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Page 417


The reader may suppose that the part of my history
most difficult to relate has already been written. If so,
he is mistaken. It is easier to speak of an evil impulse
which has been frustrated, than of a more venial fault which
has actually been committed. Nay, I will go further, and
state a fact which seems both inconsistent and unjust, —
that the degree of our repentance for our sins is not measured
by the extent to which they violate our own accepted
standard of morals. An act which springs from some suggestion
of cowardly meanness by which we may be surprised,
often troubles us far more than an act due to bold,
rampant, selfish appetite, though the consequences of the
latter may be, beyond comparison, more unfortunate to
ourselves and to others. There is in most men an abstract
idea of manhood, — whether natural or conventional I will
not here discuss, — which has its separate conscience,
generally, but not always, working side by side with the
religious principle. There are fortunate beings in whom
the circumstances of life have never separated these distinct
elements, — and such, alas! will not understand me.
Perhaps the record I now set down against myself will
make the matter more intelligible.

My circle of associates having become gradually narrowed
down to Brandagee and his Oracular corps, with
a few other habitués of the Ichneumon, who were not
connected with the paper, — Swansford being almost the
only old friend whom I cared to meet, — my life naturally


Page 418
took on, more and more, a reckless, vagabondizing character.
The want of a basis of Faith, Patience, and Resolution,
expressed itself in the commonest details of daily
life. Mrs. De Peyster's respectable dinner company bored
me to death; even the dishes wore the commonplace
aspect of wholesome, insipid propriety. My stomach, like
my brain, craved variety, piquancy, and excitement; health
was a secondary consideration. I ceased to make any
computation of my earnings and to guage my expenses
accordingly. One day I would invite Brandagee or Smithers
to some restaurant with a foreign carte and a list of
cheap wines, and the next, perhaps, content myself with a
lunch of black bread, Limburg cheese, and lager-beer. So
long as I had company, the hours passed away rapidly,
and with a careless, rollicking sense of enjoyment, but I
shrank from being left face to face with the emptiness
of my life.

With regard to my support, I was sufficiently assured.
The ten weekly dollars of G. Jenks were punctually forthcoming,
since the taste for scrappy, make-believe philosophy
had not yet abated, and I also took to writing bilious,
semi-mysterious stories, after the manner of Hoffman.
The prospects of the Oracle were variable for the first
few weeks: it attracted enough attention to keep up our
hopes, and paid poorly enough to disappoint them. But,
in one way or another, my income averaged twenty-five
dollars a week, all of which went as fast as it came.
When there was a temporary falling-off, Miles was ready
enough to give me credit, — an accommodation which I
found so convenient and used so frequently that there
soon came a day when the very slender hoard I had
spared was exhausted, and my bill for a fortnight's board
in Bleecker Street still unpaid.

The evening on which I made this discovery, there happened
to be an unusually large and jovial party in the
Cave. I was in little humor for festivity: the recollection


Page 419
of Mrs. De Peyster's keen, suspicious glance, as she passed
me on the stairs that afternoon, made me feel very uncomfortable,
and I resolved to deny myself some indulgences
which had grown to be almost indispensable, rather than
encounter it a second time. Hitherto I had played something
of an ostentatious part among my comrades, — had
been congratulated on the evidences of my success, — and
it was hard to confess that the part was now played out,
and the sham velvet and tinsel spangles laid aside. I slunk
into a corner and tried to appear occupied with a newspaper;
but it was not long before Brandagee scented my

“Hallo, Godfrey, what 's the matter?” he cried, slapping
me on the shoulder. “Ha! do I read the signs
aright? Thou hast met the Dweller of the Threshold!”

I did not care to bandy burlesque expressions with him,
and was too listless to defend myself from his probing eye;
so I took him aside and told him my difficulty.

“Pshaw!” said he, “you are too innocent for this world.
If I had the money I 'd lend it to you at once, since you 're
so eager to feed the vultures; but I had the devil's own
luck at vingt-et-un last night. Go to Jenks or Babcock,
and get an advance; it 's what every fellow is forced to do
sometimes. Meanwhile, Miles will chalk your back for all
you want to-night. Come, don't spoil the fun: that idea
we developed last week was worth a hundred dollars, Babcock
says. Two or three more such, and the Oracle is a
made paper.”

The “idea” of which he spoke was neither more nor
less than a minute description of the costumes of various
ladies at a grand private ball in Fifth Avenue, to which
Brandagee had procured an invitation. It was written
with a great apparent familiarity with the subject, and a
reference to the dresses of the ladies of the Parisian
noblesse, in a style breathing at once flattery and admonition.
“You have done very well, this time,” it seemed


Page 420
to say, “but take care, — I know all about it, and am on
the look out for mistakes.” Its publication was followed
by greatly increased orders for The Oracle from up-town
bookstores and newspaper stands. The musical criticisms,
though much more cleverly done, failed to make anything
like an equal sensation.

I succumbed to Brandagee's mingled raillery and persuasion,
and entered my name on Miles's books. The
circle joyfully opened to receive me, and in five minutes
— so powerful is the magnetism of such company — no
one was gayer and more reckless than I. We fell into
discussing new devices for attracting attention to the paper,
— some serious, some ironical, but all more or less shrewd
and humorous. In fact, I have often thought, since those
days, that a keen, wide-awake, practical man might have
found, almost any evening, the germ of a successful enterprise
among the random suggestions and speculations
which we threw together.

“One thing is wanting yet,” said Smithers, “and I 'm
a little surprised that it has n't occurred to you, Brandagee.”

“Speak, Behemoth!” exclaimed the latter.

“Abuse. Not in a general way, — but personal. Take
some well-known individual, — merchant, author, artist, politician,
— it makes no difference, — and prick him deep
enough to make him cry out. His enemies will all want
to read the attack, in order to enjoy it, and his friends, out
of a sympathetic curiosity. Men are made fools through
the morbid sensitiveness which follows culture; their epidermis
is as thin as the lining of an egg-shell. Take
the strong, working-classes with their tanned, leathery
hide” —

“Stop, there!” Brandagee interrupted. “I 've got your
suggestion, and we can dispense with your 'longshoremen.
I have thought of the matter, but Babcock is fidgety.
One's pen must be split to a hair, in order to sting and


Page 421
tickle just up to the edge of a personal assault or a libel
suit, and not go over the line. I 'd like to see you try it,
Smithers, with a nib as broad as your foot. I rather think
you 'd have a chance of finding out the thickness of your

Nevertheless, it was the general opinion that the proposition
was worth considering. Several individuals even
were suggested as appropriate subjects, but on Brandagee
hinting that the suggester should first try his hand, the
enthusiasm cooled very suddenly. Finally, it was decided
to hold the plan in reserve.

“But,” said Brandagee, “we must fix on some expedient.
Heavens and earth! is all our inventive talent exhausted?
We might find a new poet, of wonderful promise, or a
pert female correspondent, with an alliterative horticultural
name, such as Helen Honeysuckle or Belinda Boneset, but
I don't know which of you could keep up the part successfully,
and my hands are full. Then we must have a
department of “Answers to Correspondents,” at least two
columns long; replies to imaginary queries on every subject
under the Zodiac, — love, medicine, history, eclipses,
cookery, Marie Stuart, and Billy Patterson. You fellows
might do that while you are loafing here. There is nothing
in the world easier to do, as for instance: `Rosalie, — If
the young gentleman, after picking up your pocket-handkerchief,
put it into his own pocket instead of returning
it to you, we should interpret the act as a sign of attachment.
Should you desire a further test, ask him for it,
and if he blushes, he is yours.'”

This suggestion met with great applause. We all went
to work, and in the course of an hour concocted a number
of answers. The reporter of the Avenger, who was accustomed
to manufacture correspondence from various parts
of the world, was called upon to write letters from Boston
and Philadelphia, describing the sensation which the Oracle
had produced in those cities; and by midnight, at which


Page 422
hour the atmosphere of the Cave was usually opaque, and
the tongues of some of its occupants incoherent, we were
all assured of the speedy triumph of our scheme.

I woke late next morning to an uncomfortable sense of
my empty pockets. The excitement of the previous evening
was followed by a corresponding depression, and I had
no courage to face Mrs. De Peyster. I did not go down to
breakfast, but waited until I felt sure that she would be
occupied by the supervision of her household, and then
quietly slipped out of the house.

There was no alternative but to adopt Brandagee's hint
and solicit an advance from either Mr. Babcock or Mr.
Jenks. The former gentleman being the more cultivated
of the two, although I had had but little personal intercourse
with him, he received my first visit. I proffered my request
with a disgusting presentiment that it would be refused,
— and the event proved that I was correct. It would
be a violation of his business-habits, he said: still, if I
were in immediate want of the sum, he might make an
exception, if Mr. Brandagee had not just obtained an advance
of fifty dollars! Since the paper could not yet be
considered firmly established, he did not feel himself justified
in anticipating the outlay to any further extent.

I now wended my way to the office of Mr. Jenks, and,
knowing the man, put on a bolder face. It was not pleasant
to ask a favor of him, but I could offer him security in the
shape of articles; it would be simply anticipating the sums
which would afterwards be due. After a good deal of
hesitation, he consented, and I thus regained my good
standing with Mrs. De Peyster, by cutting off a part of
my future income. In the mean time, however, I had laid
the basis of a new account with Miles, and thus commenced
a see-saw of debt which kept me in continual agitation.
When I was up on one side, I was down on the other, and
each payment simply shifted my position. The disagreeable
novelty of the experience soon wore off, and the shifts and


Page 423
manœuvres which at first were so repulsive became endurable
from habit. When, after days of incessant worry,
money came into my hands, I could not deny myself some
coveted indulgence as a compensation. The former justified
the latter, and the latter brought the former again into

I became, after a time, subject to extreme fluctuations
of feeling. In moments of excitement, I experienced an
exaltation of spirits, in which my difficulties and disappointments
ceased to exist. I was elevated above the judgment
of my fellow-men; I had courage to kick aside the trammels
which inclosed them, and to taste a freedom which
they were incompetent to enjoy. This condition was a
substitute for happiness, which I mistook for the genuine
article; I clung to it desperately when I felt the light fading
and the colors growing dull, and the gray, blank fog dropping
down from the sky. Then succeeded the state of
aimless apathy, when my days seemed weighted with a
weariness beyond my strength to bear. I could not fill the
void space in my heart, once glowing with the security of
Faith and the brightness of Love. I spread my coveted
sense of Freedom over the gulf, but it would not be hidden;
I dropped into it every indulged delight of appetite, only
to hear a hollower clang. My principal satisfaction — or
what seemed such — was in the belief that other men
differed from myself only in hypocrisy, — outwardly appearing
to obey laws they scoffed, and carefully concealing
their secret trespasses.

But little more than two months had elapsed before I
was forced into the conviction that my prospects were becoming
precarious. The sales of the Oracle began to fall
off; the paper was diminished in size, in order to reduce
expenses, while professing (editorially) to be swimming
along on a flood-tide of success, and the remuneration for
my articles not only diminished in proportion, but was reluctantly
paid. The final resource of personal abuse had


Page 424
been tried, and Brandagee must have been mistaken in the
fine quality of his pen, for the immediate result was a libel
suit, which so frightened Mr. Babcock that he insisted on
avoiding it by retraction and apology. I had enough of
experience to know that this was the death-knell of the
enterprise, and was not deceived (neither was Brandagee,
I think) by the galvanic imitation of life which remained.

About the same time my see-saw became so delicately
poised that I lost my balance. My debt to Mrs. De Peyster
had again accumulated; her eyes were not only coldly
suspicious, but her tongue dropped hints which made me
both angry and ashamed. I determined to leave her house
as soon as it was possible to settle the account; but it was
not possible, and, utterly unable to endure my situation,
I put a single shirt and my toilet articles into my pocket,
and leaving the rest of my effects behind, walked away.
There was a miserable attic, miserably furnished, in Crosby
Street, not far from the Ichneumon, to be had for five dollars
a month, paid in advance. This was cheap enough,
provided I could raise the five dollars. I remembered my
loan of that amount to Brandagee, and asked him to return

“My dear fellow,” said he, “I thought you understood
that I never pay a loan. It would be ridiculous to contradict
my principles in that way.”

“Then,” said I, “lend me the same amount.”

“Ah, you put the matter in a more sensible form. I 'll
lend you five, or five hundred, as soon as I get it; but behold!”

He turned his pockets inside out.

I plainly told him what I had done, and that I was now
without a penny to buy a meal or pay for a lodging.

“That 's rather a bore,” said he, coolly, “the first time
you try it — but one gets used to it, like anything else.
It 's a seasoning that will do you no harm, Godfrey; I 've
been ground in that mill a dozen times, I presume. It


Page 425
would amuse you to hear of some of the dodges I 've been
up to. Did I ever tell you about that time in Rome?”

I would not stop to hear his story, but left in a high state
of exasperation. There remained one friend, who would
help me if he could, though he straitened himself thereby.
I had not seen him for some weeks, and felt, I am glad to
say, a good deal of shame at seeking him now only to make
use of him. I hurried across to Hester Street, and was
about to ring the bell at Mrs. Very's door when it opened
and he came out. I was shocked to see how his eyes had
sunk and how hollow and transparent his cheeks had grown;
but something of the old brightness returned when he saw
me, and his voice had the old tone as he said, —

“I was afraid you had forgotten me, Godfrey.”

“I have only been busy, Swansford, but I mean to make
up for my neglect. You 'll think I take a strange way of
doing it to-day, when I tell you that I come for help.”

“And you so much stronger than I?”

“Not half so strong, Swansford. Here, in this pocket
over the heart, and in all the others, animation is suspended.
Can you lend me ten dollars for a day or two?”

I had known of his more than once sending that amount
to his mother or sister, and supposed that he might have
it on hand. The delay of a day or two, until I should repay
him, would make little difference.

“I can,” said he, after a moment's reflection, “but it will
take about all I have. However, I can get along for two
days — or three — without it. I hope you have not been
unfortunate, Godfrey?”

Swansford had thought me wrong in giving up my situation
in the Wonder office, and all my assurances of plentiful
earnings afterwards had not reconciled him to the step.
My present application seemed to justify his doubt, and
this thought, I fancied, prompted his question. Not yet,
however, could I confess to him — since I stubbornly refused
to confess to myself — the mistake I had made.


Page 426

“Oh, no,” I said, assuming a gay, careless air. “I have
been lending, too, and find myself unexpectedly short. In
a day or two I shall be all right again.”

Dear old fellow — how relieved he looked! I tried to
persuade myself, for his sake, that I had spoken the truth;
and, indeed, a little effort placed my condition in a much
less gloomy light. My expenses, I reasoned, would now be
reduced to the minimum; half the sum would give me
lodging for a month, and the remaining half would supply
me with food for a fortnight, in which time I could earn,
not only enough to repay the loan but to relieve me from the
necessity of making another. It would be necessary, however,
to give up my dissipated way of life, and this I virtuously
resolved to do — for a few weeks.

Swansford was on his way to give a music-lesson in Rutgers
Street, but first went back to his room to get the money.
I accompanied him, and could not help noticing how exhausted
he appeared after mounting the last flight of steps.
He dropped into a chair, panting; then, seeing my anxious
look, said in a feeble voice, —

“It 's nothing, Godfrey. I 've been working a little too
hard this winter. The symphony, you know, — it 's nearly
finished, and I can't rest, now, until I 've written the last bar.
I wish I had time to play it to you.”

“You shall let me have the whole of it, Swansford.
And I 'll bring Brandagee, who must write an article about
it. He is always on the lookout for something new, and nobody
better understands how to make a sensation. You 'll
be a famous man before you 're six months older!”

A quick, bright spark flashed from his eyes, but instantly
faded, leaving a faint, sad smile behind it. He sighed and
murmured to himself, “I don't know.” Then he gave me
the money. I felt my hand trembling as I took it, but this
might have been the faintness of hunger. I had eaten
nothing for twenty-four hours.

On reaching the Bowery, I went into the first cellar and


Page 427
strengthened myself with a beafsteak and a bottle of ale.
Then I secured the attic for a month, purchased writing
materials and sat down with the firm resolution to complete
a sensational story before allowing myself a moment's pause,
except for sleep. It was a dark, raw day of early March;
there was no fire in the shabby room, and the dull daylight
became almost dusk after passing through the unwashed
panes. I had no table, but the rickety wash-stand would
answer the purpose, and there was a single wooden chair.
The meat and drink had warmed me, and thus, with my
over-coat on my back, and the ragged bed-quilt, breaking
out in spots of cotton eruption, over my knees, I commenced
the work with a tolerable stock of courage. My subject
was of the ghastly order, and admitted of an extravagant
treatment, for which I was in the most congenial mood.
Page after page of manuscript was written and cast aside,
until the pen dropped from my benumbed fingers, and the
chill from my icy feet crept up my legs and sent shudders
through my body.

It was now dusk outside, and would soon be darkness
within. The sense of my forlorn, wretched condition returned
upon me, and the image of the Cave, with its comfortable
warmth and its supply of mental and physical
stimulus, came to tempt me away. But no, for Swansford's
sake I would renounce even this indulgence. I would go
out and walk the streets, to thaw my frozen blood, and arrange,
in my brain, the remainder of my task.

How long I walked I cannot tell. I have an impression
of having three times heard the wind sweeping through
the leafless trees on the Battery, and as often through the
trees in Union Square; but my mind was so concentrated
upon the wild, morbid details of my story that they held it
fast when I had grown weary of the subject, and would
gladly have escaped it. Then I went to bed, to start and
toss all night in that excited condition which resembles delirium
rather than sleep, and leaves exhaustion instead of
refreshment behind it.


Page 428

By noon the next day the task was completed, and I left
it in the hands of the editor of a popular magazine in
which a few of my sketches had already appeared. I
should have to wait a day or two for his decision; my
brain, fagged by the strain upon it, refused to suggest a
new theme, and yet my time was a blank which must be
somehow filled. The flame of my good resolution burned
lower and lower, — gave a final convulsive flicker as I
passed the door of the Ichneumon, — went out, and I
turned back and entered. Did I think of Swansford as
the door closed behind me? Alas! I fear not. I only felt
the warm atmosphere envelop me like a protecting mantle;
I only heard, in the jovial voices which welcomed my coming,
release from the loneliness I could no longer endure.

The season of late, bitter cold which followed seemed,
like a Nemesis, to drive me back upon my vagabond life,
and every other circumstance combined to fasten me in its
meshes. By the time the editor had decided to accept my
story, the sum I received for it was balanced by Miles's bill.
He knew as well when there was money in my pocket as if
he had counted it, and a refusal to pay would have shut me
out from my only place of refuge. Jenks would no longer
advance upon my articles, but began to hint that they now
ceased to meet the popular taste. He thought of engaging
one of the comic writers, whose misspelled epistles were in
great demand, at a hundred dollars a week; it would pay
better than ten for mine, — there was too much “cut and
slash” in the latter. I saw what was coming.

Brandagee — against whose avowed selfishness, backed
as it was by his powers of raillery, my indignation could
not maintain itself — furnished me, now and then, with a
morsel of occupation. But what an occupation it was for
one who, three years before, had determined to write his
name among the laurelled bards! I was to furnish poetic
advertisements for the manufacturer of a new dentifrice!
Once the imagined brother of Irving, Bryant, and Longfellow,


Page 429
I now found myself the rival of Napoleon B. Quigg
and Julia Carey Reinhardt! I had reached, indeed, the
lowest pit of literature, — but, no! there is a crypt under
this, whose workers are unknown and whose works hide
themselves in “sealed envelopes.” Let that be a comfort
to me!

I could not think of the manner in which I had sneaked
away from Mrs. De Peyster, and deceived Swansford, without
a pang of self-contempt. It has cost me no little effort
to record my own humiliation, but I dare not mutilate the
story of my fortunes. If the pure, unselfish aspirations of
my early youth had been allowed to realize themselves in
one smooth, unchecked flow of prosperity, I should have no
story to relate. In an artistic sense I am my own hero, —
but, —

“What I seem to myself, do you ask of me?
No hero, I confess.”