Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- The Making of an American - 7/49 -
my trunk, praying pathetically between pulls that his countrymen would make short work of me, as they certainly would of France. I heeded nothing. All the hot blood of youth was surging through me. I remembered the defeat, the humiliation of the flag I loved,--aye! and love yet, for there is no flag like the flag of my fathers, save only that of my children and of my manhood,--and I remembered, too, Elizabeth, with a sudden hope. I would be near her then, and I would earn fame and glory. The carpenter would come back with shoulder-straps. Perhaps then, in the castle...I shouldered my trunk and ran for the station. Such tools, clothes, and things as it would not hold I sold for what they would fetch, and boarded the next train for Buffalo, which was as far as my money would take me.
[Illustration: "I found the valley deserted and dead."]
I cannot resist the temptation at this point to carry the story thirty years forward to last winter, in order to point out one of the queer happenings which long ago caused me to be known to my friends as "the man of coincidences." I have long since ceased to consider them as such, though in this one there is no other present significance than that it decided a point which I had been turning over in my own mind, of moment to me and my publisher. I was lecturing in Pittsburg at the time, and ran up to take another look at Brady's Bend. I found the valley deserted and dead. The mills were gone. Disaster had overtaken them in the panic of 1873, and all that remained of the huge plant was a tottering stump of the chimney and clusters of vacant houses dropping to pieces here and there. Young trees grew out of the cold ashes in the blast-furnace. All about was desolation. Strolling down by the river with the editor of the local paper in East Brady, which had grown into a slow little railroad town, my eye fell upon a wrecked hut in which I recognized the company's office. The shutters were gone, the door hung on one hinge, and the stairs had rotted away, but we climbed in somehow. It was an idle quest, said my companion; all the books and papers had been sold the summer before to a Pittsburg junkman, who came with a cart and pitchforked them into it as so much waste paper. His trail was plain within. The floor was littered with torn maps and newspapers from the second term of President Grant. In a rubbish heap I kicked against something more solid and picked it up. It was the only book left in the place: the "draw-book" for the years 1870-72; and almost the first name I read was my own, as having received, on July 19, 1870, $10.63 in settlement of my account with the Brady's Bend Company when I started for the war. My companion stared. I wrapped up the book and took it away with me. I considered that I had a moral right to it; but if anybody questions it, it is at his service.
Buffalo was full of Frenchmen, but they did not receive me with a torchlight procession. They even shrugged their shoulders when good old Pater Bretton took up my cause and tried to get me forwarded at least to New York. The one patriot I found to applaud my high resolve was a French pawnbroker, who, with many compliments and shoulder pattings, took my trunk and all its contents, after I had paid my board out of it, in exchange for a ticket to New York. He took my watch, too, but that didn't keep time. I remember seeing my brush go with a grim smile. Having no clothes to brush, I had no need of it any longer. That pawnbroker was an artist. The year after, when I was in Buffalo again, it occurred to me to go in and see if I could get back any of my belongings. I was just a bit ashamed of myself, and represented that I was a brother of the young hothead who had gone to the war. I thought I discovered a pair of trousers that had been mine hanging up in his store, but the Frenchman was quicker than I. His eyes followed mine, and he took instant umbrage:--
"So your brother vas one shump, vas he?" he yelled. "Your brother vas a long sight better man zan you, mine frient. He go fight for la France. You stay here. Get out!" And he put me out, and saved the day and the trousers.
It was never a good plan for me to lie. It never did work out right, not once. I have found the only safe plan to be to stick to the truth and let the house come down if it must. It will come down anyhow.
I reached New York with just one cent in my pocket, and put up at a boarding-house where the charge was one dollar a day. In this no moral obliquity was involved. I had simply reached the goal for which I had sacrificed all, and felt sure that the French people or the Danish Consul would do the rest quickly. But there was evidently something wrong somewhere. The Danish Consul could only register my demand to be returned to Denmark in the event of war. They have my letter at the office yet, he tells me, and they will call me out with the reserves. The French were fitting out no volunteer army that I could get on the track of, and nobody was paying the passage of fighting men. The end of it was that, after pawning my revolver and my top-boots, the only valuable possessions I had left, to pay for my lodging, I was thrown on the street, and told to come back when I had more money. That night I wandered about New York with a gripsack that had only a linen duster and a pair of socks in it, turning over in my mind what to do next. Toward midnight I passed a house in Clinton Place that was lighted up festively. Laughter and the hum of many voices came from within. I listened. They spoke French. A society of Frenchmen having their annual dinner, the watchman in the block told me. There at last was my chance. I went up the steps and rang the bell. A flunkey in a dress-suit opened, but when he saw that I was not a guest, but to all appearances a tramp, he tried to put me out. I, on my part, tried to explain. There was an altercation, and two gentlemen of the society appeared. They listened impatiently to what I had to say, then, without a word, thrust me into the street and slammed the door in my face.
It was too much. Inwardly raging, I shook the dust of the city from my feet, and took the most direct route out of it, straight up Third Avenue. I walked till the stars in the east began to pale, and then climbed into a wagon that stood at the curb to sleep. I did not notice that it was a milk-wagon. The sun had not risen yet when the driver came, unceremoniously dragged me out by the feet, and dumped me into the gutter. On I went with my gripsack, straight ahead, until toward noon I reached Fordham College, famished and footsore. I had eaten nothing since the previous day, and had vainly tried to make a bath in the Bronx River do for breakfast. Not yet could I cheat my stomach that way.
The college gates were open, and I strolled wearily in, without aim or purpose. On a lawn some young men were engaged in athletic exercises, and I stopped to look and admire the beautiful shade-trees and the imposing building. So at least it seems to me at this distance. An old monk in a cowl, whose noble face I sometimes recall in my dreams, came over and asked kindly if I was not hungry. I was in all conscience fearfully hungry, and I said so, though I did not mean to. I had never seen a real live monk before, and my Lutheran training had not exactly inclined me in their favor. I ate of the food set before me, not without qualms of conscience, and with a secret suspicion that I would next be asked to abjure my faith, or at least do homage to the Virgin Mary, which I was firmly resolved not to do. But when, the meal finished, I was sent on my way with enough to do me for supper, without the least allusion having been made to my soul, I felt heartily ashamed of myself. I am just as good a Protestant as I ever was. Among my own I am a kind of heretic even, because I cannot put up with the apostolic succession; but I have no quarrel with the excellent charities of the Roman Church, or with the noble spirit that animates them. I learned that lesson at Fordham thirty years ago.
Up the railroad track I went, and at night hired out to a truck-farmer, with the freedom of his haymow for my sleeping quarters. But when I had hoed cucumbers three days in a scorching sun, till my back ached as if it were going to break, and the farmer guessed that he would call it square for three shillings, I went farther. A man is not necessarily a philanthropist, it seems, because he tills the soil. I did not hire out again. I did odd jobs to earn my meals, and slept in the fields at night, still turning over in my mind how to get across the sea. An incident of those wanderings comes to mind while I am writing. They were carting in hay, and when night came on, somewhere about Mount Vernon, I gathered an armful of wisps that had fallen from the loads, and made a bed for myself in a wagon-shed by the roadside. In the middle of the night I was awakened by a loud outcry. A fierce light shone in my face. It was the lamp of a carriage that had been driven into the shed. I was lying between the horse's feet unhurt. A gentleman sprang from the carriage, more frightened than I, and bent over me. When he found that I had suffered no injury, he put his hand in his pocket and held out a silver quarter.
"Go," he said, "and drink it up."
"Drink it up yourself!" I shouted angrily. "What do you take me for?"
They were rather high heroics, seeing where I was, but he saw nothing to laugh at. He looked earnestly at me for a moment, then held out his hand and shook mine heartily. "I believe you," he said; "yet you need it, or you would not sleep here. Now will you take it from me?" And I took the money.
The next day it rained, and the next day after that, and I footed it back to the city, still on my vain quest. A quarter is not a great capital to subsist on in New York when one is not a beggar and has no friends. Two days of it drove me out again to find at least the food to keep me alive; but in those two days I met the man who, long years after, was to be my honored chief, Charles A. Dana, the editor of the Sun. There had been an item in the Sun about a volunteer regiment being fitted out for France. I went up to the office, and was admitted to Mr. Dana's presence. I fancy I must have appealed to his sense of the ludicrous, dressed in top-boots and a linen duster much the worse for wear, and demanding to be sent out to fight. He knew nothing about recruiting. Was I French? No, Danish; it had been in his paper about the regiment. He smiled a little at my faith, and said editors sometimes did not know about everything that was in their papers. I turned to go, grievously disappointed, but he called me back.
"Have you," he said, looking searchingly at me, "have you had your breakfast?"
No, God knows that I had not: neither that day nor for many days before. That was one of the things I had at last learned to consider among the superfluities of an effete civilization. I suppose I had no need of telling it to him, for it was plain to read in my face. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a dollar.
"There," he said, "go and get your breakfast; and better give up the war."
Give up the war! and for a breakfast. I spurned the dollar hotly.
"I came here to enlist, not to beg money for breakfast," I said,
Previous Page Next Page
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 20 30 40 49
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything