Advice to A Son by Edgar Wilson Bill Nye
MY DEAR SON: I just came here to New York on business, and thought I
would write to you a few lines, as I have a little time that is not
taken up. I came here on a train from Chicago the other day. Before I
started, I got a lower berth in a sleeping car, but when I went to put
my sachel in it, before I left Chicago, there were two women and a
little girl there, and so I told the porter I would wait until they
moved before I put my baggage in the section, for of course I thought
they were just sitting there for a minute to rest.
Hours rolled by and they did not move. I kept on sitting in the
smoking-room, but they stayed. By and by the porter came and asked me
if I had lower four. I said yesI paid for it, but I couldn't really
say I had it in my possession. He then said that two ladies and a
little girl had upper four, and asked if I would mind swapping with
them. I said that I would do so, for I didn't see how a whole family
circle could climb up into the upper berth and remain there, and I
would rather give them the lower one than spend the night picking up
different members of the family and replacing them in the home nest
after they had fallen out.
I had a bad cold, and though I knew that sleeping in the upper berth
would add to it, I did not murmur. But little did I realize that they
would hold the whole thing all of two days, and fill it full of broken
crackers and banana peels, and leave me to ride backward in the
smoking-room from Chicago to New York, after I had paid five dollars
for a seat and lower berth.
Woman is a poor, frail vessel, Henry, but she manages to arrive at
her destination all right. She buys an upper berth and then swaps it
with an old man for his lower berth, giving to boot a half-smothered
sob and two scalding tears. Then she says Thank you, if she feels
like it at the end of the road, though these women did not. I have
pneuemonia in its early stages, but I have done a kind act, which I
shall probably have to do over again when I return.
If you ever become the parent of a daughter, Henry, and you like her
pretty well, I hope you will teach her to acknowledge a courtesy,
instead of looking upon the earth and the fullness thereof as a
partnership property, owned jointly by herself and the Lord.
A woman who has traveled a good deal is generally polite, and knows
how to treat her fellow passengers and the porter, but people who are
making their first or second trip, I notice, most generally betray the
fact by tramping all over the other passengers.
Another mistake, Henry, which I hope you will not make, is that of
taking very small children to travel. Children should remain at home
until they are at least two or three days old, otherwise they are
troublesome to their parents and also bother the other passengers.
There ought to be a law, too, that would prevent parents from taking
larger children who should be in the reform school. Some parents seem
to think that what their children do is funny, when, instead of humor,
it is really felony. It does not entirely set matters right, for
instance, when a child has torn off a gentleman's ear, merely to make
the child return it to the owner, for you can never put an ear back in
its place after it has been torn off and stepped on, in such a way as
to make it look the same as it did at first.
I heard a mother say on the train that her little boy never was
quite himself while traveling, because he wasn't well. She feared it
was the change in the water that made him sick. He had then drank a
whole ice-water tank empty, and was waiting impatiently till we got to
Pittsburg, so that he could drink out of the hydrant.
Queer people also ride on the elevated trains here in New York. It
is a singular experience to a stranger to ride on these cars. It made
me ill at first, but after awhile I got so mad that I forgot about it.
For instance, at places like Fourteenth street, and Twenty-third
street, and Park Place, there are generally several people who want to
get aboard a little before the passengers get off. Two or three times I
was carried by because the guards wouldn't enforce the rule, and I had
a good deal of trouble, till I took an old pair of Mexican spurs out of
my trunk and strapped them on my elbows. After that I could stroll
along Broadway, or get off a train when I got ready, and have some
The gates on the elevated trains get shet rather sudden sometimes,
and once they shet in a part of a man, I was told, and left the rest of
him on the outside, so that after a while he fell off over the trestle,
because there was more of him on the outside than on the inside, and he
didn't seem to balance somehow. It was rare sport for the guards to
watch the man scraping along the side of the road and sweeping off the
right of way.
One day, when I was on board, there was a crowd at one of the
stations, and an old man and a little girl tried to get on. She was
looking out for the old man, and seemed to kind of steer him on the
platform. Just as he stepped on the train, the guard shut the gate and
left the little girl outside. She looked so scart and pitiful, as the
train left her, that I'll never forget it to my dying day, and as we
left the platform I saw her wring her poor little hands, and I heard
her cry, Oh, mister, let me go with him. My poor grandpa is blind.
Sure enough, the old man groped around almost crazy on that swaying
train, without knowing where he was, and feeling through the empty air
for the gentle hand of the little girl who had been left behind. Two or
three of us took care of the old man and got him off at the next
station, where we waited till she came; but it was the most touching
thing I ever saw outside of a book.
Another day the cars were full till you couldn't seem to get even an
umbrella into the aisle, I thought, but yet the guards told people to
step along lively, and encouraged them by prodding and pinching till
most everybody was fighting mad.
Then a pale girl, with a bundle of sewing in her hand, and a hollow
cough that made everybody look that way, got into the aisle. She could
just barely get hold of the strap, and that was all. She wore a poor,
black cotton jersey, and when she reached up so high, the jersey part
would not stay where it belonged, and at the waist seemed to throw off
all responsibility. She realized it, and bit her lips, and two red
spots came on her pale face, and the tears came into her eyes, but she
couldn't let go of her bundle, and she couldn't let go of the strap,
for already the train threw her against a soiled man on one side and a
tough on the other. It was pitiful enough, so that men who had their
seats began to read advertisements and other things with their papers
wrong side up, in order to seem thoroughly engrossed in their business.
But two pretty young men, with real good clothes, and white, soft
hands, had a great deal of fun over it, and every time the train would
lurch and throw the poor girl's jersey a little more out of plumb, they
would jab each other in the ribs, and laugh very hearty. I felt sorry
that I wasn't young again, so that I could go over there and kick both
of them. Henry, if I thought you would do a thing like that, or allow
it done on the same block where you happened to be, I would give my
estate to a charitable object, and refuse to recognize you in Paradise.
Just then an oldish man of a chunky build, and with an eye as black
as the driven tomcat, reached through the crowded aisle with his
umbrella and touched the girl. She looked around, and he told her to
come and take his seat. As she squeezed through, and he rose to seat
her, a large man with black whiskers gently dropped into the vacant
seat with a sigh of relief, and began to read a two-year-old paper with
much earnestness, just as if he hadn't noticed the whole performance.
The stout man was thunderstruck. He said:
Excuse me, sir; I didn't leave my seat.
Yes, you did, says the black-whiskered pachyderm. You can't
expect to keep a seat here and leave it too.
Well, but I rose to put this young lady in it, and I must ask you
to be kind enough to let her have it.
Excuse me, said the microbe, with a little chuckle of cussedness,
you will have to take your chances, and wait for a vacant seat, same
as I did.
That was all the conversation there was, but just then the short fat
man ran his thumb down inside the shirt collar of the yellow fever
germ, and jerked him so high that I could see the nails on the bottoms
of his boots. Then, with the other hand, he socked the young lady into
his seat, and took hold of a strap, where he hung on white and mad, but
After that there was a loud hurrah, and general enthusiasm and hand
clapping, and cries of Good! Good! and in the midst of it the
sporadic hog and the two refined young men got off the train.
As the black and white Poland swine went out the door I noticed that
there was blood on the back of his neck, and later on I saw the short,
stout old gentleman remove a large mole or birthmark, which he really
had no use for, from under his thumb nail.
On a Harlem train, as they call it, I saw a drunken young man in one
of the seats yesterday. He wasn't noisy, but he felt pretty fair. Next
to him was a real good young man, who seemed to feel his superiority a
great deal. Very soon the car got jammed full, and an old lady, poorly
dressed, but a mighty good, motherly old woman, I'll bet a hundred
dollars, got in. Her husband asked the good young man if he would
kindly give his wife a seat. He did not apparently hear at all, but got
all wrapped up in his paper, just as every man in a car does when he is
ashamed of himself. But the inebriated young man heard, and so he said:
Here, mister, take my seat for the old lady; any seat is good
enough for me. Whereupon he sat down in the lap of the good young man,
and so remained till he got to his station.
This is a good town to study human nature in, Henry, and you would
do well to come here before your vacation is over, just to see what
kind of people the Lord allows to encumber the earth. It will show you
how many human brutes there are loose in the world who don't try any
longer to appear decent when they think their identity is swallowed up
in the multitude of a great city. There are just as selfish folks in
the smaller towns, but they are afraid to give themselves up to it,
because somebody in the crowd would be sure to recognize them. Here a
man has the advantage of a perpetual nom de plume, and he is
tempted to see how pusillanimous he can be even when he is just here on
a visit. I'm going home next week, before I completely wreck my
I left your mother pretty comfortable at home, but I haven't heard
from her since I left.