of it! Three hundred thou-sand white men and women gathered in
one spot, walking upon real pavements in front of
plate-glass-windowed shops, and talking something that at first
hearing was not very different from English. It was only when I
had tangled myself up in a hopeless maze of small wooden houses,
dust, street refuse, and children who played with empty kerosene
tins, that I discovered the difference of speech.
"You want to go to the Palace Hotel?" said an affable youth on a
dray. "What in hell are you doing here, then? This is about the
lowest ward in the city. Go six blocks north to corner of Geary
and Markey, then walk around till you strike corner of Gutter and
Sixteenth, and that brings you there."
I do not vouch for the literal accuracy of these directions,
quoting but from a disordered memory.
"Amen," I said. "But who am I that I should strike the corners
of such as you name? Peradventure they be gentlemen of repute,
and might hit back. Bring it down to dots, my son."
I thought he would have smitten me, but he didn't. He explained
that no one ever used the word "street," and that every one was
supposed to know how the streets ran, for sometimes the names
were upon the lamps and sometimes they weren't. Fortified with
these directions, I proceeded till I found a mighty street, full
of sumptuous buildings four and five stories high, but paved with
rude cobblestones, after the fashion of the year 1.
Here a tram-car, without any visible means of support, slid
stealthily behind me and nearly struck me in the back. This was
the famous cable car of San Francisco, which runs by gripping an
endless wire rope sunk in the ground, and of which I will tell
you more anon. A hundred yards further there was a slight
commotion in the street, a gathering together of three or four,
something that glittered as it moved very swiftly. A ponderous
Irish gentleman, with priest's cords in his hat and a small
nickel-plated badge on his fat bosom, emerged from the knot
supporting a Chinaman who had been stabbed in the eye and was
bleeding like a pig. The by-standers went their ways, and the
Chinaman, assisted by the policeman, his own. Of course this was
none of my business, but I rather wanted to know what had
happened to the gentleman who had dealt the stab. It said a
great deal for the excellence of the municipal arrangement of the
town that a surging crowd did not at once block the street to see
what was going for-ward. I was the sixth man and the last who
assisted at the performance, and my curiosity was six times the
greatest. Indeed, I felt ashamed of showing it.
There were no more incidents till I reached the Palace Hotel, a
seven-storied warren of humanity with a thousand rooms in it.
All the travel books will tell you about hotel arrangements in
this country. They should be seen to be appreciated. Understand
clearly - and this letter is written after a thousand miles of
experiences - that money will not buy you service in the West.
When the hotel clerk - the man who awards your room to you and who
is supposed to give you information - when that resplendent
individual stoops to attend to your wants he does so whistling or
hum-ming or picking his teeth, or pauses to converse with some
one he knows. These performances, I gather, are to impress upon
you that he is a free man and your equal. From his general
appearance and the size of his diamonds he ought to be your
superior. There is no necessity for this swaggering
self-consciousness of freedom. Business is business, and the man
who is paid to attend to a man might reasonably devote his whole
attention to the job. Out of office hours he can take his coach
and four and pervade society if he pleases.
In a vast marble-paved hall, under the glare of an electric
light, sat forty or fifty men, and for their use and amusement
were provided spittoons of infinite capacity and generous gape.
Most of the men wore frock-coats and top-hats - the things that we
in India put on at a wedding-break-fast, if we possess them - but
they all spat. They spat on principle. The spittoons were on
the staircases, in each bedroom - yea, and in chambers even more
sacred than these. They chased one into retirement, but they
blossomed in chiefest splendor round the bar, and they were all
used, every reeking one of them.
Just before I began to feel deathly sick another reporter
grappled me. What he wanted to know was the precise area of
India in square miles. I referred him to Whittaker. He had
never heard of Whittaker. He wanted it from my own mouth, and I
would not tell him. Then he swerved off, just like the other
man, to details of journalism in our own country. I ventured to
suggest that the interior economy of a paper most concerned the
people who worked it.
"That's the very thing that interests us," he said. "Have you
got reporters anything like our reporters on Indian newspapers?"
"We have not," I said, and suppressed the "thank God" rising to
"Why haven't you?" said he.
"Because they would die," I said.
It was exactly like talking to a child - a very rude little child.