An Outcast/Chapter IX
A bottle of wine, and the mild, persuasive manner of Mr. Snivel, so completely won over George's confidence, that, like one of that class always too ready to give out their heart-achings at the touch of sympathy, and too easily betrayed through misplaced confidence, he commences relating his history. That of Anna is identified with it. "We will together proceed to New York, for it is there, among haunts of vice and depravity—"
"In depth of degradation they have no counterpart on our globe," Mr. Soloman interrupts, filling his glass.
"We came up together—knew each other, but not ourselves. That was our dark age." George pauses for a moment.
"Bless you," again interrupts Mr. Soloman, tipping his glass very politely, "I never—that is, when I hear our people who get themselves laced into narrow-stringed Calvinism, and long-founded foreign missions, talk—think much could have come of the dark ages. I speak after the manner of an attorney, when I say this. We hear a deal of the dark ages, the crimes of the dark ages, the dark idolatry of darker Africa. My word for it, and it's something, if they had anything darker in Sodom; if they had in Babylon a state of degradation more hardened of crime; if in Egypt there existed a benightedness more stubbornly opposed to the laws of God—than is to be found in that New York; that city of merchant princes with princely palaces; that modern Pompeii into which a mighty commerce teems its mightier gold, where a coarse throng revel in coarser luxury, where a thousand gaudy churches rear heavenward their gaudier steeples, then I have no pity for Sodom, not a tear to shed over fallen Babylon, and very little love for Egypt." Mr. Snivel concludes, saying—"proceed, young man."
"Of my mother I know nothing. My father (I mean the man I called father, but who they said was not my father, though he was the only one that cared anything for me) was Tom English, who used to live here and there with me about the Points. He was always looking in at Paddy Pie's, in Orange street, and Paddy Pie got all his money, and then Paddy Pie and him quarrelled, and we were turned out of Paddy Pie's house. So we used to lodge here and there, in the cellars about the Points, in 'Cut Throat Alley,' or 'Cow Bay,' or 'Murderer's Alley,' or in 'The House of the Nine Nations,' or wherever we could get a sixpenny rag to lay down upon. Nobody but English seemed to care for me, and English cared for nobody but me. And English got thick with Mrs. McCarty and her three daughters—they kept the Rookery in 'Cow Bay,' which we used to get to up a long pair of stairs outside, and which God knows I never want to think of again,—where sometimes fourteen or fifteen of us, men and women, used to sleep in a little room Mrs. McCarty paid eight dollars a month for. And Mr. Crown, who always seemed a cross sort of man, and was agent for all the houses on the Points I thought, used to say she had it too cheap. And English got to thinking a good deal of Mrs. McCarty, and Mrs. McCarty's daughters got to thinking a good deal of him. And Boatswain Bill, who lived at the house of the 'Nine Nations'—the house they said had a bottomless pit—and English used to fight a deal about the Miss McCartys, and Bill one night threw English over the high stoop, down upon the pavement, and broke his arms. They said it was a wonder it hadn't a broken his neck. Fighting Mary (Mary didn't go by that name then) came up and took English's part, and whipped Boatswain Bill, and said she'd whip the whole house of the 'Nine Nations' if it had spunk enough in it to come on. But no one dare have a set-to with Mary. Mary used to drink a deal of gin, and say—'this gin and the devil'll get us all one of these days. I wonder if Mr. Crown'll sell bad gin to his highness when he gets him?' Well, Bill was sent up for six months, so the McCartys had peace in the house, and Mrs. McCarty got him little things, and did for English until his arms got well. Then he got a little money, (I don't know how he got it,) and Paddy Pie made good friends with him, and got him from the Rookery, and then all his money. I used to think all the money in the Points found its way either to the house of Paddy Pie, or the Bottomless Pit at the house of the 'Nine Nations,' and all the clothes to the sign of the 'Three Martyrs,' which the man with the eagle face kept round the corner.
"English used to say in one of his troubled fits, 'I'd like to be a respectable man, and get out of this, if there was a chance, and do something for you, George. There's no chance, you see.' And when we went into Broadway, which we did now and then, and saw what another world it was, and how rich everything looked, English used to shake his head and say, 'they don't know how we live, George.'
"Paddy Pie soon quarrelled with English, and being penniless again we had to shift for ourselves. English didn't like to go back to Mrs. McCarty, so we used to sleep at Mrs. Sullivan's cellar in 'Cut Throat Alley.' And Mrs. Sullivan's cellar was only about twelve feet by twenty, and high enough to stand up in, and wet enough for anything, and so overrun with rats and vermin that we couldn't sleep. There were nine rag-beds in the cellar, which as many as twenty-three would sometimes sleep on, or, if they were not too tipsy, try to sleep on. And folks used to come into the cellar at night, and be found dead in the morning. This made such a fuss in the neighborhood (there was always a fuss when Old Bones, the coroner, was about), and frightened so many, that Mrs. Sullivan couldn't get lodgers for weeks. She used to nail no end of horse-shoes over the door to keep out the ghosts of them that died last. But it was a long while before her lodgers got courage enough to come back. Then we went to the house of the Blazers, in 'Cow Bay,' and used to lodge there with Yellow Bill. They said Bill was a thief by profession; but I wasn't old enough to be a judge. Little Lizza Rock, the nondescript, as people called her, used to live at the Blazers. Poor Lizza had a hard time of it, and used to sigh and say she wished she was dead. Nobody thought of her, she said, and she was nothing because she was deformed, and a cripple. She was about four feet high, had a face like a bull-dog, and a swollen chest, and a hunchback, a deformed leg, and went with a crutch. She never combed her hair, and what few rags she had on her back hung in filth. What few shillings she got were sure to find their way either into Bill's pocket, or send her tipsy into the 'Bottomless Pit' of the house of the 'Nine Nations.' There was in the Bottomless Pit a never-ending stream of gin that sent everybody to the Tombs, and from the Tombs to the grave. But Lizza was good to me, and used to take care of me, and steal little things for me from old Dan Sullivan, who begged in Broadway, and let Yellow Bill get his money, by getting him tipsy. And I got to liking Lizza, for we both seemed to have no one in the world who cared for us but English. And there was always some trouble between the Blazers and the people at the house of the 'Nine Nations.'
"Well, English was hard to do for some time, and through necessity, which he said a deal about, we were driven out of every place we had sought shelter in. And English did something they sent him up for a twelve-month for, and I was left to get on as I could. I was took in by 'Hard-Fisted Sall,' who always wore a knuckle-duster, and used to knock everybody down she met, and threatened a dozen times to whip Mr. Fitzgerald, the detective, and used to rob every one she took in tow, and said if she could only knock down and rob the whole pumpkin-headed corporation she should die easy, for then she would know she had done a good thing for the public, whose money they were squandering without once thinking how the condition of such wretches as herself could be bettered.
"English died before he had been up two months. And death reconciled the little difficulty between him and the McCartys; and old Mrs. McCarty's liking for him came back, and she went crying to the Bellevue and begged them, saying she was his mother, to let her take his body away and bury it. They let her have it, and she brought it away to the rookery, in a red coffin, and got a clean sheet of the Blazers, and hung it up beside the coffin, and set four candles on a table, and a little cross between them, and then borrowed a Bible with a cross on it, and laid it upon the coffin. Then they sent for me. I cried and kissed poor English, for poor English was the only father I knew, and he was good to me. I never shall forget what I saw in that little room that night. I found a dozen friends and the McCartys there, forming a half-circle of curious and demoniacal faces, peering over the body of English, whose face, I thought, formed the only repose in the picture. There were two small pictures—one of the Saviour, and the other of Kossuth—hung at the head and feet of the corpse; and the light shed a lurid paleness over the living and the dead. And detective Fitzgerald and another gentleman looked in.
"'Who's here to-night?' says Fitzgerald, in a friendly sort of way.
"'God love ye, Mr. Fitzgerald, poor English is gone! Indeed, then, it was the will of the Lord, and He's taken him from us—poor English!' says Mrs. McCarty. And Fitzgerald, and the gentleman with him, entered the den, and they shuddered and sat down at the sight of the face in the coffin. 'Sit down, Mr. Fitzgerald, do!—and may the Lord love ye! There was a deal of good in poor English. He's gone—so he is!' said Mrs. McCarty, begging them to sit down, and excuse the disordered state of her few rags. She had a hard struggle to live, God knows. They took off their hats, and sat a few minutes in solemn silence. The rags moved at the gentleman's side, which made him move towards the door. 'What is there, my good woman?' he inquired. 'She's a blessed child, Mr. Fitzgerald knows that same:' says Mrs. McCarty, turning down the rags and revealing the wasted features of her youngest girl, a child eleven years old, sinking in death. 'God knows she'll be better in heaven, and herself won't be long out of it,' Mrs. McCarty twice repeated, maintaining a singular indifference to the hand of death, already upon the child. The gentleman left some money to buy candles for poor English, and with Mr. Fitzgerald took himself away.
"Near midnight, the tall black figure of solemn-faced Father Flaherty stalked in. He was not pleased with the McCartys, but went to the side of the dying child, fondled her little wasted hand in his own, and whispered a prayer for her soul. Never shall I forget how innocently she looked in his face while he parted the little ringlets that curled over her brow, and told her she would soon have a better home in a better world. Then he turned to poor English, and the cross, and the candles, and the pictures, and the living faces that gave such a ghastliness to the picture. Mrs. McCarty brought him a basin of water, over which he muttered, and made it holy. Then he again muttered some unintelligible sentences, and sprinkled the water over the dying child, over the body of poor English, and over the living—warning Mrs. McCarty and her daughters, as he pointed to the coffin. Then he knelt down, and they all knelt down, and he prayed for the soul of poor English, and left. What holy water then was left, Mrs. McCarty placed near the door, to keep the ghosts out.
"The neighbors at the Blazers took a look in, and a few friends at the house of the 'Nine Nations' took a look in, and 'Fighting Mary,' of Murderer's Alley, took a look in, and before Father Flaherty had got well out of 'Cow Bay,' it got to be thought a trifle of a wake would console Mrs. McCarty's distracted feelings. 'Hard-fisted Sall' came to take a last look at poor English; and she said she would spend her last shilling over poor English, and having one, it would get a drop, and a drop dropped into the right place would do Mrs. McCarty a deal of good.
"And Mrs. McCarty agreed that it wouldn't be amiss, and putting with Sall's shilling the money that was to get the candles, I was sent to the 'Bottomless Pit' at the house of the 'Nine Nations,' where Mr. Crown had a score with the old woman, and fetched away a quart of his gin, which they said was getting the whole of them. The McCartys took a drop, and the girls took a drop, and the neighbors took a drop, and they all kept taking drops, and the drops got the better of them all. One of the Miss McCartys got to having words with 'Fighting Mary,' about an old affair in which poor English was concerned, and the words got to blows, when Mr. Flanegan at the Blazers stepped in to make peace. But the whole house got into a fight, and the lights were put out, the corpse knocked over, and the child (it was found dead in the morning) suffocated with the weight of bodies felled in the melee. The noise and cries of murder brought the police rushing in, and most of them were dragged off to the Station; and the next day being Sunday, I wandered homeless and friendless into Sheriff street. Poor English was taken in charge by the officers. They kept him over Monday to see if any one would come up and claim him. No one came for him; no one knew more of him than that he went by the name of English; no one ever heard him say where he came from—he never said a word about my mother, or whether he had a relation in the world. He was carted off to Potter's Field and buried. That was the last of poor English.
"We seldom got much to eat in the Points, and I had not tasted food for twenty-four hours. I sat down on the steps of a German grocery, and was soon ordered away by the keeper. Then I wandered into a place they called Nightmare's Alley, where three old wooden buildings with broken-down verandas stood, and were inhabited principally by butchers. I sat down on the steps of one, and thought if I only had a mother, or some one to care for me, and give me something to eat, how happy I should be. And I cried. And a great red-faced man came out of the house, and took me in, and gave me something to eat. His name was Mike Mullholland, and he was good to me, and I liked him, and took his name. And he lived with a repulsive looking woman, in a little room he paid ten dollars a month for. He had two big dogs, and worked at day work, in a slaughter-house in Staunton street. The dogs were known in the neighborhood as Mullholland's dogs, and with them I used to sleep on the rags of carpet spread for us in the room with Mullholland and his wife, who I got to calling mother. This is how I took the name of Mullholland. I was glad to leave the Points, and felt as if I had a home. But there was a 'Bottomless Pit' in Sheriff street, and though not so bad as the one at the house of the 'Nine Nations,' it gave out a deal of gin that the Mullhollands had a liking for. I was continually going for it, and the Mullhollands were continually drinking it; and the whole neighborhood liked it, and in 'Nightmare's Alley' the undertaker found a profitable business.
"In the morning I went with the dogs to the slaughter-house, and there fed them, and took care of the fighting cocks, and brought gin for the men who worked there. In the afternoon I joined the newsboys, as ragged and neglected as myself, gambled for cents, and watched the policemen, whom we called the Charleys. I lived with Mullholland two years, and saw and felt enough to make hardened any one of my age. One morning there came a loud knocking at the door, which was followed by the entrance of two officers. The dogs had got out and bitten a child, and the officers, knowing who owned them, had come to arrest Mullholland. We were all surprised, for the officers recognized in Mullholland and the woman two old offenders. And while they were dragged off to the Tombs, I was left to prey upon the world as best I could. Again homeless, I wandered about with urchins as ragged and destitute as myself. It seemed to me that everybody viewed me as an object of suspicion, for I sought in vain for employment that would give me bread and clothing. I wanted to be honest, and would have lived honest; but I could not make people believe me honest. And when I told who I was, and where I sheltered myself, I was ordered away. Everybody judged me by the filthy shreds on my back; nobody had anything for me to do.
"I applied at a grocer's, to sweep his store and go errands. When I told him where I had lived, he shook his head and ordered me away. Knowing I could fill a place not unknown to me, I applied at a butcher's in Mott street; but he pointed his knife—which left a wound in my feelings—and ordered me away. And I was ordered away wherever I went. The doors of the Chatham theatre looked too fine for me. My ragged condition rebuked me wherever I went, and for more than a week I slept under a cart that stood in Mott street. Then Tom Farley found me, and took me with him to his cellar, in Elizabeth street, where we had what I thought a good bed of shavings. Tom sold Heralds, gambled for cents, and shared with me, and we got along. Then Tom stole a dog, and the dog got us into a deal of trouble, which ended with getting us both into the Tombs, where Tom was locked up. I was again adrift, as we used to call it, and thought of poor Tom a deal. Every one I met seemed higher up in the world than I was. But I got into Centre Market, carried baskets, and did what I could to earn a shilling, and slept in Tom's bed, where there was some nights fifteen and twenty like myself.
"One morning, while waiting a job, my feet and hands benumbed with the cold, a beautiful lady slipped a shilling into my hand and passed on. To one penniless and hungry, it seemed a deal of money. Necessity had almost driven me to the sign of the 'Three Martyrs,' to see what the man of the eagle face would give me on my cap, for they said the man at the 'Three Martyrs' lent money on rags such as I had. I followed the woman, for there was something so good in the act that I could not resist it. She entered a fine house in Leonard street.
"You must now go with me into the den of Hag Zogbaum, in 'Scorpion Cove;' and 'Scorpion Cove' is in Pell street. Necessity next drove me there. It is early spring, we will suppose; and being in the Bowery, we find the streets in its vicinity reeking with putrid matter, hurling pestilence into the dark dwellings of the unknown poor, and making thankful the coffin-maker, who in turn thanks a nonundertaking corporation for the rich harvest. The muck is everywhere deep enough for hogs and fat aldermen to wallow in, and would serve well the purposes of a supper-eating corporation, whose chief business it was to fatten turtles and make Presidents.
"We have got through the muck of the mucky Bowery. Let us turn to the left as we ascend the hill from Chatham street, and into a narrow, winding way, called Doyer's street. Dutch Sophy, then, as now, sits in all the good nature of her short, fat figure, serving her customers with ices, at three cents. Her cunning black eyes and cheerful, ruddy face, enhance the air of pertness that has made her a favorite with her customers. We will pass the little wooden shop, where Mr. Saunders makes boots of the latest style, and where old lapstone, with curious framed spectacles tied over his bleared eyes, has for the last forty years been seen at the window trimming welts, and mending every one's sole but his own; we will pass the four story wooden house that the landlord never paints—that has the little square windows, and the little square door, and the two little iron hand rails that curl so crabbedly at the ends, and guard four crabbeder steps that give ingress and egress to its swarm of poor but honest tenants; we will pass the shop where a short, stylish sign tells us Mr. Robertson makes bedsteads; and the little, slanting house a line of yellow letters on a square of black tin tells us is a select school for young ladies, and the bright, dainty looking house with the green shutters, where lives Mr. Vredenburg the carpenter, who, the neighbors say, has got up in the world, and paints his house to show that he feels above poor folks—and find we have reached the sooty and gin-reeking grocery of Mr. Korner, who sells the devil's elixir to the sootier devils that swarm the cellars of his neighbors. The faded blue letters, on a strip of wood nailed to the bricks over his door, tell us he is a dealer in 'Imported and other liquors.' Next door to Mr. Korner's tipsy looking grocery lives Mr. Muffin, the coffin-maker, who has a large business with the disciples who look in at Korner's. Mrs. Downey, a decent sort of body, who lives up the alley, and takes sixpenny lodgers by the dozen, may be seen in great tribulation with her pet pig, who, every day, much to the annoyance of Mr. Korner, manages to get out, and into the pool of decaying matter opposite his door, where he is sure to get stuck, and with his natural propensity, squeals lustily for assistance. Mrs. Downey, as is her habit, gets distracted; and having well abused Mr. Korner for his interference in a matter that can only concern herself and the animal, ventures to her knees in the mire, and having seized her darling pig by the two ears, does, with the assistance of a policeman, who kindly takes him by the tail, extricate his porkship, to the great joy of herself. The animal scampers, grunting, up the alley, as Mr. Korner, in his shirt sleeves, throws his broom after him, and the policeman surlily says he wishes it was the street commissioner.
"We have made the circle of Doyer's street, and find it fortified on Pell street, with two decrepit wooden buildings, that the demand for the 'devil's elixir,' has converted into Dutch groceries, their exteriors presenting the appearance of having withstood a storm of dilapidated clapboards, broken shutters, red herrings, and onions. Mr. Voss looks suspiciously through the broken shutters of his Gibraltar, at his neighbor of the opposite Gibraltar, and is heard to say of his wares that they are none of the best, and that while he sells sixpence a pint less, the article is a shilling a pint better. And there the two Gibraltars stand, apparently infirm, hurling their unerring missiles, and making wreck of everything in the neighborhood.
"We have turned down Pell street toward Mott, and on the north side a light-colored sign, representing a smith in the act of shoeing a horse, attracts the eye, and tells us the old cavern-like building over which it swings, is where Mr. Mooney does smithwork and shoeing. And a little further on, a dash of yellow and white paint on a little sign-board at the entrance of an alley, guarded on one side by a broken-down shed, and on the other, by a three-story, narrow, brick building (from the windows of which trail long water-stains, and from the broken panes a dozen curious black heads, of as many curious eyed negroes protrude), tells us somewhat indefinitely, that Mister Mills, white-washer and wall-colorer, may be found in the neighborhood, which, judging from outward appearances, stands much in need of this good man's services. Just keep your eye on the sign of the white-washer and wall-colorer, and passing up the sickly alley it tells you Mister Mills maybe found in, you will find yourself (having picked your way over putrid matter, and placed your perfumed cambric where it will protect your lungs from the inhalation of pestilential air,) in the cozy area of 'Scorpion Cove.' Scorpion Cove is bounded at one end by a two-story wooden house, with two decayed and broken verandas in front, and rickety steps leading here and there to suspicious looking passages, into which, and out of which a never-ending platoon of the rising generation crawl and toddle, keep up a cheap serenade, and like rats, scamper away at the sight of a stranger; and on the other, by the back of the brick house with the negro-headed front. At the sides are two broken-down board fences, and forming a sort of network across the cove, are an innumerable quantity of unoccupied clothes-lines, which would seem only to serve the mischievous propensities of young negroes and the rats. There is any quantity of rubbish in 'Scorpion Cove,' and any amount of disease-breeding cesspools; but the corporation never heard of 'Scorpion Cove,' and wouldn't look into it if it had. If you ask me how it came to be called 'Scorpion Cove,' I will tell you. The brick house at one end was occupied by negroes; and the progeny of these negroes swarmed over the cove, and were called scorpions. The old house of the verandas at the other end, and which had an air of being propped up after a shock of paralysis, was inhabited by twenty or more families, of the Teutonic race, whose numerous progeny, called the hedge-hogs, were more than a match for the scorpions, and with that jealousy of each other which animates these races did the scorpions and hedge-hogs get at war. In the morning the scorpions would crawl up through holes in the cellar, through broken windows, through the trap-doors, down the long stairway that wound from the second and third stories over the broken pavilion, and from nobody could tell where—for they came, it seems, from every rat-hole, and with rolling white eyes, marshalled themselves for battle. The hedge-hogs mustering in similar strength, and springing up from no one could tell where, would set upon the scorpions, and after a goodly amount of wallowing in the mire, pulling hair and wool, scratching faces and pommeling noses, the scorpions being alternately the victors and vanquished, the war would end at the appearance of Hag Zogbaum, who, with her broom, would cause the scorpions to beat a hasty retreat. The hedge-hogs generally came off victorious, for they were the stronger race. But the old hedge-hogs got much shattered in time by the broadsides of the two Gibraltars, which sent them broadside on into the Tombs. And this passion of the elder hedge-hogs for getting into the Tombs, caused by degrees a curtailing of the younger hedge-hogs. And this falling off in the forces of the foe, singularly inspirited the scorpions, who mustered courage, and after a series of savage battles, in which there was a notorious amount of wool-pulling, gained the day. And this is how 'Scorpion Cove' got its name.
"Hag Zogbaum lived in the cellar of the house with the verandas; and old Dan Sullivan and the rats had possession of the garret. In the cellar of this woman, whose trade was the fostering of crime in children as destitute as myself, there was a bar and a back cellar, where as many as twenty boys and girls slept on straw and were educated in vice. She took me into her nursery, and I was glad to get there, for I had no other place to go.
"In the morning we were sent out to pilfer, to deceive the credulous, and to decoy others to the den. Some were instructed by Hag Zogbaum to affect deaf and dumb, to plead the starving condition of our parents, to, in a word, enlist the sympathies of the credulous with an hundred different stories. We were all stimulated by a premium being held out to the most successful. Some were sent out to steal pieces of iron, brass, copper, and old junk; and these Hag Zogbaum would sell or give to the man who kept the junk-shop in Stanton street, known as the rookery at the corner. (This man lived with Hag Zogbaum.) We returned at night with our booty, and received our wages in gin or beer. The unsuccessful were set down as victims of bad luck. Now and then the old woman would call us a miserable lot of wretches she was pestered to take care of. At one time there were in this den of wretchedness fifteen girls from seven to eleven years old, and seven boys under eleven—all being initiated into the by-ways of vice and crime. Among the girls were Italians, Germans, Irish, and—shall I say it?—Americans! It was curious to see what means the old hag would resort to for the purpose of improving their features after they had arrived at a certain age. She had a purpose in this; and that purpose sprang from that traffic in depravity caused by the demands of a depraved society, a theme on her lips continually."