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Page 192


My acquaintance with Swansford, at that period of my
fortunes, was a piece of good luck for which I have ever
since been thankful. I derived a certain sort of consolation
— selfish, no doubt, but very natural — from the knowledge
that his circumstances were scarcely better than my own,
his future equally uncertain. Without a friendly acquaintance,
whose respect I desired to retain, I should probably
have succumbed to the repeated rebuffs I experienced, and
given up my chosen career in despair. The thought of
Amanda was a powerful stimultant, it was true, but the
breadth of New Jersey divided her from me. Here, however,
was an ever-present eye which must not be allowed to
discover my flagging courage. I must make good to him
my first boast, and counterfeit a certain amount of energy,
until the force of habit transformed it into the genuine
article. The efforts I made were not without their results
in my nature, and, since I have come to understand myself
better, I am reconciled to that mixture of pride and vanity
to which I can now trace so many of my actions.

During the succeeding week I made many additional
trials, persevering after each failure, finally, from a curiosity
to assure myself that my original plans were indeed
futile. One or two literary editors accepted a poem from
me as an unpaid contribution, but no one was willing to
purchase. My only prospect of earning a trifle dwindled
down to the short “millinery” story, which I completed


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and carried to Mr. Jenks, who promised to read it “in the
course of the week.” Mr. Kettlewell's composer had no
objections to make in regard to the songs submitted to his
inspection; they were smooth and sentimental, he said, and
if he had time, he might marry some of them to his immortal
music; but he was now busily engaged in preparing
two new quadrilles and a polka.

I confided these experiences to Swansford, who did not
seem to be in the least surprised; so I, also, pretended to
take them as a matter of course. Meanwhile, my little
stock of money was beginning to go, and prudence advised
me to enter upon a more economical mode of living. About
this time the front attic in Swansford's boarding-house became
vacant, and I considered myself fortunate in being
able to secure it, with board, for three dollars and a half
per week. Swansford took me down to a dark parlor on
the first floor, and summoned Mrs. Very, who kept the
establishment. It was a splendid apartment; the carpet-pattern
was of immense size, and the furniture real mahogany
and horse-hair. I was obliged to wait some time
before the appearance of Mrs. Very, — a tall, middle-aged
lady with an aquiline nose. A cap with crimson ribbons
and streamers was thrown upon her head, concealing to
some extent the frowziness of her hair, and a heavy velvet
cape on her shoulders was so confused in its fastenings that
one side was an inch higher than the other. In the dim
atmosphere, nevertheless, she was rather an imposing
presence and suggested to me at once the idea of an
unfortunate duchess.

Swansford performed the ceremony of introduction,
stating my wish to become the occupant of the vacant
room. The lady bent her piercing eyes upon me and took
a silent survey of my form.

“I have not given out the room yet,” she remarked.
“Miss Dunlap spoke to me of her cousin wanting it, but
I did n't promise positive. I wish to form an agreeable


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family, and would rather be vacant for a week or two than
have them that don't seem rightly to belong to our domestic
circle. There are now three ladies and two gentlemen,
you know, Mr. Swansford; so it would seem proper for me
to take another gentleman. Mr. Godfrey, I suppose, would
not be likely to have lots of visitors till midnight or two
o'clock in the morning?”

“Oh, no!” I exclaimed. “I scarcely know anybody in
New York except Mr. Swansford.”

That would be a recommendation,” Mrs. Very reflectingly
observed. “Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer having the room
under you; they 're the oldest members of my family and
stand by me faithful. Them that know me generally do.
Our circle is the best in Hester Street, and I often have
competition for my vacancies. I 'm mostly full, all summer,
when other people, who are not particular as to genteel
boarders, are half empty.”

Mrs. Very finally informed me that she would make up
her mind that evening, and dismissed us with a stately
salutation. I should have gone away in great doubt, had
not Swansford whispered to me, at the door, “That 's
always her way of talking. She has taken you already.”

This proved to be the case. The next morning one of
Lovejoy's porters followed me up Chatham Street with my
trunk, and I took possession of the coveted attic. Mrs.
Very's residence was a narrow three-story house of brick,
with wooden steps and a small platform before the door.
This was called “the stoop.” The house was two or three
blocks removed from the noise of the Bowery, and its neighborhood
wore an aspect both of quiet and decay. The
street was rarely cleaned, and its atmosphere was generally
flavored with the smells arising from boxes of ashes and
kitchen-refuse which stood on the sidewalks awaiting removal.
Most of the houses were only of two stories, some
of them of wood, and Mrs. Very's thus received a certain
distinction. Whether or not the hall was swept, the brass


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plate on the door, with her name, was always brightly
scoured. Not far off, on the opposite side of the street,
there was a blind alley, leading to some hidden cluster of
tenements, whence issued swarms of dirty, ragged, and savage

The room to which I was conducted was almost a facsimile
of Swanford's. It commanded a view of the opposite
side of the street, and overlooked the mysteries of several
second floors. The absence of a piano made it seem
more spacious; its appointments, such as they were, were
complete; and, indeed, I was not so accustomed to luxury
as to find the least fault with them. The wall was
papered gray, with a large blue pattern, and there was a
faded and frayed ingrain carpet on the floor. A very small
stand of pine-wood, with a drawer for soap, held the washbowl
and pitcher; the thin little towel was suspended from
a nail. I had, further, an old chest with three drawers, surmounted
by a square foot of mirror, and, as Swansford had
dropped a hint that I was a young man of literary habits,
Mrs. Very considerately added a little table, with one
shrunk leg, which I steadied by means of folded newspapers.
The bed was smaller and harder than any I had before
occupied. The change from the spacious beds of
Berks County was like that from a pond to a bath-tub, and
I could no longer stretch myself in all directions with impunity.
It was symbolic of the contraction which my hopes
and my plans had suffered.

Swansford had obtained two or three pupils, at moderate
terms, in the vicinity, and these, with his own studies, kept
him employed the greater part of the day; but I had nothing
to do except write and keep my eyes open for any chance
that might turn up. When we met for dinner at five
o'clock, — which hour had been chosen by Mrs. Very, as
she informed me, on account of Mr. Mortimer, who was assistant
teller in one of the Bowery Banks, — I was formally
presented to my fellow-boarders. Mr. Mortimer was a


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grave, middle-sized man of forty, whose authority in that
genteel circle was evidently only less than the landlady's.
The outward projection of his right ear-flap, and a horizontal
groove in his short hair, showed that the pen had grown to
be a member of his body. His wife, a lady some five years
younger, was taller than himself, though in dignity of deportment
she harmonized fully. Her neck was a very stiff
prolongation of her spine, and she had a way of bending
her head the least in the world when she spoke to you, as
much as to say, “I will subdue my feelings and condescend
to speak.” She was always dressed in dark silk, and her
skirts rustled a great deal. Even in my attic, whenever I
heard a shrill, sweeping noise, like the wind through a dead
thorn-bush, I knew that Mrs. Mortimer was passing up or

The two remaining ladies were Miss Tatting, and her
niece, Miss Dunlap. The former kept a trimming-store in
Grand Street, in which the latter officiated as her assistant.
There was less difference between the ages of the ladies
than their relationship would indicate. It was difficult, in
fact, to decide upon this question, especially in the case of
the former; she might have been twenty-five and old-looking,
or carrying forty summers with an air of youth. The
necessity of unbending to her customers had given her an
easy, familiar manner, which seemed occasionally to shock
the delicate sensibilities of Mrs. Mortimer. Though comparatively
uncultivated, she had a good deal of natural
shrewdness, and was well skilled in the use of her tongue.
Her niece was cast in a similar yet softer mould. A vein
of sentiment, somewhat weak and faded now, to be sure,
ran through her composition. But she was an amiable
creature, and I have not the heart to dwell upon this little
weakness, even if it had been more grotesquely developed.

When Mrs. Very took her seat at the head of the table
(Mr. Mortimer facing her at the foot), her face was still
flushed from her superintendence in the kitchen, but her


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hair had been rapidly compelled to order, a silk cape was
substituted for the velvet one, and correctly fastened. A
small black girl stood at her elbow.

No grace was said, although the landlady waited until
Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer had lifted their eyes from their
plates. Then she questioned each of us in turn, “Shall I
send you some of the soup to-day?” After the soup, Mr.
Mortimer carved a piece of roast-beef, while Mrs. Very addressed
herself to a diminutive remainder of cold ham.
Potatoes, turnips, and spinage boiled in an uncut, tangled
mass, completed the repast.

Conversation rose as appetite declined, and after various
commonplaces had been discussed, Mrs. Very suddenly exclaimed,
“Who do you think I met, coming home from
market, Mrs. Mortimer?”

The lady addressed slightly curved her neck and answered,
in the mild voice of propriety, “I 'm sure I don't


“Indeed!” said Mrs. Mortimer.

“You don't mean Mrs. Gamble, now, do you?” asked
Miss Tatting, suspending her fork in the air.

“Mrs. Gamble!” echoed Mrs. Very, with an air of triumph.
“They were walking together, and there was no
mistaking her at once. She seems to carry her head high
enough, for all the trouble, and I should n't wonder if
they 'd cave in, though they have said he should never
darken their doors. I 've asked them to come around to
tea some evening.”

“Will they come?” all three of the ladies exclaimed at

“They promised positive they would, but could n't name
the day certain. He does n't look a bit down about it, I
must say. Perhaps they 'll come round when they find it
only hurts themselves. I was in such a hurry that I could
n't ask many questions.”


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This theme was pursued by Mrs. Very's domestic circle
with lively interest. I gradually discovered that Mr. Gamble
was my own predecessor in the attic room, and at the
genteel board where I now sat.

The occasion of his leaving was his marriage with the
daughter of a prosperous shoe-dealer, who was opposed to
the match on account of Mr. Gamble being only clerk for
a soap-boiling firm. The young lady, however, had a will
of her own, and boldly married, in defiance of her parents.
She had not returned home after the ceremony, but
sent for her wardrobe, which the angry father refused to
give up. The happy couple made a short wedding-trip to
the bridegroom's relatives in the country, and were just returning
to the city when Mrs. Very was so fortunate as to
intercept them. Of course, everybody at the table espoused
the cause of Mr. and Mrs. Gamble, the former being still
claimed as a member of the family. It was well known
that he would have remained, but for the lack of proper
accommodations, and I fancy Mrs. Mortimer would have
willingly seen a vacancy made for the romantic pair, by the
removal of Miss Tatting and her niece.

By the time our dessert of rice-pudding was reached, this
topic had been quite exhausted, and the conversation became
mixed and lively. I talked across the table to Swansford
about a story which had just appeared in one of the
Philadelphia magazines, while Mrs. Very's and Mr. Mortimer's
remarks crossed ours at right angles. Miss Dunlap
listened to us, and her aunt was occupied with the stately
Mrs. Mortimer, apparently on the mysteries of dress, for I
caught such phrases as “a great demand for chenilles,”
“corn-color coming up again,” etc. etc.

The same scene repeated itself every day — with slight
variations. We had veal sometimes, instead of beef, and
tapioca instead of rice. Mrs. Mortimer walked in Broadway,
and often found subjects for short, decorous, condescending
narratives. Swansford was questioned about his


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musical compositions, and variously advised, — Miss Dunlap
hoping that he would write an opera, while Mrs. Mortimer
thought an oratorio would be much more elevated. The
boarding-houses of Bevins and Applegate, in the same street,
were discussed with acrid satire, in which Mrs. Very heartily
joined. In short, the latter's effort to create a harmonious
domestic circle was entirely successful, so far as the
satisfaction of the members with themselves was concerned.

I had been an inmate of the house about a week when I
achieved my first success. Mr. Jenks, after postponing his
decision and keeping me on thorns for three days longer,
finally made up his mind to accept my millinery story, with
the proviso that I changed the denouement, and instead of an
elopement reconciled Ianthe's parents to the match. “The
Hesperian,” he said, was a family magazine, and designed to
contain nothing which could plant an unconventional or
rebellious thought in the breast of infancy. There had
been several elopements in the previous stories, and he had
already heard complaints. The article was pleasantly written,
and he thought I might succeed in that line, provided
I took care to “give a moral turn” to my sketches. What
could I do? Swansford's experience with Kettlewell now
came home to me with a vengeance, but I grinned (I am
afraid I came very near cursing) and endured. For the
story thus mutilated I was to receive five dollars after its
appearance. I immediately commenced another story, in
which the characters were absolute angels and devils, winding
up by assigning the former to Paradise and the latter
to Hades. The moral of that, I thought, would be plain

I now wrote a page to Dan Yule, stating that I was well,
and hoped he was, with a few little particulars of my life,
which I thought would interest him. Inclosed was a letter
of sixteen pages for Amanda, in which the joys of love,
the sorrows of absence, and the longings for that assured
future which would bring us together again, were mixed in


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equal proportions. I know that my mind, released from
the restraints imposed by publishers of moral and millinery
tales, poured itself out freely and delightedly to the one
ear which would hear me aright. It was my first letter,
and I doubt whether her joy in receiving it was greater
than mine in writing it.

Swansford knew nothing, as yet, of my attachment. Although
we had become earnest friends, I could not open to
him this chamber of my heart. Our talk was mostly upon
our “kindred arts,” as we styled them. I was even more
desirous than he to supply the words for his own melodies,
and we made, one day, a double experiment. I gave him
my last and, of course, sweetest song, taking in return a
pensive, plaintive air which he had just written, and set
myself to express it in words as he mine in music. The
result was only partially satisfactory. I reproduced, tolerably,
the sentiment of the air, but I was ignorant of the
delicate affinity between certain vowel sounds and certain
musical notes — whence, though my lines were better than
Swansford's, they were not half so easy to sing. This discovery
led to a long conversation and an examination of
the productions of various popular song-writers, the result
of which was an astonishing conviction of my own ignorance.

I should have enjoyed this vagabond life thoroughly,
nevertheless, but for the necessity which impelled me to
secure some sort of provision for the future. I saw no way
of reaching the Olympian society of the celebrated authors,
or in otherwise dragging myself out of the double insignificance
(compared with my position in Upper Samaria) into
which I had fallen. Week after week went by, yielding
me nothing but an accumulation of manuscripts. I was
obliged to procure a few better articles of clothing than I
had brought with me, and this made a great hole in my
funds. Indeed, with strict economy, they would barely last
another month. Many a night I lay awake, revolving plans


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which brightened and grew rosy with the excitement of my
brain; but, when morning came, the color had faded out
of them, and they seemed the essence of absurdity.

I was not devoid of practical faculties, but they had hitherto
lain dormant, or been suppressed by the activity of the
tastes and desires first awakened. I now began to find a
wide vibration in my nature, between the moods of night
and day; but their reciprocal action hastened my development.
Still, I was at heart a boy, and troubled with a boy's
restless impatience. I had no suspicion of the many and
the inevitable throes which men as well as planets must
endure, before chaos is resolved into form.