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"Well," said he, "what do you want?"
"Something to do, Doctor."
He thought a little, and then replied: "I 'll tell you what to do; I think if you were to write out a plain account of your life, it would be pretty well worth reading, and perhaps would serve to occupy you for a few days at least. If half of what you told me last week be true, you must be about as clever a scamp as there is to be met with, and I suppose you would just as lief put it on paper as talk it."
"Pretty nearly," said I; "I think I will try it. Doctor."
After he left I lay awhile thinking over the matter. I knew well enough that I was what the world calls a scamp, and I knew also that I had got little good out of the fact. If a man is what people call virtuous, and fails in life, he gets credit at least for the virtue; but when a man is a rascal, and breaks down at the trade, somehow or other people don't credit him with the intelligence he has put into the business, — and this I call hard. I never had much experience of virtue being its own reward; but I do know that, when rascality is left with nothing but the contemplation of itself for comfort, it is by no means refreshing. Now this is just my present position; and if I did not recall with satisfaction the energy and skill with which I did my work, I should be nothing but disgusted at the melancholy spectacle of my failure. I suppose that I shall at least find occupation in reviewing all this, and I think, therefore, that I shall try to give a plain and straightforward account of the life I have led, and the various devices by which I have sought to get my share of the money of my countrymen.
I want it to be clearly understood, at the beginning, that, in what I may have to say, I shall stick severely to the truth, without any overstrained regard for my neighbors' feelings. In fact, I shall have some little satisfaction when I do come a little heavy on corn or bunyon, because for the past two years
the whole world appears to have been engaged in trotting over mine with as much certainty as if there were no other standing-room left in creation.
I shall be rather brief about my early life, which possesses little or no interest.
I was born in Newark, New Jersey, and am therefore what those dreary Pennsylvanians call a Jersey Yankee, and sometimes a Spaniard, as pleases them best. My father was a respectable physician in large practice, too busy to look after me. My mother died too early for me to remember her at all. An old aunt who took her place as our housekeeper indulged me to the utmost, and I thus acquired a taste for having my own way and the best of everything, which has stuck to me through life. I do not remember when it was that I first began to pilfer, but it must have been rather early in life. Indeed, I believe I may say that, charitably speaking, which is the only way to speak of one's self, I was what the doctors call a kleptomaniac, — which means that, when I could not get a thing in any other way, I took it . As to education, I took very little of that, but I had, notwithstanding, a liking for reading, and especially for light literature. At the age of sixteen I was sent to Nassau Hall, best known as Princeton College; but, for reasons which I need not state very fully, I did not remain beyond the close of the Junior year. The causes which led to my removal were not the usual foolish scrapes in which college lads indulge. Indeed, I never have been guilty of any of those wanton pitces of wickedness which injure the feelings of others while they lead to no useful result. When I left to return home, I set myself seriously to reflect upon the necessity of greater caution in following out my inclinations, and from that time forward I have steadily avoided the vulgar vice of directly possessing myself of objects to which I could show no legal title. My father was justly indignant at the results of my college career; and, according to my aunt, his sorrow had some effect in shortening his life, which ended rather suddenly within the year.
I was now about nineteen years old, and, as I remember, a middle-sized, well-built young fellow, with large, dark eyes, a slight mustache, and, I have been told, with very good manners, and a somewhat humorous turn. Besides these advantages, my guardian held in trust for me about three thousand dollars. After some consultation between us, it was resolved that I should study medicine.
Accordingly I set out for Philadelphia, with many good counsels from my aunt and guardian. I look back upon this period as a turning-point in my life. I had seen enough of the world already to know that, if you can succeed honestly, it is by far the pleasantest way; and I really believe that, if I had not been endowed with such a fatal liking for all the good things of life, I might have lived along as reputably as most men. This, however, is, and always has been, my difficulty, and I suppose that I am not therefore altogether responsible for the incidents to which it gave rise. Most men also have some ties in life. I had only one, a little sister, now about ten years of age, for whom I have always had more or less affection, but who was of course too much my junior to exert over me that beneficial control which has saved so many men from evil courses. She cried a good deal when we parted, and this, I think, had a very good effect in strengthening my resolution to do nothing which could get me into trouble.
The janitor of the College to which I went directed me to a boarding-house, where I engaged a small, third-story room, which I afterwards shared with Mr. Chaucer of Jawjaw, as he called the State which he had the honor to represent.
In this very remarkable abode I spent the next two winters; and finally graduated, along with two hundred more, at the close of my two years of study. I should also have been one year in a physician's office as a student, but this regulation is very
easily evaded. As to my studies, the less said the better. I attended the quizzes, as they call them, pretty closely, and, being of quick and retentive memory, was thus enabled to dispense, for the most part, with the six or seven lectures a day which duller men found it necessary to follow.
Dissecting struck me as a rather nasty business for a gentleman, and on this account I did just as little as was absolutely essential. In fact, if a man takes his teckers, and pays the dissection fees, nobody troubles himself as to whether or not he does any more than this. A like evil exists as to graduation; whether you merely squeeze through, or pass with credit, is a thing which is not made public, so that I had absolutely nothing to stimulate my ambition.
The astonishment with which I learned of my success was shared by the numerous Southern gentlemen who darkened the floors, and perfumed with tobacco the rooms of our boardinghouse. In my companions, during the time of my studies so called, as in other matters in life, I was somewhat unfortunate. All of them were Southern gentlemen, with more money than I. They all carried great sticks, usually sword-canes, and most of them bowie-knives; also they delighted in dress-coats, long hair, felt hats, and very tight boots, swore hideously, and glared at every woman they met as they strolled along with their arms affectionately over the shoulders of their companion. They hated the "Nawth," and cursed the Yankees, and honestly believed that the leanest of them was a match for any halfdozen of the bulkiest of Northerners. I must also do them the justice to say that they were quite as ready to fight as to brag, which, by the way, is no meagre statement. With these gentry, for whom I retain a respect which has filled me with regret at the recent course of events, I spent a good deal of my large leisure. We were what the more respectable students of both sections called a hard crowd; but what we did, or how we did it, little concerns us here, except that, owing to my esteem for chivalric blood and breeding, I was led into many practices and excesses which cost my guardian much distress and myself a good deal of money.
At the close of my career as a student, I found myself aged twenty-one years, and owner of twelve hundred dollars, — the rest of my small estate having disappeared variously within the last two years. After my friends had gone to their homes in the South, I began to look about me for an office, and finally settled upon a very good room in one of the down-town localities of the Quaker City. I am not specific as to number and street, for reasons which may hereafter appear. I liked the situation on various accounts. It had been occupied by a doctor; the terms were reasonable; and it lay on the skirts of a good neighborhood; while below it lived a motley population, amongst whom I expected to get my first patients and such fees as were to be had. Into this new home I moved my medical text-books, a few bones, and myself. Also I displayed in the window a fresh sign, upon which was distinctly to be read: —
"dr. Elias Sandcraft.
Office hours, 7 to 9 A. M., 3 to 6
p. M., 7 to 9 P. M."
1 felt now that I had done my fair share towards attaining a virtuous subsistence, and so I waited tranquilly, and without undue enthusiasm, to see the rest of the world do its part in the matter. Meanwhile I read up on all sorts of imaginable cases, stayed at home all through my office hours, and at intervals explored the strange section of the town which lay to the south of my office. I do not suppose there is anything like it elsewhere. It was then, and still is, a nest of endless grog-shops, brothels, slop-shops, and low lodging-bouses. You may dine here for a penny off of soup made from the refuse meats of the rich,
gathered at back gates by a horde of half-naked children, who all tell varieties of one woful tale. Here, too, you may be drunk at five cents, and lodge for three, with men, women, and children of all colors lying about you. It is this hideous mixture of black and white and yellow wretchedness which makes the place so peculiar. The blacks predominate, and have mostly that swollen, reddish, dark skin, the sign in this race of habitual drunkenness. Of course only the lowest Whites are here, — rag-pickers, pawnbrokers, old-clothes-men, thieves, and the like. All of this, as it came before me, I viewed with mingled disgust and philosophy. I hated filth, but I understood that society has to stand on somebody, and I was only glad that I was not one of the undermost and worst-squeezed bricks.
You will hardly believe me, but I had waited a month without having been called upon by a single patient. At last the policeman on the beat brought me a fancy man, with a dog bite. This patient recommended me to his brother, the keeper of a small pawnbroking shop, and by very slow degrees I began to get stray patients who were too poor to indulge in uptown doctors. I found the police very useful acquaintances; and, by a drink or a cigar now and then, I got most of the cases of cut heads and the like at the next station-house. These, however, were the aristocrats of my practice ; the bulk of my patients were soapfat-men, rag-pickers, oystermen, hosehouse bummers, and worse, with other and nameless trades, men and women, white, black, or mulatto. How they got the levies and quarters with which I was reluctantly paid, I do not know; that indeed was none of my business. They expected to pay, and they came to me in preference to the dispensary doctor two or three squares away, who seemed to me to live in the lanes and alleys about us. Of course he received no pay except experience, since the dispensaries in the Quaker City, as a rule, do not give salaries to their doctors; and the vilest of the poor will prefer a pay doctor, if he can get one, to one of these disinterested gentlemen who are at everybody's call and beck. I am told that most young doctors do a large amount of poor practice, as it is called; but, for my own part, I think it better for both parties when the doctor insists upon some compensation being made to him. This has 't been usually my own custom, and I have not found reason to regret it
Notwithstanding my strict attention to my own interests, I have been rather sorely dealt with by fate, upon several occasions, where, so far as I could see, I was vigilantly doing everything in my power to keep myself out of trouble or danger. I may as well relate one of them, merely as an illustration of how little value a man's intellect may be, when fate and the prejudices of the mass of men are against him.
One evening late, I myself answered a ring at the bell, and found a small black boy on the steps, a shoeless, hatless little wretch, with curled darkness' for hair, and teeth like new tombstones. It was pretty cold, and he was relieving his feet by standing first on one and then on the other. He did not wait for me to speak.
"Hi, sah, Missy Barker she say to come quick away, sah, to Numbah 709 Bedford Street"
The locality did not look like pay, but it was hard to say in this quarter, because sometimes you found a wellto-do "brandy-snifter," — local for ginshop, — or a hard-working "leatherjeweller,"— ditto for shoemaker, — with next door, in a house no better or worse, dozens of human rats for whom every police trap in the city was constantly set
With a doubt, then, in my mind as to whether I should find a good patient or some mean nigger, I sought out the place to which I had been directed. I did not like its looks; but I blundered up an alley, and into a back room, where I fell over somebody, and was cursed and told to lie down and keep easy, or somebody, meaning the man stumbled over, would make me. At last
I lit on a staircase which led into the alley, and, after some inquiry, got as high as the garret. People hereabouts did not know one another, or did not want to know, so that it was of little avail to ask questions. At length I saw a light through the cracks in the attic door, and walked in. To my amazement, the first person I saw was a woman of about thirty-five, in pearl-gray Quaker dress, — one of your calm, good-looking people. She was seated on a stool beside a straw mattress, upon which lay a black woman. There were three others crowded close around a small stove, which was red-hot, — an unusual spectacle in this street Altogether a most nasty den.
As I came in, the little Quaker woman got up, and said, "I took the liberty of sending for thee to look at this poor woman. I am afraid she has the small-pox. Will thee be so kind as to look at her?" And with this she held down the candle towards the bed.
"Good gracious !" said I hastily, seeing how the creature was speckled, "I did n't understand this, or I would not have come. Best let her alone, miss," I added, "there 's nothing to be done for these cases."
Upon my word, I was astonished at the little woman's indignation. She said just those things which make you feel as if somebody had been calling you names or kicking you. Was I a doctor? Was I a man? and so on. However, I never did fancy the smallpox, and what could a fellow get by doctoring wretches like these? So I held my tongue and went away. About a week afterwards, I met Evans, the Dispensary man.
"Halloa!" says he. "Doctor, you made a nice mistake about that darky at No. 709 Bedford Street the other night. She had nothing but measles after all."
"Of course I knew," said I, laughing; "but you don't think I was going into dispensary trash, do you?"
"I should think not" says Evans.
I learned afterwards that this Miss Barker had taken an absurd fancy to the man because he had doctored the darky, and would not let the Quakeress pay him. The end was, that when I wanted to get a vacancy in the Southwark Dispensary, where they do pay the doctors, Miss Barker was malignant enough to take advantage of my oversight by telling the whole story to the board; so that Evans got in, and I was beaten.
You may be pretty sure that I found rather slow the kind of practice I have described, and began to look about for chances of bettering myself. In this sort of location these came up now and then; and as soon as I got to be known as a reliable man, I began to get the peculiar sort of practice I wanted. Notwithstanding all my efforts, however, I found myself at the close of three years with all my means spent, and just able to live meagrely from hand to mouth, which by no means suited a person of my luxurious turn. Six months went by, and I was worse off than ever, — two months in arrears of rent, and numerous other debts to cigar-shops and liquor-dealers. Now and then, some good job, such as a burglar with a cut head, helped me up for a while; but on the whole, I was like Slider Downeyhylle in poor Neal's Charcoal Sketches, and "kept going downer and downer the more I tried not to." Something must be done.
One night, as I was debating with myself as to how I was to improve my position, I heard a knock on my shutter, and, going to the door, let in a broad - shouldered man with a white face and a great hooked nose. He wore a heavy black beard and mustache, and looked like the wolf in the pictures of Red Riding-Hood which I had seen as a child.
"Your name 's Sandcraft?" said the man, shaking the snow over everything. "Set down, want to talk to you."
"That's my name. What can I do for you?" said I.
The man looked around the room rather scornfully, at the same time throwing back his coat, and displaying a red neckerchief and a huge garnet
pin. "Guess you 're not overly rich," he said.
"Not especially," said I.
"Know — Simon Stagers?"
"Can't say I do," said I. Simon was a burglar who had blown off two fingers when mining a safe, and whom I had attended while he was hiding.
"Can't say you do," says the wolf.
"Well, you can lie, and no mistake. Come now, Doctor, Simon says you 're safe, and I want to do a leetle plain talk with you." With this he laid ten eagles on the table j I put out my hand instinctively.
"Let 'em' alone," cried the man sharply. "They 're easy earned, and ten more like em."
"For doing what ?" said I.
The man paused a moment, looked around him, eyed me furtively, and finally loosened his cravat with a hasty pull. "You 're the coroner," said he.
"I! What do you mean?"
"Yes, you, — the coroner, don't you understand ?" and so saying he shoved the gold pieces towards me.
"Very good," said I, "we will suppose I 'm the coroner."
"And being the coroner," said he, "you get this note, which requests you to call at No. 9 Blank Street to examine the body of a young man which is supposed — only supposed, you see — to have — well, to have died under suspicious circumstances."
"Go on," said I.
."No," he returned, "not till I know how you like it. Stagers and another knows it; and it would n't be very safe for you to split, besides not making nothing out of it; but what I say is this. Do you like the business of coroner?"
Now I did not like it, but two hundred in gold was life to me just then; so I said, "Let me hear the whole of it first."
"That's square enough," said the man; "my wife 's got " — correcting himself with a little shiver — " my wife had a brother that's been cuttin' up rough, because, when I 'd been up too late, I handled her a leetle hard now