"Man is fire and woman is tow,
And the devil he comes and begins to blow."
In America the tow is soaked in a solution that makes it
fire-proof, in absolute liberty and large knowledge;
consequently, accidents do not exceed the regular percentage
arranged by the devil for each class and climate under the skies.
But the freedom of the young girl has its draw-backs. She is - I
say it with all reluctance - irreverent, from her forty-dollar
bonnet to the buckles in her eighteen-dollar shoes. She talks
flippantly to her parents and men old enough to be her
grandfather. She has a prescriptive right to the society of the
man who arrives. The parents admit it.
This is sometimes embarrassing, especially when you call on a man
and his wife for the sake of information - the one being a
merchant of varied knowledge, the other a woman of the world. In
five minutes your host has vanished. In another five his wife
has followed him, and you are left alone with a very charming
maiden, doubtless, but certainly not the person you came to see.
She chatters, and you grin, but you leave with the very strong
impression of a wasted morning. This has been my experience once
or twice. I have even said as pointedly as I dared to a man: - "I
came to see you."
"You'd better see me in my office, then. The house belongs to my
women folk - to my daughter, that is to say."
He spoke the truth. The American of wealth is owned by his
family. They exploit him for bullion. The women get the
ha'pence, the kicks are all his own. Nothing is too good for an
American's daughter (I speak here of the moneyed classes).
The girls take every gift as a matter of course, and yet they
develop greatly when a catastrophe arrives and the man of many
millions goes up or goes down, and his daughters take to
stenography or typewriting. I have heard many tales of heroism
from the lips of girls who counted the principals among their
friends. The crash came, Mamie, or Hattie, or Sadie, gave up
their maid, their carriages and candy, and with a No. 2 Remington
and a stout heart set about earning their daily bread.
"And did I drop her from the list of my friends? No, sir," said
a scarlet-lipped vision in white lace; "that might happen to us
It may be this sense of possible disaster in the air that makes
San Francisco society go with so captivating a rush and whirl.
Recklessness is in the air. I can't explain where it comes from,
but there it is. The roaring winds of the Pacific make you drunk
to begin with. The aggressive luxury on all sides helps out the
intoxication, and you spin forever "down the ringing grooves of
change" (there is no small change, by the way, west of the
Rockies) as long as money lasts. They make greatly and they spend
lavishly; not only the rich, but the artisans, who pay nearly
five pounds for a suit of clothes, and for other luxuries in
The young men rejoice in the days of their youth. They gamble,
yacht, race, enjoy prize-fights and cock-fights, the one openly,
the other in secret; they establish luxurious clubs; they break
themselves over horse-flesh and other things, and they are
instant in a quarrel. At twenty they are experienced in
business, embark in vast enterprises, take partners as
experienced as themselves, and go to pieces with as much splendor
as their neighbors. Remember that the men who stocked California
in the fifties were physically, and, as far as regards certain
tough virtues, the pick of the earth. The inept and the weakly
died en route, or went under in the days of construction. To
this nucleus were added all the races of the Continent - French,
Italian, German, and, of course, the Jew.
The result you can see in the large-boned, deep-chested,
delicate-handed women, and long, elastic, well-built boys. It
needs no little golden badge swinging from the watch-chain to
mark the native son of the golden West, the country-bred of
Him I love because he is devoid of fear, carries himself like a
man, and has a heart as big as his books. I fancy, too, he knows
how to enjoy the blessings of life that his province so
abundantly bestows upon him. At least, I heard a little rat of a
creature with hock-bottle shoulders explaining that a man from
Chicago could pull the eye-teeth of a Californian in business.
Well, if I lived in fairy-land, where cherries were as big as
plums, plums as big as apples, and strawberries of no account,
where the procession of the fruits of the seasons was like a
pageant in a Drury Lane pantomime and the dry air was wine, I
should let business slide once in a way and kick up my heels with
my fellows. The tale of the resources of California - vegetable
and mineral - is a fairy-tale. You can read it in books. You
would never believe me.
All manner of nourishing food, from sea-fish to beef, may be
bought at the lowest prices, and the people are consequently
well-developed and of a high stomach. They demand ten shillings
for tinkering a jammed lock of a trunk; they receive sixteen
shillings a day for working as carpenters; they spend many
sixpences on very bad cigars, which the poorest of them smoke,
and they go mad over a prize-fight. When they disagree they do
so fatally, with fire-arms in their hands, and on the public
streets. I was just clear of Mission Street when the trouble
began between two gentlemen, one of whom perforated the other.
When a policeman, whose name I do not recollect, "fatally shot Ed
Hearney" for attempting to escape arrest, I was in the next