March 15, 2011
Nevada's Online State News Journal
[James W. Gally, Seeking Shadows, The Californian Magazine, April 1881]
SEEKING SHADOWS. 311
"SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 7, 3 P. M., 1876.
" To SAMUEL MCQUEER :—I've struck it. Come right along.
JOHN JOHNS. "
Now, when a quiet country resident receives a telegram like that, upon election day, from a man known to him to be one of the sort who do strike strange and improbable things, there is nothing for it but to vote early and then take the first train that runs toward the saintly city.
It would not be right, I thought, as I sat in the car, to leave in the midst of a heated contest upon such a summons from an unknown party; but then John Johns is not a man to be unheeded, for did he not discover the great Consolidated Silver Mine right in the trail where many silver-seeking feet had trod for years? Did not John Johns trace a murderer in the eye of the most polished, pious, and polite man in the camp at Rocky Ridge? In fact, had not J. J. done more important, improbable things than any man I ever knew? Of course he had. Then roll on, iron wheels. Rip -rip -rip on the ringing rail. Yell out, bright engine, as you cleave the air like a flashing dragon, flying low and fast, and bear me away from the seething thought of a nation's life—away and away from the feverish ballot -box—to the quiet haunts of the ingenious John Johns.
Not much time is consumed in rail-riding from my house to the South Depot, because at evening of the same day on which I viewed the glancing lights of the winding train playing a boo-peep game among the darkening hills, I came, at last, grandly down the slope whose other flank drives back the noisy craving of the great salt waves ; and, with clanging bell and warning yell which marshal the way through gathering lights, and crossing streets, and clustering suburbs, o'er bridge, and ditch, and oozy armlets of the bay, where smells arise as pasty in their plenitude of power as though we breathed the air of all creation's offal—and then—here we are at the dingy little house where the train stops, and the hackman begins:
"Whans scarriage?" "Whans scarriage?"
"Hotel, 'otel, 'tel, 'el !"
Being a quiet man, and prone to be frugal withal, I glide through this jargon of energetic cupidity, and, satchel in hand, soon sit quietly down in the middle of the street—taking care, however, to be inside a street car before sitting down. As the car rapidly fills, the "ching ching" of the conductor's bell summons the low rumble of the wheels, and, finding we are off, I glance from right to left upon the passengers who seem to be going to a perpetual Centennial show, from all lands under the sun, and to be forever in a hurry to get there. Many of them have come from "Cipango and far Cathay," while to others the sunset glories of the South Sea Isles are infant memories. As I sit, a shy man, with my satchel between my feet, I seem to sniff the odors of opium, sandal-wood, the bread-fruit tree, and to see Marco Polo shaking hands with Captain Cook in a social circle of the "friendly natives" of many islands, for, notwithstanding the onward rumble of the crowded car through the clattering bedlam of collective wheels, and the increasing movement of gathering heads across the gaudy front-lights of bright traffic's staring halls, I am away in the region where the book-world lies—outside the harbor of our daily life—and the conductor, staggered by the lurching car, drops his iron heel promptly on my rheumatic toe, and, by way of apology, says, with extended hand, "Fare, sir?"
Thus I come back from dreamland to find myself, fingering for a ten-cent piece, far in the heart of the city. The unspeakable noise of the city—the echo of unrest—hovers heavier and heavier in the air as I step out of the car, and walk, by a few paces, into the hotel. I do not like hotels, and have never been intimate enough with such places to know if any of them admire me. They are too much like incorporated graveyards, where all are received who pay the price—but those are best received who come with greatest pomp. Mine host, being a fair fat man with a weary repose of manner, whirled the registry book upon its pivot, and took my baggage. I wrote my autograph. He wrote some arithmetical figures opposite my writing, and banged—one bang—on a bell; saying to the ready youth who answered the bang, and to whom he presented my satchel and a key :
"Take gen'l'm'n 55."
Following the young man, who rattled the key and its tag as he went, I soon found myself in "my own room." Alas, how fictitious is language ! Not my own room, but the room of thousands. As well may the infant born tonight exclaim, "Here I am in my own world !"
312 THE CALIFORNIAN.
For truly this is the room, or one of the rooms, in which the unhonored and ungilded have dreamed away their weary nights since first this house cast the light of its evening eyes on the stony street.
The landlord was not aware of my heavy wealth, nor of my great renown, for the natural shyness of my manner conveys no hint of my importance. The landlord did not know of my mines of silver, my leagues of land, nor of the rich argosies which float upon my private seas, or he would have been more solicitous of my comfort. The landlord does not know that I am acquainted with greater men than he ever associated with, and lastly, as well as mostly, he does not know that I am the former mining partner, and present intimate friend, of John Johns. What care I for the landlord ? What's he but the head-waiter? Let him cringe before governors, and other great acrobatic performers. Let him—let him—but pshaw ! why should I enrage myself about the landlord, when I am washed, brushed, dusted, and ready to dine, though a little late?
The waiter at dinner, in a brogue that is pleasant and soft, though palpably Irish, says :
"We've had a payceable 'lection, afther all, sir."
"Yis, sir; no distarbance whativer. "
"Powerful, sir ! Forty towsan', or more, sir, they sez."
"Yis, sir. Dimmicrats dizzn't loike the luks of it."
"Why not ?"
"Yis, sir. Poiper's difayted."
This conversation brought me back to that terrible North American annoyance—the ballot-box and election day ; so that, when I had finished my dinner and passed out into the street, I was not astonished to find the way blocked by noisy people of the sex male.
A man up in a balcony window had just read telegrams from various States, and the crowd was hip-hipping and hurrahing. Presently, a fine looking, mellow-voiced young orator with a waxed black mustache came to the window, and said he : "Fellow- citizens ! Do you know what this news means? [Cheers, cheers, and more cheers.] It means . . . . . [Cheers.] It means . . . . . [Cheers.] It means . . . . ." [Cheers.] etc. He had so much to say about means that he seemed the chairman of some committee on ways and means making a final report.
I worked my way around this crowd so that I came about where the new-comers, attracted by the cheering, approached the skirts of the great mass.
"What's the news?" says new - corner. "Ohbegodwegotem."
"Got 'em ?"
"Yes, dammerhearts, we got 'em."
More cheers, and more repetitions of how, "We've got 'em."
"Got 'em sure! Deader'n a fish."
"Deader'n hell !"
"'Rah for Til'n."
"Three cheers for Tilden, Hendricks, and, Reform !"
It does not become a quiet rural citizen to remain long in such a turmoil ; so I pushed out and proceeded away from the noisy centers toward the quieter regions of Mr. Johns's abode.
The contrast would have been grateful to my feelings as I passed, in the foggy dark alone, along streets where only the rolling car and an occasional footman disturbed the repose, were it not for the fact that I feared to find in the occasional footman a foe to my financial comfort.
At the residence, or rather the lodging place, of Mr. John Johns—for he is unmarried—I found that he was "down to his shop."
"Where is his shop?"
"What sort of a shop?"
"Who does know?"
"What time does he come in?"
"Don't know. Lately he don't come for days. Inventin' something, I guess."
"Why do you think he is inventing?"
"Because he talks of big discoveries, and of fortunes made out of brains. And them kind's 'most always inventors, if they ain't crazy."
I could only thank madam for her information and proceed back toward the noisy throngs.
It is my usual treat to go to the theater or concert when I am in the city, because then I am in the familiar country of dreamland, where I have many warm friends, and some valuable real estate. But this night I could not conclude to go to any indoor show, so long as my brother sovereigns were wearing the cap and bells in the streets, and striving to knock each other on the head with that imaginary bauble —the ballot.
To a rural stranger a shouting, seething city, after night, is a great exhibition—particularly
SEEKING SHADOWS. 353
when all the toads in the political pool are croaking in full chorus. It is almost funny to see how they work themselves up to the belief that they are honestly in earnest search after good government, when really they only desire a chance to jeer and cheer at each other. It comes near being melancholy, when we comprehend that after all the talk of proud intelligence, high civilization, modern improvement, and all such, that the whole question of which it shall be—Hayes or Tilden—may turn upon a township of ignorant Africans, or even upon the solitary vote of the Chinaman who polled on Tuesday.
I returned to my hotel, passing the noisy throng in the street, and hearing on the night air above the blinking eyes of the houses, the hoarse roaring of the crowd, but I passed on without noting what was said, further than that men still met each other with extended congratulatory hands and—
"We've got 'em !"
"You bet your life we've got 'em !"
"Got 'em this time !"
"Sure as hell we've got 'em !"
"'Rah for Til'n 'n 'endrix !"
Tired, excited, disappointed, amused, the little room in the large hotel, with its one window looking out into a chimney-flue sort of court-yard, into whose profound depth the pitying sun cast just one glance per diem, seemed like an asylum where the timid man might hide away from the roaring monster with the popular voice, and be at peace ; as much so as the criminal who welcomes the granite cell of durance vile as an escape from the rage of indignant citizens. "Alas," I said, as I sat at the open window, seeking for air, and viewing the shadows and rain-stains on the opposite wall, "I still hear, in a muffled murmur, the roaring of the multitudes—those twin monsters of our loud misrule who are ready to trample friend or foe under the eager stride for power. Roar on—shout—yell—I have heard you both, once in each four years since 1840, boasting of your desire and ableness to save the country, while at each triumph of either of you it has gone worse.
"If 'we, the people,' had no more sagacity, thrift, and industry than we, the party voters, the owls of melancholy would, years agone, have sat brooding over the ruins of our institutions. Then again," I said to myself, very profoundly, as I sat by that lonesome window, "the reason why we, the party voters, have so much less sense than 'we, the people,' is because 'we, the people,' are more than half women, while we, the party voters, are no women at all." I knew that was a profound remark, and I chuckled a solitary chuckle as I got into my solitary bed. And, ah ! how solitary is a hotel bed to a virtuous family man, when traveling alone. To such a man it is a boundless wilderness between life and eternity. As I closed my eyes to sleep, it seemed to me that some critic might sneer at my profound remark regarding the difference between the sense of the people and the sense of the voters, and the last I can recollect of wakefulness that evening was my half dreamy effort to whisper into my imaginary critic's imaginary ear this :
"A wise motherhood is the soul of good government."
The next day—not exactly morning—I awakened, and called me gently to arise, because, in the absence of the cock's shrill clarion, or the whistle of the birds, and the breath of the sun's morning kiss, I was compelled to call myself; or I should, perhaps, have slept on and on with folded hands on a pulseless bosom, like a brass monarch in his vault on top of his own tomb.
In due time, fortified for the day's duty, I was again upon the street seeking the whereabouts of John Johns ; but now, the spirit of the street was changed to "'Rah for Hayes !" but the same pass-words answered the change of sentiment.
"We've got 'em !"
"You bet we've got 'em !"
"'Rah for Hayes an' W'eeler !"
"Yah - ah - ah !"
Evidently, somebody had met the enemy somewhere, and somehow had got 'em, but to a rural person, the city situation as a political issue was perplexing ; so I marched sturdily on my way, taking care to avoid collision with the excited passers on the sidewalk. Looking up and out, toward the persons in a passing throng of motley vehicles, I saw John Johns, standing up, in an express job wagon, holding on to, and steadying, a large, old-fashioned, carved gilt -framed looking-glass. Impulsively and loudly, I fairly howled out : "Hello, Johns !"
Clinging to his treasure, he twisted his head about in a bewildered sort of way, till, at last, his eyes fell upon me. The wagon could not stop in the moving throng, nor could Johns let go of his frail property; so I followed along, meekly smiling, like an outside boy at a village funeral.
Down the street I marched, keeping my eye from time to time upon Johns as we passed through the massive crowd upon Montgomery Street, where the printing offices are, and where thousands of anxious voters were staring and
314 THE CALIFORNIAN.
hurrahing for Hayes and Wheeler, while a coarse-featured, leathery-skinned heavy man, with much cheek and good teeth, was making gigantic gesticulations from an open second-floor window, and working his heavy features, from which gleamed the white array of his polished incisors like flashes of indignation; but all I could hear of his remarks was, " . . . . this great victory vouchsafed . . . . Almighty God . . . . nation . . . . Hayes and Wheeler . . . . ," mingled with the buzzing of the crowd, whooping, shouting, yelling, bah-hahing, rattling of wagons, rumbling of cars, and all other noises, which go to make up an impromptu mass meeting of excited anxiety. In course of time we got out of the jam, and Johns called to me to get up into the job-wagon. I do not admire that style of conveyance for an easy and stylish city ride, but to gratify my friend I climbed up beside him, and used one hand to assist him, while he let one hold go to give me a welcome shake, as he remarked :
"Glad you came. Mighty glad you came. I will astonish you when we get to my den."
It did not take us long to get there, where Johns, and the car-man, and myself carried his big looking-glass carefully up two flights of steps, and deposited it in a large carelessly kept room among many other mirrors of all shapes, sizes, and conditions. "There," said J. J., when he had paid the departing express-man and closed the door—"there, sir. What do you think of this line of business?"
"Well, if this is the auction business, I think the stock on hand lacks variety."
"But this is not the auction business," said Johns, as he looked into my eyes with a superiority expression in his own.
"Then I give it up—unless you propose to play the rôle of Old Mortality to dilapidated mirrors."
"No ! No Old Mortality for me. Take seat. I've got some chairs here—yes, here's one. Sit down here at this old table, and I'll make you open your eyes wider than you did when I found the Great Consolidated."
I sat down by the old table, which was burned all over with acids and caustics, while the room smelled like a drug-store which had just entertained a mad bull, and Johns went away to a part of the great room which he had at some time fenced off into darkness by housing it in with heavy painted canvas. I was about to make some reflections, but, on looking around upon the multitude of mirrors, I at once saw that no reflections were needed.
Johns returned from his bower of mystery, he called it, and threw upon the table before me a collection of those crisp, curling, ugly pieces of paper which the photographers call proofs.
"There !" said he. "Cast your philosophic eyes over that mess of human history." And he looked, I must say, as triumphant as a demon of mischief.
I uncurled the papers one after another, and found them to be scenes and broken glimpses of scenes in the life of one man—pictures which the man, whoever he was, and he seemed wealthy and well bred, would not wish to have taken; pictures which gave to the world, if the world should ever see them, some part of his life which he would not wish to draw across his own memory even in the hours of solitude.
"Well, what do you think now?" said Johns, when I looked up at him as he stood opposite to me across the table.
"I think this is a most salacious lot of trash."
"Of course it is. I bought that mirror from the former mistress of a high-up gentleman. It cost me big money. That's it over there—large heavy French plate, with massive carved frame. I'll sell the frame, but I'm not done with the glass yet."
"A'n't you a little crazy, John?" I said, somewhat sadly.
"Certainly; that's just what's the matter with me," he replied, with the least hint of a sneer in his voice, and a heavy accent on the word "me."
"There's a different story," he said, as he withdrew the papers I had just looked over, and threw upon the table another batch.
Here I had before me various scenes in the life of a woman and two children. She was a young, pretty woman in these natural—yea, too natural—pictures, dressed in the simplest form of chaste night-clothing. The children were very pretty, and also dressed in sleeping clothes. In some scenes they said their prayers at their mother's knee, or stood upon the dressing-table at right and left of the woman, with their cheeks against her cheeks, showing three happy faces in the glass, or climbed for kisses, or slept while she looked into their sleeping faces; and one line of pictures showed the oldest ill and dying, with the mother constantly by its side, and after that there was but one child in the scenes, with more kisses and fewer smiles. The tears came into my eyes as my imagination rapidly filled out this little history, with its love, its sorrow, its care, its funeral, its empty little dresses and unused shoes, its aching blank in a happy life; and as I drew out my handkerchief, with the cowardly make-believe of blowing my nose, Johns, who had been pacing the room, whirled upon his heel, and said :
SEEKING SHADOWS. 315
"What do you think now, old fellow?"
"I do not think—I wonder; and I ask you what is the object of all this?"
"I got that history out of yon plain oval-topped mirror which you see there. I bought it at auction. It is interesting, but there is no money in it. I shall send it again to be sold."
"Well, well !" I said, something hastily. "What is the object of it all, and why am I summoned to appear?"
"The object of it all is to make money, and that is why I summoned you. I want a partner in this business with a capital of $5,000. I knew you had the money, and I know there is a princely fortune for both of us."
"Well, supposing the fact of my having the money, what part am I to play in this business, which is to me as yet all mystery?"
"You need play no part, but put up your money and divide the results. I'll run the thing."
"What is this which you propose to run?" "Why, can't you guess? It's the simplest thing in the world."
"Simple or not, I do not guess. Indeed, it is the simplest things which make the hardest guessing. What's it all about, anyhow?"
"It's this," said Johns, as he paced the echoing room with nervous energy : " While I was analyzing and assaying the combined salts, acids, earths, etc., of the alkali flats of Nevada, in the search for borax, etc., I developed some curious chemicals, which have magical effects in fixing lights and shadows when played upon a quicksilvered background.
"Now, you can believe that quicksilver is the picture-making power of all modern mirrors. I have discovered a process by which a mirror is made to give up all its old reflections, one after the other, like a keen living memory. I reduce these reflections by chemicals under electric action to photographs, and by that means I hold a mastery of all that's true in art—I become the great detective ; and, by buying old mirrors, I propose to levy a tax upon the conscience of evil pride and thereby to enjoy a princely income.
"No man can deny his own face, his own form, his well known costume, nor the photograph of his former private haunts. Such a man in the weakness of his pretended integrity becomes my vassal, my tributary—and yours, if you wish to join me in this discovery. Talk about the power of the press," continued Johns, as he still strode nervously up and down the room, "the lever of Archimedes, the Catholic confessional, the police espionage of tyrants—all, all is the play of a child compared to this."
"It seems a wondrous wicked power," said I.
"Wicked to the wicked only."
"You would literalize Shakspere and 'hold the mirror up to Nature?' "
"No ; hold Nature up to the mirror. To me the orator, the actor, the poet, the painter must come to learn the unstrained, unconscious posing and grouping of men and women."
"And I suppose you will be delighted to see humanity blush and quiver at the home-thrust pictures of its own petty weaknesses."
"I do not see any home-thrusting about it, so far as I am concerned."
"Do you not call it home-thrusting when you can convince a man, even to utter dumbness, that he has made an ass of himself at some time? Is not memory a more hurtful weapon than steel to a sensitive soul? And if your victim of memory is not sensitive, if he is a pigheaded, bull - necked, pachydermatous brute, your weapon falls harmless from his hide. Yet you delight in wounding those who have already wounded themselves."
"Delight ! Certainly. Does a man think for triumph and labor for success, and then not thrill with delight when triumph comes?"
"I grant that."
"Does not the successful wealthy man hug himself with triumph before my impecunious eyes?"
"But he does not get his wealth out of your ash-pile without paying you for it."
"The devil he doesn't. I am entitled to wood, water, and grass by God—I don't mean to curse —but your wealthy man takes advantage of my lack of legal alertness, and flaunts his proprietory statutes—his laws of domain—in my face, contravenes the gift of God, and asks me `what'll you do about it?'"
"Well—but that is the result of long, well considered, wise usage upon which man has advanced to his present proud position. It is the substitute for Nature's grab game."
"If time and usage make sacredness, I'm all right, because I suspect this thing of tell-tale shadows is as old as the sun. Yes, sir," he added, with a resolute emphasis on the "sir"—"yes, sir, I expect some day to be able to recall any shadow that ever fell across the path of time. I'll give you yet," he said it with a smile, "a photographic group of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, if there ever were any such people to cast a shadow on the earth, provided I can find that famous truck-patch."
"Ay, I see there is no use talking when you go off on your visions; but do you think it fair to go about hunting the skeletons in people's closets?"
"I've nothing to do with people's skeletons or their closets. If there is an idiot or a natu-
316 THE CALIFORNIAN.
ral monster in a family, I'd cut off this hand sooner than trade upon the misfortune; but does your beautiful priest, or preacher, or parson, or whatever you call him, lend a listening ear and a bright imagination to the recital of my sinful life for nothing? He wants to point a moral, does he? All right—so do I. He wants his salary and his little perquisites for the use of his gigantic and graceful intellect. So do I for mine."
"But it seems to me your new business is likely to involve the innocent with the guilty. Here you take, say for instance, some scenes in the early career of a to-day respectable man or woman who each have innocent children, and you involve the whole family connection in your revelations, making things disagreeable all round. You used to be tender and chivalrous toward women and children."
"I'm open to flattery," said Johns, with a sad, withered smile, "but not to the extent of former years. I should not like to see a child hurt, much less should like to feel I had hurt it; but men and women are my lawful prey."
"Have you come to that, John?" I said, somewhat sadly. He took several hasty tramps around his room, and then answered as he marched on :
"Yes, I've come to that. Does not wealthy woman look out of her carriage windows in a sick, old, mawkish, languid scorn upon the struggling unsuccessful multitude; or does she not trail the dust with her wasteful wealth of martyred silks across my clouted shoes as she paces and pitilessly smiles by me in the street? If she does not delight in her triumph over my poverty and weakness, why don't she go ride or walk in private? She can afford the expense of a private ride. If she will triumph, I will contest her right to triumph. Delight in my discovery! I should say I did delight in it. Will you go in with me? That is what I want to know," concluded J. J., as he stopped suddenly in his excited march.
"This is a delicate business," replied I, after a pause, "and I cannot see my way at a moment's notice; and, with the newness of it all, you keep up such an excited and excitable tramping over the naked floor of this echoing room that I cannot think—"
"I'll stop ! I'll stop !" exclaimed Johns, quickly, taking the only other chair in the room. "I've got myself a good deal worked up on this subject; I'm away ahead and must give you time to catch up, and, by the way," he added, looking at his watch, "I'm hungry. Let us go to lunch," and he placed his hand on the doorknob in the act of going out into the hall; but the knob turned in his grasp, the door opened, and an humble citizen of the Chinese Empire showed his peculiar smiling face at the opening.
"Well, what the hell do you want?" asked Johns.
"You likee one man wo'kee you?"
"What do you want to do?"
"Wantee job—allee same—no talkee what do. Washaman, him telle me mebbe so one a-man top side a-house likee man wo'kee. Vellee good man ahme; no stealee, no bleakee glass, no go China-house allee time, gammel fan-tan."
"You're a pretty good talker," said johns, coldly, looking the while at the pagan with quizzical gaze.
"Vellee talkee me. No got job, vellee good talkee—heap got job, talkee no got," answered the Celestial, with confident firmness and the smile of his ancestors.
"And you don't steal?"
"No stealee—no takee nodding ;" then, having insinuated himself more nearly into the room so that he saw the strange array of mirrors, he pointed to that lot of property, saying, "Me heap muchee sabbe him. Sabbe washee , him—sabbe cleanah him vellee good—no bleak him 'tall."
"Well, you come to-morrow. I haven't time to talk to you now."
"All light —to-molla. What time come ?" "Eight o'clock in the morning."
"All light. To- molla, eigh' galock, me come ;" and he departed down stairs to the music of the clip-clap-clatter of his curious shoes.
Johns and myself followed the Celestial menial down into the streets, leaving the door of the mirror hospital locked behind us.
The dining-room toward which Johns directed his steps being down in the cardiac regions of the city, we soon found ourselves in the midst of the to-and-fro goers and news-seeking idlers, and could again feel the political pulse of the nation throbbing against the gates of sundown. Johns paid no attention, being accustomed to city sights and sounds ; while I could not but feel and note the excitement. Already there began to be a sense of sullen defiance in men's faces. The loud, lifting shout and eager hand-clasping were gone, and men gazed upon the variations of bulletin blackboards with firm, grim countenances. Men felt, but did not reason out, that there was a hitch in the election machinery somewhere. The ballot failing—what then? Anarchy. Let us wait. So the great turmoil settled down to grim repose; and the "posterity of the Constitution" quailed before their own engine of peace.
SEEKING SHADOWS. 317
As we walked along among and through the passing crowds I could feel that the elective franchise was weakening among men. I could scent the failure of the many, and easily divine how that the ballot power, starting with the few, then being battled about to amuse the many, may come back to its starting point, and be again the instrument of the few. At length, as we neared the restaurant, I asked :
"Johns, are you glad that we captured Cornwallis at Yorktown?"
I repeated my question.
"Well well ! We did capture Cornwallis—didn't we?" responded Johns. "Well, now, don't you know," he continued, "that's the first I've heard about Cornwallis for at least twenty years? Why don't we say more about that victory?"
"One reason is, it did not occur in New England; but are you glad we did it?"
"I suppose so. Why not?"
"Well, but it is something, too. The old rooster ought to have kept his red-coats at home."
"Does it make any difference what color the army coat is, if the army rules?"
"Why, yes—of course."
"Not to me," I said, as we entered the room where tables, dishes, and white-aproned waiters abound.
I suppose nearly all men and many women know what is done in a restaurant, and yet to me the entrance into a strange place of that kind is ever a sort of surprise, not to say embarrassment.
The confident manner and emphatic tread of the waiter seems a sort of menace to my shy nature, while the bold stare of the old habitué of the place, as he lowers his newspaper and looks steadily at me over the tops of his pinch-nose eye-glasses, gives me the feeling of being accused of something green; all of which, added to my ever-futile attempts to unravel that gastronomic charade, the "bill of fare," puts upon me an impressive sense of my own littleness and rural homeliness. On the matter of the bill of fare I appeal to my rustic countrymen to say if it is not a delusion and a snare to the empty stomach of the man who is accustomed to have his food placed before him, like a Democratic State Convention with every well known delegate in his place and the country fully represented.
By the time my nerves were somewhat composed the waiter brought our order, and in a rattling, banging, homeless, heartless rapidity placed before me an array of small dishes, each of which, by the smallness of its contents, seemed to say, "Meat for one," "Stew for one"— in fact, everything or anything only for one ; a state of things calculated to make a family man feel lost. What chance with such dishes is there for the yearling who sits in his little high chair at my right, or the three-year old at my left, to reach their chubby greasy hands fondly around my plate and call for a divide? I almost dropped tears into the black adulterous coffee as I momentarily thought of the restaurant isolation and dreamed of "my young barbarians at play." A restaurant is no good place for the family father of a numerous progeny. The place is not redolent of the family virtues. These little oblong dishes with their units of grub seem to sing a solitary song like this :
"No one to love, no love to fight
No one to weep if a fellow gets tight."
We could not talk while lunching of anything but politics, because there was a political epidemic, and at the numerous tables were men gesticulating with knife, fork, or fingers while talking through working jaws, and the absorbing subject was the ballot ; hence, like a true ruminant, I chewed in silence and wondered inwardly as to the effect of these political epidemics on the health of the republic. Is the political spasm which we have each four years a healthy orgasm, or does it lead to softening of the political brain? Does it indicate a sensible love of country, or is it only a maudlin, senile passion? Is it the ragged remainder of what we have been, or is it the swelling germ of a better life? If at this point I had not strangled on a misdirected gulp of coffee there is no telling what fearful conundrum I would have put to myself.
We finished our lunch, and Johns and I passed out once again into the streets of America. I could not then, nor can I now, dispossess my mind of the overpowering shadow of "our institutions" as the politician pleases to call them —"our American institutions"—hence all the streets that ever I saw, having seen streets in no other country, are to me American streets. Real provincialism has no abiding place in our republic. The out-door impression is everywhere the same. The people are clothed alike ; the horses are harnessed alike ; the heavy wagons are painted alike ; the light wagons and carriages have all the same glitter of varnish ; the buildings vary only as to the relative amount of bricks, woods, stones, and irons which enter into their construction. There is the merest faint odor of antiquity in the oldest street—no quaint or curious footways from the
318 THE CALIFORNIAN.
long forgotten past ; and when you throw over all this the presidential glamour of the ballot-box which you know is on the same day everywhere throughout the entire land, you cannot resist the impulse to forget the name of the town you happen to be in and think of it all only as America—the land of the free, etc.
We pursued our way without aim or object along the streets, Johns not seeming just then to wish to return to his looking-glasses, but by a sort of instinct common to bees, ants, and men we drew toward the center of the hive and found ourselves once more in the midst of the anxious inquirers, who, though ever changing faces by the coming of one and the going of another, wore still the same sullen expression of countenance as they tried to figure some satisfaction out of the fragmentary contradictions chalked up before their eyes as information to the passing public.
Johns and I talked very little as we walked among the people. At length, when we had walked out of the throngest of the throng, I said, "Johns, does it make your eyes ache to have so many people pass and repass across your vision?"
"No, not now."
"Did it ever?"
"Oh, yes. When I first came to the city I tried to see everything at once."
"And that tired your eyes?"
"Of course it did. I took in so many impressions that the internal machinery of my eyes gave out and broke down from overwork."
"I guess that must be it, for my eyes do not, for days after, get over a visit to the city. When I return home to the farm, the green of the fields and trees comes into my eyes like the cooling spray of a woodland waterfall, and I have a desire to lie down for hours and close my eyes without sleeping."
"Well," said Johns, with an amused expression in his face, "there is a photographer in every intelligent eye, and when you come to the city you are hungry for new views and new faces; and these views and faces come before you so fast that you overwork your photographer, and when you go home he wants to rest, and he persuades you to close up the windows of your head, lock the front door of your observation shop, and let him take a sleep."
"I suppose, then, you think I'm staring my eyes out like a gawk !"
"No, not like a gawk particularly, for every observant body does it until the newness wears off."
"Do you think people notice me staring at things ?"
"Oh, no. People who are minding their own lawful business pay no attention, but the beggar, the bummer, the bunko-boy, and the strap-gamester have an eye on you ; the harlot, also, may possibly be aware of your arrival in town."
"I should think they would know a stranger by his clothing, or perhaps by his walk."
"Not much. You may get the newest and nobbiest outfit, from boot-heels to hat-crown—you may hire a fancy vehicle with a driver and footman to ride you about—and still your hungry eyes will tell the sharps and experts that you are a non-resident."
"Not at all. If you will notice that man in front of us you will see that he scuds along, paying not the least attention to anything above or below, right or left ; and you see now how he swings around the corner of the streets, without seeming to note where he is going or what is ahead of him; the usual noises of the streets no more distract him than the ticking of a clock in his room. He is at home and his every move shows it."
"Then I'm not at home, and my every move shows that, too ?"
"That's about it," said Johns, laughing.
Just at this point Johns stopped suddenly in front of a photographer's show-case at the foot of a stairway.
"Excuse me for five minutes ;" and he went up those steps clear out of my sight, three steps at once, like a young hoodlum getting up-stairs on a Saturday night to a popular soubrette benefit at the theater.
In a short time he came down again accompanied by a male attaché of the photograph gallery.
"This one," said Johns, pointing to a full length female picture in the show-case.
"We cannot part with that," remarked the attaché.
"Give me a copy then, or lend it to me, and I'll copy it."
"Come up into the gallery," said the attaché, removing the picture from the case.
"Only a moment," Johns said, apologetically, to me as he went up stairs, following the photographer's man
Presently he came hurriedly down again, remarking :
"All right now. Come—go back with me to my place—that is," he hesitatingly added, "unless you want to walk farther, or go to some other place."
"No; I am at your service," I replied, and we moved toward the business place of John Johns. As soon as we were in the room where the looking-glasses were, Johns said to me :
SEEKING SHADOWS. 319
"Sit down." Then, throwing his hat upon the chemically stained table, he rushed to his dark corner, and almost instantly came out again with a roll of those crisp paper-proofs in his hand. These he laid upon the table. Then, sitting down at the same table, he took from his pockets two things—one of which was the photograph we saw in the gallery show-case, while the other was a magnifying glass. For a few minutes he absorbed his attention by looking through the glass alternately at the proofs and the photograph from the gallery. Then, striking the table with the soft side of his clenched hand, he exclaimed, "The identical same, by heaven."
"The same?" I echoed.
"Yes," said he, again looking through the glass at the pictures. "She's older and grander looking now, but she's the same 'girl' she was at least twenty years ago. Just take this glass and look at her. You see in my pictures, which came out of yon old mirror, she is all, of the Italian painter's fancy of the Madonna, less the holy nimbus, while in this picture she is the Roman matron, beatified by the snows and spring-flowers of Saxon Europe. Perhaps you will not see in the photographic black and white the sense of color which I feel."
I took the pictures. I looked at them through the glass.
"Noble female animal," I exclaimed ; "and yet, withal, great of intellect, too. Johns," I added, while still looking through the glass at the face and form of the picture, "if I were not the well wedded father of a numerous interesting progeny, I should desire, at this moment, to go somewhere to find a woman like this and fall in love with her with all my might."
"You will go a long way before you find a woman like that, and when you do find her, she will be mortgaged, body and soul, to some other fellow."
"Do you think so strong a nature as this would be so mortgaged to anybody ?"
"Yes ; I have an idea that a great woman—a really great one—clings greatly to her accepted love, as she, also, does to her children."
At this point, a new thought coming into John's head, he popped off toward his dark room, with the photograph in his hand, saying as he went, "Ah, excuse me."
When John Johns goes off in that manner, I know by old experience with his kind that I may see him again in an hour, or a week, as the humor takes him. So, after waiting some time, I said:
"Excuse me—I'm going down town."
"All right," said Johns, from his den, "I'll see you soon."
Going down stairs into the street, I felt relieved from the incubus of Johns's mesmeric force. These highly concentrated and compressed people always fascinate me. Highly polished steam engines have the same effect upon me when I watch them running rapidly, with that simmering hint of a broken silence which may end in explosion.
I went about my own little business among the thousands and thousands of other nameless people who, like myself, were seeking to bring together the incongruous items of daily human life. I had not further converse with J. J. for more than a week, though each day, sometimes more than once, I called at his place only to find his Mongolian servitor responding to my call with :
"Him all light. Allee time catchee photoglap. No talkee him. Him tellee me, him flen' come, me talkee—by um by all light."
I did not call upon my old former partner again for more than another week, and when I did then call, his servant said :
"Him go tlavel. No tellee me nodding. Me no know."
"How long is he gone? How many days gone?"
"Thlee day—no see him."
Becoming weary with waiting on the eccentrics of my friend, I wended my way to the depot, and took the cars for home.
When I arrived at home, I found an epistle of some length, addressed to me, in my village post-office box. I carried the letter home, and, after I had looked about my place, and spoken a pleasant, friendly piece to the cows, horses, pigs, and fowls, and made myself otherwise sociable and comfortable among my own, or, rather, among the things to which I belong, I settled down to a perusal of my correspondence. The long epistle ran thus :
MY DEAR MAC. :—You are the only sensible man I was ever really acquainted with. You are the one go-ahead man that knows when to quit. Not knowing that, I am both a fool and a beggar.
I "hunted" the woman whose photograph you know I got from the photographer. I found her. With my new power I made her hunt me. I sent her, in part, the pictorial history of her old times. She came to my place, dressed like a dignified duchess, having with her a four-year old girl dressed like a princess.
She, with the child, climbed the dusty, dark stairs to my studio. I offered a chair—she took it, and sat down—the child clinging about her knees as it followed me with its eyes. The woman took from her satchel the pictures I
320 THE CALIFORNIAN.
had sent her with my note, in which I had written, "if it is important to you to know more of this matter, call upon John Johns, No.— J — Street," and laid them in her lap, under her hand.
"You sent me this note and these photographs?"
"Yes, madam," I answered, taking a chair at a respectful distance in front of her.
"What do you want?" she asked, dryly, while the child, quitting her knees, came over to my own, and began softly smoothing down the ends of my beard.
"I want to know if it is to your interest to have the means of making those pictures destroyed?"
"No, it is not to my interest," she answered, calmly.
"Very well, madam, then the means will not be destroyed," I said, coolly, as I half unconciously took the child upon my knee.
"You look like my mamma," said the child, gazing steadily up at my face.
At this speech of the child, the mother cast a startled half glance at me, yet remarked :
"It is my desire to have everything connected with these pictures destroyed—but I cannot say it is to my interest."
"You know best, madam."
"I am not certain that I do," she said, "but I wish to tell you (however you came by your knowledge, and I do not ask how you came by it) that I am not, and never have been, the thing which your pictures in some degree indicate."
"It is your face, is it not?"
"It is my face."
"It is your form?"
"It was my form. I was a girl then." "Very good, madam, I seek no explanations." "But you should not be harder with me than the facts."
"I am not."
"But, pardon me, sir, you are."
"If the pictures say less, or say more, I am content. I shall add nothing."
"You looks like a good man," said the little one, laying her head contentedly against my vest.
"But that will not do, sir. I believe in following the truth, cost what it will, but I am not willing to submit to more or less than the truth. Now, there are only two ways that you can add to your fortunes by making me ashamed; one is that I pay you money—the other is that you sell what appears to be, but is not, the story of my shame to the public. In either case it would bring grief upon my house. I deny no fact—which do you propose to do?"
"Whichever you desire, madam."
"But I desire neither."
"I think we understand each other."
"No, sir, I think you do not understand me. I have come at your summons to say to you that I am a woman who cares not one straw for her own life, if it could be disconnected from those who are dearer than life, and to ask you, if you should seem to be a gentleman, not to injure, through me, those who never did themselves or others any wrong."
"What shall be my compensation for this gentlemanly condescension?"
"A gentleman's clear conscience, sir."
"Well, sir," said the madam, rising, "I have asked all I came to ask, and I tell you now, without anger or alarm, that when I was a girl alone in this wild country over twenty years ago I was wild as the country was—wild as an old Californian; but," and, taking her child by the hand, she stood erect—" but I never was, nor will I now be, a hypocrite or a liar."
Something in the woman's proud attitude, as she uttered these last words, brought me the slightest reminder of long, long ago; but before I could have time to locate the reminder in its rightful place, the madam continued :
"You must see, sir, it is no use—no use for me to buy your accusation if you are not at bottom a gentleman; and, if you are a gentleman, it cannot be for sale."
I thought this a pretty keen bluff, but you know that I am not easily bluffed. Yet I admitted to myself that she was playing against one of the weakest combinations in my hand.
"I am complimented, madam, for the liberal offer to class me among gentlemen."
"But you do not accept it?"
"No, madam. I have not yet had cause to agree with the Honorable Thomas H. Benton, of Missouri, who advised his young friend to 'perjure yourself like a gentleman, sir,' rather than swear to the truth of a lady's character."
"Yet you are an American born?"
"I have that honor, madam."
"And have sisters, I may suppose?"
"Not in the plural. Perhaps not now any sister, but one I did have long ago."
"Suppose I were that sister?"
"Pshaw, madam; all this is away from the matter in hand."
"Very good, sir. If no appeal can reach your gentlemanly instincts, my mission here is entirely ended. I will not buy you—let the consequences be what they may," and she opened the door toward going out.
"Perhaps, madam, in proof of the courage you wish to evince in refusing to 'buy me,' you
REMINISCENCES OF THE PACIFIC COAST TELEGRAPH. 321
will give me the name of the maiden who figures in these poor photographs of mine."
"My maiden name? Yes, sir. It was Henrietta Moidorn."
She passed the door, closed it behind her, and was gone. I did not call after her. The room seemed riding on the pulse of an earthquake. Everything was mixed. I sank into a chair by the table utterly nerveless. I was pursuing and trying to shame my own flesh and blood—my own and only sister. I could feel the place warm on my vest where the child's head had rested.
There is little more to tell, old man. Long as you have known me, much as I have talked to you alone in the mountains of the sage-land, faithful as you have been to me, and truly as I have respected and trusted you, there is one chapter of my personal history I never have told to you, and now never will.
My great discovery looks to me now like a crime. I shall bury myself and it together.
Good-bye, old man. There is nothing you can do. There is nothing worth doing for your old friend, John Johns. You may write or tell what you like about me, as I shall then be out of the way forever, where nothing human can affect,
Yours truly, in fact,
JOHN JACOB MOIDORN.
I finished reading the epistle. I wrote this, sketch. I have reflected over the whole matter, but as I am not the heir of John Johns, or, more correctly in the new light, of John Jacob Moidorn, I did not look after its effects, although I read myself thin of flesh over the daily papers hunting accidents, suicides, mysterious disappearances, and morgue reports. I do not know what became of my old friend, or of his sister, or of the Chinaman. I do not know why Tilden was not elected President in 1876, nor why "Poiper was defayted," and I don't believe anybody else does.
J. W. GALLY.