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- URBAN SKETCHES - 10/11 -
singular result of the frequency of these funerals is the development of a critical and fastidious taste in such matters on the part of myself and family. If I may so express myself, without irreverence, we seldom turn out for anything less than six carriages. Any number over this is usually breathlessly announced by Bridget as, "Here's another, mum,--and a good long one."
With these slight drawbacks my suburban residence is charming. To the serious poet, and writer of elegiac verses, the aspect of Nature, viewed from my veranda, is suggestive. I myself have experienced moments when the "sad mechanic exercise" of verse would have been of infinite relief. The following stanzas, by a young friend who has been stopping with me for the benefit of his health, addressed to a duck that frequented a small pond in the vicinity of my mansion, may be worthy of perusal. I think I have met the idea conveyed in the first verse in some of Hood's prose, but as my friend assures me that Hood was too conscientious to appropriate anything not his own, I conclude I am mistaken.
LINES TO A WATER-FOWL.
Fowl, that sing'st in yonder pool, Where the summer winds blow cool, Are there hydropathic cures For the ills that man endures? Know'st thou Priessnitz? What? alack Hast no other word but "Quack?"
Cleopatra's barge might pale To the splendors of thy tail, Or the stately caravel Of some "high-pooped admiral." Never yet left such a wake E'en the navigator Drake!
Dux thou art, and leader, too, Heeding not what's "falling due," Knowing not of debt or dun,-- Thou dost heed no bill but one; And, though scarce conceivable, That's a bill Receivable, Made--that thou thy stars mightst thank-- Payable at the next bank.
ON A VULGAR LITTLE BOY
The subject of this article is at present leaning against a tree directly opposite to my window. He wears his cap with the wrong side before, apparently for no other object than that which seems the most obvious,--of showing more than the average quantity of very dirty face. His clothes, which are worn with a certain buttonless ease and freedom, display, in the different quality of their fruit-stains, a pleasing indication of the progress of the seasons. The nose of this vulgar little boy turns up at the end. I have noticed this in several other vulgar little boys, although it is by no means improbable that youthful vulgarity may be present without this facial peculiarity. Indeed, I am inclined to the belief that it is rather the result of early inquisitiveness--of furtive pressures against window-panes, and of looking over fences, or of the habit of biting large apples hastily--than an indication of scorn or juvenile superciliousness. The vulgar little boy is more remarkable for his obtrusive familiarity. It is my experience of his predisposition to this quality which has induced me to write this article.
My acquaintance with him began in a moment of weakness. I have an unfortunate predilection to cultivate originality in people, even when accompanied by objectionable character. But, as I lack the firmness and skilfulness which usually accompany this taste in others, and enable them to drop acquaintances when troublesome, I have surrounded myself with divers unprofitable friends, among whom I count the vulgar little boy. The manner in which he first attracted my attention was purely accidental. He was playing in the street, and the driver of a passing vehicle cut at him, sportively, with his whip. The vulgar little boy rose to his feet and hurled after his tormentor a single sentence of invective. I refrain from repeating it, for I feel that I could not do justice to it here. If I remember rightly, it conveyed, in a very few words, a reflection on the legitimacy of the driver's birth; it hinted a suspicion of his father's integrity, and impugned the fair fame of his mother; it suggested incompetency in his present position, personal uncleanliness, and evinced a sceptical doubt of his future salvation. As his youthful lips closed over the last syllable, the eyes of the vulgar little boy met mine. Something in my look emboldened him to wink. I did not repel the action nor the complicity it implied. From that moment I fell into the power of the vulgar little boy, and he has never left me since.
He haunts me in the streets and by-ways. He accosts me, when in the company of friends, with repulsive freedom. He lingers about the gate of my dwelling to waylay me as I issue forth to business. Distance he overcomes by main strength of lungs, and he hails me from the next street. He met me at the theatre the other evening, and demanded my check with the air of a young foot-pad. I foolishly gave it to him, but re-entering some time after, and comfortably seating myself in the parquet, I was electrified by hearing my name called from the gallery with the addition of a playful adjective. It was the vulgar little boy. During the performance he projected spirally-twisted playbills in my direction, and indulged in a running commentary on the supernumeraries as they entered.
To-day has evidently been a dull one with him. I observe he whistles the popular airs of the period with less shrillness and intensity. Providence, however, looks not unkindly on him, and delivers into his hands as it were two nice little boys who have at this moment innocently strayed into our street. They are pink and white children, and are dressed alike, and exhibit a certain air of neatness and refinement which is alone sufficient to awaken the antagonism of the vulgar little boy. A sigh of satisfaction breaks from his breast. What does he do? Any other boy would content himself with simply knocking the hats off their respective heads, and so vent his superfluous vitality in a single act, besides precipitating the flight of the enemy. But there are aesthetic considerations not to be overlooked; insult is to be added to the injury inflicted, and in the struggles of the victim some justification is to be sought for extreme measures. The two nice little boys perceive their danger and draw closer to each other. The vulgar little boy begins by irony. He affects to be overpowered by the magnificence of their costume. He addresses me (across the street and through the closed window), and requests information if there haply be a circus in the vicinity. He makes affectionate inquiries after the health of their parents. He expresses a fear of maternal anxiety in regard to their welfare. He offers to conduct them home. One nice little boy feebly retorts; but alas! his correct pronunciation; his grammatical exactitude, and his moderate epithets only provoke a scream of derision from the vulgar little boy, who now rapidly changes his tactics. Staggering under the weight of his vituperation, they fall easy victims to what he would call his "dexter mawley." A wail of lamentation goes up from our street. But as the subject of this article seems to require a more vigorous handling than I had purposed to give it, I find it necessary to abandon my present dignified position, seize my hat, open the front door, and try a stronger method.
WAITING FOR THE SHIP.
A FORT POINT IDYL.
About an hour's ride from the Plaza there is a high bluff with the ocean breaking uninterruptedly along its rocky beach. There are several cottages on the sands, which look as if they had recently been cast up by a heavy sea. The cultivated patch behind each tenement is fenced in by bamboos, broken spars, and driftwood. With its few green cabbages and turnip-tops, each garden looks something like an aquarium with the water turned off. In fact you would not be surprised to meet a merman digging among the potatoes, or a mermaid milking a sea cow hard by.
Near this place formerly arose a great semaphoric telegraph with its gaunt arms tossed up against the horizon. It has been replaced by an observatory, connected with an electric nerve to the heart of the great commercial city. From this point the incoming ships are signalled, and again checked off at the City Exchange. And while we are here looking for the expected steamer, let me tell you a story.
Not long ago, a simple, hard-working mechanic had amassed sufficient by diligent labor in the mines to send home for his wife and two children. He arrived in San Francisco a month before the time the ship was due, for he was a western man, and had made the overland journey and knew little of ships or seas or gales. He procured work in the city, but as the time approached he would go to the shipping office regularly every day. The month passed, but the ship came not; then a month and a week, two weeks, three weeks, two months, and then a year.
The rough, patient face, with soft lines overlying its hard features, which had become a daily apparition at the shipping agent's, then disappeared. It turned up one afternoon at the observatory as the setting sun relieved the operator from his duties. There was something so childlike and simple in the few questions asked by this stranger, touching his business, that the operator spent some time to explain. When the mystery of signals and telegraphs was unfolded, the stranger had one more question to ask. "How long might a vessel be absent before they would give up expecting her?" The operator couldn't tell; it would depend on circumstances. Would it be a year? Yes, it might be a year, and vessels had been given up for lost after two years and had come home. The stranger put his rough hand on the operator's, and thanked him for his "troubil," and went away.
Still the ship came not. Stately clippers swept into the Gate, and merchantmen went by with colors flying, and the welcoming gun of
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