The man was a revelation to me. To his questions I
re-turned answers mendacious and evasive. After all, it really
did not matter what I said. He could not understand. I can only
hope and pray that none of the readers of the "Pioneer" will ever
see that portentous interview. The man made me out to be an
idiot several sizes more drivelling than my destiny intended, and
the rankness of his ignorance managed to distort the few poor
facts with which I supplied him into large and elaborate lies.
Then, thought I, "the matter of American journalism shall be
looked into later on. At present I will enjoy myself."
No man rose to tell me what were the lions of the place. No one
volunteered any sort of conveyance. I was absolutely alone in
this big city of white folk. By instinct I sought refreshment,
and came upon a bar-room full of bad Salon pictures in which men
with hats on the backs of their heads were wolfing food from a
counter. It was the institution of the "free lunch" I had struck.
You paid for a drink and got as much as you wanted to eat. For
something less than a rupee a day a man can feed himself
sumptuously in San Francisco, even though he be a bankrupt.
Remember this if ever you are stranded in these parts.
Later I began a vast but unsystematic exploration of the streets.
I asked for no names. It was enough that the pavements were full
of white men and women, the streets clanging with traffic, and
that the restful roar of a great city rang in my ears. The cable
cars glided to all points of the compass at once. I took them
one by one till I could go no further. San Francisco has been
pitched down on the sand bunkers of the Bikaneer desert. About
one fourth of it is ground reclaimed from the sea - any old-timers
will tell you all about that. The remainder is just ragged,
unthrifty sand hills, to-day pegged down by houses.
From an English point of view there has not been the least
attempt at grading those hills, and indeed you might as well try
to grade the hillocks of Sind. The cable cars have for all
practical purposes made San Francisco a dead level. They take no
count of rise or fall, but slide equably on their appointed
courses from one end to the other of a six-mile street. They
turn corners almost at right angles, cross other lines, and for
aught I know may run up the sides of houses. There is no visible
agency of their flight, but once in awhile you shall pass a
five-storied building humming with machinery that winds up an
everlasting wire cable, and the initiated will tell you that here
is the mechanism. I gave up asking questions. If it pleases
Providence to make a car run up and down a slit in the ground for
many miles, and if for twopence halfpenny I can ride in that car,
why shall I seek the reasons of the miracle? Rather let me look
out of the windows till the shops give place to thousands and
thousands of little houses made of wood (to imitate stone), each
house just big enough for a man and his family. Let me watch the
people in the cars and try to find out in what manner they differ
from us, their ancestors.
It grieves me now that I cursed them (in the matter of book
piracy), because I perceived that my curse is working and that
their speech is be-coming a horror already. They delude
them-selves into the belief that they talk English - the
English - and I have already been pitied for speaking with "an
English accent." The man who pitied me spoke, so far as I was
concerned, the language of thieves. And they all do. Where we
put the accent forward they throw it back, and vice versa where
we give the long "a" they use the short, and words so simple as
to be past mistaking they pronounce somewhere up in the dome of
their heads. How do these things happen?
Oliver Wendell Holmes says that the Yankee school-marm, the cider
and the salt codfish of the Eastern States, are responsible for
what he calls a nasal accent. I know better. They stole books
from across the water without paying for 'em, and the snort of
delight was fixed in their nostrils forever by a just Providence.
That is why they talk a foreign tongue to-day.
"Cats is dogs, and rabbits is dogs, and so's parrots. But this
'ere tortoise is an insect, so there ain't no charge," as the old
A Hindoo is a Hindoo and a brother to the man who knows his
vernacular. And a French-man is French because he speaks his own
language. But the American has no language. He is dialect,
slang, provincialism, accent, and so forth. Now that I have
heard their voices, all the beauty of Bret Harte is being ruined
for me, because I find myself catching through the roll of his
rhythmical prose the cadence of his peculiar fatherland. Get an
American lady to read to you "How Santa Claus Came to Simpson's
Bar," and see how much is, under her tongue, left of the beauty
of the original.
But I am sorry for Bret Harte. It happened this way. A reporter
asked me what I thought of the city, and I made answer suavely
that it was hallowed ground to me, because of Bret Harte. That
"Well," said the reporter, "Bret Harte claims California, but
California don't claim Bret Harte.