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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




FOR a time I wrote literary screeds for the Golden Era.
C. H. Webb had established a very excellent literary
weekly called the Californian, but high merit was no guaranty
of success; it languished, and he sold out to three printers, and
Bret Harte became editor at $20 a week, and I was employed
to contribute an article a week at $12. But the journal still
languished, and the printers sold out to Captain Ogden, a rich
man and a pleasant gentleman who chose to amuse himself
with such an expensive luxury without much caring about the
cost of it. When he grew tired of the novelty, he re-sold to
the printers, the paper presently died a peaceful death, and I was
out of work again. I would not mention these things but for
the fact that they so aptly illustrate the ups and downs that
characterize life on the Pacific coast. A man could hardly stumble
into such a variety of queer vicissitudes in any other

For two months my sole occupation was avoiding acquaintances;
for during that time I did not earn a penny, or buy an
article of any kind, or pay my board. I became a very adept
at “slinking.” I slunk from back street to back street, I slunk
away from approaching faces that looked familiar, I slunk to my
meals, ate them humbly and with a mute apology for every
mouthful I robbed my generous landlady of, and at midnight,
after wanderings that were but slinkings away from cheerfulness
and light, I slunk to my bed. I felt meaner, and lowlier
and more despicable than the worms. During all this time I


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 429. In-line image of a mysterious man slinking around wearing all black.]
had but one piece of money—a silver ten cent piece—and I held
to it and would not spend it on any account, lest the consciousness
coming strong upon me that I was entirely penniless,
might suggest suicide. I had pawned every thing but the
clothes I had on; so I clung to
my dime desperately, till it was
smooth with handling.

However, I am forgetting.
I did have one other occupation
beside that of “slinking.” It
was the entertaining of a collector
(and being entertained
by him,) who had in his hands
the Virginia banker's bill for
the forty-six dollars which I
had loaned my schoolmate, the
“Prodigal.” This man used to
call regularly once a week and
dun me, and sometimes oftener.
He did it from sheer force of
habit, for he knew he could get
nothing. He would get out
his bill, calculate the interest for me, at five per cent a month,
and show me clearly that there was no attempt at fraud in it
and no mistakes; and then plead, and argue and dun with all
his might for any sum—any little trifle—even a dollar—even
half a dollar, on account. Then his duty was accomplished
and his conscience free. He immediately dropped the subject
there always; got out a couple of cigars and divided, put his
feet in the window, and then we would have a long, luxurious talk
about everything and everybody, and he would furnish me a
world of curious dunning adventures out of the ample store in
his memory. By and by he would clap his hat on his head,
shake hands and say briskly:

“Well, business is business—can't stay with you always!”—
and was off in a second.

The idea of pining for a dun! And yet I used to long for


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him to come, and would get as uneasy as any mother if the day
went by without his visit, when I was expecting him. But he
never collected that bill, at last nor any part of it. I lived to
pay it to the banker myself.

Misery loves company. Now and then at night, in out-of-the
way, dimly lighted places, I found myself happening on another
child of misfortune. He looked so seedy and forlorn, so homeless
and friendless and forsaken, that I yearned toward him as
a brother. I wanted to claim kinship with him and go about
and enjoy our wretchedness together. The drawing toward
each other must have been mutual; at any rate we got to falling
together oftener, though still seemingly by accident; and
although we did not speak or evince any recognition, I think
the dull anxiety passed out of both of us when we saw each
other, and then for several hours we would idle along contentedly,
wide apart, and glancing furtively in at home lights and
fireside gatherings, out of the night shadows, and very much
enjoying our dumb companionship.

Finally we spoke, and were inseparable after that. For our
woes were identical, almost. He had been a reporter too, and
lost his berth, and this was his experience, as nearly as I can
recollect it. After losing his berth, he had gone down, down,
down, with never a halt: from a boarding house on Russian
Hill to a boarding house in Kearney street; from thence to
Dupont; from thence to a low sailor den; and from thence to lodgings
in goods boxes and empty hogsheads near the wharves.
Then, for a while, he had gained a meagre living by sewing up
bursted sacks of grain on the piers; when that failed he had
found food here and there as chance threw it in his way. He
had ceased to show his face in daylight, now, for a reporter
knows everybody, rich and poor, high and low, and cannot well
avoid familiar faces in the broad light of day.

This mendicant Blucher—I call him that for convenience—
was a splendid creature. He was full of hope, pluck and philosophy;
he was well read and a man of cultivated taste; he
had a bright wit and was a master of satire; his kindliness and
his generous spirit made him royal in my eyes and changed his
curb-stone seat to a throne and his damaged hat to a crown.


Page 431

He had an adventure, once, which sticks fast in my memory
as the most pleasantly grotesque that ever touched my sympathies.
He had been without a penny for two months. He
had shirked about obscure streets, among friendly dim lights,
till the thing had become second nature to him. But at last
he was driven abroad in daylight. The cause was sufficient;
he had not tasted food for forty-eight hours, and he could not
endure the misery of his hunger in idle hiding. He came along
a back street, glowering at the loaves in bake-shop windows, and
feeling that he could trade his life away for a morsel to eat.
The sight of the bread doubled his hunger; but it was good
to look at it, any how, and imagine what one might do if
one only had it. Presently, in the middle of the street he
saw a shining spot—looked
again—did not, and could not,
believe his eyes—turned away,
to try them, then looked again.
It was a verity—no vain, hunger-inspired
delusion—it was a
silver dime! He snatched it—
gloated over it; doubted it—bit
it—found it genuine—choked
his heart down, and smothered
a halleluiah. Then he looked
around—saw that nobody was
looking at him—threw the dime
down where it was before—
walked away a few steps, and
approached again, pretending he
did not know it was there, so that
he could re-enjoy the luxury of finding it. He walked around it,
viewing it from different points; then sauntered about with his
hands in his pockets, looking up at the signs and now and then
glancing at it and feeling the old thrill again. Finally he took
it up, and went away, fondling it in his pocket. He idled
through unfrequented streets, stopping in doorways and corners
to take it out and look at it. By and by he went home to his


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 432. In-line image of man standing outside looking in at a turkey through a window.]
lodgings—an empty queensware hogshead,—and employed himself
till night trying to make up his mind what to buy with it.
But it was hard to do. To get the most for it was the idea.
He knew that at the Miner's Restaurant he could get a plate
of beans and a piece of bread for ten cents; or a fish-ball and
some few trifles, but they gave “no bread with one fish-ball” there.
At French Pete's he could get a veal cutlet, plain, and some
radishes and bread, for ten cents; or a cup of coffee—a pint at
least—and a slice of bread; but the slice was not thick enough
by the eighth of an inch, and sometimes they were still more
criminal than that in the cutting of it. At seven o'clock his
hunger was wolfish; and still his mind was not made up. He
turned out and went up Merchant street, still ciphering; and
chewing a bit of stick, as is the way of starving men. He
passed before the lights of Martin's restaurant, the most aristocratic
in the city, and stopped.
It was a place where he had often
dined, in better days, and
Martin knew him well. Standing
aside, just out of the range
of the light, he worshiped the
quails and steaks in the show
window, and imagined that
may be the fairy times were not
gone yet and some prince in
disguise would come along presently
and tell him to go in there
and take whatever he wanted.
He chewed his stick with a hungry
interest as he warmed to
his subject. Just at this juncture
he was conscious of some
one at his side, sure enough;
and then a finger touched his arm. He looked up, over his
shoulder, and saw an apparition—a very allegory of Hunger!
It was a man six feet high, gaunt, unshaven, hung with rags;
with a haggard face and sunken cheeks, and eyes that pleaded
piteously. This phantom said:


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“Come with me—please.”

He locked his arm in Blucher's and walked up the street to
where the passengers were few and the light not strong, and
then facing about, put out his hands in a beseeching way, and

“Friend—stranger—look at me! Life is easy to you—you go
about, placid and content, as I did once, in my day—you have
been in there, and eaten your sumptuous supper, and picked
your teeth, and hummed your tune, and thought your pleasant
thoughts, and said to yourself it is a good world—but you've never
suffered! You don't know what trouble is—you don't know
what misery is—nor hunger! Look at me! Stranger have
pity on a poor friendless, homeless dog! As God is my judge,


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I have not tasted food for eight and forty hours!—look in my
eyes and see if I lie! Give me the least trifle in the world to
keep me from starving—anything—twenty-five cents! Do it,
stranger—do it, please. It will be nothing to you, but life to
me. Do it, and I will go down on my knees and lick the dust
before you! I will kiss your footprints—I will worship the
very ground you walk on! Only twenty-five cents! I am
famishing—perishing—starving by inches! For God's sake
don't desert me!”

Blucher was bewildered—and touched, too—stirred to the
depths. He reflected. Thought again. Then an idea struck
him, and he said:

“Come with me.”

He took the outcast's arm, walked him down to Martin's
restaurant, seated him at a marble table, placed the bill of fare
before him, and said:

“Order what you want, friend. Charge it to me, Mr. Martin.”

“All right, Mr. Blucher,” said Martin.

Then Blucher stepped back and leaned against the counter
and watched the man stow away cargo after cargo of buckwheat
cakes at seventy-five cents a plate; cup after cup of coffee, and
porter house steaks worth two dollars apiece; and when six
dollars and a half's worth of destruction had been accomplished,
and the stranger's hunger appeased, Blucher went down to
French Pete's, bought a veal cutlet plain, a slice of bread, and
three radishes, with his dime, and set to and feasted like a

Take the episode all around, it was as odd as any that can
be culled from the myriad curiosities of Californian life,