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Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte

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fresh arrivals.

Bewildered and confused as he was, standing in this empty desert of
a drawing-room, yet encompassed on every side by human voices, so
marvelous was the power of suggestion, he seemed to almost feel the
impact of the invisible crowd. He was trying desperately to
realize his situation when a singularly fascinating voice at his
elbow unexpectedly assisted him. It was evidently his dinner

"I suppose you must be tired after your journey. When did you

"Only a few hours ago," said Paul.

"And I dare say you haven't slept since you arrived. One doesn't
on the passage, you know; the twenty hours pass so quickly, and the
experience is so exciting--to US at least. But I suppose as an
American you are used to it."

Paul gasped. He had passively accepted the bodiless conversation,
because it was at least intelligible! But NOW! Was he going mad?

She evidently noticed his silence. "Never mind," she continued,
"you can tell me all about it at dinner. Do you know I always
think that this sort of thing--what we're doing now,--this
ridiculous formality of reception,--which I suppose is after all
only a concession to our English force of habit,--is absurd! We
ought to pass, as it were, directly from our houses to the dinner-
table. It saves time."

"Yes--no--that is--I'm afraid I don't follow you," stammered Paul.

There was a slight pout in her voice as she replied: "No matter
now--we must follow them--for our host is moving off with Lady
Billingtree, and it's our turn now."

So great was the illusion that he found himself mechanically
offering his arm as he moved through the empty room towards the
door. Then he descended the staircase without another word,
preceded, however, by the sound of his host's voice. Following
this as a blind man might, he entered the dining-room, which to his
discomfiture was as empty as the salon above. Still following the
host's voice, he dropped into a chair before the empty table,
wondering what variation of the Barmecide feast was in store for
him. Yet the hum of voices from the vacant chairs around the board
so strongly impressed him that he could almost believe that he was
actually at dinner.

"Are you seated?" asked the charming voice at his side.

"Yes," a little wonderingly, as his was the only seat visibly

"I am so glad that this silly ceremony is over. By the way, where
are you?"

Paul would have liked to answer, "Lord only knows!" but he
reflected that it might not sound polite. "Where am I?" he feebly

"Yes; where are you dining?"

It seemed a cool question under the circumstances, but he answered

"With you."

"Of course," said the charming voice; "but where are you eating
your dinner?"

Considering that he was not eating anything, Paul thought this
cooler still. But he answered briefly, "In Upshire."

"Oh! At your uncle's?"

"No," said Paul bluntly; "in the next house."

"Why, that's Sir William's--our host's--and he and his family are
here in London. You are joking."

"Listen!" said Paul desperately. Then in a voice unconsciously
lowered he hurriedly told her where he was--how he came there--the
empty house--the viewless company! To his surprise the only
response was a musical little laugh. But the next moment her voice
rose higher with an unmistakable concern in it, apparently
addressing their invisible host.

"Oh, Sir William, only think how dreadful. Here's poor Mr. Bunker,
alone in an empty house, which he has mistaken for his uncle's--and
without any dinner!"

"Really; dear, dear! How provoking! But how does he happen to be
WITH US? James, how is this?"

"If you please, Sir William," said a servant's respectful voice,
"Widdlestone is in the circuit and is switched on with the others.
We heard that a gentleman's luggage had arrived at Widdlestone, and
we telegraphed for the rooms to be made ready, thinking we'd have
her ladyship's orders later."

A single gleam of intelligence flashed upon Paul. His luggage--
yes, had been sent from the station to the wrong house, and he had
unwittingly followed. But these voices! whence did they come? And
where was the actual dinner at which his host was presiding? It
clearly was not at this empty table.

"See that he has everything he wants at once," said Sir William;
"there must be some one there." Then his voice turned in the
direction of Paul again, and he said laughingly, "Possess your soul
and appetite in patience for a moment, Mr. Bunker; you will be only
a course behind us. But we are lucky in having your company--even
at your own discomfort."

Still more bewildered, Paul turned to his invisible partner. "May
I ask where YOU are dining?"

"Certainly; at home in Curzon Street," returned the pretty voice.
"It was raining so, I did not go out."

"And--Lord Billington?" faltered Paul.

"Oh, he's in Scotland--at his own place."

"Then, in fact, nobody is dining here at all," said Paul desperately.

There was a slight pause, and then the voice responded, with a
touch of startled suggestion in it: "Good heavens, Mr. Bunker! Is
it possible you don't know we're dining by telephone?"

"By what?"

"Telephone. Yes. We're a telephonic dinner-party. We are dining
in our own houses; but, being all friends, we're switched on to
each other, and converse exactly as we would at table. It saves a
great trouble and expense, for any one of us can give the party,
and the poorest can equal the most extravagant. People who are
obliged to diet can partake of their own slops at home, and yet
mingle with the gourmets without awkwardness or the necessity of
apology. We are spared the spectacle, at least, of those who eat
and drink too much. We can switch off a bore at once. We can
retire when we are fatigued, without leaving a blank space before
the others. And all this without saying anything of the higher
spiritual and intellectual effect--freed from material grossness of
appetite and show--which the dinner party thus attains. But you
are surely joking! You, an American, and not know it! Why, it
comes from Boston. Haven't you read that book, 'Jumping a Century'?
It's by an American."

A strange illumination came upon Paul. Where had he heard
something like this before? But at the same moment his thoughts
were diverted by the material entrance of a footman, bearing a
silver salver with his dinner. It was part of his singular
experience that the visible entrance of this real, commonplace
mortal--the only one he had seen--in the midst of this voiceless
solitude was distinctly unreal, and had all the effect of an
apparition. He distrusted it and the dishes before him. But his
lively partner's voice was now addressing an unseen occupant of the
next chair. Had she got tired of his ignorance, or was it feminine
tact to enable him to eat something? He accepted the latter
hypothesis, and tried to eat. But he felt himself following the
fascinating voice in all the charm of its youthful and spiritual
inflections. Taking advantage of its momentary silence, he said

"I confess my ignorance, and am willing to admit all you claim for
this wonderful invention. But do you think it compensates for the
loss of the individual person? Take my own case--if you will not
think me personal. I have never had the pleasure of seeing you; do
you believe that I am content with only that suggestion of your
personality which the satisfaction of hearing your voice affords

There was a pause, and then a very mischievous ring in the voice
that replied: "It certainly is a personal question, and it is
another blessing of this invention that you'll never know whether I
am blushing or not; but I forgive you, for I never before spoke to
any one I had never seen--and I suppose it's confusion. But do you
really think you would know me--the REAL one--any better? It is
the real person who thinks and speaks, not the outward semblance
that we see, which very often unfairly either attracts or repels
us? We can always SHOW ourselves at our best, but we must, at
last, reveal our true colors through our thoughts and speech.
Isn't it better to begin with the real thing first?"

"I hope, at least, to have the privilege of judging by myself,"
said Paul gallantly. "You will not be so cruel as not to let me
see you elsewhere, otherwise I shall feel as if I were in some
dream, and will certainly be opposed to your preference for

"I am not certain if the dream would not be more interesting to
you," said the voice laughingly. "But I think your hostess is
already saying 'good-by.' You know everybody goes at once at this
kind of party; the ladies don't retire first, and the gentlemen
join them afterwards. In another moment we'll ALL be switched off;
but Sir William wants me to tell you that his coachman will drive
you to your uncle's, unless you prefer to try and make yourself
comfortable for the night here. Good-by!"

The voices around him seemed to grow fainter, and then utterly
cease. The lights suddenly leaped up, went out, and left him in
complete darkness. He attempted to rise, but in doing so overset
the dishes before him, which slid to the floor. A cold air seemed
to blow across his feet. The "good-by" was still ringing in his
ears as he straightened himself to find he was in his railway
carriage, whose door had just been opened for a young lady who was
entering the compartment from a wayside station. "Good-by," she
repeated to the friend who was seeing her off. The Writer of
Stories hurriedly straightened himself, gathered up the magazines
and papers that had fallen from his lap, and glanced at the station
walls. The old illustrations glanced back at him! He looked at
his watch; he had been asleep just ten minutes!


It is but just to the respectable memory of San Francisco that in
these vagrant recollections I should deprecate at once any
suggestion that the levity of my title described its dominant tone
at any period of my early experiences. On the contrary, it was a
singular fact that while the rest of California was swayed by an
easy, careless unconventionalism, or swept over by waves of emotion
and sentiment, San Francisco preserved an intensely material and
practical attitude, and even a certain austere morality. I do not,
of course, allude to the brief days of '49, when it was a
straggling beach of huts and stranded hulks, but to the earlier
stages of its development into the metropolis of California. Its
first tottering steps in that direction were marked by a distinct
gravity and decorum. Even during the period when the revolver
settled small private difficulties, and Vigilance Committees
adjudicated larger public ones, an unmistakable seriousness and
respectability was the ruling sign of its governing class. It was
not improbable that under the reign of the Committee the lawless
and vicious class were more appalled by the moral spectacle of
several thousand black-coated, serious-minded business men in
embattled procession than by mere force of arms, and one "suspect"--
a prize-fighter--is known to have committed suicide in his cell
after confrontation with his grave and passionless shopkeeping
judges. Even that peculiar quality of Californian humor which was
apt to mitigate the extravagances of the revolver and the
uncertainties of poker had no place in the decorous and responsible
utterance of San Francisco. The press was sober, materialistic,
practical--when it was not severely admonitory of existing evil;
the few smaller papers that indulged in levity were considered
libelous and improper. Fancy was displaced by heavy articles on
the revenues of the State and inducements to the investment of
capital. Local news was under an implied censorship which
suppressed anything that might tend to discourage timid or cautious
capital. Episodes of romantic lawlessness or pathetic incidents of
mining life were carefully edited--with the comment that these
things belonged to the past, and that life and property were now
"as safe in San Francisco as in New York or London."

Wonder-loving visitors in quest of scenes characteristic of the
civilization were coldly snubbed with this assurance. Fires,
floods, and even seismic convulsions were subjected to a like
grimly materialistic optimism. I have a vivid recollection of a
ponderous editorial on one of the severer earthquakes, in which it
was asserted that only the UNEXPECTEDNESS of the onset prevented
San Francisco from meeting it in a way that would be deterrent of
all future attacks. The unconsciousness of the humor was only
equaled by the gravity with which it was received by the whole
business community. Strangely enough, this grave materialism
flourished side by side with--and was even sustained by--a narrow
religious strictness more characteristic of the Pilgrim Fathers of
a past century than the Western pioneers of the present. San
Francisco was early a city of churches and church organizations to
which the leading men and merchants belonged. The lax Sundays of
the dying Spanish race seemed only to provoke a revival of the
rigors of the Puritan Sabbath. With the Spaniard and his Sunday
afternoon bullfight scarcely an hour distant, the San Francisco
pulpit thundered against Sunday picnics. One of the popular
preachers, declaiming upon the practice of Sunday dinner-giving,
averred that when he saw a guest in his best Sunday clothes
standing shamelessly upon the doorstep of his host, he felt like
seizing him by the shoulder and dragging him from that threshold of

Against the actual heathen the feeling was even stronger, and
reached its climax one Sunday when a Chinaman was stoned to death
by a crowd of children returning from Sunday-school. I am offering
these examples with no ethical purpose, but merely to indicate a
singular contradictory condition which I do not think writers of
early Californian history have fairly recorded. It is not my
province to suggest any theory for these appalling exceptions to
the usual good-humored lawlessness and extravagance of the rest of
the State. They may have been essential agencies to the growth and
evolution of the city. They were undoubtedly sincere. The
impressions I propose to give of certain scenes and incidents of my
early experience must, therefore, be taken as purely personal and
Bohemian, and their selection as equally individual and vagrant. I
am writing of what interested me at the time, though not perhaps of
what was more generally characteristic of San Francisco.

I had been there a week--an idle week, spent in listless outlook
for employment; a full week in my eager absorption of the strange
life around me and a photographic sensitiveness to certain scenes
and incidents of those days, which start out of my memory to-day as
freshly as the day they impressed me.

One of these recollections is of "steamer night," as it was
called,--the night of "steamer day,"--preceding the departure of
the mail steamship with the mails for "home." Indeed, at that time
San Francisco may be said to have lived from steamer day to steamer
day; bills were made due on that day, interest computed to that
period, and accounts settled. The next day was the turning of a
new leaf: another essay to fortune, another inspiration of energy.
So recognized was the fact that even ordinary changes of condition,
social and domestic, were put aside until AFTER steamer day. "I'll
see what I can do after next steamer day" was the common cautious
or hopeful formula. It was the "Saturday night" of many a wage-
earner--and to him a night of festivity. The thoroughfares were
animated and crowded; the saloons and theatres full. I can recall
myself at such times wandering along the City Front, as the
business part of San Francisco was then known. Here the lights
were burning all night, the first streaks of dawn finding the
merchants still at their counting-house desks. I remember the dim
lines of warehouses lining the insecure wharves of rotten piles,
half filled in--that had ceased to be wharves, but had not yet
become streets,--their treacherous yawning depths, with the
uncertain gleam of tarlike mud below, at times still vocal with the
lap and gurgle of the tide. I remember the weird stories of
disappearing men found afterward imbedded in the ooze in which they
had fallen and gasped their life away. I remember the two or three
ships, still left standing where they were beached a year or two
before, built in between warehouses, their bows projecting into the
roadway. There was the dignity of the sea and its boundless
freedom in their beautiful curves, which the abutting houses could
not destroy, and even something of the sea's loneliness in the far-
spaced ports and cabin windows lit up by the lamps of the prosaic
landsmen who plied their trades behind them. One of these ships,
transformed into a hotel, retained its name, the Niantic, and part
of its characteristic interior unchanged. I remember these ships'
old tenants--the rats--who had increased and multiplied to such an
extent that at night they fearlessly crossed the wayfarer's path at
every turn, and even invaded the gilded saloons of Montgomery
Street. In the Niantic their pit-a-pat was met on every staircase,
and it was said that sometimes in an excess of sociability they
accompanied the traveler to his room. In the early "cloth-and-
papered" houses--so called because the ceilings were not plastered,
but simply covered by stretched and whitewashed cloth--their
scamperings were plainly indicated in zigzag movements of the
sagging cloth, or they became actually visible by finally dropping
through the holes they had worn in it! I remember the house whose
foundations were made of boxes of plug tobacco--part of a
jettisoned cargo--used instead of more expensive lumber; and the
adjacent warehouse where the trunks of the early and forgotten
"forty-niners" were stored, and--never claimed by their dead or
missing owners--were finally sold at auction. I remember the
strong breath of the sea over all, and the constant onset of the
trade winds which helped to disinfect the deposit of dirt and
grime, decay and wreckage, which were stirred up in the later
evolutions of the city.

Or I recall, with the same sense of youthful satisfaction and
unabated wonder, my wanderings through the Spanish Quarter, where
three centuries of quaint customs, speech, and dress were still
preserved; where the proverbs of Sancho Panza were still spoken in
the language of Cervantes, and the high-flown illusions of the La
Manchian knight still a part of the Spanish Californian hidalgo's
dream. I recall the more modern "Greaser," or Mexican--his index
finger steeped in cigarette stains; his velvet jacket and his
crimson sash; the many-flounced skirt and lace manta of his women,
and their caressing intonations--the one musical utterance of the
whole hard-voiced city. I suppose I had a boy's digestion and
bluntness of taste in those days, for the combined odor of tobacco,
burned paper, and garlic, which marked that melodious breath, did
not affect me.

Perhaps from my Puritan training I experienced a more fearful joy
in the gambling saloons. They were the largest and most comfortable,
even as they were the most expensively decorated rooms in San
Francisco. Here again the gravity and decorum which I have already
alluded to were present at that earlier period--though perhaps from
concentration of another kind. People staked and lost their last
dollar with a calm solemnity and a resignation that was almost
Christian. The oaths, exclamations, and feverish interruptions
which often characterized more dignified assemblies were absent
here. There was no room for the lesser vices; there was little or
no drunkenness; the gaudily dressed and painted women who presided
over the wheels of fortune or performed on the harp and piano
attracted no attention from those ascetic players. The man who had
won ten thousand dollars and the man who had lost everything rose
from the table with equal silence and imperturbability. I never
witnessed any tragic sequel to those losses; I never heard of any
suicide on account of them. Neither can I recall any quarrel or
murder directly attributable to this kind of gambling. It must be
remembered that these public games were chiefly rouge et noir,
monte, faro, or roulette, in which the antagonist was Fate, Chance,
Method, or the impersonal "bank," which was supposed to represent
them all; there was no individual opposition or rivalry; nobody
challenged the decision of the "croupier," or dealer.

I remember a conversation at the door of one saloon which was as
characteristic for its brevity as it was a type of the prevailing
stoicism. "Hello!" said a departing miner, as he recognized a
brother miner coming in, "when did you come down?" "This morning,"
was the reply. "Made a strike on the bar?" suggested the first
speaker. "You bet!" said the other, and passed in. I chanced an
hour later to be at the same place as they met again--their
relative positions changed. "Hello! Whar now?" said the incomer.
"Back to the bar." "Cleaned out?" "You bet!" Not a word more
explained a common situation.

My first youthful experience at those tables was an accidental one.
I was watching roulette one evening, intensely absorbed in the mere
movement of the players. Either they were so preoccupied with the
game, or I was really older looking than my actual years, but a
bystander laid his hand familiarly on my shoulder, and said, as to
an ordinary habitue, "Ef you're not chippin' in yourself, pardner,
s'pose you give ME a show." Now I honestly believe that up to that
moment I had no intention, nor even a desire, to try my own
fortune. But in the embarrassment of the sudden address I put my
hand in my pocket, drew out a coin, and laid it, with an attempt at
carelessness, but a vivid consciousness that I was blushing, upon a
vacant number. To my horror I saw that I had put down a large
coin--the bulk of my possessions! I did not flinch, however; I
think any boy who reads this will understand my feeling; it was not
only my coin but my manhood at stake. I gazed with a miserable
show of indifference at the players, at the chandelier--anywhere
but at the dreadful ball spinning round the wheel. There was a
pause; the game was declared, the rake rattled up and down, but
still I did not look at the table. Indeed, in my inexperience of
the game and my embarrassment, I doubt if I should have known if I
had won or not. I had made up my mind that I should lose, but I
must do so like a man, and, above all, without giving the least
suspicion that I was a greenhorn. I even affected to be listening
to the music. The wheel spun again; the game was declared, the
rake was busy, but I did not move. At last the man I had displaced
touched me on the arm and whispered, "Better make a straddle and
divide your stake this time." I did not understand him, but as I
saw he was looking at the board, I was obliged to look, too. I
drew back dazed and bewildered! Where my coin had lain a moment
before was a glittering heap of gold.

My stake had doubled, quadrupled, and doubled again. I did not
know how much then---I do not know now--it may have been not more
than three or four hundred dollars--but it dazzled and frightened
me. "Make your game, gentlemen," said the croupier monotonously.
I thought he looked at me--indeed, everybody seemed to be looking
at me--and my companion repeated his warning. But here I must
again appeal to the boyish reader in defense of my idiotic
obstinacy. To have taken advice would have shown my youth. I
shook my head--I could not trust my voice. I smiled, but with a
sinking heart, and let my stake remain. The ball again sped round
the wheel, and stopped. There was a pause. The croupier
indolently advanced his rake and swept my whole pile with others
into the bank! I had lost it all. Perhaps it may be difficult for
me to explain why I actually felt relieved, and even to some extent
triumphant, but I seemed to have asserted my grown-up independence--
possibly at the cost of reducing the number of my meals for days;
but what of that! I was a man! I wish I could say that it was a
lesson to me. I am afraid it was not. It was true that I did not
gamble again, but then I had no especial desire to--and there was
no temptation. I am afraid it was an incident without a moral.
Yet it had one touch characteristic of the period which I like to
remember. The man who had spoken to me, I think, suddenly
realized, at the moment of my disastrous coup, the fact of my
extreme youth. He moved toward the banker, and leaning over him
whispered a few words. The banker looked up, half impatiently,
half kindly--his hand straying tentatively toward the pile of coin.
I instinctively knew what he meant, and, summoning my determination,
met his eyes with all the indifference I could assume, and walked

I had at that period a small room at the top of a house owned by a
distant relation--a second or third cousin, I think. He was a man
of independent and original character, had a Ulyssean experience of
men and cities, and an old English name of which he was proud.
While in London he had procured from the Heralds' College his
family arms, whose crest was stamped upon a quantity of plate he
had brought with him to California. The plate, together with an
exceptionally good cook, which he had also brought, and his own
epicurean tastes, he utilized in the usual practical Californian
fashion by starting a rather expensive half-club, half-restaurant
in the lower part of the building--which he ruled somewhat
autocratically, as became his crest. The restaurant was too
expensive for me to patronize, but I saw many of its frequenters as
well as those who had rooms at the club. They were men of very
distinct personality; a few celebrated, and nearly all notorious.
They represented a Bohemianism--if such it could be called--less
innocent than my later experiences. I remember, however, one
handsome young fellow whom I used to meet occasionally on the
staircase, who captured my youthful fancy. I met him only at
midday, as he did not rise till late, and this fact, with a certain
scrupulous elegance and neatness in his dress, ought to have made
me suspect that he was a gambler. In my inexperience it only
invested him with a certain romantic mystery.

One morning as I was going out to my very early breakfast at a
cheap Italian cafe on Long Wharf, I was surprised to find him also
descending the staircase. He was scrupulously dressed even at that
early hour, but I was struck by the fact that he was all in black,
and his slight figure, buttoned to the throat in a tightly fitting
frock coat, gave, I fancied, a singular melancholy to his pale
Southern face. Nevertheless, he greeted me with more than his
usual serene cordiality, and I remembered that he looked up with a
half-puzzled, half-amused expression at the rosy morning sky as he
walked a few steps with me down the deserted street. I could not
help saying that I was astonished to see him up so early, and he
admitted that it was a break in his usual habits, but added with a
smiling significance I afterwards remembered that it was "an even
chance if he did it again." As we neared the street corner a man
in a buggy drove up impatiently. In spite of the driver's evident
haste, my handsome acquaintance got in leisurely, and, lifting his
glossy hat to me with a pleasant smile, was driven away. I have a
very lasting recollection of his face and figure as the buggy
disappeared down the empty street. I never saw him again. It was
not until a week later that I knew that an hour after he left me
that morning he was lying dead in a little hollow behind the
Mission Dolores--shot through the heart in a duel for which he had
risen so early.

I recall another incident of that period, equally characteristic,
but happily less tragic in sequel. I was in the restaurant one
morning talking to my cousin when a man entered hastily and said
something to him in a hurried whisper. My cousin contracted his
eyebrows and uttered a suppressed oath. Then with a gesture of
warning to the man he crossed the room quietly to a table where a
regular habitue of the restaurant was lazily finishing his
breakfast. A large silver coffee-pot with a stiff wooden handle
stood on the table before him. My cousin leaned over the guest
familiarly and apparently made some hospitable inquiry as to his
wants, with his hand resting lightly on the coffee-pot handle.
Then--possibly because, my curiosity having been excited, I was
watching him more intently than the others--I saw what probably no
one else saw--that he deliberately upset the coffee-pot and its
contents over the guest's shirt and waistcoat. As the victim
sprang up with an exclamation, my cousin overwhelmed him with
apologies for his carelessness, and, with protestations of sorrow
for the accident, actually insisted upon dragging the man upstairs
into his own private room, where he furnished him with a shirt and
waistcoat of his own. The side door had scarcely closed upon them,
and I was still lost in wonder at what I had seen, when a man
entered from the street. He was one of the desperate set I have
already spoken of, and thoroughly well known to those present. He
cast a glance around the room, nodded to one or two of the guests,
and then walked to a side table and took up a newspaper. I was
conscious at once that a singular constraint had come over the
other guests--a nervous awkwardness that at last seemed to make
itself known to the man himself, who, after an affected yawn or
two, laid down the paper and walked out.

"That was a mighty close call," said one of the guests with a sigh
of relief.

"You bet! And that coffee-pot spill was the luckiest kind of
accident for Peters," returned another.

"For both," added the first speaker, "for Peters was armed too, and
would have seen him come in!"

A word or two explained all. Peters and the last comer had
quarreled a day or two before, and had separated with the intention
to "shoot on sight," that is, wherever they met,--a form of duel
common to those days. The accidental meeting in the restaurant
would have been the occasion, with the usual sanguinary consequence,
but for the word of warning given to my cousin by a passer-by who
knew that Peters' antagonist was coming to the restaurant to look at
the papers. Had my cousin repeated the warning to Peters himself he
would only have prepared him for the conflict--which he would not
have shirked--and so precipitated the affray.

The ruse of upsetting the coffee-pot, which everybody but myself
thought an accident, was to get him out of the room before the
other entered. I was too young then to venture to intrude upon my
cousin's secrets, but two or three years afterwards I taxed him
with the trick and he admitted it regretfully. I believe that a
strict interpretation of the "code" would have condemned his act as
unsportsmanlike, if not UNFAIR!

I recall another incident connected with the building equally
characteristic of the period. The United States Branch Mint stood
very near it, and its tall, factory-like chimneys overshadowed my
cousin's roof. Some scandal had arisen from an alleged leakage of
gold in the manipulation of that metal during the various processes
of smelting and refining. One of the excuses offered was the
volatilization of the precious metal and its escape through the
draft of the tall chimneys. All San Francisco laughed at this
explanation until it learned that a corroboration of the theory had
been established by an assay of the dust and grime of the roofs in
the vicinity of the Mint. These had yielded distinct traces of
gold. San Francisco stopped laughing, and that portion of it which
had roofs in the neighborhood at once began prospecting. Claims
were staked out on these airy placers, and my cousin's roof, being
the very next one to the chimney, and presumably "in the lead," was
disposed of to a speculative company for a considerable sum. I
remember my cousin telling me the story--for the occurrence was
quite recent--and taking me with him to the roof to explain it, but
I am afraid I was more attracted by the mystery of the closely
guarded building, and the strangely tinted smoke which arose from
this temple where money was actually being "made," than by anything
else. Nor did I dream as I stood there--a very lanky, open-mouthed
youth--that only three or four years later I should be the
secretary of its superintendent. In my more adventurous ambition I
am afraid I would have accepted the suggestion half-heartedly.
Merely to have helped to stamp the gold which other people had
adventurously found was by no means a part of my youthful dreams.

At the time of these earlier impressions the Chinese had not yet
become the recognized factors in the domestic and business economy
of the city which they had come to be when I returned from the
mines three years later. Yet they were even then a more remarkable
and picturesque contrast to the bustling, breathless, and brand-new
life of San Francisco than the Spaniard. The latter seldom
flaunted his faded dignity in the principal thoroughfares. "John"
was to be met everywhere. It was a common thing to see a long file
of sampan coolies carrying their baskets slung between them, on
poles, jostling a modern, well-dressed crowd in Montgomery Street,
or to get a whiff of their burned punk in the side streets; while
the road leading to their temporary burial-ground at Lone Mountain
was littered with slips of colored paper scattered from their
funerals. They brought an atmosphere of the Arabian Nights into
the hard, modern civilization; their shops--not always confined at
that time to a Chinese quarter--were replicas of the bazaars of
Canton and Peking, with their quaint display of little dishes on
which tidbits of food delicacies were exposed for sale, all of the
dimensions and unreality of a doll's kitchen or a child's

They were a revelation to the Eastern immigrant, whose preconceived
ideas of them were borrowed from the ballet or pantomime; they did
not wear scalloped drawers and hats with jingling bells on their
points, nor did I ever see them dance with their forefingers
vertically extended. They were always neatly dressed, even the
commonest of coolies, and their festive dresses were marvels. As
traders they were grave and patient; as servants they were sad and
civil, and all were singularly infantine in their natural
simplicity. The living representatives of the oldest civilization
in the world, they seemed like children. Yet they kept their
beliefs and sympathies to themselves, never fraternizing with the
fanqui, or foreign devil, or losing their singular racial
qualities. They indulged in their own peculiar habits; of their
social and inner life, San Francisco knew but little and cared
less. Even at this early period, and before I came to know them
more intimately, I remember an incident of their daring fidelity to
their own customs that was accidentally revealed to me. I had
become acquainted with a Chinese youth of about my own age, as I
imagined,--although from mere outward appearance it was generally
impossible to judge of a Chinaman's age between the limits of
seventeen and forty years,--and he had, in a burst of confidence,
taken me to see some characteristic sights in a Chinese warehouse
within a stone's throw of the Plaza. I was struck by the singular
circumstance that while the warehouse was an erection of wood in
the ordinary hasty Californian style, there were certain brick and
stone divisions in its interior, like small rooms or closets,
evidently added by the Chinamen tenants. My companion stopped
before a long, very narrow entrance, a mere longitudinal slit in
the brick wall, and with a wink of infantine deviltry motioned me
to look inside. I did so, and saw a room, really a cell, of fair
height but scarcely six feet square, and barely able to contain a
rude, slanting couch of stone covered with matting, on which lay,
at a painful angle, a richly dressed Chinaman. A single glance at
his dull, staring, abstracted eyes and half-opened mouth showed me
he was in an opium trance. This was not in itself a novel sight,
and I was moving away when I was suddenly startled by the
appearance of his hands, which were stretched helplessly before him
on his body, and at first sight seemed to be in a kind of wicker

I then saw that his finger-nails were seven or eight inches long,
and were supported by bamboo splints. Indeed, they were no longer
human nails, but twisted and distorted quills, giving him the
appearance of having gigantic claws. "Velly big Chinaman,"
whispered my cheerful friend; "first-chop man--high classee--no can
washee--no can eat--no dlinke, no catchee him own glub allee same
nothee man--China boy must catchee glub for him, allee time! Oh,
him first-chop man--you bettee!"

I had heard of this singular custom of indicating caste before, and
was amazed and disgusted, but I was not prepared for what followed.
My companion, evidently thinking he had impressed me, grew more
reckless as showman, and saying to me, "Now me showee you one funny
thing--heap makee you laugh," led me hurriedly across a little
courtyard swarming with chickens and rabbits, when he stopped
before another inclosure. Suddenly brushing past an astonished
Chinaman who seemed to be standing guard, he thrust me into the
inclosure in front of a most extraordinary object. It was a
Chinaman, wearing a huge, square, wooden frame fastened around his
neck like a collar, and fitting so tightly and rigidly that the
flesh rose in puffy weals around his cheeks. He was chained to a
post, although it was as impossible for him to have escaped with
his wooden cage through the narrow doorway as it was for him to lie
down and rest in it. Yet I am bound to say that his eyes and face
expressed nothing but apathy, and there was no appeal to the
sympathy of the stranger. My companion said hurriedly,--

"Velly bad man; stealee heap from Chinamen," and then, apparently
alarmed at his own indiscreet intrusion, hustled me away as quickly
as possible amid a shrill cackling of protestation from a few of
his own countrymen who had joined the one who was keeping guard.
In another moment we were in the street again--scarce a step from
the Plaza, in the full light of Western civilization--not a stone's
throw from the courts of justice.

My companion took to his heels and left me standing there bewildered
and indignant. I could not rest until I had told my story, but
without betraying my companion, to an elder acquaintance, who laid
the facts before the police authorities. I had expected to be
closely cross-examined--to be doubted--to be disbelieved. To my
surprise, I was told that the police had already cognizance of
similar cases of illegal and barbarous punishments, but that the
victims themselves refused to testify against their countrymen--and
it was impossible to convict or even to identify them. "A white man
can't tell one Chinese from another, and there are always a dozen of
'em ready to swear that the man you've got isn't the one." I was
startled to reflect that I, too, could not have conscientiously
sworn to either jailor or the tortured prisoner--or perhaps even to
my cheerful companion. The police, on some pretext, made a raid upon
the premises a day or two afterwards, but without result. I
wondered if they had caught sight of the high-class, first-chop
individual, with the helplessly outstretched fingers, as that story
I had kept to myself.

But these barbaric vestiges in John Chinaman's habits did not
affect his relations with the San Franciscans. He was singularly
peaceful, docile, and harmless as a servant, and, with rare
exceptions, honest and temperate. If he sometimes matched cunning
with cunning, it was the flattery of imitation. He did most of the
menial work of San Francisco, and did it cleanly. Except that he
exhaled a peculiar druglike odor, he was not personally offensive
in domestic contact, and by virtue of being the recognized
laundryman of the whole community his own blouses were always
freshly washed and ironed. His conversational reserve arose, not
from his having to deal with an unfamiliar language,--for he had
picked up a picturesque and varied vocabulary with ease,--but from
his natural temperament. He was devoid of curiosity, and utterly
unimpressed by anything but the purely business concerns of those
he served. Domestic secrets were safe with him; his indifference
to your thoughts, actions, and feelings had all the contempt which
his three thousand years of history and his innate belief in your
inferiority seemed to justify. He was blind and deaf in your
household because you didn't interest him in the least. It was
said that a gentleman, who wished to test his impassiveness,
arranged with his wife to come home one day and, in the hearing of
his Chinese waiter who was more than usually intelligent--to
disclose with well-simulated emotion the details of a murder he had
just committed. He did so. The Chinaman heard it without a sign
of horror or attention even to the lifting of an eyelid, but
continued his duties unconcerned. Unfortunately, the gentleman, in
order to increase the horror of the situation, added that now there
was nothing left for him but to cut his throat. At this John
quietly left the room. The gentleman was delighted at the success
of his ruse until the door reopened and John reappeared with his
master's razor, which he quietly slipped--as if it had been a
forgotten fork--beside his master's plate, and calmly resumed his
serving. I have always considered this story to be quite as
improbable as it was inartistic, from its tacit admission of a
certain interest on the part of the Chinaman. I never knew one who
would have been sufficiently concerned to go for the razor.

His taciturnity and reticence may have been confounded with
rudeness of address, although he was always civil enough. "I see
you have listened to me and done exactly what I told you," said a
lady, commending some performance of her servant after a previous
lengthy lecture; "that's very nice." "Yes," said John calmly, "you
talkee allee time; talkee allee too much." "I always find Ling
very polite," said another lady, speaking of her cook, "but I wish
he did not always say to me, 'Goodnight, John,' in a high falsetto
voice." She had not recognized the fact that he was simply
repeating her own salutation with his marvelous instinct of
relentless imitation, even as to voice. I hesitate to record the
endless stories of his misapplication of that faculty which were
then current, from the one of the laundryman who removed the
buttons from the shirts that were sent to him to wash that they
might agree with the condition of the one offered him as a pattern
for "doing up," to that of the unfortunate employer who, while
showing John how to handle valuable china carefully, had the
misfortune to drop a plate himself--an accident which was followed
by the prompt breaking of another by the neophyte, with the
addition of "Oh, hellee!" in humble imitation of his master.

I have spoken of his general cleanliness; I am reminded of one or
two exceptions, which I think, however, were errors of zeal. His
manner of sprinkling clothes in preparing them for ironing was
peculiar. He would fill his mouth with perfectly pure water from a
glass beside him, and then, by one dexterous movement of his lips
in a prolonged expiration, squirt the water in an almost invisible
misty shower on the article before him. Shocking as this was at
first to the sensibilities of many American employers, it was
finally accepted, and even commended. It was some time after this
that the mistress of a household, admiring the deft way in which
her cook had spread a white sauce on certain dishes, was cheerfully
informed that the method was "allee same."

His recreations at that time were chiefly gambling, for the Chinese
theatre wherein the latter produced his plays (which lasted for
several months and comprised the events of a whole dynasty) was not
yet built. But he had one or two companies of jugglers who
occasionally performed also at American theatres. I remember a
singular incident which attended the debut of a newly arrived
company. It seemed that the company had been taken on their
Chinese reputation solely, and there had been no previous rehearsal
before the American stage manager. The theatre was filled with an
audience of decorous and respectable San Franciscans of both sexes.
It was suddenly emptied in the middle of the performance; the
curtain came down with an alarmed and blushing manager apologizing
to deserted benches, and the show abruptly terminated. Exactly
WHAT had happened never appeared in the public papers, nor in the
published apology of the manager. It afforded a few days' mirth
for wicked San Francisco, and it was epigrammatically summed up in
the remark that "no woman could be found in San Francisco who was
at that performance, and no man who was not." Yet it was alleged
even by John's worst detractors that he was innocent of any
intended offense. Equally innocent, but perhaps more morally
instructive, was an incident that brought his career as a
singularly successful physician to a disastrous close. An ordinary
native Chinese doctor, practicing entirely among his own
countrymen, was reputed to have made extraordinary cures with two
or three American patients. With no other advertising than this,
and apparently no other inducement offered to the public than what
their curiosity suggested, he was presently besieged by hopeful and
eager sufferers. Hundreds of patients were turned away from his
crowded doors. Two interpreters sat, day and night, translating
the ills of ailing San Francisco to this medical oracle, and
dispensing his prescriptions--usually small powders--in exchange
for current coin. In vain the regular practitioners pointed out
that the Chinese possessed no superior medical knowledge, and that
their religion, which proscribed dissection and autopsies,
naturally limited their understanding of the body into which they
put their drugs. Finally they prevailed upon an eminent Chinese
authority to give them a list of the remedies generally used in the
Chinese pharmacopoeia, and this was privately circulated. For
obvious reasons I may not repeat it here. But it was summed up--
again after the usual Californian epigrammatic style--by the remark
that "whatever were the comparative merits of Chinese and American
practice, a simple perusal of the list would prove that the Chinese
were capable of producing the most powerful emetic known." The
craze subsided in a single day; the interpreters and their oracle
vanished; the Chinese doctors' signs, which had multiplied,
disappeared, and San Francisco awoke cured of its madness, at the
cost of some thousand dollars.

My Bohemian wanderings were confined to the limits of the city, for
the very good reason that there was little elsewhere to go. San
Francisco was then bounded on one side by the monotonously restless
waters of the bay, and on the other by a stretch of equally
restless and monotonously shifting sand dunes as far as the Pacific
shore. Two roads penetrated this waste: one to Lone Mountain--the
cemetery; the other to the Cliff House--happily described as "an
eight-mile drive with a cocktail at the end of it." Nor was the
humor entirely confined to this felicitous description. The Cliff
House itself, half restaurant, half drinking saloon, fronting the
ocean and the Seal Rock, where disporting seals were the chief
object of interest, had its own peculiar symbol. The decanters,
wine-glasses, and tumblers at the bar were all engraved in old
English script with the legal initials "L. S." (Locus Sigilli),--
"the place of the seal."

On the other hand, Lone Mountain, a dreary promontory giving upon
the Golden Gate and its striking sunsets, had little to soften its
weird suggestiveness. As the common goal of the successful and
unsuccessful, the carved and lettered shaft of the man who had made
a name, and the staring blank headboard of the man who had none,
climbed the sandy slopes together. I have seen the funerals of the
respectable citizen who had died peacefully in his bed, and the
notorious desperado who had died "with his boots on," followed by
an equally impressive cortege of sorrowing friends, and often the
self-same priest. But more awful than its barren loneliness was
the utter absence of peacefulness and rest in this dismal
promontory. By some wicked irony of its situation and climate it
was the personification of unrest and change. The incessant trade
winds carried its loose sands hither and thither, uncovering the
decaying coffins of early pioneers, to bury the wreaths and
flowers, laid on a grave of to-day, under their obliterating waves.
No tree to shade them from the glaring sky above could live in
those winds, no turf would lie there to resist the encroaching sand
below. The dead were harried and hustled even in their graves by
the persistent sun, the unremitting wind, and the unceasing sea.
The departing mourner saw the contour of the very mountain itself
change with the shifting dunes as he passed, and his last look
beyond rested on the hurrying, eager waves forever hastening to the
Golden Gate.

If I were asked to say what one thing impressed me as the dominant
and characteristic note of San Francisco, I should say it was this
untiring presence of sun and wind and sea. They typified, even if
they were not, as I sometimes fancied, the actual incentive to the
fierce, restless life of the city. I could not think of San
Francisco without the trade winds; I could not imagine its strange,
incongruous, multigenerous procession marching to any other music.
They were always there in my youthful recollections; they were
there in my more youthful dreams of the past as the mysterious
vientes generales that blew the Philippine galleons home.

For six months they blew from the northwest, for six months from
the southwest, with unvarying persistency. They were there every
morning, glittering in the equally persistent sunlight, to chase
the San Franciscan from his slumber; they were there at midday, to
stir his pulses with their beat; they were there again at night, to
hurry him through the bleak and flaring gas-lit streets to bed.
They left their mark on every windward street or fence or gable, on
the outlying sand dunes; they lashed the slow coasters home, and
hurried them to sea again; they whipped the bay into turbulence on
their way to Contra Costa, whose level shoreland oaks they had
trimmed to windward as cleanly and sharply as with a pruning-
shears. Untiring themselves, they allowed no laggards; they drove
the San Franciscan from the wall against which he would have
leaned, from the scant shade in which at noontide he might have
rested. They turned his smallest fires into conflagrations, and
kept him ever alert, watchful, and eager. In return, they
scavenged his city and held it clean and wholesome; in summer they
brought him the soft sea-fog for a few hours to soothe his abraded
surfaces; in winter they brought the rains and dashed the whole
coast-line with flowers, and the staring sky above it with soft,
unwonted clouds. They were always there--strong, vigilant,
relentless, material, unyielding, triumphant.

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