Perhaps it was the President, and perhaps it was the
negro - but the principle remains the same. They said it was an
insult. It is not good to be a negro in the land of the free and
the home of the brave.
But this is nothing to do with San Francisco and her merry
maidens, her strong, swaggering men, and her wealth of gold and
pride. They bore me to a banquet in honor of a brave
lieutenant - Carlin, of the "Vandalia" - who stuck by his ship in
the great cyclone at Apia and comported himself as an officer
should. On that occasion - 'twas at the Bohemian Club - I heard
oratory with the roundest of o's, and devoured a dinner the
memory of which will descend with me into the hungry grave.
There were about forty speeches delivered, and not one of them
was average or ordinary. It was my first introduction to the
American eagle screaming for all it was worth. The lieutenant's
heroism served as a peg from which the silver-tongued ones turned
themselves loose and kicked.
They ransacked the clouds of sunset, the thunderbolts of heaven,
the deeps of hell, and the splendor of the resurrection for
tropes and metaphors, and hurled the result at the head of the
guest of the evening.
Never since the morning stars sung together for joy, I learned,
had an amazed creation witnessed such superhuman bravery as that
displayed by the American navy in the Samoa cyclone. Till earth
rotted in the phosphorescent star-and-stripe slime of a decayed
universe, that god-like gallantry would not be forgotten. I
grieve that I cannot give the exact words. My attempt at
reproducing their spirit is pale and inadequate. I sat
bewildered on a coruscating Niagara of blatherum-skite. It was
magnificent - it was stupendous - and I was conscious of a wicked
desire to hide my face in a napkin and grin. Then, according to
rule, they produced their dead, and across the snowy table-cloths
dragged the corpse of every man slain in the Civil War, and
hurled defiance at "our natural enemy" (England, so please you),
"with her chain of fortresses across the world." Thereafter they
glorified their nation afresh from the beginning, in case any
detail should have been overlooked, and that made me
uncomfortable for their sakes. How in the world can a white man,
a sahib, of our blood, stand up and plaster praise on his own
country? He can think as highly as he likes, but this
open-mouthed vehemence of adoration struck me almost as
indelicate. My hosts talked for rather more than three hours,
and at the end seemed ready for three hours more.
But when the lieutenant - such a big, brave, gentle giant - rose to
his feet, he delivered what seemed to me as the speech of the
evening. I remember nearly the whole of it, and it ran
some-thing in this way: - "Gentlemen - It's very good of you to
give me this dinner and to tell me all these prettythings, but
what I want you to understand - the fact is, what we want and what
we ought to get at once, is a navy - more ships - lots of 'em - "
Then we howled the top of the roof off, and I for one fell in
love with Carlin on the spot. Wallah! He was a man.
The prince among merchants bid me take no heed to the warlike
sentiments of some of the old generals.
"The sky-rockets are thrown in for effect," quoth he, "and
whenever we get on our hind legs we always express a desire to
chaw up England. It's a sort of family affair."
And, indeed, when you come to think of it, there is no other
country for the American public speaker to trample upon.
France has Germany; we have Russia; for Italy Austria is
provided; and the humblest Pathan possesses an ancestral enemy.
Only America stands out of the racket, and there-fore to be in
fashion makes a sand-bag of the mother country, and hangs her
when occasion requires.
"The chain of fortresses" man, a fascinating talker, explained to
me after the affair that he was compelled to blow off steam.
Everybody expected it.
When we had chanted "The Star Spangled Banner" not more than
eight times, we adjourned. America is a very great country, but
it is not yet heaven, with electric lights and plush fittings, as
the speakers professed to believe. My listening mind went back
to the politicians in the saloon, who wasted no time in talking
about freedom, but quietly made arrangements to impose their will
on the citizens.
"The judge is a great man, but give thy presents to the clerk,"
as the proverb saith.
And what more remains to tell? I cannot write connectedly,
because I am in love with all those girls aforesaid, and some
others who do not appear in the invoice. The typewriter is an
in-stitution of which the comic papers make much capital, but she
is vastly convenient. She and a companion rent a room in a
business quarter, and, aided by a typewriting machine, copy MSS.
at the rate of six annas a page. Only a woman can operate a
typewriting machine, because she has served apprenticeship to the
sewing machine. She can earn as much as one hundred dollars a
month, and professes to regard this form of bread-winning as her
natural destiny. But, oh! how she hates it in her heart of
hearts! When I had got over the surprise of doing business with
and trying to give orders to a young woman of coldly, clerkly
aspect intrenched behind gold-rimmed spectacles, I made inquiries
concerning the pleasures of this independence.