Autobiography of Richard Tangye: Chapter 11
CHAPTER XI. ACROSS AMERICA.
WHILE in the colonies I twice visited the beautiful island of Tasmania, the "Garden of Australia;" and greatly enjoyed its delightful climate and varied scenery. Once, on returning to England, I came by way of America, calling at Fiji and Honolulu, en route for San Francisco. Part of the voyage across the Pacific was performed in an American steamer, which was said to be the finest and best fitted ever sent out from a Yankee ship-yard; but the accommodation for passengers was not equal to that of a second-class English steamer. On nearing Honolulu, the captain told us we might expect to land at six o'clock, so the four o'clock dinner-table was comparatively deserted, most of the passengers preferring to reserve themselves for "a good square meal" on shore. We arrived off the entrance to the harbour in good time, and made the usual signals for a pilot, but with no result; and after waiting some hours, the captain decided to run in without one. But in consequence of the delay it was ten o'clock before we landed; and what a motley throng was there to receive us! Hundreds of men and women with faces too dark to be seen, all dressed in light-coloured raiment, laughing, shouting, jabbering, and shrieking, in a way much more lively than that of a Neapolitan mob on the arrival of a train at Naples.
We found the hotel about a mile from the landing-place, and very much enjoyed the walk along the wide unpaved streets, myriads of fire-flies lighting up the darkness, while the air was laden with the perfume of tropical flowers. On arriving at the hotel, we found it to be a spacious, well-lighted building, with lofty reception rooms, through which we wandered in quest of waiters to whom to give our orders for supper; but none were to be found, nor could we get any response to the bells which were rung by a hungry crowd. Making our way to the office, we were there informed that we could get nothing to eat till next morning, as the servants had all "gone home," and nothing was served after nine o'clock. It was in vain that we declared we were starving, the only reply we could get was that we could have what we liked to drink at the bar. A Yankee standing by, pitying our plight, recommended us to order our breakfast at the office before leaving, and to pay for it there and then, taking care to be at the hotel again before seven o'clock next morning.
In the morning we were there punctually; and finding our way to the breakfast room, the folding doors were opened by two natives of the "Flowery Land," and we were soon seated at the table, which was crowded with a bountiful supply of most tempting viands, and with quantities of luscious fruit. As soon as all the seats were occupied the Celestial waiter closed the door, and was most assiduous in seeing that his staff attended to the wants of his guests. Presently there was loud knocking outside to which no attention was vouchsafed by the smiling Chinee. When we had quite finished, the doors were opened to admit of a further batch of impatient voyagers; and even then only one half of the expectant throng could be admitted, the remainder being advised to betake themselves to the restaurants in the town.
The natives are a fine sprightly lot of people, wonderfully lithe and active, and with dark flashing eyes. The women of the labouring class are very stately looking, and walk with a dignity and grace a duchess might envy. Their clothing is not of an extensive character, consisting apparently of one long loose robe, gathered neatly around the neck and wrists with gay-coloured ribbons, suggesting the idea that seven years would be an unnecessary time for a Honolulu girl to be bound to learn the art of dressmaking.
We sighted the entrance to the magnificent harbour of San Francisco at daybreak on a beautiful morning at the end of April; and when we approached it, the sun had just risen, bathing the whole scene in a flood of golden light, fully justifying its name "The Golden Gate." In a short time the city came in view, and we were quickly boarded by a crowd of Custom-House officers, hotel touts, porters, agents for the overland railway, and a number of keen-eyed "gentry" desirous of earning a cent anyway, honest or otherwise.
We had decided to go to the Palace Hotel, and having found the agent, placed our luggage under his care, receiving checks for it; and, proceeding on shore we found the most sumptuous vehicles we had ever seen waiting to convey passengers to the hotel. The Palace Hotel in San Francisco is almost a town in itself, having more than 1,000 rooms, and rarely with less than 1,000 inhabitants, including servants. It has its own gas-works, fire-brigade, and an efficient system of police, and is supplied with water from an artesian well. The rooms on the ground floor are twenty-five feet high and of corresponding size; the corridors are lined and paved with white marble, and the grand staircase is of the same material. The bedrooms are large and airy, all having comfortable dressing-rooms furnished with hot and cold water supply. The dining rooms are very spacious, and are fitted with a large number of small tables for parties of from four to eight persons. There are 400 waiters, three-fourths of whom are negroes. There is a splendid laundry in the house, where the washing is done by fifty Chinese washer-men, and certainly never was linen more exquisitely got up.
The day after I arrived at the hotel I was surprised at receiving a letter in a strange handwriting, which said "Dear Tangye, if you wish to see me you can do so by calling at my office, No. —, Montgomery Street, at any time between ten and five. My wife is dead." The name was quite strange to me; so I sent a messenger, who found the man in a wretched room at the top of a lofty pile of buildings; but not liking his look, he was very glad to get into the street again. I mentioned the matter to a gentleman who was dining at the same table, and who I found was the leading lawyer in the city. He told me it was a favourite dodge with the sharpers, and they sometimes caught a "flat" in this way. On the arrival of the ocean steamers it is the custom to publish the names of passengers in the evening papers, which accounts for the familiar style adopted by these fellows in addressing strangers.
We had many amusing chats with this lawyer; he remarked on one occasion that I must have met with a deal of "character" in travelling. "Yes," I said, "I had, both good and bad." "I guess it's better to meet with a bad character than with none at all." Speaking of the neighbouring State of Nevada, which was still in a very unsettled condition, he said a friend of his was Governor there, and that he had "a number three head, and a number fifteen foot, for," said he, "I guess weight of foot is more important there than weight of brain."
After nearly a fortnight's stay at the Palace Hotel, enjoying its good fare, we began to think it was time to move eastwards, as we were getting too luxurious in our habits. My friend the lawyer, however, remarked that we need have no fear on that account, as the fare on the Pacific Railroad would cure the severest attack of gout. The railway route through the Sacramento Valley is a most interesting one, the country is entirely agricultural and teems with richness. Soon after passing Sacramento the ascent commences; and on the next day the train passes through the deserted gold diggings, which diggings caused California to become a household word throughout the world. Arrangements are made at wayside stations for three meals a day, the invariable charge being one dollar. As the train stops, a general stampede is made towards the dining-rooms; and as each person passes in he pays his dollar, and makes straight for the end of the room, where the cook is usually stationed. Happy is he who possesses the Yankee's qualification for a "good diner-out;" for unless he has a long arm, a quick eye, and a silent tongue, he is likely to come out with much less than a dollar's worth. The experienced Yankee traveller before sitting down gathers all the dishes before him within arm's length, and then proceeds to attack them seriatim, or sometimes all at once.
The Pacific Railroad is a single track; and although a wonderful engineering work, it is not by any means a substantial or confidence-inspiring line, judged by English standards. The rails are old and worn, the cost of new ones being very great owing to Protection; the bridges and viaducts are very lightly constructed, and are almost always of wood. I observed in many places that the carriages were wider than the viaducts, many of which are open in the middle. It is not to be wondered at that awful accidents so often occur, but in America there is an indifference to the loss of human life which shocks the Englishman. The railway runs through some of the most magnificent scenery in the world, sometimes through narrow valleys, or canons, where there is just room for the railway and the river, sometimes through immense pine forests, and then again on a mere shelf cut in the face of the granite mountain, until the point called "Cape Horn" is reached. This is the turning point between East and West, and soon afterwards the greatest elevation is attained - 8,200 feet.
Having stayed one day at Salt Lake City, which for beauty of situation is almost unrivalled, we proceeded on our way until the Eastern plains came in view. The 8,000 feet descent is made in about four hours the steam is turned off, the breaks put on, and down we go. As we were preparing to descend, I remarked to the negro attendant that I supposed we must trust to the engineer now? "No, sah," said Sambo, speaking with perfect reverence "I guess we must trust to de ole man up above," pointing to the skies.
On reaching Chicago we left the overland train, and went to Niagara, where we spent a week. On our way to New York we had an opportunity of having a day's sail on the River Hudson in one of the celebrated American river boats. We went on board at the old Dutch town of Albany, and found ourselves on a veritable floating palace. The steamer was a three-decker, two of the decks being carpeted and fitted with armchairs of a most comfortable pattern, with velvet-covered couches in all directions. Dinner was admirably served in a beautiful dining- room, and there was also a well-stocked bookstall. Taking up one of the books, I saw it purported to be one of a series of works by standard "American" authors; and on looking down the list I observed the names of Tennyson, Barry Cornwall, and others. I have travelled on the Rhine and the Danube, but in my opinion the Hudson is incomparably their superior, both in beauty and grandeur, the only drawback being that in some places it is so wide as to prevent both sides of the river being seen at one view. Our ride across America was brought to a fitting termination by this glorious excursion, and by a ten days' visit to the Centennial Exhibition held at Philadelphia in 1876.
- Autobiography of Richard Tangye
- Autobiography of Richard Tangye: Chapter 10
- Autobiography of Richard Tangye: Chapter 12
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