California: a pleasure trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate,
April, May, June, 1877.
By Mrs. Frank Leslie.
Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33
WORSE THAN DEATH.
"THIS is pretty rough," said the guide, stopping at the entrance of a dark and dismal court, whose odors seemed even more sickening and deadly than those we had breathed before; "but say the word and I will take you in."
The word was said, and stumbling up some crazy stairs we found ourselves at last in a narrow balcony overhanging the reeking court. Some Chinese women clustered at the end of this balcony staring at us, behind them was a shrine containing the Goddess of Love, with gilt paper and Joss-sticks burning in the tray before her. From this gallery we passed into the house and became involved in a perfect honeycomb of little rooms, dimly lighted, or not lighted at all; no doors were visible, the doorways being shaded by long, pink calico curtains, and as they blew or were drawn aside we saw every room crowded with men and a few women, smoking, drinking tea, or playing at dominoes or cards. Every room we entered was exceedingly clean, and the inmates looked remarkably neat and tidy. Some effort at decoration was visible in the way of gilt and red paper, bright-colored scarves and peacocks' feathers upon the walls, and pretty little Chinese tea-pots and other pottery upon the tables and shelves. Everyone was smiling and
bland as possible, and seemed overjoyed to receive a call; in one room especially, where a man and woman and some boys were all squeezed up together in a space of six feet square or so, they all chatted and laughed and stared as if we were long lost brothers at least, asking "What you wantee? Where you comee from?" and saying "Glad to see you, come again velly soon!" at parting, in the most sociable manner possible.
In another room was a fat, good-looking woman of thirty or so, with her hair elaborately coiled, puffed and ornamented with bright gold pins, making tea at a little table set out with queer cups and saucers which excited our ceramic covetousness; the room was very small and very neat, with a bed in one corner enclosed with white curtains tied with scarves at the corners, and upon the bed a little tray holding two vases of lilacs and other common flowers, besides a lamp, pipe, and opium box; curled up beside this festive preparation lay a man who arose and welcomed us with great enthusiasm and seemed so much at home that we concluded he must be the host, and after complimenting him upon the flowers decking his opium tray, the neatness of the room and the pretty tea-service, we inquired if the woman were his wife but at this he seemed very much amused, laughed a great deal and said: "No, no, me no mally, no wife no mally at all!" and the woman seemed as much delighted as himself at the absurd mistake.
In another room we found a dozen men or more and one woman crowded around a table playing cards the woman was by no means unattractive and wore beautiful earrings and had a large diamond ring, and on her fat and pretty arms bracelets which our guide said were twenty-carat-fine gold. She showed us these ornaments with much pride, and on our admiring them paid us the Spanish compliment of saying they would better become us than herself. When asked if they were gifts from some of these gentlemen she answered with a sudden assumption of dignity: "Me got velly good husband, me mallied woman!" We assured her that we were delighted to hear such favorable accounts of her condition, and so passed on, peeping into a dozen or more little rooms, all crowded with men and a few women, but no babies, no little children, nothing to relieve the brazen face of the whole establishment. The women were mostly without beauty or grace, and usually dressed in dingy blue sacks with huge sleeves, their hair drawn back and curiously puffed, coiled or plaited behind. They all wore the mechanical smile which seems part of the national character; but their faces were thin and haggard, and the paint did not disguise the wan weariness which was eating away their lives. These poor creatures are most of them bred to evil from infancy by parents who make merchandise of them in early girlhood. Sometimes the wretched creature sacrifices herself, signing a contract and receiving a certain sum in advance for services during a term of years or for life; the larger part of which sum goes to the broker or intermediary.
These slaves--for they are so considered, and, as a general thing, are very harshly and penuriously treated--receive only a maintenance and coarse clothing during their brief period of health, and when overtaken by sickness are turned out to die in any hole they can creep into.
Great discontent exists among the better class of San Franciscans at the constant importation of these slaves from China, the open and revolting traffic forming a terrible satire upon the hecatomb of the best lives of our own country sacrificed in the late war to abolish Negro Slavery!
Coming out of this house, we passed a row of tiny windows, breast-high to a man, looking out upon the narrow sidewalk of the court, at each of which appeared the face of a woman, the little room behind her as bright and attractive as she knew how to make it; one in especial was quite illuminated and decked with flowers and draperies, and the inmate, a rather pretty young girl, was singing in a sort of cooing little voice.
These unfortunates are seldom reclaimed; they feel no sense of sin or shame in their lives, and if well treated are quite content. Occasionally the Christian Missionaries who wage an unequal and all but hopeless warfare against heathendom in San Francisco succeed in persuading one of them to escape and accept such refuge as charity provides for them; but as a general thing their masters succeed in tracing them and show willingness to expend more money and time in repossessing themselves of them than the victim can possibly be worth, and the last state of these reclaimed slaves is worse than the first.
There are said to be about fifteen hundred Chinese women of this class in San Francisco; seven-tenths of all who come to this country belonging to its dismal ranks, and it is surmised that not more than a hundred reputable Chinese married women are to be found in the city, the inducements to the better class of men to bring their families to these shores being small indeed, for the free and noble principles of our government suffer insult and wrong, not only at the hands of slave-dealers but at those of our own people, who permit the ruffians infesting San Francisco to rob, insult and maltreat the Chinaman at every turn, revenging upon him, as is the habit of degraded natures, the galling sense of their own baseness and inferiority.
Let us close this painful subject, with a confession of its most repulsive
phase. We were informed that the most beautiful and accomplished imported
Traviatas in China Town were intended for and maintained by white gentlemen
exclusively. Let us subscribe liberally to the mission to Borrioboola Gha, and
send flannel waistcoats to Afghanistan, and then let us devote what is left of
our money and energy and Christian zeal to the conversion of these
"gentlemen," and the Hoodlum who maims and insults and robs the honest
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