Charles Dickens.

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Penitentiary is also among its institutions. In this latter
establishment there were two curious cases.

One, was that of a young man, who had been tried for
the murder of his father. The evidence was entirely circum-
stantial, and was very conflicting and doubtful; nor was it
possible to assign any motive which could have tempted him
to the commission of so tremendous a crime. He had been


tried twice; and on the second occasion the jury felt so much
hesitation in convicting him, that they found a verdict of
manslaughter, or murder in the second degree ; which it could
not possibly be, as there had, beyond all doubt, been no
quarrel or provocation, and if he were guilty at all, he was
unquestionably guilty of murder in its broadest and worst

The remarkable feature in the case was, that if the unfor-
tunate, deceased were not really murdered by this own son of
his, he must have been murdered by his own brother. The
evidence lay in a most remarkable manner, between those
two. On all the suspicious points, the dead man's brother
was the witness : all the explanations for the prisoner (some
of them extremely plausible) went, by construction and
inference, to inculcate him as plotting to fix the guilt upon
his nephew. It must have been one of them : and the jury
had to decide between two sets of suspicions, almost equally
unnatural, unaccountable, and strange.

The other case, was that of a man who once went to a
certain distillers and stole a copper measure containing a
quantity of liquor. He was pursued and taken with the
property in his possession, and was sentenced to two years' 1
imprisonment. On coming out of the jail, at the expiration
of that term, he went back to the same distiller's, and stole
the same copper measure containing the same quantity of
liquor. There was not the slightest reason to suppose that
the man wished to return to prison : indeed everything, but
the commission of the offence, made directly against that
assumption. There are only two ways of accounting for this
extraordinary proceeding. One is, that after undergoing so
much for this copper measure he conceived he had established
a sort of claim and right to it. The other that, by dint of
long thinking about, it had become a monomania with him,
and had acquired a fascination which he found it impossible
to resist; swelling from an Earthly Copper Gallon into an
Ethereal Golden Vat.


After remaining here a couple of days I bound myself to a
rigid adherence to the plan I had laid down so recently, and
resolved to set forward on our western journey without any
more delay. Accordingly, having reduced the luggage within
the smallest possible compass (by sending back to New York,
to be afterwards forwarded to us in Canada, so much of it as
was not absolutely wanted) ; and having procured the necessary
credentials to banking-houses on the way ; and having more-
over looked for two evenings at the setting sun, with as well-
defined an idea of the country before us as if we had been
going to travel into the very centre of that planet ; we left
Baltimore by another railway at half-past eight in the morn-
ing, and reached the town of York, some sixty miles off', by
the early dinner-time of the Hotel which was the starting-
place of the four-horse coach, wherein we were to proceed to

This conveyance, the box of which I was fortunate enough to
secure, had come down to meet us at the railroad station, and
was as muddy and cumbersome as usual. As more passengers
were waiting for us at the inn-door, the coachman observed
under his breath, in the usual self-communicative voice, looking
the while at his mouldy harness as if it were to that he was
addressing himself,

" I expect we shall want the big- coach. 11

I could not help wondering within myself what the size of
this big coach might be, and how many persons it might be
designed to hold ; for the vehicle which was too small for our
purpose was something larger than two English heavy night
coaches, and might have been the twin-brother of a French
Diligence. My speculations were speedily set at rest, how-
ever, for as soon as we had dined, there came rumbling up
the street, shaking its sides like a corpulent giant, a kind of
barge on wheels. After much blundering and backing, it
stopped at the door : rolling heavily from side to side when
its other motion had ceased, as if it had taken cold in its
damp stable, and between that, and the having been required


in its dropsical old age to move at any faster pace than a
walk, were distressed by shortness of wind.

"If here ain't the Harrisburg mail at last, and dreadful
bright and smart to look at too," cried an elderly gentleman
in some excitement, " darn my mother ! "

I don't know what the sensation of being darned may be,
or whether a man's mother has a keener relish or disrelish of
the process than anybody else ; but if the endurance of this
mysterious ceremony by the old lady in question had depended
on the accuracy of her son's vision in respect to the abstract
brightness and smartness of the Harrisburg mail, she would
certainly have undergone its infliction. However, they booked
twelve people inside ; and the luggage (including such trifles
as a large rocking-chair, and a good-sized dining-table) being
at length made fast upon the roof, we started off' in great

At the door of another hotel, there was another passenger
to be taken up.

" Any room, sir ? " cries the new passenger to the coachman.

" Well there's room enough," replies the coachman, without
getting down, or even looking at him.

" There an't no room at all, sir," bawls a gentleman inside.
Which another gentleman (also inside) confirms, by predicting
that the attempt to introduce any more passengers " won't fit

The new passenger, without any expression of anxiety, looks
into the coach, and then looks up at the coachman : " Now,
how do you mean to fix it ? " says he, after a pause : " for I
must go."

The coachman employs himself in twisting the lash of his
whip into a knot, and takes no more notice of the question :
clearly signifying that it is anybody's business but his, and
that the passengers would do well to fix it, among themselves.
In this state of things, matters seem to be approximating to
a fix of another kind, when another inside passenger in a
corner, who is nearly suffocated, cries faintly, "I'll get out."


This is no matter of relief or self-congratulation to the
driver, for his immovable philosophy is perfectly undisturbed
by anything that happens in the coach. Of all things in
the world, the coach would seem to be the very last upon
his mind. The exchange is made, however, and then the
passenger who has given up his seat makes a third upon the
box, seating himself in what he calls the middle ; that is, with
half his person on my legs, and the other half on the driver's.

" Go a-head, cap'en," cries the colonel, who directs.

"G6-lang!" cries the cap'en to his company, the horses,
and away we go.

We took up at a rural bar-room, after we had gone a few
miles, an intoxicated gentleman who climbed upon the roof
among the luggage, and subsequently slipping off without
hurting himself, was seen in the distant perspective reeling
back to the grog-shop where we had found him. We also
parted with more of our freight at different times, so that
when we came to change horses, I was again alone outside.

The coachmen always change with the horses, and are
usually as dirty as the coach. The first was dressed like a
very shabby English baker ; the second like a Russian peasant :
for he wore a loose purple camlet robe, with a fur collar, tied
round his waist with a parti-coloured worsted sash; grey
trousers ; light blue gloves : and a cap of bearskin. It had by
this time come on to rain very heavily, and there was a cold
damp mist besides, which penetrated to the skin. I was
glad to take advantage of a stoppage and get down to stretch
my legs, shake the water off my great-coat, and swallow the
usual anti-temperance recipe for keeping out the cold.

When I mounted to my seat again, I observed a new parcel
lying on the coach roof, which I took to be a rather large
fiddle in a brown bag. In the course of a few miles, however,
I discovered that it had a glazed cap at one end and a pair
of muddy shoes at the other ; and further observation demon-
strated it to be a small boy in a snuff-coloured coat, with his
arms quite pinioned to his sides, by deep forcing into his


pockets. He was, I presume, a relative or friend of the coach-
man X as he lay a- top of the luggage with his face towards
the rain ; and except when a change of position brought his
shoes in contact with my hat, he appeared to be asleep. At
last, on some occasion of our stopping, this thing slowly
upreared itself to the height of three feet six, and fixing its
eyes on me, observed in piping accents, with a complaisant
yawn, half quenched in an obliging air of friendly patronage,
"Well now, stranger, I guess you find this a'most like an
English arternoon, hey ? "

The scenery which had been tame enough at first, was,
for the last ten or twelve miles, beautiful. Our road wound
through the pleasant valley of the Susquehanna ; the river,
dotted with innumerable green islands, lay upon our right;
and on the left, a steep ascent, craggy with broken rock, and
dark with pine trees. The mist, wreathing itself into a
hundred fantastic shapes, moved solemnly upon the water ;
and the gloom of evening gave to all an air of mystery and
silence which greatly enhanced its natural interest.

We crossed this river by a wooden bridge, roofed and
covered in on all sides, and nearly a mile in length. It was
profoundly dark ; perplexed, with great beams, crossing and
recrossing it at every possible angle ; and through the broad
chinks and crevices in the floor, the rapid river gleamed, far
down below, like a legion of eyes. We had no lamps; and
as the horses stumbled and floundered through this place,
towards the distant speck of dying light, it seemed intermin-
able. I really could not at first persuade myself as we
rumbled heavily on, filling the bridge with hollow noises,
and I held down my head to save it from the rafters above,
but that I was in a painful dream ; for I have often dreamed
of toiling through such places, and as often argued, even at
the time, "this cannot be reality.""

At length, however, we emerged upon the streets of Harris-
burg, whose feeble lights, reflected dismally from the wet
ground, did not shine out upon a very cheerful city. We


were soon established in a snug hotel, which though smaller
and far less splendid than many we put up at, is raised above
them all in my remembrance, by having for its landlord the
most obliging, considerate, and gentlemanly person I ever
had to deal with.

As we were not to proceed upon our journey until the
afternoon, I walked out, after breakfast the next morning, to
look .about me ; and was duly shown a model prison on the
solitary system, just erected, and as yet without an inmate;
the trunk of an old tree to which Harris, the first settler
here (afterwards buried under it), was tied by hostile Indians,
with his funeral pile about him, when he was saved by the
timely appearance of a friendly party on the opposite shore
of the river; the local legislature (for there was another of
those bodies here again, in full debate); and the other
curiosities of the town.

I was very much interested in looking over a number of
treaties made from time to time with the poor Indians,
signed by the different chiefs at the period of their ratifica-
tion, and preserved in the office of the Secretary to the
Commonwealth. These signatures, traced of course by their
own hands, are rough drawings of the creatures or weapons
they were called after. Thus, the Great Turtle makes a crooked
pen-and-ink outline of a great turtle ; the Buffalo sketches a
buffalo ; the War Hatchet sets a rough image of that weapon
for his mark. So with the Arrow, the Fish, the Scalp, the
Big Canoe, and all of them.

I could not but think as I looked at these feeble and
tremulous productions of hands which could draw the longest
arrow to the head in a stout elk-horn bow, or split a bead
or feather with a rifle-ball of Crabbers musings over the
Parish Register, and the irregular scratches made with a pen,
by men who would plough a lengthy furrow straight from
end to end. Nor could I help bestowing many sorrowful
thoughts upon the simple warriors whose hands and hearts
were set there, in all truth and honesty ; and who only


learned in course of time from white men how to break their
faith, and quibble out of forms and bonds. I wonder, too,
how many times the credulous Big Turtle, or trusting Little
Hatchet, had put his mark to treaties which were falsely
read to him ; and had signed away, he knew not what, until
it went and cast him loose upon the new possessors of the
land, a savage indeed.

Our host announced, before our early dinner, that some
members of the legislative body proposed to do us the honour
of calling. He had kindly yielded up to us his wife's own
little parlour, and when I begged that he would show them
in, I saw him look with painful apprehension at its pretty
carpet; though, being otherwise occupied at the time, the
cause of his uneasiness did not occur to me.

It certainly would have been more pleasant to all parties
concerned, and would not, I think, have compromised their
independence in any material degree, if some of these gentle-
men had not only yielded to the prejudice in favour of
spittoons, but had abandoned themselves, for the moment,
even to the conventional absurdity of pocket-handkerchiefs.

It still continued to rain heavily, and when we went down
to the Canal Boat (for that was the mode of conveyance by
which we were to proceed) after dinner, the weather was as
unpromising and obstinately wet as one would desire to see.
Nor was the sight of this canal boat, in which we were to
spend three or four days, by any means a cheerful one; as it
involved some uneasy speculations concerning the disposal of
the passengers at night, and opened a wide field of inquiry
touching the other domestic arrangements of the establish-
ment, which was sufficiently disconcerting.

However, there it was a barge with a little house in it,
viewed from the outside; and a caravan at a fair, viewed
from within: the gentlemen being accommodated, as the
spectators usually are, in one of those locomotive museums
of penny wonders ; and the ladies being partitioned off' by a
red curtain, after the manner of the dwarfs and giants in'


the same establishments, whose private lives are passed in
rather close exclusiveness.

We sat here, looking silently at the row of little tables,
which extended down both sides of the cabin, and listening
to the rain as it dripped and pattered on the boat, and
plashed with a dismal merriment in the water, until the
arrival of the railway train, for whose final contribution to
our stock of .passengers, our departure was alone deferred.
It brought a great many boxes, which were bumped and
tossed upon the roof, almost as painfully as if they had been
deposited on one's own head, without the intervention of a
porter's knot ; and several damp gentlemen, whose clothes,
on their drawing round the stove, began to steam again.
No doubt it would have been a thought more comfortable
if the driving rain, which now poured down more soakingly
than ever, had admitted of a window being opened, or if our
number had been something less than thirty ; but there was
scarcely time to think as much, when a train of three horses
was attached to the tow-rope, the boy upon the leader
smacked his whip, the rudder creaked and groaned complain-
ingly, and we had begun our journey.



As it continued to rain most perseveringly, we all remained
below : the damp gentlemen round the stove, gradually
becoming mildewed by the action of the fire ; and the dry
gentlemen lying at full length upon the seats, or slumbering
uneasily with their faces on the tables, or walking up and
down the cabin, which it was barely possible for a man of
the middle height to do, without making bald places on his
head by scraping it against the roof. At about six o'clock,
all the small tables were put together to form one long table,
and everybody sat down to tea, coffee, bread, butter, salmon,
shad, liver, steaks, potatoes, pickles, ham, chops, black-
puddings, and sausages.

"Will you try," said my opposite neighbour, handing me
a dish of potatoes, broken up in milk and butter, " will you
try some of these fixings ? "

There are few words which perform such various duties as
this word "fix."" It is the Caleb Quotem of the American
vocabulary. You call upon a gentleman in a country town,
and his help informs you that he is " fixing himself" just
now, but will be down directly : by which you are to under-
stand that he is dressing. You inquire, on board a steamboat,
of a fellow-passenger, whether breakfast will be ready soon,

ON DECK. 173

and he tells you he should think so, for when he was last
below, they were " fixing the tables : " in other words, laying
the cloth. You beg a porter to collect your luggage, and
he entreats you not to be uneasy, for he'll " fix it presently : "
and if you complain of indisposition, you are advised to have
recourse to Doctor So-and-so, who will " fix you " in no time.

One night, I ordered a bottle of mulled wine at an hotel
where I was staying, and waited a long time for it ; at length
it was put upon the table with an apology from the landlord
that he feared it wasn't "fixed properly." And I recollect
once, at a stage-coach dinner, overhearing a very stern gentle-
man demand of a waiter who presented him with a plate of
underdone roast-beef, "whether he called that, fixing God
Almighty's vittles ? "

There is no doubt that the meal, at which the invitation
was tendered to me which has occasioned this digression, was
disposed of somewhat ravenously ; and that the gentlemen
thrust the broad-bladed knives and the two-pronged forks
further down their throats than I ever saw the same weapons
go before, except in the hands of a skilful juggler : but no
man sat down until the ladies were seated; or omitted any
little act of politeness which could contribute to their comfort.
Nor did I ever once, on any occasion, anywhere, during my
rambles in America, see a woman exposed to the slightest act
of rudeness, incivility, or even inattention.

By the time the meal was over, the rain, which seemed to
have worn itself out by coming down so fast, was nearly over
too ; and it became feasible to go on deck : which was n
great relief, notwithstanding its being a very small deck, and
being rendered still smaller by the luggage, which was heaped
together in the middle under a tarpaulin covering; leaving,
on either side, a path so narrow, that it became a science to
walk to and fro without tumbling overboard into the canal.
It was somewhat embarrassing at first, too, to have to duck
nimbly every five minutes whenever the man at the helm
cried "Bridge!" and sometimes, when the cry was "Low


Bridge," to lie down nearly flat. But custom familiarises
one to anything, and there were so many bridges that it took
a very short time to get used to this.

As night came on, and we drew in sight of the first range
of hills, which are the outposts of the Alleghany Mountains,
the scenery, which had been uninteresting hitherto, became
more bold and striking. The wet ground reeked and smoked,
after the heavy fall of rain ; and the croaking of the frogs
(whose noise in these parts is almost incredible) sounded as
though a million of fairy teams with bells, were travelling
through the air, and keeping pace with us. The night was
cloudy yet, but moonlight too : and Avhen we crossed the
Susquehanna river over which there is an extraordinary
wooden bridge with two galleries, one above the other, so
that even there, two boat teams meeting, may pass without
confusion it was wild and grand.

I have mentioned my having been in some uncertainty
and doubt, at first, relative to the sleeping arrangements on
board this boat. I remained in the same vague state of mind
until ten o'clock or thereabouts, when going below, I found
suspended on either side of the cabin, three long tiers of
hanging book-shelves, designed apparently for volumes of
the small octavo size. Looking with greater attention at
these contrivances (wondering to find such literary prepara-
tions in such a place), I descried on each shelf a sort of
microscopic sheet and blanket ; then I began dimly to
comprehend that the passengers were the library, and that
they were to be arranged, edge-wise, on these shelves, till

I was assisted to this conclusion by seeing some of them
gathered round the master of the boat, at one of the tables,
drawing lots with all the anxieties and passions of gamesters
depicted in their countenances ; while others, with small
pieces of cardboard in their hands, were groping among the
shelves in search of numbers corresponding with those they
had drawn. As soon as any gentleman found his number, he


took possession of it by immediately undressing himself and
crawling into bed. The rapidity with which an agitated
gambler subsided into a snoring slumberer, was one of the
most singular effects I have ever witnessed. As to the ladies,
they were already abed, behind the red curtain, which was
carefully drawn and pinned up the centre; though as every
cough, or sneeze, or whisper, behind this curtain, was perfectly
audible before it, we had still a lively consciousness of their

The politeness of the person in authority had secured to
me a shelf in a nook near this red curtain, in some degree
removed from the great body of sleepers : to which place I
retired, with many acknowledgments to him for his attention.
I found it, on after-measurement, just the width of an
ordinary sheet of Bath post letter-paper ; and I was at first
in some uncertainty as to the best means of getting into it.
But the shelf being a bottom one, I finally determined on
lying upon the floor, rolling gently in, stopping immediately
I touched the mattress, and remaining for the night with that
side uppermost, whatever it might be. Luckily, I came upon
my back at exactly the right moment. I was much alarmed
on looking upward, to see, by the shape of his half-yard of
sacking (which his weight had bent into an exceedingly tight
bag), that there was a very heavy gentleman above me, whom
the slender cords seemed quite incapable of holding; and I
could not help reflecting upon the grief of my wife and family
in the event of his coming down in the night. But as I could
not have got up again without a severe bodily struggle,
which might have alarmed the ladies; and as I had nowhere
to go to, even if I had ; I shut my eyes upon the danger,
and remained there.

One of two remarkable circumstances is indisputably a fact,
with reference to that class of society who travel in these
boats. Either they carry their restlessness to such a pitch
that they never sleep at all ; or they expectorate in dreams,
which would be a remarkable mingling of the real and ideal.


All night long, and every night, on this canal, there was a
perfect storm and tempest of spitting ; and once my coat,
being in the very centre of the hurricane sustained by five
gentlemen (which moved vertically, strictly carrying out Reid's
Theory of the Law of Storms), I was fain the next morning
to lay it on the deck, and rub it down with fair water
before it was in a condition to be worn again.

Between five and six o'clock in the morning we got up,
and some of us went on deck, to give them an opportunity
of taking the shelves down ; while others, the morning being
very cold, crowded round the rusty stove, cherishing the
newly kindled fire, and filling the grate with those voluntary
contributions of which they had been so liberal all night.
The washing accommodations were primitive. There was a
tin ladle chained to the deck, with which every gentleman

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 15 of 43)