one day,
I noticed a bill of “Rooms to let, with board,” posted conspicuously on
the Corinthian columns of the porch. McGinnis Court had triumphed. An
interchange of civilities at once took place between the court and
the servants’ area of the palatial mansion, and some of the young men
boarders exchange playful slang with the adolescent members of the
court. From that moment we felt that our claims to gentility were
forever abandoned.

Yet, we enjoyed intervals of unalloyed contentment. When the twilight
toned down the hard outlines of the oaks, and made shadowy clumps and
formless masses of other bushes, it was quite romantic to sit by the
window and inhale the faint, sad odor of the fennel in the walks below.
Perhaps this economical pleasure was much enhanced by a picture in my
memory, whose faded colors the odor of this humble plant never failed to
restore. So I often sat there of evenings and closed my eyes until the
forms and benches of a country schoolroom came back to me, redolent with
the incense of fennel covertly stowed away in my desk, and gazed again
in silent rapture on the round, red cheeks and long black braids of that
peerless creature whose glance had often caused my cheeks to glow over
the preternatural collar, which at that period of my boyhood it was
my pride and privilege to wear. As I fear I may be often thought
hypercritical and censorious in these articles, I am willing to record
this as one of the advantages of our new house, not mentioned in the
advertisement, nor chargeable in the rent. May the present tenant, who
is a stock-broker, and who impresses me with the idea of having always
been called “Mr.” from his cradle up, enjoy this advantage, and try
sometimes to remember he was a boy!


Soon after I moved into Happy Valley I was struck with the remarkable
infelicity of its title. Generous as Californians are in the use of
adjectives, this passed into the domain of irony. But I was inclined to
think it sincere,--the production of a weak but gushing mind, just
as the feminine nomenclature of streets in the vicinity was evidently
bestowed by one in habitual communion with “Friendship’s Gifts” and
“Affection’s Offerings.”

Our house on Laura Matilda Street looked somewhat like a toy Swiss
Cottage,--a style of architecture so prevalent, that in walking down the
block it was quite difficult to resist an impression of fresh glue and
pine shavings. The few shade-trees might have belonged originally to
those oval Christmas boxes which contain toy villages; and even the
people who sat by the windows had a stiffness that made them appear
surprisingly unreal and artificial. A little dog belonging to a neighbor
was known to the members of my household by the name of “Glass,” from
the general suggestion he gave of having been spun of that article.
Perhaps I have somewhat exaggerated these illustrations of the dapper
nicety of our neighborhood,--a neatness and conciseness which I think
have a general tendency to belittle, dwarf, and contract their objects.
For we gradually fell into small ways and narrow ideas, and to some
extent squared the round world outside to the correct angles of Laura
Matilda Street.

One reason for this insincere quality may have been the fact that the
very foundations of our neighborhood were artificial. Laura Matilda
Street was “made ground.” The land, not yet quite reclaimed, was
continually struggling with its old enemy. We had not been long in our
new home before we found an older tenant, not yet wholly divested of
his rights, who sometimes showed himself in clammy perspiration on the
basement walls, whose damp breath chilled our dining-room, and in the
night struck a mortal chilliness through the house. There were no patent
fastenings that could keep him out,--no writ of unlawful detainer that
could eject him. In the winter his presence was quite palpable; he
sapped the roots of the trees, he gurgled under the kitchen floor, he
wrought an unwholesome greenness on the side of the veranda. In summer
he became invisible, but still exercised a familiar influence over the
locality. He planted little stitches in the small of the back, sought
out old aches and weak joints, and sportively punched the tenants of the
Swiss Cottage under the ribs. He inveigled little children to play
with him, but his plays generally ended in scarlet fever, diphtheria,
whooping-cough, and measles. He sometimes followed strong men about
until they sickened suddenly and took to their beds. But he kept the
green-plants in good order, and was very fond of verdure, bestowing
it even upon lath and plaster and soulless stone. He was generally
invisible, as I have said; but some time after I had moved, I saw him
one morning from the hill stretching his gray wings over the valley,
like some fabulous vampire, who had spent the night sucking the
wholesome juices of the sleepers below, and was sluggish from the
effects of his repast. It was then that I recognized him as Malaria,
and knew his abode to be the dread Valley of the shadow of
Miasma,--miscalled the Happy Valley!

On week days there was a pleasant melody of boiler-making from the
foundries, and the gas works in the vicinity sometimes lent a mild
perfume to the breeze. Our street was usually quiet, however,--a
footfall being sufficient to draw the inhabitants to their front
windows, and to oblige an incautious trespasser to run the gauntlet of
batteries of blue and black eyes on either side of the way. A carriage
passing through it communicated a singular thrill to the floors,
and caused the china on the dining-table to rattle. Although we were
comparatively free from the prevailing winds, wandering gusts sometimes
got bewildered and strayed unconsciously into our street, and finding
an unencumbered field, incontinently set up a shriek of joy, and went
gleefully to work on the clothes-lines and chimney-pots, and had a good
time generally until they were quite exhausted. I have a very vivid
picture in my memory of an organ-grinder who was at one time blown into
the end of our street, and actually blown through it in spite of several
ineffectual efforts to come to a stand before the different dwellings,
but who was finally whirled out of the other extremity, still playing
and vainly endeavoring to pursue his unhallowed calling. But these were
noteworthy exceptions to the calm and even tenor of our life.

There was contiguity but not much sociability in our neighborhood.
From my bedroom window I could plainly distinguish the peculiar kind of
victuals spread on my neighbor’s dining-table; while, on the other hand,
he obtained an equally uninterrupted view of the mysteries of my toilet.
Still, that “low vice, curiosity,” was regulated by certain laws, and
a kind of rude chivalry invested our observation. A pretty girl, whose
bedroom window was the cynosure of neighboring eyes, was once brought
under the focus of an opera-glass in the hands of one of our ingenuous
youth; but this act met such prompt and universal condemnation, as an
unmanly advantage, from the lips of married men and bachelors who didn’t
own opera-glasses, that it was never repeated.

With this brief sketch I conclude my record of the neighborhoods I have
moved from. I have moved from many others since then, but they have
generally presented features not dissimilar to the three I have
endeavored to describe in these pages. I offer them as types containing
the salient peculiarities of all. Let no inconsiderate reader rashly
move on account of them. My experience has not been cheaply bought. From
the nettle Change I have tried to pluck the flower Security. Draymen
have grown rich at my expense. House-agents have known me and were glad,
and landlords have risen up to meet me from afar. The force of habit
impels me still to consult all the bills I see in the streets, nor can
the war telegrams divert my first attention from the advertising columns
of the daily papers. I repeat, let no man think I have disclosed the
weaknesses of the neighborhood, nor rashly open that closet which
contains the secret skeleton of his dwelling. My carpets have been
altered to fit all sized odd-shaped apartments from parallelopiped to
hexagons. Much of my furniture has been distributed among my former
dwellings. These limbs have stretched upon uncarpeted floors, or have
been let down suddenly from imperfectly established bedsteads. I have
dined in the parlor and slept in the back kitchen. Yet the result of
these sacrifices and trials may be briefly summed up in the statement
that I am now on the eve of removal from my PRESENT NEIGHBORHOOD.


I live in the suburbs. My residence, to quote the pleasing fiction of
the advertisement, “is within fifteen minutes’ walk of the City Hall.”
 Why the City Hall should be considered as an eligible terminus of
anybody’s walk, under any circumstances, I have not been able to
determine. Never having walked from my residence to that place, I am
unable to verify the assertion, though I may state as a purely abstract
and separate proposition, that it takes me the better part of an hour to
reach Montgomery Street.

My selection of locality was a compromise between my wife’s desire to
go into the country, and my own predilections for civic habitation. Like
most compromises, it ended in retaining the objectionable features of
both propositions; I procured the inconveniences of the country without
losing the discomforts of the city. I increased my distance from
the butcher and green-grocer, without approximating to herds and
kitchen-gardens. But I anticipate.

Fresh air was to be the principal thing sought for. That there might
be too much of this did not enter into my calculations. The first day
I entered my residence, it blew; the second day was windy; the third,
fresh, with a strong breeze stirring; on the fourth, it blew; on the
fifth, there was a gale, which has continued to the present writing.

That the air is fresh, the above statement sufficiently establishes.
That it is bracing, I argue from the fact that I find it impossible to
open the shutters on the windward side of the house. That it is healthy,
I am also convinced, believing that there is no other force in Nature
that could so buffet and ill-use a person without serious injury to him.
Let me offer an instance. The path to my door crosses a slight eminence.
The unconscious visitor, a little exhausted by the ascent and the
general effects of the gentle gales which he has faced in approaching
my hospitable mansion, relaxes his efforts, smooths his brow, and
approaches with a fascinating smile. Rash and too confident man! The
wind delivers a succession of rapid blows, and he is thrown back.
He staggers up again, in the language of the P. R., “smiling and
confident.” The wind now makes for a vulnerable point, and gets his hat
in chancery. All ceremony is now thrown away; the luckless wretch seizes
his hat with both hands, and charges madly at the front door. Inch by
inch, the wind contests the ground; another struggle, and he stands
upon the veranda. On such occasions I make it a point to open the door
myself, with a calmness and serenity that shall offer a marked contrast
to his feverish and excited air, and shall throw suspicion of inebriety
upon him. If he be inclined to timidity and bashfulness, during the best
of the evening he is all too conscious of the disarrangement of his
hair and cravat. If he is less sensitive, the result is often more
distressing. A valued elderly friend once called upon me after
undergoing a twofold struggle with the wind and a large Newfoundland dog
(which I keep for reasons hereinafter stated), and not only his hat, but
his wig, had suffered. He spent the evening with me, totally unconscious
of the fact that his hair presented the singular spectacle of having
been parted diagonally from the right temple to the left ear. When
ladies called, my wife preferred to receive them. They were generally
hysterical, and often in tears. I remember, one Sunday, to have been
startled by what appeared to be the balloon from Hayes Valley drifting
rapidly past my conservatory, closely followed by the Newfoundland dog.
I rushed to the front door, but was anticipated by my wife. A
strange lady appeared at lunch, but the phenomenon remained otherwise
unaccounted for. Egress from my residence is much more easy. My guests
seldom “stand upon the order of their going, but go at once”; the
Newfoundland dog playfully harassing their rear. I was standing one day,
with my hand on the open hall door, in serious conversation with the
minister of the parish, when the back door was cautiously opened.
The watchful breeze seized the opportunity, and charged through the
defenceless passage. The front door closed violently in the middle of
a sentence, precipitating the reverend gentleman into the garden.
The Newfoundland dog, with that sagacity for which his race is so
distinguished, at once concluded that a personal collision had taken
place between myself and visitor, and flew to my defence. The reverend
gentleman never called again.

The Newfoundland dog above alluded to was part of a system of protection
which my suburban home once required. Robberies were frequent in the
neighborhood, and my only fowl fell a victim to the spoiler’s art. One
night I awoke, and found a man in my room. With singular delicacy and
respect for the feelings of others, he had been careful not to awaken
any of the sleepers, and retired upon my rising, without waiting for any
suggestion. Touched by his delicacy, I forbore giving the alarm
until after he had made good his retreat. I then wanted to go after
a policeman, but my wife remonstrated, as this would leave the house
exposed. Remembering the gentlemanly conduct of the burglar, I suggested
the plan of following him and requesting him to give the alarm as he
went in town. But this proposition was received with equal disfavor. The
next day I procured a dog and a revolver. The former went off, but the
latter wouldn’t. I then got a new dog and chained him, and a duelling
pistol, with a hair-trigger. The result was so far satisfactory that
neither could be approached with safety, and for some time I left them
out, indifferently, during the night. But the chain one day gave way,
and the dog, evidently having no other attachment to the house, took
the opportunity to leave. His place was soon filled by the Newfoundland,
whose fidelity and sagacity I have just recorded.

Space is one of the desirable features of my suburban residence. I
do not know the number of acres the grounds contain except from the
inordinate quantity of hose required for irrigating. I perform daily,
like some gentle shepherd, upon a quarter-inch pipe without any visible
result, and have had serious thoughts of contracting with some disbanded
fire company for their hose and equipments. It is quite a walk to the
wood-house. Every day some new feature of the grounds is discovered.
My youngest boy was one day missing for several hours. His head--a
peculiarly venerable and striking object--was at last discovered just
above the grass at some distance from the house. On examination he was
found comfortably seated in a disused drain, in company with a silver
spoon and a dead rat. On being removed from this locality he howled
dismally and refused to be comforted.

The view from my suburban residence is fine. Lone Mountain, with its
white obelisks, is a suggestive if not cheering termination of the vista
in one direction, while the old receiving vault of Yerba Buena Cemetery
limits the view in another. Most of the funerals which take place pass
my house. My children, with the charming imitativeness that belongs to
youth, have caught the spirit of these passing corteges, and reproduce
in the back yard, with creditable skill, the salient features of
the lugubrious procession. A doll, from whose features all traces of
vitality and expression have been removed, represents the deceased.
Yet unfortunately I have been obliged to promise them more active
participation in this ceremony at some future time, and I fear that
they look anxiously forward with the glowing impatience of youth to the
speedy removal of some one of my circle of friends. I am told that the
eldest, with the unsophisticated frankness that belongs to his age,
made a personal request to that effect to one of my acquaintances. One
singular result of the frequency of these funerals is the development
of a critical and fastidious taste in such matters on the part of myself
and family. If I may so express myself, without irreverence, we seldom
turn out for anything less than six carriages. Any number over this is
usually breathlessly announced by Bridget as, “Here’s another, mum,--and
a good long one.”

With these slight drawbacks my suburban residence is charming. To the
serious poet, and writer of elegiac verses, the aspect of Nature, viewed
from my veranda, is suggestive. I myself have experienced moments when
the “sad mechanic exercise” of verse would have been of infinite relief.
The following stanzas, by a young friend who has been stopping with me
for the benefit of his health, addressed to a duck that frequented a
small pond in the vicinity of my mansion, may be worthy of perusal. I
think I have met the idea conveyed in the first verse in some of Hood’s
prose, but as my friend assures me that Hood was too conscientious to
appropriate anything not his own, I conclude I am mistaken.


(Intra Muros.)


Fowl, that sing’st in yonder pool, Where the summer winds blow cool,
Are there hydropathic cures For the ills that man endures? Know’st thou
Priessnitz? What? alack Hast no other word but “Quack?”


Cleopatra’s barge might pale To the splendors of thy tail, Or the
stately caravel Of some “high-pooped admiral.” Never yet left such a
wake E’en the navigator Drake!


Dux thou art, and leader, too, Heeding not what’s “falling due,” Knowing
not of debt or dun,--Thou dost heed no bill but one; And, though scarce
conceivable, That’s a bill Receivable, Made--that thou thy stars mightst
thank--Payable at the next bank.


The subject of this article is at present leaning against a tree
directly opposite to my window. He wears his cap with the wrong side
before, apparently for no other object than that which seems the most
obvious,--of showing more than the average quantity of very dirty face.
His clothes, which are worn with a certain buttonless ease and freedom,
display, in the different quality of their fruit-stains, a pleasing
indication of the progress of the seasons. The nose of this vulgar
little boy turns up at the end. I have noticed this in several other
vulgar little boys, although it is by no means improbable that youthful
vulgarity may be present without this facial peculiarity. Indeed, I
am inclined to the belief that it is rather the result of early
inquisitiveness--of furtive pressures against window-panes, and
of looking over fences, or of the habit of biting large apples
hastily--than an indication of scorn or juvenile superciliousness. The
vulgar little boy is more remarkable for his obtrusive familiarity. It
is my experience of his predisposition to this quality which has induced
me to write this article.

My acquaintance with him began in a moment of weakness. I have an
unfortunate predilection to cultivate originality in people, even when
accompanied by objectionable character. But, as I lack the firmness and
skilfulness which usually accompany this taste in others, and enable
them to drop acquaintances when troublesome, I have surrounded myself
with divers unprofitable friends, among whom I count the vulgar little
boy. The manner in which he first attracted my attention was purely
accidental. He was playing in the street, and the driver of a passing
vehicle cut at him, sportively, with his whip. The vulgar little boy
rose to his feet and hurled after his tormentor a single sentence of
invective. I refrain from repeating it, for I feel that I could not do
justice to it here. If I remember rightly, it conveyed, in a very few
words, a reflection on the legitimacy of the driver’s birth; it hinted
a suspicion of his father’s integrity, and impugned the fair fame of
his mother; it suggested incompetency in his present position, personal
uncleanliness, and evinced a sceptical doubt of his future salvation. As
his youthful lips closed over the last syllable, the eyes of the vulgar
little boy met mine. Something in my look emboldened him to wink. I did
not repel the action nor the complicity it implied. From that moment I
fell into the power of the vulgar little boy, and he has never left me

He haunts me in the streets and by-ways. He accosts me, when in the
company of friends, with repulsive freedom. He lingers about the gate
of my dwelling to waylay me as I issue forth to business. Distance
he overcomes by main strength of lungs, and he hails me from the next
street. He met me at the theatre the other evening, and demanded my
check with the air of a young foot-pad. I foolishly gave it to him,
but re-entering some time after, and comfortably seating myself in the
parquet, I was electrified by hearing my name called from the gallery
with the addition of a playful adjective. It was the vulgar little boy.
During the performance he projected spirally-twisted playbills in my
direction, and indulged in a running commentary on the supernumeraries
as they entered.

To-day has evidently been a dull one with him. I observe he whistles
the popular airs of the period with less shrillness and intensity.
Providence, however, looks not unkindly on him, and delivers into his
hands as it were two nice little boys who have at this moment innocently
strayed into our street. They are pink and white children, and are
dressed alike, and exhibit a certain air of neatness and refinement
which is alone sufficient to awaken the antagonism of the vulgar little
boy. A sigh of satisfaction breaks from his breast. What does he do? Any
other boy would content himself with simply knocking the hats off their
respective heads, and so vent his superfluous vitality in a single act,
besides precipitating the flight of the enemy. But there are aesthetic
considerations not to be overlooked; insult is to be added to the injury
inflicted, and in the struggles of the victim some justification is to
be sought for extreme measures. The two nice little boys perceive their
danger and draw closer to each other. The vulgar little boy begins
by irony. He affects to be overpowered by the magnificence of their
costume. He addresses me (across the street and through the closed
window), and requests information if there haply be a circus in the
vicinity. He makes affectionate inquiries after the health of their
parents. He expresses a fear of maternal anxiety in regard to their
welfare. He offers to conduct them home. One nice little boy feebly
retorts; but alas! his correct pronunciation; his grammatical
exactitude, and his moderate epithets only provoke a scream of derision
from the vulgar little boy, who now rapidly changes his tactics.
Staggering under the weight of his vituperation, they fall easy victims
to what he would call his “dexter mawley.” A wail of lamentation goes up
from our street. But as the subject of this article seems to require
a more vigorous handling than I had purposed to give it, I find it
necessary to abandon my present dignified position, seize my hat, open
the front door, and try a stronger method.



About an hour’s ride from the Plaza there is a high bluff with the
ocean breaking uninterruptedly along its rocky beach. There are several
cottages on the sands, which look as if they had recently been cast up
by a heavy sea. The cultivated patch behind each tenement is fenced in
by bamboos, broken spars, and driftwood. With its few green cabbages and
turnip-tops, each garden looks something like an aquarium with the water
turned off. In fact you would not be surprised to meet a merman digging
among the potatoes, or a mermaid milking a sea cow hard by.

Near this place formerly arose a great semaphoric telegraph with its
gaunt arms tossed up against the horizon. It has been replaced by an
observatory, connected with an electric nerve to the heart of the great
commercial city. From this point the incoming ships are signalled, and
again checked off at the City Exchange. And while we are here looking
for the expected steamer, let me tell you a story.

Not long ago, a simple, hard-working mechanic had amassed sufficient by
diligent labor in the mines to send home for his wife and two children.
He arrived in San Francisco a month before the time the ship was due,
for he was a western man, and had made the overland journey and knew
little of ships or seas or gales. He procured work in the city, but as
the time approached he would go to the shipping office regularly every
day. The month passed, but the ship came not; then a month and a week,
two weeks, three weeks, two months, and then a year.

The rough, patient face, with soft lines overlying its hard features,
which had become a daily apparition at the shipping agent’s, then
disappeared. It turned up one afternoon at the observatory as the
setting sun relieved the operator from his duties. There was something
so childlike and simple in the few questions asked by this stranger,
touching his business, that the operator spent some time to explain.
When the mystery of signals and telegraphs was unfolded, the stranger
had one more question to ask. “How long might a vessel be absent before
they would give up expecting her?” The operator couldn’t tell; it would
depend on circumstances. Would it be a year? Yes, it might be a year,
and vessels had been given up for lost after two years and had come
home. The stranger put his rough hand on the operator’s, and thanked him
for his “troubil,” and went away.

Still the ship came not. Stately clippers swept into the Gate, and
merchantmen went by with colors flying, and the welcoming gun of the
steamer often reverberated among the hills. Then the patient face, with
the old resigned expression, but a brighter, wistful look in the eye,
was regularly met on the crowded decks of the steamer as she disembarked
her living freight. He may have had a dimly defined hope that the
missing ones might yet come this way, as only another road over that
strange unknown expanse. But he talked with ship captains and sailors,
and even this last hope seemed to fail. When the careworn face and
bright eyes were presented again at the observatory, the operator,
busily engaged, could not spare time to answer foolish interrogatories,
so he went away. But as night fell, he was seen sitting on the rocks
with his face turned seaward, and was seated there all that night.

When he became hopelessly insane, for that was what the physicians
said made his eyes so bright and wistful, he was cared for by a
fellow-craftsman who had known his troubles. He was allowed to indulge
his fancy of going out to watch for the ship, in which she “and the
children” were, at night when no one else was watching. He had made up
his mind that the ship would come in at night. This, and the idea that
he would relieve the operator, who would be tired with watching all day,
seemed to please him. So he went out and relieved the operator every

For two years the ships came and went. He was there to see the
outward-bound clipper, and greet her on her return. He was known only
by a few who frequented the place. When he was missed at last from his
accustomed spot, a day or two elapsed before any alarm was felt. One
Sunday, a party of pleasure-seekers clambering over the rocks were
attracted by the barking of a dog that had run on before them. When they
came up they found a plainly dressed man lying there dead. There were a
few papers in his pocket,--chiefly slips cut from different journals of
old marine memoranda,--and his face was turned towards the distant sea.

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