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In that year a number of the missions were sold by public auction. The Indian converts, formerly attached to some of the missions, but now demoralized and wandering idly and miserably over the country, were ordered to return within a month to the few remaining missions, _or those also would be sold_. The Indians, having had enough of legislation and knowing the white man pretty well by this time, no doubt having had enough of him, returned not, and their missions were disposed of. Then the remaining missions were rented and the remnants divided into three parts: one kindly bestowed upon the missionaries, who were the founders and rightful owners of the missions; one upon the converted Indians, who seem to have vanished into thin air; one, the last, was supposed to be converted into a new Pious Fund of California for the further education and evangelization of the masses–whoever they might be. The general government had long been in financial distress, and had often borrowed–to put it mildly–from the friars in their more prosperous days. In 1831 the Mexican Congress owed the missions of California $450,000 of borrowed money; and in 1845 it left those missionaries absolutely penniless.

Let me not harp longer upon this theme, but end with a quotation from the pages of a non-Catholic historian. Referring to the Franciscans and their mission work on the Pacific coast, Josiah Joyce, assistant professor of philosophy in Harvard College, says:[1]

“No one can question their motives, nor may one doubt that their intentions were not only formally pious but truly humane. For the more fatal diseases that so-called civilization introduced among the Indians, only the soldiers and colonists of the presidios and pueblos were to blame; and the Fathers, well knowing the evil results of a mixed population, did their best to prevent these consequences, but in vain; since the neighborhood of a presidio was often necessary for the safety of a mission, and the introduction of a white colonist was an important part of the intentions of the home government. But, after all, upon this whole toil of the missions, considered in itself, one looks back with regret, as upon one of the most devout and praiseworthy of mortal efforts; and, in view of its avowed intentions, one of the most complete and fruitless of human failures. The missions have meant, for modern American California, little more than a memory, which now indeed is lighted up by poetical legends of many sorts. But the chief significance of the missions is simply that they first began the colonization of California.”

The old mission church as I knew it four and forty years ago is still standing and still an object of pious interest. The first families of the faithful lie under its eaves in their long and peaceful sleep, happily unmindful of the great changes that have come over the spirit of all our dreams. The old adobes have returned to dust, even as the hands of those who fashioned them more than a century ago. Very modern houses have crowded upon the old church and churchyard, and they seem to have become the merest shadows of their former selves; while the roof-tree of the new church soars into space, and its wide walls–out of all proportion with the Dolores of departed days–are but emblematic of the new spirit of the age.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: In “California,” 1886,–one of the admirable American Commonwealths Series.]

IX.

SOCIAL SAN FRANCISCO

Social San Francisco during the early Fifties seems to have been a conglomeration of unexpected externals and surprising interiors. It was heterogeneous to the last degree. It was hail-fellow-well-met, with a reservation; it asked no questions for conscience’s sake; it would not have been safe to do so. There were too many pasts in the first families and too many possible futures to permit one to cast a shadow upon the other. And after all is said, if sins may be forgiven and atoned for, why should the memory of a shady past imperil the happiness and prosperity of the future? All futures should be hopeful; they were “promise-crammed” in that healthy and hearty city by the sea.

It was impossible, not to say impolite, to inquire into your neighbors’ antecedents. It was currently believed that the mines were filled with broken-down “divines,” as if it were but a step from the pulpit to the pickaxe. As for one’s family, it was far better off in the old home so long as the salary of a servant was seventy dollars a month, fresh eggs a dollar and a quarter a dozen, turkeys ten dollars apiece, and coal fifty dollars a ton.

In 1854 and 1855 San Francisco had a monthly magazine that any city or state might have been proud of; this was _The Pioneer_, edited by the Rev. Ferdinand C. Ewer. In 1851, a lady, the wife of a physician, went with her husband into the mines and settled at Rich Bar and Indian Bar, two neighboring camps on the north fork of the Feather River. There were but three or four other women in that part of the country, and one of these died. This lady wrote frequent and lengthy descriptive letters to a sister in New England, and these letters were afterward published serially in _The Pioneer_. They picture life as a highly-accomplished woman knew it in the camps and among the people whom Bret Harte has immortalized. She called herself “Dame Shirley,” and the “Shirley Letters” in _The Pioneer_ are the most picturesque, vivid, and valuable record of life in a California mining camp that I know of. The wonder is that they have never been collected and published in book form; for they have become a part of the history of the development of the State.

The life of a later period in San Francisco and Monterey has been faithfully depicted by another hand. The life that was a mixture of Gringo and diluted Castilian–a life that smacked of the presidio and the hacienda,–that was a tale worth telling; and no one has told it so freely, so fully or so well as Gertrude Franklin Atherton.

“Dame Shirley” was Mrs. L.A.C. Clapp. When her husband died she went to San Francisco and became a teacher in the Union Street public school. It was this admirable lady who made literature my first love; and to her tender mercies I confided my maiden efforts in the art of composition. She readily forgave me then, and was the very first to offer me encouragement; and from that hour to this she has been my faithful friend and unfailing correspondent.

South Park and Rincon Hill! Do the native sons of the golden West ever recall those names and think what dignity they once conferred upon the favored few who basked in the sunshine of their prosperity? South Park, with its line of omnibuses running across the city to North Beach; its long, narrow oval, filled with dusty foliage and offering a very weak apology for a park; its two rows of houses with, a formal air, all looking very much alike, and all evidently feeling their importance. There were young people’s “parties” in those days, and the height of felicity was to be invited to them. As a height o’ertops a hollow, so Rincon Hill looked down upon South Park. There was more elbow-room on the breezy height; not that the height was so high or so broad, but it _was_ breezy; and there was room for the breeze to blow over gardens that spread about the detached houses their wealth of color and perfume.

How are the mighty fallen! The Hill, of course, had the farthest to fall. South Parkites merely moved out: they went to another and a better place. There was a decline in respectability and the rent-roll, and no one thinks of South Park now,–at least no one speaks of it above a whisper. As for the Hill, the Hillites hung on through everything; the waves of commerce washed all about it and began gnawing at its base; a deep gully was cut through it, and there a great tide of traffic ebbed and flowed all day. At night it was dangerous to pass that way without a revolver in one’s hand; for that city is not a city in the barbarous South Seas, whither preachers of the Gospel of peace are sent; but is a civilized city and proportionately unsafe.

A cross-street was lowered a little, and it leaped the chasm in an agony of wood and iron, the most unlovely object in a city that is made up of all unloveliness. The gutting of this Hill cost the city the fortunes of several contractors, and it ruined the Hill forever. There is nothing left to be done now but to cast it into the midst of the sea. I had sported on the green with the goats of goatland ere ever the stately mansion had been dreamed of; and it was my fate to set up my tabernacle one day in the ruins of a house that even then stood upon the order of its going,–it did go impulsively down into that “most unkindest cut,” the Second Street chasm. Even the place that once knew it has followed after.

The ruin I lived in had been a banker’s Gothic home. When Rincon Hill was spoiled by bloodless speculators, he abandoned it and took up his abode in another city. A tenant was left to mourn there. Every summer the wild winds shook that forlorn ruin to its foundations. Every winter the rains beat upon it and drove through and through it, and undermined it, and made a mush of the rock and soil about it; and later portions of that real estate deposited themselves, pudding-fashion, in the yawning abyss below.

I sat within, patiently awaiting the day of doom; for well I knew that my hour must come. I could not remain suspended in midair for any length of time: the fall of the house at the northwest corner of Harrison and Second Streets must mark my fall. While I was biding my time, there came to me a lean, lithe stranger. I knew him for a poet by his unshorn locks and his luminous eyes, the pallor of his face and his exquisitely sensitive hands. As he looked about my eyrie with aesthetic glance, almost his first words were: “What a background for a novel!” He seemed to relish it all–the impending crag that might topple any day or hour; the modest side door that had become my front door because the rest of the building was gone; the ivy-roofed, geranium-walled conservatory wherein I slept like a Babe in the Wood, but in densest solitude and with never a robin to cover me.

He liked the crumbling estate, and even as much of it as had gone down into the depths forever. He liked the sagging and sighing cypresses, with their roots in the air, that hung upon and clung upon the rugged edge of the remainder. He liked the shaky stairway that led to it (when it was not out of gear), and all that was irrelative and irrelevant; what might have been irritating to another was to him singularly appealing and engaging; for he was a poet and a romancer, and his name was Robert Louis Stevenson. He used to come to that eyrie on Rincon Hill to chat and to dream; he called it “the most San Francisco-ey part of San Francisco,” and so it was. It was the beginning and the end of the first period of social development on the Pacific coast. There is a picture of it, or of the South Park part of it, in Gertrude Atherton’s story, “The Californians.” The little glimpse that Louis Stevenson had of it in its decay gave him a few realistic pages for _The Wrecker_.

I have referred to the surprising interiors of the city in the Fifties. What I meant was this: there was not an alley so miserable and so muddy but somewhere in it there was pretty sure to be a cottage as demure in outward appearance as modesty itself. Nothing could be more unassuming: it had not even the air of genteel poverty. I think such an air was not to be thought of in those days: gentility kept very much to itself. As for poverty, it was a game that any one might play at any moment, and most had played at it.

This cottage stood there–I think I will say _sat_ there, it looked so perfectly resigned,–and no doubt commanded a rent quite out of proportion to its size. It had its shaky veranda and its French windows, and was lined with canvas; for there was not a trowel full of plaster in it. The ceiling bellied and flapped like an awning when the wind soughed through the clapboards; and the walls sometimes visibly heaved a sigh; but they were covered with panelled paper quite palatial in texture and design, and that is one thing that made those interiors surprising.

At the windows the voluminous lace draperies were almost overpowering. Satin lambrequins were festooned with colossal cord and tassels of bullion. A plate-glass mirror as wide as the mantel reflected the Florentine gilt carving of its own elaborate frame. There were bronzes on the mantel, and tall vases of Sevres, and statuettes of bisque brilliantly tinted. At the two sides of the mantel stood pedestals of Italian marble surmounted by urns of the most graceful and elegant proportions, and profusely ornamented with sculptured fruits and flowers. There was the old-fashioned square piano in its carven case, and cabinets from China or East India; also a lacquered Japanese screen, marble-topped tables of filigreed teek, brackets of inlaid ebony. Curios there were galore. Some paintings there were, and these rocked softly upon the gently-heaving walls. As for the velvet carpet, it was a bed of gigantic roses that might easily put to the blush the prime of summer in a queen’s garden.

I well remember another home in San Francisco, one that possessed for me the strongest attraction. It was bosomed in the sandhills south of Market Street,–I know not between what streets, for they had all been blurred or quite obliterated by drifts of sifting sand. It was a small house fenced about; but the fence was for the most part buried under sand, and looked as if it were a rampart erected for the defense of this isolated cot. Some few hardy flowers had been planted there, but they were knee-deep in sand, and their petals were full of grit. One usually blew into that house with a pinch of sand, but how good it was to be there!

Within those walls there was the unmistakable evidence of the feminine touch, the aesthetic influence that refines and beautifies everything. It was not difficult to idealize in that atmosphere. It was the home of a lady who chose to conceal her identity, though her pen-name was a household word from one end of the coast to the other. She was a star contributor to the weekly columns of the _Golden Era,_ a periodical we all subscribed for and were immensely proud of. It was unique in its way. Of late years I have found no literary journal to compare with it at its best. It introduced Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Prentice Mulford, Joaquin Miller, Ina Coolbrith, and many others, to their first circle of admirers. In the large mail-box at its threshold–a threshold I dared not cross for awe of it–I dropped my earliest efforts in verse, and then ran for fear of being caught in the act.

Imagine the joy of a lad whose ambition was to write something worth printing, and whose wildest dream was to be named some day with those who had won their laurels in the field of letters,–imagine his joy at being petted in the sanctum of one who was in his worshipful eyes the greatest lady in the land! About her were the trophies of her triumph, though she was personally known to few. Each post brought her tribute from the grateful hearts of her readers afar off in the mountain mining camps, and perhaps from beyond the Rockies; or, it may have been, from the unsuspecting admirer who lived just beyond the first sandhill. This was another surprising interior. There was plain living and high thinking in the midst of a wilderness that was, to say the least, uninviting; the windows rattled and the sand peppered them. Without was the abomination of desolation; but within the desert blossomed as the rose.

There were other homes as homely as the one I preferred–for there was sand enough to go round. It went round and round, as God probably intended it should, until a city sat upon it and kept it quiet. Some of these homes were perched upon solitary hilltops, and were lost to sight when the fog came in from the sea; and some were crowded into the thick of the town, with all sorts of queer people for neighbors. You could, had you chosen to, look out of a back window into a hollow square full of cats and rats and tin cans; and upon the three sides of the quadrangle which you were facing, you might have seen, unblushingly revealed, all the mysteries and miseries of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceanica; for they were all of them represented by delegates.

Of course there were handsome residences (not so very many of them as yet), where there was fine art–some of the finest. But often this art was to be found in the saloons, and the subjects chosen would hardly find entertainment elsewhere. The furnishing of the houses was within the bounds of good taste. Monumental marbles were not erected by the hearth-side; the window drapery was diaphanous rather than dense and dowdy. The markets of San Francisco were much to blame for the flashiness of the domestic interior: they were stocked with the gaudiest fixtures and textures, and in the inspection of them the eye was bewildered and the taste demoralized.

Harmony survived the inharmonious, and it prevailed in the homes of the better classes, as it was bound to do; for refinement had set its seal there, and you can not counterfeit the seal of refinement. But I am inclined to think that in the Fifties there was a natural tendency to overdress, to over-decorate, to overdo almost everything. Indeed the day was demonstrative; if the now celebrated climate had not yet been elaborately advertised, no doubt there was something hi it singularly bracing. The elixir of it got into the blood and the brain, and perhaps the bones as well. The old felt younger than they did when they left “the States,”–the territory from the Rockies to the Atlantic Ocean was commonly known as “the States.” The middle-aged renewed their youth, and youth was wild with an exuberance of health and hope and happiness that seemed to give promise of immortality.

No wonder that it was thought an honor to be known as the first white child born in San Francisco–I’d think it such myself,–and I’m proud to state that all three claimants are my personal friends.

X.

HAPPY VALLEY

How well I remember it–the Happy Valley of the days of old! It lay between California Street and Rincon Point; was bounded on the east by the Harbor of San Francisco, and on the west by the mission peaks. I never knew just why it was called _happy_; I never saw any wildly-happy inhabitants singing or dancing for joy on its sometimes rather indefinite street corners. If there is happiness in sand, then, happily, it was sandy. You might have climbed knee-deep up some parts of it and slid down on the other side; you could have played at “hide-and-seek” among its shifting undulations. From what is now known as Nob Hill you could have looked across it to the heights of Rincon Point–and, perchance, have looked in vain for happiness. Yet who or what is happiness? A flying nymph whose airy steps even the sand can not stay for long.

Down through this Happy Valley ran Market Street, a bias cut across the city that was to be. Market Street is about all that saved that city from making a checker-board of its ground-plan. Market Street flew off at a tangent and set all the south portion of the town at an angle that is rather a relief than anything else that I know of. Who wants to go on forever up one street and down another, and then across town at right angles, as if life were a treadmill and there were no hope of change until the great change comes?

Happy Valley! I remember one cool twilight when a “prairie schooner,” that was time-worn and weather-beaten, drifted down Montgomery Street from Market Street, and rounded the corner of Sutter Street, where it hove to. You know the “prairie schooner” was the old-time emigrant wagon that was forever crossing the plains in Forty-nine and the early Fifties. It was scow-built, hooded from end to end, freighted with goods and chattels; and therein the whole family lived and moved and had its being during the long voyage to the Pacific Coast.

On this twilight evening the captain of the schooner, assisted by a portion of his crew, deliberately took down part of the fence which enclosed a sand-lot bounded by Montgomery, Sutter and Post Streets; driving into the centre of the lot; the horses–four jaded beasts–were turned loose, and soon a camp-fire was lighted and the entire emigrant family gathered about it to partake of the evening meal. On this lot now stands the Lick House and the Masonic Hall–undreamed of in those days. No one seemed in the least surprised to find in the very heart of the city a scene such as one might naturally look for in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and the wilds of the great desert, or the heights of the Humboldt. No doubt they thought it a Happy Valley; and well they might, for they had reached their journey’s end.

A stone’s throw from that twilight camp, on the south side of Market Street, stood old St. Patrick’s Church. It was a most unpretending structure, and was quite overshadowed by the R.C. Orphan Asylum close at hand. Both were backed by sandhills; and both, together with the sand, have been spirited away. The Palace and Grand Hotels now stand on the spot. The original St. Patrick’s still exists; and, after one or two transportations, has come to a final halt near the Catholic cemetery under the shadow of Lone Mountain. It must be ever dear to me, for within its modest rectory I met the first Catholic clergyman I ever became acquainted with; and within it I grew familiar with the offices of the Church; though I was instructed by the Rev. Father Accolti, S.J., at old St. Ignatius’, on Market Street; and by him baptized at the St. Mary’s Cathedral, on the corner of California and Dupont Streets, now the church of the Paulist Fathers. I have referred to dear old St. Patrick’s–which was dedicated on the first Sunday in September, 1851–in the story of my conversion, a little bit of autobiography entitled “A Troubled Heart, and How It was Comforted at Last.” The late Peter H. Burnett, first Governor of California, was my godfather.

In 1855 St. Mary’s Cathedral was the handsomest house of worship in the city. For the most part, the churches of all denominations were of the plainest, not to say cheapest, order of architecture. As a youth, I sat in the family pew in the First Presbyterian Church, situated on Stockton Street, near Broadway. Well I remember my father, with others of the congregation–all members of the Vigilance Committee,–at the sound of the alarm-bell, rising in the midst of the sermon and striding out of the house to take arms in defence of law and order.

Perhaps the saddest sights in those early days were the neglected cemeteries. There was one at North Beach, where before 1850 there were eight hundred and forty interments. It was on the slope of Telegraph Hill. The place was neglected; a street had been cut through it, and on the banks of this street we could, at intervals, see the ends of coffins protruding. Some were broken and falling apart; some were still sound. It was a gruesome sight.

There were a few Russian graves on Russian Hill, a forlorn spot in those days; but perhaps the forlornest of all was Yerba Buena cemetery, where previous to 1854 four thousand and five hundred bodies had been buried. It was half-way between Happy Valley and the Mission Dolores. The sand there was tossed in hillocks like the waves of a sandy sea. There the chaparral grew thickest; and there the scrub-oaks shrugged their shoulders and turned their backs to the wind, and grew all lopsided, with leafage as dense as moss.

No fence enclosed this weird spot. The sand sifted into it and through it and out on the other, side; it made graves and uncovered them; it had ever a new surprise for us. We boys haunted it in ghoulish pairs, and whispered to each other as we found one more coffin coming to the surface, or searched in vain for the one we had seen the week before; it had been mercifully reburied by the winds. There were rude headboards, painted in fading colors; and beneath them lay the dead of all nations, soon to be nameless. By and by they were all carried hence; and those that were far away, watching and waiting for the loved and absent adventurers, watched and waited in vain. A change come o’er the spirit of the place. The site is now marked by the New City Hall–in all probability the most costly architectural monstrosity on this continent.

“From grave to gay” is but a step; “from lively to severe,” another,–I know not which of the two is longer. It was literally from grave to gay when the old San Franciscans used to wade through the sandy margin of Yerba Buena cemetery in search of pleasure at Russ’ Garden on the mission road. It flourished in the early Fifties–this very German garden, the pride and property of Mr. Christian Russ. It was a little bit of the Fatherland, transported as if by magic and set down among the hillocks toward the Mission Dolores. Well I remember being taken there at intervals, to find little tables in artificial bowers, where sat whole families as sedate, or merry, and as much at ease as if they were in their own homes. They would spend Sunday there, after Mass. There was always something to be seen, to be listened to, to be done. Meals were served at all hours, and beer at all minutes; and the program contained a long list of attractions,–enough to keep one interested till ten or eleven o’clock at night.

I can remember how scanty the foliage was–it resembled a little the toy-villages that are made in the Tyrol, having each of them a handful of impossible trees that breathe not balsam, but paint. I remember the high wind that blew in bravely from the sea; the pavilion that was a wonder-world of never-failing attractiveness; and how on a certain occasion I watched with breathless anxiety and dumb amazement a man, who seemed to have discarded every garment common to the race, wheel a wheelbarrow with a grooved wheel up a tight rope stretched from the ground to the outer peak of the pavilion; and all the time there was a man in the wheelbarrow who seemed paralyzed with fright,–as no doubt he was. The man who wheeled the barrow was the world-famous Blondin.

[Illustration: Russ Gardens, 1856]

Another sylvan retreat was known as “The Willows.” There were some willows there, but I fear they were numbered; and there was an _al fresco_ theatre such as one sees in the Champs-Elysees; indeed, the place had quite a Frenchy atmosphere, and was not at all German, as was Russ’ Garden. French singers sang French songs upon the stage–it was not much larger than a sounding-board.

An air of gaiety prevailed; for I imagine the majority of the _habitues_ were from the French Quarter of the city. Of course there were birds and beasts, and cages populous with monkeys; and there was an emeu–the weird bird that can not fly, the Australian cassowary. This bird inspired Bret Harte to song, and in his early days he wrote “The Ballad of the Emeu”;

O say, have you seen at the willows so green, So charming and rurally true,
A singular bird, with the manner absurd, Which they call the Australian emeu?
Have you
Ever seen this Australian emeu?

I fear the poet was moved to sarcasm when he sang of “the willows so green, so charming and rurally true.” Surely they were greener than any other trees we had in town; for we had almost none, save a few dark evergreens. Well, the place was charming in its way, and as rurally true as anything could be expected to be on that peninsula in its native wilderness. The Willows and Russ’ Garden had their day, and it was a jolly day. They were good for the people–those rural resorts; they were rest for the weary, refreshment for the hungry and thirsty–and they have gone; even their very sites are now obliterated, and the new generation has perhaps never even heard of them.

How we wondered at and gloried in the Oriental Hotel! It was the queen of Western hostelries, and stood at the corner of Battery and Bush Streets. And the Tehama House, so famous in its day! It was Lieutenant G.H. Derby, better known in letters as John Phoenix, and Squibob–names delightfully associated with the early history of California,–it was this Lieutenant Derby, one of the first and best of Western humorists, who added interest to the hotel by writing “A Legend of the Tehama House.” It begins, chapter first:

“It was evening at the Tehama. The apothecary, whose shop formed the southeastern corner of that edifice, had lighted his lamps, which, shining through those large glass bottles in the window, filled with red and blue liquors–once supposed by this author, when young and innocent, to be medicines of the most potent description,–lit up the faces of the passers-by with an unearthly glare, and exaggerated the general redness and blueness of their noses.”

The third and last chapter concludes with these words: “The Tehama House is still there.” The laughter-making and laughter-loving Phoenix has long since gone to his reward. Of the Oriental Hotel scarcely a tradition remains. The Tehama House–what there is left of it–has been spirited to the north side of Broadway within a stone’s-throw of the city and county jail. The cliffs of Telegraph Hill browbeat it. It is, one might say, the last of its race.

Another hospice–if it _was_ a hospice–I remember. It stood on the corner of Clay and Sansome Streets, and was a very ordinary building, erected over the hulk of a ship that had been stranded there in the days of Forty-nine. I saw the building torn down and the bones of the hulk disinterred years after the water lots that had been filled in for several squares, between it and the old harbor, were covered with substantial buildings. When that bark was buoyant it had weathered Cape Horn with a small army of argonauts. They had gone their way to dusty death; she had buried her nose on the water-front and had been smothered to death in the mire. Docks, streets, grew up around her; a building had snuffed her out of sight and mind. The old building gave place to a new one; the bark was resurrected in order to lay a solid foundation for the new block that was to be. In the hold of this forgotten bark was discovered a forgotten case of champagne. It had been sunk in mud and ooze for years. When the bottles were opened the corks refused to pop, and nobody dared to touch the “bilge” that was within. All this was on the happy hem of Happy Valley–and still I was not happy.

XI.

THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE

It was May 14, 1856. I chanced to be standing at the northwest corner of Washington and Montgomery Streets, watching the world go by. It was a queer world: very much mixed, not a little fantastic in manner and costume; just the kind of world to delight a boy, and no doubt I was delighted.

“Bang!” It was a pistol-shot, and very near me–not thirty feet away. I turned and saw a man stagger and fall to the pavement. Then the streets began to grow dark with people hurrying toward the scene of the tragedy. I fled in fright; I had had my fill of horrors. The pistol-shot was familiar enough: it punctuated the hours of day and night out yonder. But I had never witnessed a murder, and this was evidently one.

When I reached home I was dazed. On the witness stand, under oath, I could have told nothing; but very shortly the whole town was aware that James King–known as James King of William (i.e., William King was his father)–the editor of the _Evening Bulletin_ had been shot in cold blood by James Casey, a supervisor, the editor of a local journal, an unprincipled politician, an ex-convict, and a man whose past had been exposed and his present publicly denounced in the editorial columns of the _Bulletin_.

This climax precipitated a general movement toward social and political reform in San Francisco. It was James P. Casey, a graduate of the New York state-prison at Sing Sing, who stuffed a ballot-box with tickets bearing his own name upon them as candidate for supervisor, and as a result of this stuffing declared himself elected. Casey was hurried off to jail by his friends, lest the outraged populace should lynch him on the spot. A mob gathered at the jail. The mayor of the city harangued the people in favor of law and order. They jeered him and remained there most of the night. One leading spirit might have roused the masses to riot; but the hour was not yet ripe.

In 1851 a Vigilance Committee had endeavored to purge the politics of the town and rid it of the criminals who had foisted themselves into office. Some ex-members of this committee became active members of the committee of 1856. Chief among them was William T. Coleman, a name deservedly honored in the annals of San Francisco.

James King of William was shot on Tuesday, the 14th of May. He died on the following Monday. That fatal shot was the turning-point in the history of the metropolis of the Pacific. A meeting of the citizens was immediately called; an executive committee was appointed; the work of organization was distributed among the sub-committees. With amazing rapidity three thousand citizens were armed, drilled, and established in temporary armories; ample means were subscribed to cover all expenses. Several companies of militia disbanded rather than run the risk of being called into service against the Vigilantis; they then joined the committee, armed with their own muskets. Arms were obtained from every quarter, and soon there was an ample supply. A building on Sacramento Street, below Battery, was secured and made headquarters of the committee. A kind of fortification built of potato sacks filled with sand was erected in front of it. It was known as Fort Gunny Bags. This secured an open space before the building. The fort was patrolled by sentinels night and day; military rule was strictly observed.

All things having been arranged silently, secretly, decently and in order–the members of the committee were under oath as well as under arms–they decided to take matters into their own hands; and in order to do this Casey must be removed from jail–peaceably if possible, forcibly if necessary–and given a lodging and a trial at Fort Gunny Bags.

On Sunday morning, the 19th of May, chancing be under the weather, and consequently at home sitting by a window, I saw people flocking past the house and hastening toward the jail. We were then living on Broadway, below Montgomery Street; the jail was on Broadway, a square or two farther up the street; between us was a shoulder of Telegraph Hill not yet cut away, though it had been blasted out of shape and an attempt had been made to tunnel it. The young Californian of that day was keen-scented and lost no opportunity of seeing whatever was to be seen. Forgetting my distemper, I grabbed my cap and joined the expectant throngs. We went over the heights of the hill like a flock of goats: we were used to climbing. On the other edge of the cliff, where we seemed almost to overhang the jail and the street in front of it, we paused and caught our breath. What a sight it was! It seems that on Saturday twenty-four companies of Vigilantis were ordered to meet at their respective armories, in various parts of the city, at nine o’clock on Sunday morning. Orders were given to each captain to take up a certain position near the jail. The jail was surrounded: no one could approach it, no one escape from it, without leave of the commanders of the committee.

The streets glistened with bayonets. It was as if the city were in a state of siege; so indeed it was. The companies marched silently, ominously, without music or murmur, to their respective stations. Citizens–non-combatants but all sympathizers–flocked in and covered the housetops and the heights in the vicinity. A hollow square was formed before the jail; an artillery company with a huge brass cannon halted near it; the cannon was placed directly in front of the jail and trained upon the gates. I remember how impressive the scene was: the grim files of infantry; the gleaming brass of the cannon; one closed carriage within the hollow square; the awful stillness that brooded over all.

[Illustration: Certificate of Membership, Vigilance Committee, 1856]

Two Vigilance officials went to the door of the jail and informed Sheriff Scannell that they had come to take Casey with them. Resistance was now useless; the door of the jail was thrown open to them and they entered. At their approach Casey begged leave to speak for ten minutes in his own defense,–he evidently expected to be executed on the instant. He was assured that he should have a fair trial, and that his testimony should be deliberately weighed in the balance. This act of an outraged and disgusted people was one of the calmest, coolest, wisest, most deliberate on record. Law, order, and justice were at bay. Casey, under guard, walked quietly to the carriage and entered it. In the jail at the time was Charles Cora, a man who had murdered United States Marshal Richardson. He had been tried once; but then the jury disagreed–as they nearly always agreed to in those barbarous days. Hanging was almost out of the question. Cora was invited to enter the carriage with Casey, and the two were driven under military escort to Fort Gunny Bags.

On the day following, Monday, James King of William died. On Tuesday Casey was tried by the executive committee. John S. Hittell, the historian of San Francisco, says:

“No person was present at the trial save the accused, the members of the Vigilance Committee, and witnesses. The testimony was given under oath, though there was no lawful authority for its administration. Hearsay testimony was excluded; the general rules of evidence observed in the courts were adopted: the accused heard all the witnesses, cross-examined those against him, summoned such as he wanted in his favor, had an attorney to assist him, and was permitted to make an argument by himself or his attorney, in his own defence.”

Casey and Cora were both convicted: their guilt was beyond the shadow of a doubt.

On Wednesday James King of William was laid to rest at Lone Mountain. The whole city was draped in mourning; all business was suspended; the citizens lined the streets through which the feral cortege proceeded, or followed it until it seemed interminable.

As that procession passed up Montgomery Street and crossed Sacramento Street, those who were walking or driving in it looked down the latter street and saw, two squares below, the lifeless bodies of James P. Casey and Charles Cora dangling by the neck from two second-story windows of the headquarters of the Vigilance Committee. Justice was enthroned at last.

“The Vigilance Committees of San Francisco in 1851 and 1856,” as Hittell says, “were in many important respects unlike any other extra-judicial movement to administer justice. They were not common mobs: they were organized for weeks or months of labor, deliberate in their movements, careful to keep records of their proceedings, strictly attentive to the rules of evidence and the penalties for crime accepted by civilized nations; confident of their power, and of their justification by public opinion; and not afraid of taking the public responsibility of their acts.”

The committee of 1856 was never formally dissolved. The reformation it had accomplished rendered it inactive. Some of the worst criminals in California had been officials. A thousand homicides had been committed in the city between 1849 and 1856, and there were but seven executions in seven years.

Richard Henry Dana, Jr., the author of “Two Years before the Mast,” who spent the greater portion of two years–1834-35–on the coast of California, and who revisited the Pacific coast in 1859, observes:

“And now the most quiet and well-governed city in the United States is San Francisco. But it has been through its seasons of heaven-defying crime and violence and blood; from which it was rescued and handed back to soberness and morality and good government by that peculiar invention of Anglo-Saxon republican America–the solemn, awe-inspiring Vigilance Committee of the most grave and respectable citizens; the last resort of the thinking and the good, taken only when vice, fraud, and ruffianism had entrenched themselves behind the forms of law, suffrage, and ballot.”

San Francisco was undoubtedly the most disreputable city in the Union. It is now one of the most reputable. As I think of it to-day there is no shudder in the thought. And yet I saw James King of William shot; I saw Casey and Cora transferred from the jail to the headquarters of the Vigilance Committee; and I saw them hanging as the body of James King of William was being borne by a whole city, bowed in grief, to his last resting-place. And my venerated father was a member of that never-to-be-forgotten Vigilance Committee of San Francisco in the year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty-six.

XII.

THE SURVIVOR’S STORY

It is not much of a story. It is only the mild adventure of a boy at sea; and of a small, sad boy at that. This boy had an elder brother who was ill; and the physicians in consultation had decided that a long sea-voyage was his only hope, and that even in this case the hope was a very faint one.

There was a ship at anchor in the harbor of San Francisco,–a very famous clipper, one of those sailors of the sea known as Ocean Greyhounds. She was built for speed, and her record was a brilliant one; under the guidance of her daring captain, she had again and again proved herself worthy of her name. She was called the _Flying Cloud_. Her cabins were luxuriously furnished; for in those days seafarers were oftener blown about the world by the four winds of heaven than propelled by steam. Yet when the _Flying Cloud_, one January day, tripped anchor and set sail, there were but three strangers on the quarter-deck–a middle-aged gentleman in search of health, the invalid brother, in his eighteenth year, and the small, sad boy.

[Illustration: West from Black Point, 1856]

The captain’s wife, a lady of Salem who had followed him from sea to sea for many a year, was the joy and salvation of that forlorn little company. How forlorn it was only the survivor knows, and he knows well enough. Forty years have scarcely dimmed the memory of it. Through all the wear and tear of time the remembrance of that voyage has at intervals haunted him: the length of it, the weariness of it, and the almost unbroken monotony stretching through the ninety odd days that dawned and darkened between San Francisco and New York; the solitary sail that was blown on and on, and becalmed and buffeted between the blue waste of waters and the blue waste of sky; the lonesomeness of it all–no land, no lights flashing across the sea in glad assurance; no passing ships to hail us with faint-voiced “Ahoy!”–only the ever-tossing waves, the trailing sea-gardens, the tireless birds of the air and the monsters of the deep.

Ah, well-a-day! There was a solemn and hushed circle listening to family prayers that morning,–the morning of the 4th of January. The father’s voice trembled as he opened the Bible and read from that beautiful psalm:

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep. For He commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven; they go down again to the depths; their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so He bringeth them unto their desired haven. Oh, that men would praise the Lord for His goodness and for His wonderful works to the children of men!”

The small, sad boy looked smaller and sadder than ever as he stood on the deck of the _Flying Cloud_ and waved his last farewell. He tried his best to be manly and to swallow the heart that was leaping in his throat, and at the earliest possible moment he flew to his journal and made his first entry there. He was going to keep a journal because his brother kept one, and because it was the proper thing to keep a journal at sea–no ship is complete without its log, you know; and, moreover, I think it was a custom in that family to keep a journal; for it was, more or less, a journalistic family.

Now we are nearing the anniversary of that boy’s journal: it runs through January, February and March; it is more than forty years old this minute. And because it is a boy’s journal, and the boy was small and sad, I’m going to peep into it and fish out a line or two. With an effort he made this entry:

“CLIPPER SHIP, FLYING CLOUD,
“January 4, 1857.

“I watched them till we were out of sight of them, and then began to look about to see what I could see. It begins to get rough. I tried to see home, but I could not. The pilot says he will take a letter ashore for us. Now I will go to bed.”

Then he cried unto the Lord in his trouble with a heart as heavy as lead.

“JAN. 5.–The day rather rough, with little squalls of rain. We are passing the Farallone Islands, but I feel too bad to sketch them. I get homesick when I think of the dear ones I left behind me. I hope I may see them all in this world again.”

That was the gray beginning of a voyage that had very little color in it. The coast-line sank apace; the gray rocks–the Farallones, the haunt of the crying gull–dissolved in the gray mist. The hours were all alike: all dismal and slow-footed.

“I don’t feel very well to-day,” said the small, sad boy, quite plaintively. On the 6th he brightens and begins to take notice. History would have less to fasten on were there not some such entries as this:

“A list of our live-stock: 17 pigs; 12 dozen hens and roosters; 3 turkeys; 1 gobbler; a cockatoo and a wild-cat. We have a fair breeze, and carry 26 sails.

“JAN. 7.–The day is calm. I began to read ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ I like it. The captain’s wife was going to train the wild-cat when it bit her–but not very hard.

“8.–There was not much wind to-day. We fished for sea-gulls and caught four. I caught one and let it go again. Two hens flew overboard. The sailors in a boat got one of them; the gulls killed one.

“9.–The day has been rather gloomy. I caught another sea-gull but let him go again. On deck nearly all day.

“10.–The cockatoo sits on deck and talks and talks.

“11.–It makes me feel bad when I think of home. I want to be there.”

The long, long weary days dragged on. It is thought worth while to note that there were fresh eggs for breakfast, fresh pork for dinner, fresh chicken for supper; that a porpoise had been captured, and that his carcass yielded “three gallons of oil as good as sperm oil”; that no ship had been seen–“no sail from day to day”; that they were in the latitude of Panama; that it was squally or not squally, as the case might be; that on one occasion they captured “four barrels of oil,” the flotsam of some ill-fated whaler, and that it all proved “very exciting”; that a dolphin was captured, and that he died in splendor, passing through the whole gamut of the rainbow–that the words of tradition might be fulfilled; that the hens had suffered no sea-change, but had contributed from a dozen to two dozen eggs per day. Still stretched the immeasurable waste of waters to the horizon line on every hand. Day by day the small boy made his entries; but he seemed to be running down, like a clock, and needed winding up. This is how his record dwindled:

“JAN. 20.–The day is very pleasant, with some wind. We crossed the equator. I sat up in one of the boats a long time. I wish my little brothers were here to play with me.

“21.–The day is very pleasant, with a good breeze. We are going ten or eleven knots an hour.

“22.–The day is very pleasant. A nine-knot breeze. Nothing new happened to-day.

“23.–The day is pleasant. Six-knot breeze.”

It came to pass that the small, sad boy, wearying of “Uncle Tom” and his “cabin,” was driven to extremes; and, having obtained leave of the captain–who was autocrat of all his part of the world,–he climbed into one of the ship’s boats, as it hung in the davits over the side of the vessel. It was an airy voyage he took there, sailing between sea and sky, soaring up and down with the rolling vessel, like a bird upon the wing.

He rigged a tiny mast there–it was a walking-stick that ably served this purpose; the captain’s wife provided sails no larger than handkerchiefs. With thread-like ropes and pencil spars he set his sails for dreamland. One day the wind bothered him; he could not trim his canvas, and in desperation he set it dead against the wind, and then the sails were filled almost to bursting. But his navigation was at fault; for he was heading in a direction quite opposite to the _Flying Cloud_.

Then came a facetious sailor and whispered to him: “Do you want ever to get to New York?”–“Yes, I do,” said the little captain of the midair craft.–“Well, then, you’d better haul in sail; for you’re set dead agin us now.” The sails were struck on the instant and never unfurled again.

I wonder why some people are so very inconsiderate when they speak to children, especially to simple or sensitive children? The small, sad boy took it greatly to heart, and was cast down because he feared that he might have delayed the bark that bore him all too slowly toward the far-distant port. This was indeed simplicity of the deepest dye, and something of that simplicity the boy was never to escape unto the end of time. We are as God made us, and we must in all cases put up with ourselves.

What a lonely voyage was that across the vast and vacant sea! Now and then a distant sail glimmered upon the horizon, but disappeared like a vanishing snowflake. The equator was crossed; the air grew colder; storm and calm followed each other; the daily entry now becomes monotonous.

“FEBRUARY 2.–To-day for the first time we saw an albatross.

“7.–Rather rough and cold; I have spent all day in the cabin. It makes me homesick to have such weather.

“14.–I rose at five o’clock and went on deck, and before long saw land. It was Terra del Fuego; it was a beautiful sight. Here lay a pretty island, there a towering precipice, and over yonder a mountain covered with snow. We made the fatal Cape Horn at two o’clock, and passed it at four o’clock. Now we are in the Atlantic Ocean.

“WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY.–Rough weather: a sixteen-knot breeze. To-day we got our one thousandth egg, and the hens are doing well. At twelve–eight bells–we saw a sail on our weather-bow: she was going the same way as we were. At two, we overtook and spoke her. She was the whaler _Scotland_ from New Zealand, bound for New Bedford, with thirty-five hundred barrels of oil. We soon passed her. I wish her good luck.”

I will no longer stretch the small, sad boy upon the rack of his dull journal. He had a glimpse at Juan Fernandez, but the island of his dreams was so far off that he had to climb to the maintop in order to get a sight of its shadowy outline. When it had faded away like the clouds, the lonely little fellow cried himself to sleep for love of his Robinson Crusoe.

One night the moon–a large, mellow tropical one,–rose from a bank of cloud so like a mountain’s chain that the small one clapped his hands in glee and cried: “Land ho!” But, alas! it was only cloud-land; and his eyes, that were starving for a sight of God’s green earth, were again bedewed. Indeed he was bound for a distant shore, a voyage of ninety-one days; and during all that voyage he was in sight of land for five days only. It may be said that the port he was bound for, and where he was destined to pass two years at school, four thousand miles from his own people, may be called “The Vale of Tears.”

Off the Brazilian coast a head-wind forced the ship to tack repeatedly; she was sometimes so near the land that people could be seen moving, like black dots, along the shore. Native fishermen, mounted upon the high seats of their catamarans–the frailest rafts,–drifted within hailing distance; and over night the brave ship was within almost speaking distance of Pernambuco. The lights of the city were like a bed of glowworms,–but the small, sad boy was blown off into the sea again, for his hour had not yet come.

Here is the last entry I shall weary you with, for I would not abuse your patience:

“APRIL 5, 1857.–I was _awoke_ this morning by the noise the pilot made in getting on board. At ten o’clock the steam-tug Hercules took us in tow. We had beautiful views of the shore [God knows how beautiful they were in his eyes!], and at three o’clock we were at the Astor House, with Captain and Mrs. Cresey, Mr. Connor, and the Stoddard boys–all of the _Flying Cloud_,–where we retired to soft beds to spend the night.”

There is a plaintive touch in that reference to _soft beds_ after three months in the straight and narrow bunk of a ship. And there is more pathos in all those childish pages than you wot of; for, alas and alas! I am the sole survivor,–I was that small, sad boy; and I alone am left to tell the tale.

A BIT OF OLD CHINA

“It is but a step from Confucius to confusion,” said I, in a brief discussion of the Chinese question. “Then let us take it by all means,” replied the artist, who had been an indulgent listener for at least ten minutes. We were strolling upon the verge of the Chinese Quarter in San Francisco, and, turning aside from one of the chief thoroughfares of the city, we plunged into the busiest portion of Chinatown. From our standpoint–the corner of Kearny and Sacramento Streets–we got the most favorable view of our Mongolian neighbors. Here is a goodly number of merchant gentlemen of wealth and station, comfortably, if not elegantly, housed on two sides of a street that climbs a low hill quite in the manner of a tea-box landscape.

A few of these gentlemen lodge on the upper floors of their business houses, with Chinese wives, and quaint, old-fashioned children gaudily dressed, looking like little idols, chatting glibly with one another, and gracefully gesticulating with hands of exquisite slenderness. Confucius, in his infancy, may have been like one of the least of these. There are white draymen and porters in the employ of these shrewd and civil merchants, and the outward appearance of traffic, as conducted in the immediate vicinity, is rather American than otherwise.

Farther up the hill, on Dupont Street, from California to Pacific Streets, the five blocks are almost monopolized by the Chinese. There is, at first, a sprinkling of small shops in the hands of Jews and Gentiles, and a mingling of Chinese bazaars of the half-caste type, where American and English goods are exposed in the show windows; but as we pass on the Asiatic element increases, and finally every trace of alien produce is withdrawn from the shelves and counters.

Here little China flaunts her scarlet streamers overhead, and flanks her doors with legends in saffron and gold; even its window panes have a foreign look, and within is a glimmering of tinsel, a subdued light, and china lamps flickering before graven images of barbaric hideousness. The air is laden with the fumes of smoking sandal-wood and strange odors of the East; and the streets, swarming with coolies, resound with the echoes of an unknown tongue. There is hardly room for us to pass; we pick our way, and are sometimes curiously regarded by slant-eyed pagans, who bear us no good-will, if that shadow of scorn in the face has been rightly interpreted. China is not more Chinese than this section of our Christian city, nor the heart of Tartary less American.

Turn which way we choose, within two blocks, on either hand we find nothing but the infinitely small and astonishingly numerous forms of traffic on which the hordes around us thrive. No corner is too cramped for the squatting street cobbler; and as for the pipe cleaners, the cigarette rollers, the venders of sweetmeats and conserves, they gather on the curb or crouch under overhanging windows, and await custom with the philosophical resignation of the Oriental.

On Dupont Street, between Clay and Sacramento Streets–a single block,–there are no less than five basement apartments devoted exclusively to barbers. There are hosts of this profession in the quarter. Look down the steep steps leading into the basement and see, at any hour of the day, with what deft fingers the tonsorial operators manipulate the devoted pagan head.

There is no waste space in the quarter. In apartments not more than fifteen feet square three or four different professions are often represented, and these afford employment to ten or a dozen men. Here is a druggist and herb-seller, with huge spectacles on his nose, at the left of the main entrance; a butcher displays his meats in a show-window on the right, serving his customers over the sill; a clothier is in the rear of the shop, while a balcony filled with tailors or cigar-makers hangs half-way to the ceiling.

[Illustration: “China is Not More Chinese than this Section of Our Christian City.”]

Close about us there are over one hundred and fifty mercantile establishments and numerous mechanical industries. The seventy-five cigar factories employ eight thousand coolies, and these are huddled into the closest quarters. In a single room, measuring twenty feet by thirty feet, sixty men and boys have been discovered industriously rolling _real_ Havanas.

The traffic which itinerant fish and vegetable venders drive in every part of the city must be great, being as it is an extreme convenience for lazy or thrifty housewives. A few of these basket men cultivate gardens in the suburbs, but the majority seek their supplies in the city markets. Wash-houses have been established in every part of the city, and are supplied with two sets of laborers, who spend watch and watch on duty, so that the establishment is never closed.

One frequently meets a travelling bazaar–a coolie with his bundle of fans and bric-a-brac, wandering from house to house, even in the suburbs; and the old fellows, with a handful of sliced bamboos and chairs swinging from the poles over their shoulders, are becoming quite numerous; chair mending and reseating must be profitable. These little rivulets, growing larger and more varied day by day, all spring from that great fountain of Asiatic vitality–the Chinese Quarter. This surface-skimming beguiles for an hour or two; but the stranger who strolls through the streets of Chinatown, and retires dazed with the thousand eccentricities of an unfamiliar people, knows little of the mysterious life that surrounds him.

Let us descend. We are piloted by a special policeman, one who is well acquainted with the geography of the quarter. Provided with tapers, we plunge into one of the several dark recesses at hand. Back of the highly respectable brick buildings in Sacramento Street–the dwellings and business places of the first-class Chinese merchants–there are pits and deadfalls innumerable, and over all is the blackness of darkness; for these human moles can work in the earth faster than the shade of the murdered Dane. Here, from the noisome vats three stories underground to the hanging gardens of the fish-dryers on the roofs, there is neither nook nor corner but is populous with Mongolians of the lowest caste. The better class have their reserved quarters; with them there is at least room to stretch one’s legs without barking the shins of one’s neighbor; but from this comparative comfort to the condensed discomfort of the impoverished coolie, how sudden and great the change!

Between brick walls we thread our way, and begin descending into the abysmal darkness; the tapers, without which it were impossible to proceed with safety, burn feebly in the double night of the subterranean tenements. Most of the habitable quarters under the ground are like so many pigeon-houses indiscriminately heaped together. If there were only sunshine enough to drink up the slime that glosses every plank, and fresh air enough to sweeten the mildewed kennels, this highly eccentric style of architecture might charm for a time, by reason of its novelty; there is, moreover, a suspicion of the picturesque lurking about the place–but, heaven save us, how it smells!

[Illustration: “Rag Alley” in Old Chinatown]

We pass from one black hole to another. In the first there is a kind of bin for ashes and coals, and there are pots and grills lying about–it is the kitchen. A heap of fire kindling wood in one corner, a bench or stool as black as soot can paint it, a few bowls, a few bits of rags, a few fragments of food, and a coolie squatting over a struggling fire,–coolie who rises out of the dim smoke like the evil _genii_ in the Arabian tale. There is no chimney, there is no window, there is no drainage. We are in a cubic sink, where we can scarcely stand erect. From the small door pours a dense volume of smoke, some of it stale smoke, which our entry has forced out of the corners; the kitchen will only hold so much smoke, and we have made havoc among the cubic inches. Underfoot, the thin planks sag into standing pools, and there is a glimmer of poisonous blue just along the base of the blackened walls; thousands feed daily in troughs like these!

The next apartment, smaller yet, and blacker and bluer, and more slippery and slimy, is an uncovered cesspool, from which a sickening stench exales continually. All about it are chambers–very small ones,–state-rooms let me call them, opening upon narrow galleries that run in various directions, sometimes bridging one another in a marvelous and exceedingly ingenious economy of space. The majority of these state-rooms are just long enough to lie down in, and just broad enough to allow a narrow door to swing inward between two single beds, with two sleepers in each bed. The doors are closed and bolted; there is often no window, and always no ventilation.

Our “special,” by the authority vested in him, tries one door and demands admittance. There is no response from within. A group of coolies, who live in the vicinity and have followed close upon our heels even since our descent into the under world, assure us in soothing tones that the place is vacant. We are suspicious and persist in our investigation; still no response. The door is then forced by the “special,” and behold four of the “seven sleepers” packed into this air-tight compartment, and insensible even to the hearty greeting we offer them!

The air is absolutely overpowering. We hasten from the spot, but are arrested in our flight by the “special,” who leads us to the gate of the catacombs, and bids us follow him. I know not to what extent the earth has been riddled under the Chinese Quarter; probably no man knows save he who has burrowed, like a gopher, from one living grave to another, fleeing from taxation or the detective. I know that we thread dark passages, so narrow that two of us may not cross tracks, so low that we often crouch at the doorways that intercept pursuit at unexpected intervals. Here the thief and the assassin seek sanctuary; it is a city of refuge for lost souls.

The numerous gambling houses are so cautiously guarded that only the private police can ferret them out. Door upon door is shut against you; or some ingenious panel is slid across your path, and you are unconsciously spirited away through other avenues. The secret signals that gave warning of your approach caused a sudden transformation in the ground-plan of the establishment.

Gambling and opium smoking are here the ruling passions. A coolie will pawn anything and everything to obtain the means with which to indulge these fascinations. There are many games played publicly at restaurants and in the retiring rooms of mercantile establishments. Not only are cards, dice, and dominos common, but sticks, straws, brass rings, etc., are thrown in heaps upon the table, and the fate of the gamester hangs literally upon a breath.

These haunts are seldom visited by the officers of justice, for it is almost impossible to storm the barriers in season to catch the criminals in the very act. To-day you approach a gambling hell by this door, to-morrow the inner passages of the house are mysteriously changed, and it is impossible to track them without being frequently misled; meanwhile the alarm is sounded throughout the building, and very speedily every trace of guilt has disappeared. The lottery is another popular temptation in the quarter. Most of the very numerous wash-houses are said to be private agencies for the sale of lottery tickets. Put your money, no matter how little it is, on certain of the characters that cover a small sheet of paper, and your fate is soon decided; for there is a drawing twice a day.

Enter any one of the pawn-shops licensed by the city authorities, and cast your eye over the motley collection of unredeemed articles. There are pistols of every pattern and almost of every age, the majority of them loaded. There are daggers in infinite variety, including the ingenious fan stiletto, which, when sheathed, may be carried in the hand without arousing suspicion; for the sheath and handle bear; an exact resemblance to a closed fan. There are entire suits of clothes, beds and bedding, tea, sugar, clocks–multitudes of them, a clock being one of the Chinese hobbies, and no room is completely furnished without at least a pair of them,–ornaments in profusion; everything, in fact, save only the precious _queue_, without which no Chinaman may hope for honor in this life or salvation in the next.

The throngs of customers that keep the pawn-shops crowded with pledges are probably most of them victims of the gambling table or the opium den. They come from every house that employs them; your domestic is impatient of delay, and hastens through his daily task in order that he may nightly indulge his darling sin.

The opium habit prevails to an alarming extent throughout the country, but no race is so dependent on this seductive and fatal stimulant as the Chinese. There are several hundred dens in San Francisco where, for a very moderate sum, the coolie may repair, and revel in dreams that end in a deathlike sleep.

Let us pause at the entrance of one of these pleasure-houses. Through devious ways we follow the leader, and come at last to a cavernous retreat. The odors that salute us are offensive; on every hand there is an accumulation of filth that should naturally, if it does not, breed fever and death. Forms press about us in the darkness,–forms that hasten like shadows toward that den of shades. We enter by a small door that is open for a moment only, and find ourselves in an apartment about fifteen feet square. We can touch the ceiling on tiptoe, yet there are three tiers of bunks placed with head boards to the wall, and each bunk just broad enough for two occupants. It is like the steerage in an emigrant vessel, eminently shipshape. Every bunk is filled; some of the smokers have had their dream and lie in grotesque attitudes, insensible, ashen-pale, having the look of plague-stricken corpses.

Some are dreaming; you see it in the vacant eye, the listless face, the expression that betrays hopeless intoxication. Some are preparing the enchanting pipe,–a laborious process, that reminds one of an incantation. See those two votaries lying face to face, chatting in low voices, each loading his pipe with a look of delicious expectation in every feature. They recline at full-length; their heads rest upon blocks of wood or some improvised pillow; a small oil lamp flickers between them. Their pipes resemble flutes, with an inverted ink-bottle on the side near the lower end. They are most of them of bamboo, and very often are beautifully colored with the mellowest and richest tints of a wisely smoked meerschaum. A small jar of prepared opium–a thick black paste resembling tar–stands near the lamp.

The smoker leisurely dips a wire into the paste; a few drops adhere to it, and he twirls the wire in the flame of the lamp, where they fry and bubble; he then draws them upon the rim of the clay pipe-bowl, and at once inhales three or four mouthfuls of whitish smoke. This empties the pipe, and the slow process of feeding the bowl is lazily repeated. It is a labor of love; the eyes gloat upon the bubbling drug which shall anon witch the soul of those emaciated toilers. They renew the pipe again and again; their talk grows less frequent and dwindles to a whispered soliloquy.

We address them, and are smiled at by delirious eyes; but the ravenous lips are sealed to that magic tube, from which they draw the breath of a life we know not of. Their fingers relax; their heads sink upon the pillows; they no longer respond, even by a glance, when we now appeal to them. Here is the famous Malay, the fearful enemy of De Quincy, who nightly drugged his master into Asiatic seas; and now himself is basking in the tropical heats and vertical sunlight of Hindostan. Egypt and her gods are his; for him the secret chambers of Cheops are unlocked; he also is transfixed at the summit of pagodas; he is the idol, the priest, the worshipped, the sacrificed. The wrath of Brahma pursues him through the forests of Asia; he is the hated of Vishnu; Siva lies in wait for him; Isis and Osiris confront him.

What is this key which seems for a time to unlock the gates of heaven and of hell? It is the most complicated drug in the pharmacopoeia. Though apparently nothing more than a simple black, slimy paste, analysis reveals the fact that it contains no less than five-and-twenty elements, each one of them a compound by itself, and many of them among the most complex compounds known to modern chemistry. This “dread agent of unimaginable pleasure and pain,” this author of an “Iliad of woes,” lies within reach of every creature in the commonwealth. As the most enlightened and communicative of the opium eaters has observed: “Happiness may be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat pocket; portable ecstasy may be had corked up in a pint bottle; peace of mind may be set down in gallons by the mail-coach.”

This is the chief, the inevitable dissipation of our coolie tribes; this is one of the evils with which we have to battle, and in comparison with which the excessive indulgence in intoxicating liquors is no more than what a bad dream is to hopeless insanity. See the hundred forms on opium pillows already under the Circean spell; swarms are without the chambers awaiting their turn to enter and enjoy the fictitious delights of this paradise.

While the opium habit is one that should be treated at once with wisdom and severity, there is another point which seriously involves the Chinese question, and, unhappily, it must be handled with gloves. Nineteen-twentieths of the Chinese women in San Francisco are depraved!

Not far from one of the pleasure-houses we intruded upon a domestic hearth smelling of punk and pestilence. A child fled with a shrill scream at our approach. This was the hospital of the quarter. Nine cases of small-pox were once found within its narrow walls, and with no one to care for them. As we explored its cramped wards our path was obstructed by a body stretched upon a bench. The face was of that peculiar smoke-color which we are obliged to accept as Chinese pallor; the trunk was swathed like a mummy in folds of filthy rags; it was motionless as stone, apparently insensible. Thus did an opium victim await his dissolution.

In the next room a rough deal burial case stood upon two stools; tapers were flickering upon the floor; the fumes of burning punk freighted the air and clouded the vision; the place was clean enough, for it was perfectly bare, but it was eminently uninteresting. Close at hand stood a second burial case, an empty one, with the cover standing against the wall; a few hours more and it would find a tenant–he who was dying in rags and filth in the room adjoining. This was the native hospital of the quarter, and the mother of the child was the matron of the establishment.

I will cast but one more shadow on the coolie quarter, and then we will search for sunshine. It is folly to attempt to ignore the fact that the seeds of leprosy are sown among the Chinese. If you would have proof, follow me. It is a dreary drive over the hills to the pest-house. Imagine that we have dropped in upon the health officer at his city office. Our proposed visitation has been telephoned to the resident physician, who is a kind of prisoner with his leprous patients on the lonesome slope of a suburban hill. As we get into the rugged edge of the city, among half-graded streets, strips of marshland, and a semi-rustic population, we ask our way to the pest-house. Yonder it lies, surrounded by that high white fence on the hill-top, above a marsh once clouded with clamorous water-fowl, but now all, all under the spell of the quarantine, and desolate beyond description. Our road winds up the hill-slope, sown thick with stones, and stops short at the great solid gate in the high rabbit fence that walls in the devil’s acre, if I may so call it. We ring the dreadful bell–the passing-bell, that is seldom rung save to announce the arrival of another fateful body clothed in living death.

The doctor welcomes us to an enclosure that is utterly whitewashed; the detached houses within it are kept sweet and clean. Everything connected with the lazaret is of the cheapest description; there is a primitive simplicity, a modest nakedness, an insulated air about the place that reminds one of a chill December in a desert island. Cheap as it is and unhandsome, the hospital is sufficient to meet all the requirements of the plague in its present stage of development. The doctor has weeded out the enclosure, planted it, hedged it about with the fever-dispelling eucalyptus, and has already a little plot of flowers by the office window,–but this is not what we have come to see. One ward in the pest-house is set apart for the exclusive use of the Chinese lepers, who have but recently been isolated. We are introduced to the poor creatures one after another, and then we take them all in at a glance, or group them according to their various stages of decomposition, or the peculiar character of their physical hideousness.

They are not all alike; with some the flesh has begun to wither and to slough off, yet they are comparatively cheerful; as fatalists, it makes very little difference to them how soon or in what fashion they are translated to the other life. There is one youth who doubtless suffers some inconveniences from the clumsy development of his case. This lad, about eighteen years of age, has a face that is swollen like a sponge saturated with corruption; he can not raise his bloated eyelids, but, with his head thrown back, looks downward over his cheeks. Two of these lepers are as astonishing specimens as any that have ever come under my observation, yet I have morbidly sought them from Palestine to Molokai. In these cases the muscles are knotted, the blood curdled; masses of unwholesome flesh cover them, lying fold upon fold; the lobes of their ears hang almost to the shoulder; the eyes when visible have an inhuman glance that transfixes you with horror. Their hands are shapeless stumps that have lost all natural form or expression.

Of old there was a law for the leprosy of a garment and of a house; yet, in spite of the stringency of that Mosaic law, the isolation, the purging with hyssop, and the cleansing by fire, St. Luke records: “There met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off; and they lifted up their voices and cried, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And to-day, more than eighteen hundred years later, lepers gather on the slopes of Mount Zion, and hover at the gates of Jerusalem, and crouch in the shadow of the tomb of David, crying for the bread of mercy. Leprosy once thoroughly engrafted on our nation, and nor cedar-wood, nor scarlet, nor hyssop, nor clean birds, nor ewes of the first year, nor measures of fine flour, nor offerings of any sort, shall cleanse us for evermore.

Let us turn to pleasanter prospects–the Joss House, for instance, one of the several temples whither the Chinese frequently repair to propitiate the reposeful gods. It is an unpretentious building, with nothing external to distinguish its facade from those adjoining, save only a Chinese legend above the door. There are many crooks and turns within it; shrines in a perpetual state of fumigation adorn its nooks and corners; overhead swing shelves of images rehearsing historical tableaux; there is much carving and gilding, and red and green paint. It is the scene of a perennial feast of lanterns, and the worshipful enter silently with burn-offerings and meat-offerings and drink-offerings, which they spread before the altar under the feet of some colossal god; then, with repeated genuflections, they retire. The thundering gong or the screaming pipes startle us at intervals, and white-robed priests pass in and out, droning their litanies.

At this point the artist suggests refreshments; arm in arm we pass down the street, surfeited with sight-seeing, weary of the multitudinous bazaars, the swarming coolies, the boom of beehive industry. Swamped in a surging crowd, we are cast upon the catafalque of the celestial dead. The coffin lies under a canopy, surrounded by flambeaux, grave offerings, guards and musicians.

Chinatown has become sufficiently acclimatized to begin to put forth its natural buds again as freely as if this were indeed the Flowery Land. The funeral pageant moves,–a dozen carriages preceded by mourners on foot, clad in white, their heads covered, their feet bare, their grief insupportable, so that an attendant is at hand to sustain each mourner howling at the wheels of the hearse. An orchestra heads the procession; the air is flooded with paper prayers that are cast hither at you to appease the troubled spirit. They are on their way to the cemetery among the hills toward the sea, where the funeral rites are observed as rigorously as they are on Asian soil.

We are still unrefreshed and sorely in need of rest. Overhead swing huge balloon lanterns and tufts of gold flecked scarlet streamers,–a sight that maketh the palate of the hungry Asiatic to water; for within this house may be had all the delicacies of the season, ranging from the confections of the fond suckling to funeral bake-meats. Legends wrought in tinsel decorate the walls. Here is a shrine with a vermilion-faced god and a native lamp, and stalks of such hopelessly artificial flowers as fortunately are unknown in nature. Saffron silks flutter their fringes in the steams of nameless cookery–for all this is but the kitchen, and the beginning of the end we aim at.

A spiral staircase winds like a corkscrew from floor to floor; we ascend by easy stages, through various grades of hunger, from the economic appetite on the first floor, where the plebian stomach is stayed with tea and lentils, even to the very house-top, where are administered comforting syrups and a _menu_ that is sweetened throughout its length with the twang of lutes, the clash of cymbals, and the throb of the shark-skin drum.

Servants slip to and fro in sandals, offering edible birds’-nests, sharks’ fins, and _beche de mer_,–or are these unfamiliar dishes snatched from some other kingdom? At any rate, they are native to the strange people who have a little world of their own in our midst, and who could, if they chose, declare their independence to-morrow.

We see everywhere the component parts of a civilization separate and distinct from our own. They have their exits and their entrances; their religious life and burial; their imports, exports, diversions, tribunals, punishments. They are all under the surveillance of the six companies, the great six-headed supreme authority. They have laws within our laws that to us are sealed volumes. Why should they not? Fifty years ago there were scarcely a dozen Chinese in America. In 1851, inclusive, not more than 4,000 had arrived; but the next year brought 18,000, seized with the lust of gold. The incoming tide fluctuated, running as low as 4,000 and as high as 15,000 per annum. Since, 1868 we have received from 10,000 to 15,000 yearly.

After supper we leaned from the high balcony, among flowers and lanterns, and looked down upon the street below; it was midnight, yet the pavements were not deserted, and there arose to our ears a murmur as of a myriad humming bees shut in clustering hives; close about us were housed near twenty thousand souls; shops were open; discordant orchestras resounded from the theatres; in a dark passage we saw the flames playing upon the thresholds of infamy to expel the evil shades.

Away off in the Bay in the moonlight, glimmered the ribbed sail of a fishing junk, and the air was heavy with an indefinable odor which to this hour puzzles me; but it must be attributed either to sink or sandal-wood–perchance to both!

“It is a little bit of old China, this quarter of ours,” said the artist, rising to go. And so it is, saving only a noticeable lack of dwarfed trees and pale pagodas and sprays of willowy bamboo; of clumsy boats adrift on tideless streams; of toy-like tea gardens hanging among artificial rocks, and of troops of flat-faced but complaisant people posing grotesquely in ridiculous perspective.

[Illustration: The Farallones]

WITH THE EGG-PICKERS OF THE FARALLONES

Those who have visited the markets of San Francisco during the egg season may have noticed the abundance of large and singularly marked eggs, that are offered for sale by the bushel. The shells of these eggs are pear-shaped, parti-colored, and very thick. They range in color from a light green to grey or brown, and are all of them profusely spotted, or blotted, I might say spattered, with clots of black or brown. Some are beautiful, with soft tints blended in a delicate lace-like pattern. Some are very ugly, and look unclean. All are a trifle stale, with a meat of coarse texture and gamy flavor. But the Italians and the Coolies are fond of them, and doubtless many a gross finds its way into the kitchens of the popular cheap restaurants, where, disguised in omelets and puddings, the quantity compensates for the lack of quality, and the palate of the rapid eater has not time to analyze the latter. These are the eggs of the sea-gull, the gull that cries all day among the shipping in the harbor, follows the river boats until meal-time, and feeds on the bread that is cast upon the water.[2] How true it is that this bread returns to us after many days!

The gulls, during incubation, seek the solitude of the Farallones, a group of desolate and weather-beaten rocks that tower out of the fog about thirty miles distant from the mouth of the harbor of San Francisco. Nothing can be more magnificently desolate than the aspect of these islands. Scarcely a green blade finds root there. They are haunted by sea-fowl of all feathers, and the boom of the breakers mingles with the bark of the seals that have colonized on one of the most inaccessible islands of the group. It is here that myriads of sea-birds rear their young, here where the very cliffs tremble in the tempestuous sea and are drenched with bitter spray, and where ships have been cast into the frightful jaws of caverns and speedily ground into splinters.

The profit on sea-eggs has increased from year to year, and of late speculators have grown so venturesome that competition among egg-gatherers has resulted in an annual naval engagement, known to the press and the public as the egg-war. If two companies of egg-pickers met, as was not unlikely, the contending factions fell upon one another with their ill-gotten spoils–the islands are under the rule of the United States, and no one has legal right to take from them so much as one egg without license–and the defeated party was sure to retire from the field under a heavy shower of shells, the contents of which, though not fatal, were at least effective.

I have before me the notes of a retired egg-picker; they record the brief experience of one who was interested in the last campaign, which, as it terminated the career of the egg-pirates, is not without historical interest. I will at once introduce the historian, and let him tell his own tale.

“On Board the Schooner ‘Sierra.’–
“Off the City Front.
“May 4, 1881.

“5 p.m.–There are ten of us all told; most of us strangers to one another, but Tom and Jim, and Fred, that’s me, are pals, and have been these many months. So we conclude to hang together, and make the most of an adventure perfectly new to each. At our feet lie our traps; blankets, woolen shirts, heavy boots, with huge nails in the soles of them, tobacco in bulk, a few novels, a pack of cards, and a pocket flask, for the stomach’s sake. A jolly crew, to be sure, and jollily we bade adieu to the fellows who had gathered in the dock to wish us God-speed. Casting loose we swung into the stream, and then slowly and clumsily made sail. The town never looked prettier; it is always the way and always will be; towns, like blessings, brighten just as they get out of reach. Drifting into the west we began to grow thoughtful; what had at first seemed a lark may possibly prove to be a very serious matter. We have to feed on rough rations, work in a rough locality, among rough people, and our profits, or our share of the profits, will depend entirely upon the fruitfulness of the egg-orchard, and the number of hundred gross that we are able to get safely into the market. No news from the town, save by the schooner that comes over at intervals to take away our harvest. No society, save our own, good enough always, provided we are not forcibly confined to it. No amusements beyond a novel, a pipe, and a pack of cards. Ah well! it is only an experience after all, and here goes!

“Sea pretty high, as we get outside the Heads, and feel the long roll of the Pacific. Wind, fresh and cold; we are to be out all night and looking about for bunks, we find the schooner accommodations are limited, and that the captain and his crew monopolize them. We sleep anywhere, grateful that we are able to sleep at all.

“10 p.m.–A blustering head wind, and sea increasing. What little supper we were able to get on board was worse than none at all, for it did not stay with us–anything but fun, this going to sea in a bowl, to rob gull’s nests, and smuggle eggs into market.

“May 5th.

“Woke in the early dawn, everything moist and sticky, clammy is the better word, and that embraces the whole case; stiff and sore in every joint; bacon for dinner last night, more bacon for breakfast this morning, and only half-cooked at that. Our delicate town-bred stomachs rebel, and we conclude to fast until we reach the island. Have sighted the Farallones, but are too miserable to express our gratitude; wind and sea still rising; schooner on beam ends about once in forty seconds, between times standing either on her head or her tail, and shaking herself ‘like a thing of life.’

“At noon off the landing, a buoy bobbing in the billows, to which we are expected to make fast the schooner, and get to shore in the exceedingly small boat; captain fears to tarry on account of heavy weather; concludes to return to the coast and bide his time; consequently makes for Bolinas Bay, which we reach about 9 p.m., and drop anchor in comparatively smooth water; glad enough to sleep on an even keel at last; it seems at least six months since we left the shining shores of San Francisco, yet it is scarce thirty hours–but such hours, ugh!

“Bolinas Bay, May 6th.

“Wind blowing a perfect gale; we are lying under a long hill, and the narrow bay is scarcely rippled by the blast that rushes over us, thick with flying-scud. Captain resolves to await better weather; some of the boys go on shore, and wander out to a kind of reef at the mouth of the bay, where in a short time they succeed in gathering a fine mess of mussels; the rest of us, the stay-on-boards, rig up a net and catch fifteen large fat crabs; with these we cook a delicious dinner, which we devour ravenously, like half-starved men; begin to realize how storm-tossed mariners feel, and have been recounting hair-breadth escapes, over our pipes on deck; there will be much to tell the fellows on shore, if we are ever so fortunate as to get home again.

“May 7th.

“Though the weather is still bad enough to discourage us landsmen, we put to sea, and once more head for the Farallones. They are hidden in mist, but we beat bravely about, and by-and-by distinguish the faint outlines of the islands looming through the fog! We try to secure the buoy, tacking to and fro; just at the wrong moment our main halyards part, and the sail comes crashing to the deck. To avoid being cast on the inhospitable shore, we put to sea under jib and foresail, and are five miles away before damages are repaired and we dare venture to return; head about, and make fast this time. Hurrah! After several trips of the small boat, succeed in landing luggage and provisions above high-water mark on the Farallones; each trip of the boat is an event, for it comes in on a big breaker, and grounds in a torrent of foam and sand.

“We find two cabins at our disposal; the larger one containing dining-room and kitchen, and chambers above; seven of our boys store their blankets in the rude bunks that are drawn by lot. Tom, Jim, and I secure the smaller cabin, a single room, with bunks on three sides, a door on the fourth.

“9 p.m.–We have dined and smoked and withdrawn to our respective lodges; the wind moans without, a thin, cold fog envelopes us; the sea breaking furiously, the night gloomy beyond conception, but the captain and his crew on the little schooner are not so comfortable as the egg-pickers whom they have left behind.

“May 8th.

“We all rose much refreshed, and after a hearty breakfast, such as would have done credit to a mining-camp in pioneer days, set forth on a rabbit chase. The islands abound in rabbits. Where do they come from, and on what do they feed? These are questions that puzzle us.

“We resolve to attack them. Having armed ourselves with clubs about two feet in length, we proceed in a body until a rabbit is sighted, then, separating, we surround him and gradually close him in, pelt him with stones or sticks until the poor fellow is secured; sometimes three or four are run down together; it is cruel sport, but this is our only hope of fresh meat during the sojourn on the islands; a fine stew for dinner, and some speculation on the prospect of our egg-hunt to-morrow.

“May 9th.

“We did the first work of the season to-day. At the west end of the islands is a chasm, through which the wind whistles; the waves, rushing in from both sides, meet at the centre and leap wildly into the air. Across this chasm we threw a light suspension bridge about forty feet in length and two in width; one crosses it by the aid of a life-line. On the further rock the birds are nesting in large numbers, and to-morrow we begin the wholesale robbery of their nests.

“When the bridge was completed, being pretty well fagged and quite famished, we returned to the cabin, lunched heartily, and spent the afternoon in highly successful rabbit chasing. Plenty of stew for all of us. If Robinson Crusoe had been cast ashore on this island, I wonder how he would have lived? As it is, the rabbits sometimes succeed in escaping us, and without powder and shot it would be quite impossible for one or two persons to bag them. We are beginning to lose faith in the delightful romances of our youth, and to realize what a desert island is.

“May 10th.

“In front of us we each carry a large sack in which to deposit eggs; our boots are clumsy, and the heavy nails that fill their soles make them heavy and difficult to walk in. We also carry a strong staff to aid us in climbing the rugged slopes. About us is nothing but grey, weather-stained rocks; there are few paths, and these we cannot follow, for the sea-birds, though so unused to the presence of man, are wary and shy of his tracks; the day’s work has not proved profitable. Few of us gathered any eggs; one who was more successful, and had secured enough to make it extremely difficult for him to scale the rocks, slipped, fell on his face, and scrambled all his store. His plight was laughable, but he was scarcely in the mood to relish it, as he washed his sack and blouse in cold water, while we indulged in cards.

[Illustration: Murre on their Nests, Farallone Islands]

“May 11th.

“Built another bridge over a gap where the sea rushes, and which we call the _Jordan_. If the real Jordan is as hard to cross, heaven help us. Eggs not very plentiful as yet; we are rather early in the season, or the crop is late this year. More rabbits in the p.m.; more wind, more fog; and at night, pipes, cards, and a few choruses that sound strange and weird in the fire lights on this lonely island.

“May 12th.

“Eggs are so very scarce. The foreman advises our resting for a day. We lounge about, looking off upon the sea; sometimes a sail blows by us, but our islands are in such ill-repute with mariners, they usually give us a wide berth, as they call it. A little homesick towards dusk; wonder how the boys in San Francisco are killing time; it is time that is killing us, out here in the wind and fog.

“May 13th.

“Have been hunting abalones all day, and found but a baker’s dozen; their large, shallow shells are glued to the rock at the first approach of danger, and unless we can steal upon these queer fish unawares, and thrust something under their shells before they have shut down upon the rock, it is almost impossible to pry them open. Some of the boys are searching in the sea up to their waists–hard work when one considers how tough the abalone is, and how tasteless.

“May 14th.

“This morning all our egg-pickers were at work; took in the west end, only the high rock beyond the first bridge; gathered about forty dozen eggs, and got them safely back to camp; in some nests there were three eggs, and these we did not gather, fearing they were stale. In the p.m. tried to collect dry grass enough to make a thin mattress for my bunk; barely succeeded; am more than ever convinced that desert islands are delusions.

“May 15th.

“It being Sunday, we rest from our labors; by way of varying the monotony of island life, we climb up to the lighthouse, 300 feet above sea level. The path is zig-zag across the cliff, and is extremely fatiguing. While ascending, a large stone rolled under my foot, and went thundering down the cliff. Jim, who was in the rear, heard it coming, and dodged; it missed his head by about six inches. Had it struck him, he would have been hurled into the sea that boiled below; we were both faint with horror, after realizing the fate he had escaped. Were cordially welcomed by the lighthouse keeper, his wife, and her companion, a young woman who had come to share this banishment. The keeper and his wife visit the mainland but twice a year. Everywhere we saw evidence of the influence of these charming people. The house was tidy–the paint snow-white. The brass-work shone like gold; the place seemed a kind of Paradise to us; even the machinery of the revolving light, the multitude of reflectors, etc., was enchanting. We dreaded to return to our miserable cabins, but were soon compelled to, and the afternoon was spent in the customary rabbit chase, ending with a stew of no mean proportions.

“May 16th.

“More eggs, and afterwards a fishing excursion, which furnished us material for an excellent chowder. We are beginning to look for the return of the schooner, and have been longing for news from shore.

“May 17th.

“A great haul of abalones this p.m. We filled our baskets, slung them on poles over our shoulders Coolie fashion, and slowly made our way back to camp. The baskets weighed a ton each before we at last emptied them by the cabin door. Built a huge fire under a cauldron, and left a mess of fish to boil until morning. The abalones are as large as steaks, and a great deal tougher. Smoke, cards, and to bed; used up.

“May 18th.

“Same program as yesterday, only the novelty quite worn off, and this kind of life becoming almost unendurable.

“May 19th.

“More eggs, more abalones, more rabbits. No signs of schooner yet. Wonder, had Crusoe kept a diary, how many days he would have kept it before closing it with chagrin.

“May 20th.

“Spent the p.m. in getting the abalone shells down to the egg-house at the landing. We have cleaned them, and are hoping to find this speculation profitable; for the shells, when polished and cut, are much used in the market for inlaying and setting in cheap jewelry. We loaded a small tram, pushed it to the top of an incline, and let it roll down the other side to the landing, which it reached in safety. This is the only labor-saving machine at our command.

“May 21st.

“We seem to be going all to pieces. The day commenced badly. Two of the boys inaugurated it by a violent set-to before breakfast–an old grudge broke out afresh, or perhaps the life here has demoralized them. I have lamed my foot. Tide too high for abalone fishing. Eggs growing scarce, and the rabbits seem to have deserted the accessible parts of the island. Everybody is disgusted. We are forgetting our table-manners, it is ‘first come first served’ now-a-days. I wonder if Robinson–oh, no! he had no one but his man Friday to contend against. No schooner; no change in the weather; tobacco giving out, and not a grain of good humor to be had in the market. To bed, very cross.

“May 22d.

“No one felt like going to work this morning. Affairs began to look mutinous. We have searched in vain for the schooner, now considerably overdue, and are dreading the thought of having to fulfill a contract which calls for six weeks’ labor on these islands. Some of the other islands are to be visited, and are accessible only in small boats over a sea that is never even tolerably smooth. This expedition we all dread a little–at least, I judge so from my own case–but we say nothing of it. While thus gloomily brooding over our plight, smoke was sighted on the horizon; we ascended the hill to watch it. A steamer, doubtless, bound for a sunnier clime, for no clime can be less sunny than ours of the past fortnight…. It was a steamer, a small Government steamer, making directly for our island. We became greatly excited, for nothing of any moment had occurred since our arrival. She drew in near shore and cast anchor. We gathered at the landing-cove to give her welcome. A boat was beached in safety. An officer of the law said, cheerfully, as if he were playing a part in a nautical comedy, ‘I must beg you, gentlemen, to step on board the revenue cutter, and return to San Francisco.’ We were so surprised we could not speak; or were we all speechless with joy, I wonder? He added, this very civil sheriff, ‘If you do not care to accompany me, I shall be obliged to order the marines on shore. You will pardon me, but as these islands are Government property, you are requested to immediately withdraw from them.’ We withdrew. We steamed away from the windy rocks, the howling caverns, the seething waves, the frightful chasms, the seabirds, the abalones, the rabbits, the gloomy cabins, and the pleasant people at the top of the cliff within the white walls of the lighthouse. Joyfully we bounded over the glassy waves, that grew beautiful as the Farallones faded in the misty distance, and, having been courteously escorted to the city dock, we were bidden farewell, and left to the diversions of the hour. Thus ended the last siege of the Farallones by the egg-pickers of San Francisco. (Profits _nil_.)”

And thus I fear, inasmuch as the Government proposes to guard the sea-birds until a suitable license is secured by legitimate egg-pickers, the price of gulls’ eggs will go up in proportion, and hereafter we shall have to look upon them as luxuries, and content ourselves with the more modest and milder-flavored but undecorated products of the less romantic barn-yard fowl.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 2: NOTE: The author has confused the murre with the sea-gull. It was the egg of the murre that was marketed.]

A MEMORY OF MONTEREY

I

“Old Monterey”? Yes, old Monterey; yet not so very old. Old, however, inasmuch as she has been hopelessly modernized; the ancient virtue has gone out of her; she is but a monument and a memory. It is the Monterey of a dozen or fifteen years ago I write of; and of a brief sojourn after the briefer voyage thither. The voyage is the same; yesterday, to-day and forever it remains unchanged. The voyager may judge if I am right when I say that the Pacific coast, or the coast of California, Oregon and Washington, is the selvage side of the American continent. I believe this is evidenced in the well-rounded lines of the shore; the smooth meadow-lands that not infrequently lie next the sea, and the comparatively few island-fragments that are discoverable between Alaska and Mexico.

I made that statement, in the presence of a select few, on the promenade deck of a small coaster then plying between San Francisco and Monterey; and proved it during the eight-hour passage, to the seeming edification of my shipmates. Even the bluffs that occasionally jutted into the sea did the picturesque in a half-theatrical fashion. Time and the elements seemed to have toyed with them, and not fought with them, as is the annual custom on the eastern coast of the United States. Flocks of sheep fed in the salt pastures by the water’s edge; ranch-houses were perched on miniature cliffs, in the midst of summer-gardens that even through a powerful field-glass showed few traces of wear and tear.

And the climate? Well, the sunshine was like sunshine warmed over; and there was a lurking chill in the air that made our quarters in the lee of the smoke-stack preferable to the circular settee in the stern-sheets. Yes, it was midsummer at heart, and the comfortable midsummer ulster advertised the fact.

What a long, lonesome coast it is! Erase the few evidences of life that relieve the monotonous landscape at infrequent intervals, and you shall see California exactly as Drake saw it more than four centuries ago, or the Argonaut Friars saw it a century later, and as the improved races will see it ages hence–a little bleak and utterly uninteresting.

California secretes her treasures. As you approach her from the sea, you would scarcely suspect her wealth; her lines, though fine and flowing, are not voluptuous, and she certainly lacks color. This was also a part of our steamer-talk under the lee of the smoke-stack; and while we were talking we turned a sharp corner, ran into the Bay of Monterey, and came suddenly face to face with Santa Cruz.

Ah, there was richness! Perennial groves, dazzling white cottages snow-flaking them with beauty; a beach with afternoon bathers; and two straggling piers that had waded out into deep water and stuck fast in the mud. A stroll through Santa Cruz does not dissipate the enchantment usually borrowed from usurious distance; and the two-hours’-roll in the deep furrows of the Bay, that the pilgrim to Monterey must suffer, is apt to make him regret he left that pleasant port in the hope of finding something pleasanter on the dim opposite shore.

We re-embarked for Monterey at dusk, when the distant horn of the Bay was totally obscured. It is seldom more than a half-imagined point, jutting out into a haze between two shades of blue. Stars watched over us,–sharp, clear stars, such as flare a little when the wind blows. But the wind was not blowing for us. Showers of sparks spangled the crape-like folds of smoke that trailed after us; the engine labored in the hold, and the sea heaved as it is always heaving in that wide-open Bay.

In an hour we steamed into a fog-bank, so dense that even the head-light of our ship was as a glowworm; and from that moment until we had come within sound of voices on the undiscovered shore, it was all like a voyage in the clouds. Whistles blew, bells rang, men shouted, and then we listened with hungry ears. A whistle answered us from shore–a piercing human whistle. Dim lights burned through the fog. We advanced with fearful caution; and while voices out of the air were greeting us, almost before we had got our reckoning, we drifted up under a dark pier, on which ghastly figures seemed to be floating to and fro, bidding us all-hail. And then and there the freedom of the city was extended to us, saturated with salt-sea mist. Probably six times in ten the voyager approaches Monterey in precisely this fashion. ‘Tis true! ‘Tis pity!

Having been hoisted up out of our ship–the tide was exceeding low and the dock high; having been embraced in turn by friends who had soaked for an hour and a half on that desolate pier-head–for our ship was belated, groping her way in the fog,–we were taken by the hand and led cautiously into the sand-fields that lie between the city and the sea.

Of course our plans had all miscarried. Our Bachelors’ Hall fell with a dull thud when we heard that the chief bachelor had turned benedict three days before. But he was present with his bride, and he knew of a haunt that would compensate us for all loss or disappointment. We crossed the desert nursing a faint hope. We threaded one or two wide, weedy, silent streets; not a soul was visible, though it was but nine in the evening,–which was not to be wondered at, since the town was divided against itself: the one half slept, the other half still sat upon the pier, making a night of it; for old Monterey had but one shock that betrayed it into some show of human weakness. The cause was the Steam Navigation Co. The effect was a fatal fondness for tendering a public reception to all steamers arriving from foreign ports, after their sometimes tempestuous passages of from eight to ten hours. This insured the inhabitants a more or less festive night about once every week or ten days.

With rioutous laughter, which sounded harsh, yea, sacrilegious, in the sublime silence of that exceptional town, we were piloted into an abysmal nook sacred to a cluster of rookeries haggard in the extreme. We approached it by an improvised bridge two spans in breadth. The place was buried under layers of mystery. It was silent, it was dark with the blackness of darkness; it was like an unholy sepulchre that gave forth no sound, though we beat upon its sodden door with its rusted knocker until a dog howled dismally on the hillside afar off.

Some one admitted us at the last moment, and left us standing in the pitch-dark entrance while he went in search of candles, that apparently fled at his approach. The great room was thrown open in due season and with solemnity. It may have been the star-chamber in the days when Monterey was the capital of the youngest and most promising State in the Union; but it was somewhat out of date when we were ushered into it. A bargain was hastily struck, and we repaired to damp chambers, where every sound was shared in common, and nothing whatever was in the least degree private or confidential. We slept at intervals, but in turn; so that at least one good night’s rest was shared by our company.

[Illustration: Monterey, 1850]

At nine o’ the clock next morning we were still enveloped in mist, but the sun was struggling with it; and from my window I inspected Spanish or Mexican, or Spanish-Mexican, California interiors, sprinkled with empty tin cans, but redeemed by the more picturesque _debris_ of the early California settlement–dingy tiles, forlorn cypresses, and a rosebush of gigantic body and prolific bloom.

We breakfasted at Simoneau’s, in the inner room, with its frescos done in beer and shoeblacking by a brace of hungry Bohemians, who used to frequent the place and thus settle their bill. Five of us sat at that uninviting board and awaited our turn, while Simoneau hovered over a stove that was by no means equal to the occasion. It was a breakfast such as one is reduced to in a mountain camp, but which spoils the moment it is removed from the charmed circle of ravenous foresters. We paid three prices for it, but that was no consolation; and it was long before we again entered the doors of one of the chief restaurants of old Monterey.

Before the thick fog lifted that morning we had scoured the town in quest of lodgings. The hotels were uninviting. At the Washington the rooms were not so large as the demands of the landlord. At the St. Charles’–a summer-house without windows, save the one set in the door of each chamber–we located for a brief season, and exchanged the liveliest compliments with the lodgers at the extreme ends of the building. A sneeze in the dead of night aroused the house; and during one of the panics which were likely to follow, I peremptorily departed, and found shelter at last in the large square chamber of an adobe dwelling, the hospitable abode of one of the first families of Monterey. Broad verandas surrounded us on four sides; the windows sunk in the thick walls had seats deep enough to hold me and my lap tablet full in the sunshine–whenever it leaked through the fog.

Two of these windows opened upon a sandy street, beyond which was a tangled garden of cacti and hollyhock and sunflowers, with a great wall about it; but I could look over the wall and enjoy the privacy of that sweet haunt. In that cloistered garden grew the obese roses of the far West, that fairly burst upon their stem. Often did I exclaim: “O, for a delicate blossom, whose exquisite breath savors not of the mold, and whose sensitive petals are wafted down the invisible currents of the wind like a fairy flotilla!” Beyond that garden, beyond the roofs of this town, stretched the yellow sand-dunes; and in the distance towered the mountains, painted with changeful lights. My other window looked down the long, lonesome street to the blue Bay and the faint outline of the coast range beyond it.

Here I began to live; here I heard the harp-like tinkle of the first piano brought to the California coast; here also the guitar was touched skillfully by her grace the august lady of the house, who scorned the English tongue–the more eloquent and rhythmical Spanish prevailed under her roof. One of the members of the household was proud to recount the history of the once brilliant capital of the State, and I listened by the hour to a narrative that now reads to me like a fable.

In the year of Our Lord 1602, when Don Sebastian Viscaino–dispatched by the Viceroy of Mexico, acting under instructions from Philip III. of Spain–touched these shores, Mass was celebrated, the country taken possession of in the name of the Spanish King, and the spot christened Monterey in honor of Gaspar de Zuniga, Count of Monterey, Viceroy of Mexico. In eighteen days Viscaino again set sail, and the silence of the forest and the sea fell upon that lonely shore. That silence was unbroken by the voice of the stranger for one hundred and sixty-six years. Then Gaspar de Portola, Governor of Lower California, re-discovered Monterey, erected a cross upon the shore, and went his way.

In May, 1770, the final settlement took place. The packet _San Antonio_, commanded by Don Juan Perez, came to anchor in the port, “which”–wrote the leader of the expedition to Padre Francisco Palou–“is unadulterated in any degree from what it was when visited by the expedition of Don Sebastian Viscaino in 1602. After this”–the celebration of the Mass, the _Salve_ to Our Lady, and a _Te Deum,_–“the officers took possession of the country in the name of the King (Charles III.) our lord, whom God preserve. We all dined together in a shady place on the beach; the whole ceremony being accompanied by many volleys and salutes by the troops and