Charles Dickens.

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who thought it necessary to cleanse himself (many were
superior to this weakness), fished the dirty water out of the
canal, and poured it into a tin basin, secured in like manner.
There was also a jack-towel. And, hanging up before a little
looking-glass in the bar, in the immediate vicinity of the
bread and cheese and biscuits, Avere a public comb and

At eight o'clock, the shelves being taken down and put
away and the tables joined together, everybody sat down to
the tea, coffee, bread, butter, salmon, shad, liver, steak,
potatoes, pickles, ham, chops, black-puddings, and sausages,
all over again. Some were fond of compounding this variety,
and having it all on their plates at once. As each gentle-
man got through his own personal amount of tea, coffee,
bread, butter, salmon, shad, liver, steak, potatoes, pickles,
ham, chops, black-puddings, and sausages, he rose up and
walked off. When everybody had done with everything, the
fragments were cleared away : and one of the waiters appearing
anew in the character of a barber, shaved such of the company
as desired to be shaved ; while the remainder looked on, or
yawned over their newspapers. Dinner was breakfast again,


without the tea and coffee; and supper and breakfast were

There was a man on board this boat, with a light fresh-
coloured face, and a pepper-and-salt suit of clothes, who was
the most inquisitive fellow that can possibly be imagined. He
never spoke otherwise than interrogatively. He was an
embodied inquiry. Sitting down or standing up, still or
moving, walking the deck or taking his meals, there he was,
with a great note of interrogation in each eye, two in his
cocked ears, two more in his turned-up nose and chin, at
least half a dozen more about the corners of his mouth, and
the largest one of all in his hair, which was brushed pertly
off his forehead in a flaxen clump. Every button in his
clothes said, "Eh? What's that? Did you speak? Say
that again, will you ? " He was always wide awake, like the
enchanted bride who drove her husband frantic ; always rest-
less ; always thirsting for answers ; perpetually seeking and
never finding. There never was such a curious man.

I wore a fur great-coat at that time, and before we were
well clear of the wharf, he questioned me concerning it, and
its price, and where I bought it, and when, and what fur it
was, and what it weighed, and what it cost. Then he took
notice of my watch, and asked me what that cost, and
whether it was a French watch, and where I got it, and how
I got it, and whether I bought it or had it given me, and
how it went, and where the key-hole was, and when I wound
it, every night or every morning, and whether I ever forgot to
wind it at all, and if I did, what then ? Where had I been
to last, and where was I going next, and where was I going
after that, and had I seen the President, and what did he
say, and what did I say, and what did he say when I had
said that ? Eh ? Lor now ! do tell !

Finding that nothing would satisfy him, I evaded his
questions after the first score or two, and in particular
pleaded ignorance respecting the name of the fur whereof the
coat was made. I am unable to say whether this was the



reason, but that coat fascinated him afterwards ; he usually
kept close behind me as I walked, and moved as I moved,
that he might look at it the better ; and he frequently dived
into narrow places after me at the risk of his life, that he
might have the satisfaction of passing his hand up the back,
and rubbing it the wrong way.

We had another odd specimen on board, of a different
kind. This was a thin-faced, spare-figured man of middle
age and stature, dressed in a dusty drabbish-coloured suit,
such as I never saw before. He was perfectly quiet during
the first part of the journey : indeed I don't remember having
so much as seen him until he was brought out by circum-
stances, as great men often are. The conjunction of events
which made him famous, happened, briefly, thus.

The canal extends to the foot of the mountain, and there,
of course, it stops ; the passengers being conveyed across it
by land carriage, and taken on afterwards by another canal
boat, the counterpart of the first, which awaits them on the
other side. There are two canal lines of passage-boats ; one
is called The Express, and one (a cheaper one) The Pioneer.
The Pioneer gets first to the mountain, and waits for the
Express people to come up; both sets of passengers being
conveyed across it at the same time. We were the Express
company; but when we had crossed the mountain, and had
come to the second boat, the proprietors took it into their
heads to draft all the Pioneers into it likewise, so that we
were five-and -forty at least, and the accession of passengers
was not at all of that kind which improved the prospect of
sleeping at night. Our people grumbled at this, as people
do in such cases ; but suffered the boat to be towed off" with
the whole freight aboard nevertheless ; and away we went
down the canal. At home, I should have protested lustily,
but being a foreigner here, I held my peace. Not so this
passenger. He cleft a path among the people on deck (we
were nearly all on deck), and without addressing anybody
whomsoever, soliloquised as follows :


" This may suit you, this may, but it don't suit me. This
may be all very well with Down Easters, and men of Boston
raising, but it won't suit my figure nohow ; and no two
ways about that ,- and so I tell you. Now ! I'm from the
brown forests of the Mississippi, 7 am, and when the sun
shines on me, it does shine a little. It don't glimmer where
/ live, the sun don't. No. I'm a brown forester, I am. I
an't a Johnny Cake. There are no smooth skins where I live.
We're rough men there. Rather. If Down Easters and men
of Boston raising like this, I'm glad of it, but I'm none of
that raising nor of that breed. No. This company wants a
little fixing, it does. I'm the wrong sort of man for 'em, /
am. They won't like me, they won't. This is piling of it
up, a little too mountainous, this is.' 1 At the end of every
one of these short sentences he turned upon his heel, and
walked the other way; checking himself abruptly when he
had finished another short sentence, and turning back again.

It is impossible for me to say what terrific meaning was
hidden in the words of this brown forester, but I know that
the other passengers looked on in a sort of admiring horror,
and that presently the boat was put back to the wharf, and
as many of the Pioneers as could be coaxed or bullied into
going away, were got rid of.

When we started again, some of the boldest spirits on
board, made bold to say to the obvious occasion of this
improvement in our prospects, "Much obliged to you, sir;"
whereunto the brown forester (waving his hand, and still
walking up and down as before), replied, " No you an't.
You're none o' my raising. You may act for yourselves, you
may. I have pinted out the way. Down Easters and Johnny
Cakes can follow if they please. I an't a Johnny Cake, /
an't. I am from the brown forests of the Mississippi, 7 am "
and so on, as before. He was unanimously voted one of
the tables for his bed at night there is a great contest for
the tables in consideration for his public services : and he
had the warmest corner by the stove throughout the rest of


the journey. But I never could find out that he did any-
thing except sit there; nor did I hear him speak again until,
in the midst of the bustle and turmoil of getting the luggage
ashore in the dark at Pittsburg, I stumbled over him as he
sat smoking a cigar on the cabin steps, and heard him
muttering to himself, with a short laugh of defiance, " I an't
a Johnny Cake, / an't. I'm from the brown forests of the
Mississippi, /am, damme!" I arn inclined to argue from
this, that he had never left oft' saying so ; but I could not
make an affidavit of that part of the story, if required to do
so by my Queen and Country.

As we have not reached Pittsburg yet, however, in the
order of our narrative, I may go on to remark that break-
fast was perhaps the least desirable meal of the day, as in
addition to the many savoury odours arising from the eatables
already mentioned, there were whiffs of gin, whiskey, brandy,
and rum, from the little bar hard by, and a decided season-
ing of stale tobacco. Many of the gentlemen passengers
were far from particular in respect of their linen, which was
in some cases as yellow as the little rivulets that had trickled
from the corners of their mouths in chewing, and dried there.
Nor was the atmosphere quite free from zephyr whisperings
of the thirty beds which had just been cleared away, and of
which we were further and more pressingly reminded by the
occasional appearance on the table-cloth of a kind of Game,
not mentioned in the Bill of Fare.

And yet despite these oddities and even they had, for me
at least, a humour of their own there was much in this
mode of travelling which I heartily enjoyed at the time, and
look back upon with great pleasure. Even the running up,
bare-necked, at five o'clock in the morning, from the tainted
cabin to the dirty deck ; scooping up the icy water, plunging
one's head into it, and drawing it out, all fresh and glowing
with the cold ; was a good thing. The fast, brisk walk upon
'the towing-path, between that time and breakfast, when every
vein and artery seemed to tingle with health ; the exquisite


beauty of the opening day, when light came gleaming off
from everything ; the lazy motion of the boat, when one lay
idly on the deck, looking through, rather than at, the deep
blue sky ; the gliding on at night, so noiselessly, past frown-
ing hills, sullen with dark trees, and sometimes angry in one
red burning spot high up, where unseen men lay crouching
round a fire ; the shining out of the bright stars undisturbed
by noise of wheels or steam, or any other sound than the
limpid rippling of the water as the boat went on : all these
were pure delights.

Then there were new settlements and detached log-cabins
and frame-houses, full of interest for strangers from an old
country : cabins with simple ovens, outside, made of clay ;
and lodgings for the pigs nearly as good as many of the
human quarters ; broken windows, patched with worn-out
hats, old clothes, old boards, fragments of blankets and
paper ; and home-made dressers standing in the open air
without the door, whereon was ranged the household store,
not hard to count, of earthen jars and pots. The eye was
pained to see the stumps of great trees thickly strewn in
every field of wheat, and seldom to lose the eternal swamp
and dull morass, with hundreds of rotten trunks and twisted
branches steeped in its unwholesome water. It was quite
sad and oppressive, to come upon great tracts where settlers
had been burning down the trees, and where their wounded
bodies lay about, like those of murdered creatures, while here
and there some charred and blackened giant reared aloft two
withered arms, and seemed to call down curses on his foes.
Sometimes, at night, the way wound through some lonely
gorge, like a mountain pass in Scotland, shining and coldly
glittering in the light of the moon, and so closed in by high
steep hills all round, that there seemed to be no egress save
through the narrower path by which we had come, until one
rugged hill-side seemed to open, and shutting out the moon-
light as we passed into its gloomy throat, wrapped our new
course in shade and darkness.


We had left Harrisburg on Friday. On Sunday morning
we arrived at the foot of the mountain, which is crossed by
railroad. There are ten inclined planes ; five ascending, and
five descending; the carriages are dragged up the former,
and let slowly down the latter, by means of stationary
engines; the comparatively level spaces between, being-
traversed, sometimes by horse, and sometimes by engine
power, as the case demands. Occasionally the rails are laid
upon the extreme verge of a giddy precipice; and looking
from the carriage window, the traveller gazes sheer down,
without a stone or scrap of fence between, into the mountain
depths below. The journey is very carefully made, however;
only two carriages travelling together; and while proper
precautions are taken, is not to be dreaded for its dangers.

It was very pretty travelling thus, at a rapid pace along
the heights of the mountain in a keen wind, to look down
into a valley full of light and softness ; catching glimpses,
through the tree-tops, of scattered cabins; children running
to the doors; dogs bursting out to bark, whom we could
see without hearing ; terrified pigs scampering homewards ;
families sitting out in their rude gardens ; cows gazing
upward with a stupid indifference; men in their shirt-
sleeves looking on at their unfinished houses, planning out
to-morrow's work ; and we riding onward, high above them,
like a whirlwind. It was amusing, too, when we had dined,
and rattled down a steep pass, having no other moving
power than the weight of the carriages themselves, to see
the engine released, long after us, come buzzing down alone,
like a great insect, its back of green and gold so shining in
the sun, that if it had spread a pair of wings and soared
away, no one would have had occasion, as I fancied, for the
least surprise. But it stopped short of us in a very business-
like manner when we reached the canal : and, before we left
the wharf, went panting up this hill again, with the pas-
sengers who had waited our arrival for the means of traversing
the road by which we had come.


On the Monday evening, furnace fires and clanking
hammers on the banks of the canal, warned us that we
approached the termination of this part of our journey.
After going through another dreamy place a long aqueduct
across the Alleghany River, which was stranger than the
bridge at Harrisburg, being a vast low wooden chamber full
of water we emerged upon that ugly confusion of backs of
buildings and crazy galleries and stairs, which always abuts
on water, whether it be river, sea, canal, or ditch : and were
at Pittsburg.

Pittsburg is like Birmingham in England; at least its
townspeople say so. Setting aside the streets, the shops, the
houses, waggons, factories, public buildings, and population,
perhaps it may be. It certainly has a great quantity of
smoke hanging about it, and is famous for its iron-works.
Besides the prison to which I have already referred, this
town contains a pretty arsenal and other institutions. It is
very beautifully situated on the Alleghany River, over which
there are two bridges; and the villas of the wealthier
citizens sprinkled about the high grounds in the neighbour-
hood, are pretty enough. We lodged at a most excellent
hotel, and were admirably served. As usual it was full of
boarders, was very large, and had a broad colonnade to every
story of the house.

We tarried here, three days. Our next point was Cincin-
nati : and as this was a steamboat journey, and western
steamboats usually blow up one or two a week in the season,
it was advisable to collect opinions in reference to the com-
parative safety of the vessels bound that way, then lying in
the river. One called the Messenger was the best recom-
mended. She had been advertised to start positively, every
day for a fortnight or so, and had not gone yet, nor did her
captain seem to have any very fixed intention on the subject.
But this is the custom : for if the law were to bind down a
free and independent citizen to keep his word with the
public, what would become of the liberty of the subject?


Besides, it is in the way of trade. And if passengers be
decoyed in the way of trade, and people be inconvenienced
in the way of trade, what man, who is a sharp tradesman
himself, shall say, " We must put a stop to this ? "

Impressed by the deep solemnity of the public announce-
ment, I (being then ignorant of these usages) was for hurry-
ing on board in a breathless state, immediately ; but receiving
private and confidential information that the boat would
certainly not start until Friday, April the First, we made
ourselves very comfortable in the mean while, and went on
board at noon that day.



THE Messenger was one among a crowd of high-pressure
steamboats, clustered together by a wharf-side, which, looked
down upon from the rising ground that forms the landing-
place, and backed by the lofty bank on the opposite side of
the river, appeared no larger than so many floating models.
She had some forty passengers on board, exclusive of the
poorer persons on the lower deck ; and in half an hour, or
less, proceeded on her way.

We had, for ourselves, a tiny state-room with two berths in
it, opening out of the ladies 1 cabin. There was, undoubtedly,
something satisfactory in this " location," inasmuch as it was
in the stern, and we had been a great many times very
gravely recommended to keep as far aft as possible, " because
the steamboats generally blew up forward." Nor was this
an unnecessary caution, as the occurrence and circumstances
of more than one such fatality during our stay sufficiently
testified. Apart from this source of self-congratulation, it
was an unspeakable relief to have any place, no matter how
confined, where one could be alone : and as the row of little
chambers of which this was one, had each a second glass-
door besides that in the ladies" cabin, which opened on a
narrow gallery outside the vessel, where the other passengers


seldom came, and where one could sit in peace and gaze
upon the shifting prospect, we took possession of our new
quarters with much pleasure.

If the native packets I have already described be unlike
anything we are in the habit of seeing on water, these
western vessels are still more foreign to all the ideas we are
accustomed to entertain of boats. I hardly know what to
liken them to, or how to describe them.

In the first place, they have no mast, cordage, tackle,
rigging, or other such boat-like gear ; nor have they anything
in their shape at all calculated to remind one of a boat's head,
stern, sides, or keel. Except that they are in the water, and
display a couple of paddle-boxes, they might be intended, for
anything that appears to the contrary, to perform some un-
known service, high and dry, upon a mountain top. There
is no visible deck, even : nothing but a long, black, ugly
roof, covered with burn-out feathery sparks; above which
tower two iron chimneys, and a hoarse escape valve, and a
glass steerage-house. Then, in order as the eye descends
towards the water, are the sides, and doors, and windows of
the state-rooms, jumbled as oddly together as though they
formed a small street, built by the varying tastes of a dozen
men : the whole is supported on beams and pillars resting on
a dirty barge, but a few inches above the water's edge : and
in the narrow space between this upper structure and this
bargees deck, are the furnace fires and machinery, open at
the sides to every wind that blows, and every storm of rain
it drives along its path.

Passing one of these boats at night, and seeing the great
body of fire, exposed as I have just described, that rages and
roars beneath the frail pile of painted wood : the machinery,
not warded off or guarded in any way, but doing its work in
the midst of the crowd of idlers and emigrants and children,
who throng the lower deck : under the management, too, of
reckless men whose acquaintance with its mysteries may have
been of six months 1 standing : one feels directly that the


wonder is, not that there should be so many fatal accidents,
but that any journey should be safely made.

Within, there is one long narrow cabin, the whole length
of the boat ; from which the state-rooms open, on both sides.
A small portion of it at the stern is partitioned off for the
ladies ; and the bar is at the opposite extreme. There is a
long table down the centre, and at either end a stove. The
washing apparatus is forward, on the deck. It is a little
better than on board the canal boat, but not much. In all
modes of travelling, the American customs, with reference to
the means of personal cleanliness and wholesome ablution,
are extremely negligent and filthy ; and I strongly incline to
the belief that a considerable amount of illness is referable
to this cause.

We are to be on board the Messenger three days : arriving
at Cincinnati (barring accidents) on Monday morning. There
are three meals a day. Breakfast at seven, dinner at half-
past twelve, supper about six. At each, there are a great
many small dishes and plates upon the table, with very little in
them ; so that although there is every appearance of a mighty
"spread," 1 there is seldom really more than a joint: except
for those who fancy slices of beet-root, shreds of dried beef,
complicated entanglements of yellow pickle ; maize, Indian
corn, apple-sauce, and pumpkin.

Some people fancy all these little dainties together (and
sweet preserves beside), by way of relish to their roast
pig. They are generally those dyspeptic ladies and gentle-
men who eat unheard-of quantities of hot corn bread (almost
as good for the digestion as a kneaded pin-cushion), for
breakfast, and for supper. Those who do not observe this
custom, and who help themselves several times instead, usually
suck their knives and forks meditatively, until they have de-
cided what to take next : then pull them out of their mouths :
put them in the dish; help themselves; and fall to work
again. At dinner, there is nothing to drink upon the table,
but great jugs full of cold water. Nobody says anything, at


any meal, to anybody. All the passengers are very dismal,
and seem to have tremendous secrets weighing on their minds.
There is no conversation, no laughter, no cheerfulness, no
sociality, except in spitting ; and that is done in silent
fellowship round the stove, when the meal is over. Every
man sits down, dull and languid; swallows his fare as if
breakfasts, dinners, and suppers, were necessities of nature
never to be coupled with recreation or enjoyment ; and
having bolted his food in a gloomy silence, bolts himself,
in the same state. But for these animal observances, you
might suppose the whole male portion of the company to be
the melancholy ghosts of departed book-keepers, who had
fallen dead at the desk : such is their weary air of business
and calculation. Undertakers on duty would be sprightly
beside them ; and a collation of funeral-baked meats, in com-
parison with these meals, would be a sparkling festivity.

The people are all alike, too. There is no diversity of
character. They travel about on the same errands, say and
do the same things in exactly the same manner, and follow
in the same dull cheerless round. All down the long table,
there is scarcely a man who is in anything different from his
neighbour. It is quite a relief to have, sitting opposite, that
little girl of fifteen with the loquacious chin : who, to do her
justice, acts up to it, and fully identifies nature's handwriting,
for of all the small chatterboxes that ever invaded the repose
of drowsy ladies 1 cabin, she is the first and foremost. The
beautiful girl, who sits a little beyond her farther down the
table there married the young man with the dark whiskers,
who sits beyond her, only last month. They are going to
settle in the very Far West, where he has lived four years,
but where she has never been. They were both overturned
in a stage-coach the other day (a bad omen anywhere else,
where overturns are not so common), and his head, which
bears the marks of a recent wound, is bound up still. She
was hurt too, at the same time, and lay insensible for some
days ; bright as her eyes are, now.


Further down still, sits a man who is going some miles
beyond their place of destination, to "improve" a newly-dis-
covered copper mine. He carries the village that is to be
with him : a few frame cottages, and an apparatus for
smelting the copper. He carries its people too. They are
partly American and partly Irish, and herd together on the
lower deck ; where they amused themselves last evening till
the night was pretty far advanced, by alternately firing oft'

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 16 of 43)