Story type: Literature
MY DEAR SON: I just came here to New York on business, and thought I would write to you a few lines, as I have a little time that is not taken up. I came here on a train from Chicago the other day. Before I started, I got a lower berth in a sleeping car, but when I went to put my sachel in it, before I left Chicago, there were two women and a little girl there, and so I told the porter I would wait until they moved before I put my baggage in the section, for of course I thought they were just sitting there for a minute to rest.
Hours rolled by and they did not move. I kept on sitting in the smoking-room, but they stayed. By and by the porter came and asked me if I had “lower four.” I said yes–I paid for it, but I couldn’t really say I had it in my possession. He then said that two ladies and a little girl had “upper four,” and asked if I would mind swapping with them. I said that I would do so, for I didn’t see how a whole family circle could climb up into the upper berth and remain there, and I would rather give them the lower one than spend the night picking up different members of the family and replacing them in the home nest after they had fallen out.
I had a bad cold, and though I knew that sleeping in the upper berth would add to it, I did not murmur. But little did I realize that they would hold the whole thing all of two days, and fill it full of broken crackers and banana peels, and leave me to ride backward in the smoking-room from Chicago to New York, after I had paid five dollars for a seat and lower berth.
Woman is a poor, frail vessel, Henry, but she manages to arrive at her destination all right. She buys an upper berth and then swaps it with an old man for his lower berth, giving to boot a half-smothered sob and two scalding tears. Then she says “Thank you,” if she feels like it at the end of the road, though these women did not. I have pneuemonia in its early stages, but I have done a kind act, which I shall probably have to do over again when I return.
If you ever become the parent of a daughter, Henry, and you like her pretty well, I hope you will teach her to acknowledge a courtesy, instead of looking upon the earth and the fullness thereof as a partnership property, owned jointly by herself and the Lord.
A woman who has traveled a good deal is generally polite, and knows how to treat her fellow passengers and the porter, but people who are making their first or second trip, I notice, most generally betray the fact by tramping all over the other passengers.
Another mistake, Henry, which I hope you will not make, is that of taking very small children to travel. Children should remain at home until they are at least two or three days old, otherwise they are troublesome to their parents and also bother the other passengers. There ought to be a law, too, that would prevent parents from taking larger children who should be in the reform school. Some parents seem to think that what their children do is funny, when, instead of humor, it is really felony. It does not entirely set matters right, for instance, when a child has torn off a gentleman’s ear, merely to make the child return it to the owner, for you can never put an ear back in its place after it has been torn off and stepped on, in such a way as to make it look the same as it did at first.
I heard a mother say on the train that her little boy never was quite himself while traveling, because he wasn’t well. She feared it was the change in the water that made him sick. He had then drank a whole ice-water tank empty, and was waiting impatiently till we got to Pittsburg, so that he could drink out of the hydrant.
Queer people also ride on the elevated trains here in New York. It is a singular experience to a stranger to ride on these cars. It made me ill at first, but after awhile I got so mad that I forgot about it. For instance, at places like Fourteenth street, and Twenty-third street, and Park Place, there are generally several people who want to get aboard a little before the passengers get off. Two or three times I was carried by because the guards wouldn’t enforce the rule, and I had a good deal of trouble, till I took an old pair of Mexican spurs out of my trunk and strapped them on my elbows. After that I could stroll along Broadway, or get off a train when I got ready, and have some comfort.
The gates on the elevated trains get shet rather sudden sometimes, and once they shet in a part of a man, I was told, and left the rest of him on the outside, so that after a while he fell off over the trestle, because there was more of him on the outside than on the inside, and he didn’t seem to balance somehow. It was rare sport for the guards to watch the man scraping along the side of the road and sweeping off the right of way.
One day, when I was on board, there was a crowd at one of the stations, and an old man and a little girl tried to get on. She was looking out for the old man, and seemed to kind of steer him on the platform. Just as he stepped on the train, the guard shut the gate and left the little girl outside. She looked so scart and pitiful, as the train left her, that I’ll never forget it to my dying day, and as we left the platform I saw her wring her poor little hands, and I heard her cry, “Oh, mister, let me go with him. My poor grandpa is blind.”
Sure enough, the old man groped around almost crazy on that swaying train, without knowing where he was, and feeling through the empty air for the gentle hand of the little girl who had been left behind. Two or three of us took care of the old man and got him off at the next station, where we waited till she came; but it was the most touching thing I ever saw outside of a book.
Another day the cars were full till you couldn’t seem to get even an umbrella into the aisle, I thought, but yet the guards told people to step along lively, and encouraged them by prodding and pinching till most everybody was fighting mad.
Then a pale girl, with a bundle of sewing in her hand, and a hollow cough that made everybody look that way, got into the aisle. She could just barely get hold of the strap, and that was all. She wore a poor, black cotton jersey, and when she reached up so high, the jersey part would not stay where it belonged, and at the waist seemed to throw off all responsibility. She realized it, and bit her lips, and two red spots came on her pale face, and the tears came into her eyes, but she couldn’t let go of her bundle, and she couldn’t let go of the strap, for already the train threw her against a soiled man on one side and a tough on the other. It was pitiful enough, so that men who had their seats began to read advertisements and other things with their papers wrong side up, in order to seem thoroughly engrossed in their business.
But two pretty young men, with real good clothes, and white, soft hands, had a great deal of fun over it, and every time the train would lurch and throw the poor girl’s jersey a little more out of plumb, they would jab each other in the ribs, and laugh very hearty. I felt sorry that I wasn’t young again, so that I could go over there and kick both of them. Henry, if I thought you would do a thing like that, or allow it done on the same block where you happened to be, I would give my estate to a charitable object, and refuse to recognize you in Paradise.
Just then an oldish man of a chunky build, and with an eye as black as the driven tomcat, reached through the crowded aisle with his umbrella and touched the girl. She looked around, and he told her to come and take his seat. As she squeezed through, and he rose to seat her, a large man with black whiskers gently dropped into the vacant seat with a sigh of relief, and began to read a two-year-old paper with much earnestness, just as if he hadn’t noticed the whole performance. The stout man was thunderstruck. He said:
“Excuse me, sir; I didn’t leave my seat.”
“Yes, you did,” says the black-whiskered pachyderm. “You can’t expect to keep a seat here and leave it too.”
“Well, but I rose to put this young lady in it, and I must ask you to be kind enough to let her have it.”
“Excuse me,” said the microbe, with a little chuckle of cussedness, “you will have to take your chances, and wait for a vacant seat, same as I did.”
That was all the conversation there was, but just then the short fat man ran his thumb down inside the shirt collar of the yellow fever germ, and jerked him so high that I could see the nails on the bottoms of his boots. Then, with the other hand, he socked the young lady into his seat, and took hold of a strap, where he hung on white and mad, but victorious.
After that there was a loud hurrah, and general enthusiasm and hand clapping, and cries of “Good!” “Good!” and in the midst of it the sporadic hog and the two refined young men got off the train.
As the black and white Poland swine went out the door I noticed that there was blood on the back of his neck, and later on I saw the short, stout old gentleman remove a large mole or birthmark, which he really had no use for, from under his thumb nail.
On a Harlem train, as they call it, I saw a drunken young man in one of the seats yesterday. He wasn’t noisy, but he felt pretty fair. Next to him was a real good young man, who seemed to feel his superiority a great deal. Very soon the car got jammed full, and an old lady, poorly dressed, but a mighty good, motherly old woman, I’ll bet a hundred dollars, got in. Her husband asked the good young man if he would kindly give his wife a seat. He did not apparently hear at all, but got all wrapped up in his paper, just as every man in a car does when he is ashamed of himself. But the inebriated young man heard, and so he said:
“Here, mister, take my seat for the old lady; any seat is good enough for me.” Whereupon he sat down in the lap of the good young man, and so remained till he got to his station.
This is a good town to study human nature in, Henry, and you would do well to come here before your vacation is over, just to see what kind of people the Lord allows to encumber the earth. It will show you how many human brutes there are loose in the world who don’t try any longer to appear decent when they think their identity is swallowed up in the multitude of a great city. There are just as selfish folks in the smaller towns, but they are afraid to give themselves up to it, because somebody in the crowd would be sure to recognize them. Here a man has the advantage of a perpetual nom de plume, and he is tempted to see how pusillanimous he can be even when he is just here on a visit. I’m going home next week, before I completely wreck my immortal soul.
I left your mother pretty comfortable at home, but I haven’t heard from her since I left.