Chapter 12411509

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Chapter NumberVOLUME II : II
Chapter TitleSOME FURTHER ACCOUNT OF THE CANAL BOAT, ITS DOMESTIC ECONOMY, AND ITS PASSENGERS. JOURNEY TO PITTSBU
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12411509
Full Date1843-05-24
Page Number4
Corrections0
Word Count4563
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)
Trove TitleAmerican Notes for General Circulation
article text

AMERICAN NOTES

FOR

GENERAL CIRCULATION

BY CHAULES DICKENS.

VoMjMB II.-Chapter II.

SOME FURTIIKR ACCOUNT OrTHK CANAL

BOAT, IT» DOMESTIC ECONOMY, AND ITS) PASRKNGBRB. JOURNEY TO PITTS RVRO ACROSSTHK ALL.KGHANV MOUN- TAINS. riTTSBURO.

As it continued to rain most perscveringly, we aH remained below ; tlie damp gentle- men, round the stove, gradually becoming ürrMoTfed by the action of the* fire ; and th* dry gentlemen-lying at full length opbs» the seats, or slumbering uneasily .ffith their faces on the tnblcs, or vyalkin'g Of und down the cabin, which it was barely passible for n 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 pnt together to form one long table, and everybody sat down to tea, coffee, brend, Imtter, salmon, »had, liver, steak, potatoes, pinkies, ham, ehops, black puddings, and

sausages.

" will you try," said my opposite neigh- bour, handing me a dish of potatoes broken On in milk and butter, " will you try some of these fixings?"

There are few words which perform

such various duties as this word " lix." It is the Caleb Quotcm of the American vocabulary. You call upon a gentleman in a country town, and his help informs yon that he is " fixing himself" just now, not will be down directly : by which you are to understand that he is dressing. "Yon enquire on board a steamboat, of a fellow-passenger, whether breakfast will be jeady soon, and he tells you he should 'think so, for when he was last below', they

.were "fixing the tables," in other words, hying the cloth. You beg a porter to ©ollect your luggage, and he entreats you not to be uneasy, for he'll " fix it pre- sently : " and if you complain of indis- position, you are advised to have recourse io Doctor so and so, who will " fix you"

in no time.

One night, I ordered a bottle of mulled xvine at an hotel where I was slaying, and waiting a long time for it ; at length it -was put upon the tnble with an apology from the landlord that he feared it was'tit "fixed properly." And I recollect once, At a stage-coach dinner, overhearing a etem gentleman demand of a waiter who presented him with a plate of underdone roast beef, "whether he called thal, fixing God A'mighty's vittles?"

There is no doubt that the meal, at which the invitation was tendered to me

xvhich has occasioned this digression, was disposed of somewhat ravenously ; and that the gentlemen thrust the broad bladed knives nnd the two-pronged forks further down their throats than I ever Baw 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 auy occasion, anywhere, dnring my rambles in America, see a woman exposed to the slightest act of rudeness, incivility, or even inattention.

Dy the time the meal was over, the rain, whieh 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 a great relief, notwith- standing its being a very small deck, and being rendered still smaller by the lug- gage, 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

live minutes whenever the man at the

helm cried " Bridge !" and sometimes, wh«n the cry was " Low Bridge," to lie down nearly flat. But custom familiarizes one to anything, and there wero 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 tlie first range of hills, which arc the outposts of the Allegbany mountains, the scenery, which had been uninteresting hi- therto, became more bold and striking. The wet ground reeked and smoked, after th« heavy fall of rain ; and the croaking of tht frogs (whose noise in these parts is almost incredible) sounded as though a million of fairy teams with bells, were travelling through the nir, and keeping pace with us. The night wns cloudy yet, but moonlight too : and when we crossed the Sustinehanna river-over which there ts mt extraordinary wooden bridge with two galleries, oue above the other, so that even there, two boat teams meeting, may pass without confusion-it was wild and

urand.

I have mentioned my having been in some uncertainty mid doubt, at first, rela- tive to tlie sleeping arrangements on board this boat. I remained iu this same vague

state of mind until ten o'clock, or there-

abouts, when going below, I found sus- pended on either aide of the cabin, three long tiers of hanging book-shelves de- signed apparently for volumes of the small octavo size. Looking with greater atten- tion at these contrivances (wondering to find such literary preparations in such a place), I (Vscried on each shelf a sort of microscopic sheet nutt blanket ; then I be- gan dimly to comprehend flint the pas- sengers were the library, and that they ware to be arranged, edge-vfise, on these »helvea till morning.

I WM fssisted tg ibis conclusion by

seeing some of them gathering lOtmd th* 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 numbera corresponding with those they had drawn. As soon as any gentleman found his number, he took possession of it by immediately undressing himself and crnwling into bed. Tile rapidity with which an agitated gambler subsided into a snoring slumbercr, was one of the most singular effects I hnvo ever witnessed. As to the ladies, they were already a-bed, be- hind the red curtains, which was carefully drawn and pinned up the centre ; though, as every cough, or sneeze, or whisper, be- hind the curtains, wns perfectly audible before it, we had still a lively conscious- ness of their society.

The politeness of the person in au- thority lind secured to mc a shelf in a nook nenr this red curtain, in some degree removed from the great body of sleepers j to which place I retired, with many ac- knowledgments to him for his attention. I found it, on after-measurement, just the width of an ordinary sheet of Bath poat letter-paper; and I wnsnt first in some un- certainty ns to the best means of getting into it. But the shelf being a bottom one, 1 finally determined upon lying upon the floor, rolling gently in, stopping imme- diately, I touched the mattress, and re- mained for the night with that side upper- most, whatever it might be. Luckily I came upon my bnck at exactly the right moment. I wns much alarmed on looking upwnrd, to see, by the shape of his half yard of sneking (which his weight liad bent into an exceedingly tight bag), thnt there was a very heavy gentleman above mc, whom the slender cords seemed rpiite 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 hare got up again without a severe bodily struggle, which might have alarmed the ladies ; and ns I had nowhere to go to, even if I had ; I shut my eyes upon the danger, and re-

mained 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 thnt they never sleep at all ; or tliey 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 n perfect storm nud tempest of spitting ; and once my coat, being in the very centre of a hurricane sustniucd by five gentlcmon (which moved vertically, strictly carrying ont 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 ii wns in a condition to be worn again.

Between five and siv o'clock in the morning we got up, nnd 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 voluntnry contributions of which they had been so liberal at night. The washing accommodations were primi-

tive. There was a tin ladle chained to the

deck, with which every gentlcmnti who thought it necessary to cleanse himself (some 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 bnr, in the immediate vicinity of the bread nud cheese and bis- cuits, were n public comb and hair-brush.

At eight o'clock, (he shelves being taken down and put away, and the tables joined together, cveiybody 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 gentleman got through his own personal amount ot 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 ns desired to be shaved ; while the remain- der looked on, or yawned over their news- papers. Dinner was breakfast again, without the tea and coffee ; nnd supper | and breakfast were identical.

There was a man on board this boat, with a light-fresh-coloured face, and a peppcr-and-snlt suit of clothes, who was the most inquisitive fellow that can pos- sibly be imagined. He never spoke other- wise than interrogatively. He wns an embodied inquiry. Sitting down or stand- up, still or moving, walking the deck or taking his meals, there he was, with a grent 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 partly off his forehead in a flaxen clump. _ Every button in his clothes said, "Eh? What's that? Did you speak? Say that again, will yon ?" He was always wide awake, like

the enchanted bride who drove her husband frantic ; always restless ; 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 mc concerning it, and its price, and whero 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 what that cost, and whether it was a French watch, lind where I got it, and how I got it, and whether 1 bought it or had it given me, nnd how it went, and where the keyhole 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 lind I seen the President, and what dill he say, mid what did I say, and what did lie 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 ever afterwards ; he usually kept close behind me as I walked, and moved as I moved, that ho might look at it the better ; and he frequently dived into narrovv 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 hoard of a different kind. This was a thin»

faced, spare-figured man of middle age and j stature, dressed ja a dusty drebbisU

coloured suit, such, as Ï never saw before. He was perfectly quiet during the first part of the journey : indeed I don't re- member having so much as seen him until he was brought out by circumstances, as great rrieh often are. The conjunction of eVents which made hiin famous, linppcncd, briefly, thus.

The canal extends to the foot of the mountain, and there, of course, it stops ; the passengers being conveyed across ii by land carriage, and taken on afterwards by another canal-bont, the counterpart of the first, which awaits them on the other side. There are two canal lines of pas- sage-boats ; one is culled the Express, and one (a cheaper one) the Pioneer. The Pioneer gets first to the mountain, and waits for the Expresa people to come up ; both sets of passengers being conveyed

across it at the same time. We were the

Express company j 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 pas- sengers was not al 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, hut being a foreigner here, I held my peace. Not so this passenger, lie cleft a path among the people on deck, (we were nearly all on deck), and without addressing anybody whomsover, solilo- quised 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 1 i'm from the brown forests of the Mississippi, Jam, and when the sun shines on me, it does shine-a little. It don't glimmer where I live, the sun don't. No. I'm a brown forester, I am. I nn'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 fining, it does. I'm the wrong sort of man for'eni, Jam. They won't like me, they won't. This is piling of it up, a little too mountainous, this is." At the end of every one of these short sentences he turned upon his heel, and walked on the other way ; checking himself abruptly when he had finished another short sentence, mid turned back again.

It is impossible for me to say what ter- rific meaning was hidden in the words of this brown forester, but I know that the other passengers looked on in a sort of nd miring 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 improve- ment 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 jfiian'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 folloxv if they please. I an't a Johnny Cake, / an't. I am from the brown forests of the Mississippi, I am" and so on, as before. He was unani-

mously voted one of the tnblcs for his bed at night-there is a great contest for the tables-in consideration of his public ser- vices : and he had the warmest comer by the stove throughout the rest of the journey. But 1 never could find out that he did anything except sit there ; nor did I hear him speak again until, in the midst of the bustle and turmoil of getting the luggage ashore at Pittsburg, I stumbled over him as he sat smoking n cigar on the cabin steps, and heard him muttering to himself, with a short laugh of defiance " I an't a Johnny Cake, I an't. I'm from the brown forests of the Mississippi, I am, damme !" I am inclined to argue from this, that he had never left off saying so ; but I could not make affidavit ofthat 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 breakfast 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 whiiTs of gin, whiskey, brandy, and rum, from the little bar bara by, and a decided seasoning 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 prcssingly 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 mc at least, a humour of their own-there was much in this mode of travelling which I heartly enjoyed at the time, and looked 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 Ircsh and glowing with the cold; was a good

thing. The fast, brisk walk upon the towing-path, between that time and break- fast, when every vein and artery seemed to tingle with health ; the exquisite beauty of the opening day, when light caine 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 frowning 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 nny other sound than the liquid 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 na 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 dressera standing in the open air without the door, vi hereon 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 thichly 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 un

wholesome vvatei It was quite 'sad nnd oppressive, to come upon gteat tracts where settleis had been bin mug down the tices, and vvhcie then wounded bodies lay about, like those of miudercd cientuies, while hcic nul theie some chimed mil blackened giant lenred aloft two withcitd

anns, and seemed to call down eui ses on his foes Sometimes ut night, the way wound through some lonely boi¡,e, hi e a mmiutiin pass ni Srotl/iud, sliming and col llv 0litleimg m the h^ht of the moon uni so elosed in by high steep lnlL ill round thal theie sccmetl tobe no tcress save through the uni row er path bv. which we luul come, until one rugged lull side sceiiictl to open, and shutting out the moonh0ht ns we passed into its gloomy thront, wlipped oui new couisc in shade

and darkness

Wc hud left Ilamsbtug on Tridny On Sunday morning wc uirivcd al the fool of the mountain, which is ctossed by i ulroad 'lhere nie ten inclined planes, hver/scend ing, and five t/escending, the cal liages are dragged up the foi mci, and let slowl) down the litter, li) means of stntionai) engines, the conipniatively level spices between, being traversed, sometimes by lim se, nnd sometimes bv engine power, ns

the ense demands Occasionally the rails

are laid upon the c\tremevirgc oí a aiddy precipice, and lool nig fiom the cn ruge window, the traullci &n/es sheer down, without nny stone 01 setup of fence be tween, tuto the mountain depths below

ïhc journey is very cineftilly made, how- ever, only two carriages trivelling to gethei , and while piopci picciutions arc taken, is not to be di ended for ils d mgcis

Tt was vciy pretty ti ivelltng thus, at a rapid pace along the heights oí the moun tain in a keen wind, to look down into a valley full ol light lind softness catching glimpses llnon^h the tree tops, ol scat- tered cabins , childi en running to the doois, dogs bin sting out fo bail», whom we could see without hearing, teirified pigs scampenng homewnds, families sitting out in their mdo gardens, cows gnzin0 upvvaul with a stupid indifference, men in their shirt sleeves looking on at then unfinished houses, planning out to monow s work , and we riding onwaid, high ibovc them, like a whulwind It was amusing, too, when wc hid dined, and îattled down a steep piss, having no other moving power than the weight of the carriages thcinsclvc to sec the engine released, long nftci us, come bu7/tng down alone, hi c a gi cat insect, its bick of gieen and gold so shining in the sun, ti tit if it hid spicnd a pan ol wings and soaicd nwn), no one would have had occasion, as I fancied, loi the lcist surprise But it stopped short of us in a very business like minnel when we i cached the canal, md, befoic we left the wharf, went panting up this lull again, with thcpasscngeis who had waited our ni rival for the means of

liavcrsmg the road by which wo had

come

On the Monda) evening, furnace fîtes and clanking hammos on the banks of the cmiil, vvirned us that wc appioachcd the tcimmation oí this pnitol oui journe)

Aftei going tlnougli another dreamy plnce-a long aqueduct across the Alleg han) ltivei, which w is stiangei than the bntlge at Ilamsbuig, being a vast low woodenchainbci full oí wntcr-wc cmciged upon that ugl) contusion of backs of buildings and ernry gulleucs and stans, which always abuts on wntcr, wbethel it be mci, sen, ennui, ot ditch and weie at Pittsbmg

llmisbuig is like Bnminghnm m Eng land , at least its townspeople say so Setting isule the streets, the shops, the houses, waggons, faetones, public build nigs, and popuhlion, pcihnps it may he It certnmlv hnsagieat quantity of smoke han0ing about it, and is famous for its non works Besides the pi ison to which I haveaheadv referred, tins town contains a pretty usenal and other institutions It is v civ bcautifull) situated on the Allegheny Ihvei, ovci which theie are two bridges,

md the villas of the wealthier citizens

sprinkled about the high giouuds ni the neighboiuhood, aie pretty enough We lodged at a most excellent hotel, md weie ndmnably scivcd As usual it wns full ot bonrdcrs, wns vciy Inige, nud had a blond colonn ide to cvciy sion of the house

Wc liri led here, tluee dn)s Oui i evt point was Cincinnati and ns this wns a stenm boat journe), and western stenm boats usunlly blow up one 01 two i week in ths senson, it was adusnblc lo collect opinions in lefeiencc lo the compnialive wilcty ot the v essels bound that win, then lying m the liver One called the Mes scngu wns the best recommended She lind been idvertised to stmt positively, ev cry day for a fortnight or so, nud had not gone ns ) ct, nor did her captain seem to have nny vciy fixed intention on the sub- ject

But this is the custom foi if the law were to bind down a free and independent citizen to keep his word with the public, what would become ol the hbeityof the subject7 Besides, it is m the wnv of trade And it pissengcis be decoded in the wny of trade, nnd people bo incon- venienced in the way ot tinde, what man, who is a s Ii mp tradesman himself, shall s ly, " Wc must put a stop to this? "

Impicssed by the deep solemnity of the public announcement, 1 (being then igno- rant of these usnge«) wns foi hunting on board in a brcithless st ite, immediately , but receiving pnv itc and confidential ni

formation tint the bont would certninly not sdrt until lndn), Apnl the First, wc made oin sehe s very comfort ible in the mein while, and went on bonid at noon that day