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SANDBURRS ***




Produced by David Widger from page images generously
provided by the Internet Archive









SANDBURRS

By Alfred Henry Lewis

Author of “Wolfville,” etc.

Illustrated by Horace Taylor and George B. Luks

Second Edition

New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company

1898

[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0008]

[Illustration: 0009]

TO

JAMES ROBERT KEENE




PREFACE

A SANDBURR is a foolish, small vegetable, irritating and grievously
useless. Therefore this volume of sketches is named Sandburrs. Some folk
there be who apologize for the birth of a book. There’s scant propriety
of it. A book is but a legless, dormant creature. The public has but to
let it alone to be safe. And a book, withal! is its own punishment. Is
it a bad book? the author loses. Is it very bad? the publisher loses.
In any case the public is preserved. For all of which there will be no
apology for SAND-BURRS. Nor will I tell what I think of it. No; this
volume may make its own running, without the handicap of my apology, or
the hamstringing of my criticism. There should be more than one to
do the latter with the least of luck. The Bowery dialect - if it be
a dialect - employed in sundry of these sketches is not an exalted
literature. The stories told are true, however; so much may they have
defence.

A. H. L.

New York, Nov. 15, 1899.




SANDBURRS




SPOT AND PINCHER.

Martin is the barkeeper of an East Side hotel - not a good hotel at
all - and flourishes as a sporting person of much emphasis. Martin, in
passing, is at the head of the dog-fighting brotherhood. I often talk
with Martin and love him very much.

Last week I visited Martin’s bar. There was “nothin’ doin’,” to quote
from Martin. We talked of fighting men, a subject near to Martin, he
having fought three prize-fights himself. Martin boasted himself as
still being “an even break wit’ any rough-and-tumble scrapper in d’
bunch.”

“Come here,” said Martin, in course of converse; “come here; I’ll show
you a bute.”

Martin opened a door to the room back of the bar. As we entered a
pink-white bull terrier, with black spots about the eyes, raced across
to fawn on Martin. The terrier’s black toe-nails, bright and hard as
agate, made a vast clatter on the ash floor.

“This is Spot,” said Martin. “Weighs thirty-three pounds, and he’s a
hully terror! I’m goin’ to fight him to-night for five hundred dollars.”

I stooped to express with a pat on his smooth white head my approbation
of Spot.

“Pick him up, and heft him,” said Martin. “He won’t nip you,” ‘he
continued, as I hesitated; “bulls is; d’ most manful dogs there bees.
Bulls won’t bite nobody.”

Thereupon I picked up Spot “to heft him.” Spot smiled widely, wagged
his stumpy tail, tried to lick my face, and felt like a bundle of live
steel.

“Spot’s goin’ to fight McDermott’s Pincher,” said Martin. “And,”
addressing this to Spot, “you want to watch out, old boy! Pincher is
as hard as a hod of brick. And you want to look out for your Trilbys;
Pincher’ll fight for your feet and legs. He’s d’ limit, Spot, Pincher
is! and you must tend to business when you’re in d’ pit wit’ Pincher, or
he’ll do you. Then McDermott would win me money, an’ you an’ me, Spot,
would look like a couple of suckers.”

Spot listened with a pleased air, as if drinking in every word, and
wagged his stump reassuringly. He would remember Pincher’s genius for
crunching feet and legs, and see to it fully in a general way that
Pincher did not “do” him.

“Spot knows he’s goin’ to fight to-night as well as you and me,” said
Martin, as we returned to the bar. “Be d’ way! don’t you want to go?”

* * * * *

It was nine o’clock that evening. The pit, sixteen feet square, with
board walls three feet high, was built in the centre of an empty loft on
Bleecker street. Directly over the pit was a bunch of electric lights.
All about, raised six inches one above the other, were a dozen rows of
board seats like a circus. These were crowded with perhaps two hundred
sports. They sat close, and in the vague, smoky atmosphere, their faces,
row on row, tier above tier, put me in mind of potatoes in a bin.

Fincher was a bull terrier, the counterpart of Spot, save for the
markings about the face which gave Spot his name. Pincher seemed very
sanguine and full of eager hope; and as he and Spot, held in the arms of
their handlers, lolled at each other across the pit, it was plain they
languished to begin. Neither, however, made yelp or cry or bark. Bull
terriers of true worth on the battle-field were, I learned, a tacit,
wordless brood, making no sound.

Martin “handled” Spot and McDermott did kindly office for Pincher in
the same behalf. Martin and McDermott “tasted” Spot and Pincher
respectively; smelled and mouthed them for snuffs and poisons. Spot and
Pincher submitted to these examinations in a gentlemanly way, but were
glad when they ended.

At the word of the referee, Spot and Pincher were loosed, each in his
corner. They went straight at each other’s throats. They met in the
exact centre of the pit like two milk-white thunderbolts, and the battle
began.

Spot and Pincher moiled and toiled bloodily for forty-five minutes
without halt or pause or space to breathe. Their handlers, who were
confined to their corners by quarter circles drawn in chalk so as to hem
them in, leaned forward toward the fray and breathed encouragement.

What struck me as wonderful, withal, was a lack of angry ferocity on
the parts of Spot and Pincher. There was naught of growl, naught of
rage-born cry or comment. They simply blazed with a zeal for blood;
burned with a blind death-ardour.

When Spot and Pincher began, all was so flash-like in their motions, I
could hardly tell what went on. They were in and out, down and up,
over and under, writhing like two serpents. Now and then a pair of jaws
clicked like castanets as they came together with a trap-like snap,
missing their hold. Now and then one or the other would get a half-grip
that would tear out. Then the blood flowed, painting both Spot and
Pincher crimson.

As time went on my eyes began to follow better, and I noted some amazing
matters. It was plain, for one thing, that both Spot and Pincher were as
wise and expert as two boxers. They fought intelligently, and each had
a system. As Martin had said, Pincher fought “under,” in never-ending
efforts to seize Spot’s feet and legs. Spot was perfectly aware of this,
and never failed to keep his fore legs well back and beneath him, out of
Pinchers reach.

Spot, on his part, set his whole effort to the enterprise of getting
Pincher by the throat. A dog without breath means a dead dog, and Spot
knew this. Pincher appeared clear on the point, too; and would hold his
chin close to his breast, and shrug his head and shoulders well together
whenever Spot tried to work for a throat hold.

Now and then Spot and Pincher stood up to each other like wrestlers, and
fenced with their muzzles for “holds” as might two Frenchmen with foils.
In the wrestling Spot proved himself a perfect Whistler, and never
failed to throw Pincher heavily. And, as I stated, from the beginning,
the two warriors battled on without cry. Silent, sedulous, indomitable;
both were the sublimation of courage and fell purpose. They were
fighting to the death; they knew it, joyed in it, and gave themselves to
their destiny without reserve. Each was eager only to kill, willing only
to die. It was a lesson to men. And, as I looked, I realised that both
were two of the happiest of created things. In the very heat of the
encounter, with throbbing hearts and heaving sides, and rending fangs
and flowing blood, they found a great content.

All at once Spot and Pincher stood motionless. Their eyes were like
coals, and their respective stump tails stood stiffly, as indicating no
abatement of heart or courage. What was it that brought the halt? Spot
had set his long fangs through the side of Pinchers head in such fashion
that Pincher couldn’t reach him nor retaliate with his teeth. Pincher,
discovering this, ceased to try, and stood there unconquered, resting
and awaiting developments. Spot, after the manner of his breed, kept his
grip like Death. They stood silent, motionless, while the blood dripped
from their gashes; a grim picture! They had fought, as I learned later,
to what is known in the great sport of dog fighting as “a turn.”

“It’s a turn!” decided the referee.

At this Martin and McDermot seized each his dog and parted them
scientifically. Spot and Pincher were carried to their corners and
refreshed and sponged with cold water. At the end of one minute the
referee called:

“Time!”

At this point I further added to my learning touching the kingly pastime
of dog-fighting. When two dogs have “fought to a turn,” that is, locked
themselves in a grip, not deadly to either if persisted in, and which
still prevents further fighting, - as in the case of Spot and Pincher, - a
responsibility rests with the call of “Time” on the dog that “turns.” In
this instance, Pincher. At the call of “Time” Spot would be held by his
handler, standing in plain view of Pincher, but in his corner. It was
incumbent on Pincher - as a proof of good faith - to cross the pit to
get at him. If Pincher failed when released on call of “Time” to come
straight across to Spot, and come at once; if he looked to right or left
or hesitated even for the splinter of a second, he was a beaten dog. The
battle was against him.

“Time!” called the referee.

Just prior to the call I heard Martin whisper huskily over his shoulder
to a rough customer who sat just back of and above him, at Spot’s corner
of the pit:

“Stand by wit’ that glim now!” Martin muttered without turning his head.

At the call “Time!” McDermot released Pincher across in his corner.
Pincher’s eyes were riveted on Spot, just over the way, and there’s no
doubt of Pincher’s full purpose to close with him at once. There was no
more of hesitation in his stout heart than in Spot’s, who stood mouth
open and fire-eyed, waiting.

But a strange interference occurred. At the word “Time!” the rough
customer chronicled slipped the slide of a dark lantern and threw the
small glare of it squarely in Pincher’s eyes. It dazed Pincher; he lost
sight of Spot; forgot for a moment his great purpose. There stood poor
Pincher, irresolute, not knowing where to find his enemy; thrall to the
glare of the dark lantern.

“Spot win!” declared the referee.

At that moment the dark-lantern rough-customer closed the slide and
disappeared.

Few saw the trick or its effects. Certainly the referee was guiltless.
But McDermot, who had had the same view of the dark lantern Pincher had,
and on whom for a moment it had similar effect, raised a great clamour.
But it was too late; Martin had claimed the thousand dollars from
the stake-holder, and with it in his pocket was already in a carriage
driving away, with Spot wrapped up in a lap robe occupying the front
seat.

“Let McDermot holler!” said Martin, with much heat, when I mentioned
the subject the next day. “Am I goin’ to lose a fight and five hundred
dollars, just because some bloke brings a dark lantern to d’ pit and
takes to monkeyin’ wit’ it? Not on your life!”




MULBERRY MARY

(Annals of The Bend)


Chucky d’ Turk” was the _nom de guerre_ of my friend. Under this title
he fought the battles of life. If he had another name he never made me
his confidant concerning it. We had many talks, Chucky and I; generally
in a dingy little bar on Baxter Street, where, when I wearied of uptown
sights and smells, I was wont to meet with Chucky. Never did Chucky call
on me nor seek me. From first to last he failed not to conduct himself
towards me with an air of tolerant patronage. When together I did the
buying and the listening, and Chucky did the drinking and the talking.
It was on such occasion when Chucky told me the story of Mulberry Mary.

“Mary was born in Kelly’s Alley,” remarked Chucky, examining in a
thoughtful way his mug of mixed ale; “Mary was born in Kelly’s Alley,
an’ say! she wasn’t no squealer, I don’t t’ink.

“When Mary grows up an’ can chase about an’ chin, she toins out a dead
good kid an’ goes to d’ Sisters’ School. At this time I don’t spot Mary
in p’ticler; she’s nothin’ but a sawed-off kid, an’ I’m busy wit’ me
graft.

“D’ foist I really knows of Mary is when she gets married. She hooks up
wit’ Billy, d’ moll-buzzard; an’ say! he’s bad.

“He gets his lamps on Mary at Connorses spiel, Billy does; an’ he’s
stuck on her in a hully secont. It’s no wonder; Mary’s a peach. She’s d’
belle of d’ Bend, make no doubt.

“Billy’s graft is hangin’ round d’ Bowery bars, layin’ for suckers. An’
he used to get in his hooks deep an’ clever now an’ then, an’ most times
Billy could, if it’s a case of crowd, flash quite a bit of dough.

“So when Billy sees Mary at Connorses spiel, like I says, she’s such a
bute he loses his nut. You needn’t give it d’ laugh! Say! I sees d’ map
of a skirt - a goil, I means - on a drop curtain at a swell t’eatre onct,
an’ it says under it she’s Cleopatra. D’ mark nex’ me says, when I taps
for a tip, this Cleopatra’s from Egypt, an’ makes a hit in d’ coochee
coochee line, wit’ d’ high push of d’ old times, see! An’ says this
gezeybo for a finish: ‘This Cleopatra was a wonder for looks. She was d’
high-roller tart of her time, an’ d’ beauti-fulest.’

“Now, all I got to say is,” continued Chucky, regarding me with a
challenging air of decision the while; “all I has to utter is, Mary
could make this Cleopatra look like seven cents!

“Well,” resumed Chucky, as I made no comment, “Billy chases up to Mary
an’ goes in to give her d’ jolly of her life. An’, say! she’s pleased
all right, all right; I can see it be her mug.

“An’ Billy goes d’ limit. He orders d’ beers; an’ when he pays, Billy
springs his wad on Mary an’ counts d’ bills off slow, Linkin’ it’ll
razzle-dazzle her. Then Billy tells Mary he’s out to be her steady.

“‘I’ve got money to boin,’ says Billy, ‘an’ what you wants you gets,
see!’ An’ Billy pulls d’ long green ag’in to show Mary he’s dead strong,
an ‘d’ money aint no dream.

“But Mary says ‘Nit! couple of times nit!’ She says she’s on d’ level,
an’ no steady goes wit’ her. It’s either march or marry wit’ Mary. An’
so she lays it down.

“That’s how it stands, when d’ nex’ news we hears Billy an’ she don’t do
a t’ing but chase off to a w’ite-choker; followin’ which dey grabs off a
garret in d’ Astorbilt tenement, an’ goes to keepin’ house.

“But Mary breaks in on Billy’s graft. She says he’s got to go to woik;
he’ll get lagged if he don’t; an’ she won’t stand for no husband who
spends half d’ time wit’ her an ‘d’ rest on d’ Island. So he cuts
loose from d’ fly mob an’ leaves d’ suckers alone, an’ hires out for a
tinsmith, see!

“An’ here’s d’ luck Billy has. It’s d’ secont day an’ he’s fittin’ in
d’ tin flashin’ round a chimbley on a five-story roof; an’ mebby it’s
because he aint used to woik, or mebby he gets funny in his cupolo,
bein’ up so high; anyhow he dives down to d’ pavement, an’ when he
lands, you bet your life! Billy’s d’ deadest t’ing that ever happened.

“Mary goes wild an’ wrong after that. In half of no time Mary takes to
chasin’ up to Mott Street an’ hittin’ d’ pipe. There’s a Chink up
there who can cook d’ hop out o’ sight, an’ it aint long before Mary
is hangin’ ‘round his joint for good. It’s then dey quits callin’ her
Mulberry Mary, an’ she goes be d’ name of Mollie d’ Dope.

“Mary don’t last in d’ Chink swim more’n a year before there’s bats in
her belfry for fair; any old stiff wit’ lamps could see it; an’ so folks
gets leary of Mary.

[Illustration: 0027]

“It runs on mebby two years after Billy does that stunt from d’ roof,
see! when there’s a fire an’ all d’ kids run an’ screeched, an’ all d’
folks hollered, an’ all d’ engines comes an’ lams loose to put it out.
D’ fire’s in a tenement, an ‘d’ folks who was in it has skipped, so it’s
just d’ joint itself is boinin’.

“All at onct a kid looks out d’ fort’ story window wit ‘d’ fire shinin’
behint him. You can see be d’ little mark’s mug he’s got an awful scare
t’run into him, t’inkin’ he’s out to boin in d’ buildin*.

“‘It’s McManuses’ Chamsey!’ says one old Tommy, lettin’ her hair down
her back an’ givin’ a yell, ‘Somebody save McManuses’ Chamsey!’

“‘Let me save him!’ says Mary, at d’ same time laughin’ wild. ‘Let me
save him; I want to save him! I’m only Mollie d’ Dope - Mollie d’ hop
fiend - an’ if I gets it in d’ neck it don’t count, see!’

“Mary goes up in d’ smoke an ‘d’ fire, no one knows how, wit’ d’ water
pourin’ from d’ hose, an ‘d’ boards an’ glass a-fallin’ an’ a-crashin’,
an’ she brings out McManuses’ Chamsey, Saves him; on d’ dead! she does;
an’ boins all d’ hair off her cocoa doin’ it.

“Well, of course d’ fire push stan’s in an’ gives Mary all sorts of guff
an’ praise. Mary only laughs an’ says, while d’ amb’lance guy is doin’
up her head, that folks ain’t onto her racket; that she d’ soonest frail
that ever walks in d’ Bend.”

At this juncture Chucky desired another mixed ale. He got it, and after
a long, damp pause he resumed his thread.

“Now what do youse t’ink of this for a finish? It’s weeks ago d’ fire
is. Mary meets up wit’ McManuses’ Chamsey to-day - she’s been followin’
him a good deal since she saves him - an’ as Chamsey is only six years
old, he don’t know nothin’, an’ falls to Mary’s lead. It’s an easy case
of bunk, an’ Chamsey only six years old like that!

“Mary gives Chamsey d’ gay face an’ wins him right off. She buys him
posies of one Dago an’ sugar candy of another; an’ then she passes
Chamsey a strong tip, he’s missin’ d’ sights be not goin’ down to d’
East River.

“Here’s what Mary does - she takes Chamsey down be d’ docks - a
longshoreman loafin’ hears what she says. Mary tells Chamsey to look at
all d’ chimbleys an ‘d’ smoke comin’ out!

“‘An’ in every one there’s fire makin ‘d’ smoke,’ says Mary. ‘T’ink of
all d’ fires there must be, Chamsey! I’ll bet Hell ain’t got any more
fires in it than d’ woild! Do youse remember, Chamsey, how d’ fire was
goin’ to boin you? Now, I’ll tell you what we’ll do, so d’ fire never
will boin us; we’ll jump in, - you an’ me!’

“An’ wit’ that, so d’ longshoreman says, Mary nails Chamsey be d’ neck
wit’ her left hook an’ hops into d’ drink. Yes, dey was drowned - d’
brace of ‘em. Dey’s over to d’ dead house now on a slab - Mary an’
McManuses’ Chamsey.

“What makes me so wet? I gets to d’ dock a minute too late to save ‘em,
but I’m right in time to dive up d’ stiffs. So I dives ‘em up. It’s easy
money. That’s what makes me cuffs look like ruffles an’ me collar like a
corset string.” And here Chucky called for a third mixed ale, as a sign
that his talk was done.




SINGLETREE JENNINGS


It was evening in Jordan Hollow, and Singletree Jennings stood leaning
on his street gate. Singletree Jennings was a coloured man, and, to
win his bread, played many parts in life. He was a whitewasher; he sold
fish; he made gardens; and during the social season he was frequently
the “old family butler,” in white cotton gloves, at the receptions of
divers families.

“I’m a pore man, honey!” Singletree Jennings was wont to say; “but dar
was a time when me an’ my ole Delia was wuf $1,800. Kase why? Kase we
brought it at auction, when Marse Roundtree died - didn’t we, Delia?”

This was one of Singletree Jennings’s jokes.

“But pore man or no!” Singletree Jennings would conclude, “as de
Lamb looks down an’ sees me, I never wronged a man outen so much as a
blue-laiged chicken in my life.”

This evening Singletree Jennings was a prey to dejection. Nor could he
account for his gloom. His son opened the gate and went whistling up the
street.

“Clambake Jennings, whar yo’ gwine?” asked Singletree Jennings.

“Gwine ter shoot craps.”

“Have yo’ got yer rabbit’s foot?

“Yassir.”

“An’ de snake’s head outen de clock?”

“Yassir.”

Singletree Jennings relapsed into moody silence, and Clambake passed on
and away.

The shouts and cries of some storm-rocked multitude was heard up the
street. The Columbia College boys were taking home their new eight-oared
boat. The shouts settled into something like the barking of a dog. It
was the crew emitting the college cry.

“What’s dat?” demanded Delia Jennings, coming to the door.

“De Lawd save us ef I knows!” said Singletree Jennings; “onless it’s one
of dem yar bond issues dey’s so ‘fraid’ll happen.”

The tones of Singletree Jennings showed that he was ill at ease.

“What’s de matter, Daddy Singletree?” demanded the observant Delia.

“I’ve got a present’ment, I reckon!” said Singletree Jennings. “I’m
pow’ful feard dar’ll somethin’ bust loose wrong about dat Andrew Jackson
goat.”

Singletree Jennings was the owner and business manager of a goat named
Andrew Jackson. In the winter Singletree Jennings never came home
without an armful of straw for Andrew Jackson. In the summer there was
no need of straw. Andrew Jackson then ate the shirts off the neighbour’s
clothes-lines. Andrew Jackson had been known to eat the raiment off a
screaming child, and then lower his frontlet at the rescue party. Andrew
Jackson was a large, impressive goat; yet he never joked nor gave way to
mirth. Ordinarily, Andrew Jackson was a calm, placid goat; aroused, he
was an engine of destruction.

All of these peculiarities were explained by Singletree Jennings when
Sam Hardtack and Backfence Randolph, a committee acting on behalf of the
Othello Dramatic Club, desired the loan of Andrew Jackson. The church
to which Singletree Jennings belonged was programming a social this
very night, and divers and sundry tableaux, under the direction of the
Othello Dramatic Club, were on the card. It was esteemed necessary by
those in control to present as a tableau Abraham slaying Isaac. There
was a paucity of sheep about, and Andrew Jackson, in this dearth of the
real thing, was cast to play the character of the Ram in the Bush.

“An’ Andrew Jackson is boun’ to fetch loose,” reflected Singletree
Jennings, with a shake of his head; “an’ when he does, he’ll jes’ go
knockin’ ‘round among de congregashun like a blind dog in a meat shop!”
*****

Singletree Jennings’s worst fears were realised. It was nine o’clock
now, and he and Delia had come down to the social. Andrew Jackson had
been restrained of his liberty for the previous four hours and held
captive in a drygoods’ box. He was now in a state of frenzy. When the
curtain went up on Abraham and Isaac, Andrew Jackson burst his bonds at
the rear of the stage and bore down on the Hebrew father and son like
the breath of destiny. Andrew Jackson came, dragging his bush with him.
The bush was, of course, a welcome addition. Abraham saw him coming, and
fled into the lap of a fiddler. Isaac, however, wasn’t faced that way.
Andrew Jackson smote Isaac upon the starboard quarter. It was a follow
shot, rather than a carom, and Andrew Jackson and his prey landed in the
middle of the audience together. For two minutes Andrew Jackson mingled
freely with the people present, and then retired by the back door.

“I knowed destrucshun was a-comin’!” murmured Singletree Jennings. “I
ain’t felt dat pestered, Delia, since de day I concealed my ‘dentity in
Marse Roundtree’s smokehouse, an’ dey cotched me at it.”

“Singletree Jennings!” observed the Reverend Handout F. Johnson, in a
tone of solemn anger, while his pistol pocket still throbbed from the
visitation of Andrew Jackson, “Elder Shakedown Bixby is in pursuit of


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