CHAPTER V. First experiences of American freedom - The "striped pig" and "Dusty Ben" - A country mouse - What the cars are like - Beauties of New England - The land of apples - A Mammoth hotel - The rusty inkstand exiled - Eloquent eyes - Alone in a crowd
The city of Portland, with its busy streets, and crowded wharfs, and handsome buildings, and railway depots, rising as it does on the barren coast of the sterile State of Maine, fully bears out the first part of an assertion which I had already heard made by Americans, "We're a great people, the greatest nation on the face of the earth." A polite custom- house officer asked me if I had anything contraband in my trunks, and on my reply in the negative they were permitted to pass without even the formality of being uncorded. "Enlightened citizens" they are truly, I thought, and, with the pleasant consciousness of being in a perfectly free country, where every one can do as he pleases, I entered an hotel near the water and sat down in the ladies' parlour. I had not tasted food for twenty-five hours, my clothes were cold and wet, a severe cut was on my temple, and I felt thoroughly exhausted. These circumstances, I thought, justified me in ringing the bell and asking for a glass of wine. Visions of the agreeable refreshment which would be produced by the juice of the grape appeared simultaneously with the waiter. I made the request, and he brusquely replied, "You can't have it, it's contrary to law." In my half-drowned and faint condition the refusal appeared tantamount to positive cruelty, and I remembered that I had come in contact with the celebrated "Maine Law." That the inhabitants of the State of Maine are not "free" was thus placed practically before me at once. Whether they are "enlightened" I doubted at the time, but leave the question of the prohibition of fermented liquors to be decided by abler social economists than myself.
I was hereafter informed that to those who go down stairs, and ask to see the "striped pig" wine and spirits are produced; that a request to speak with "Dusty Ben" has a like effect, and that, on asking for "sarsaparilla" at certain stores in the town, the desired stimulant can be obtained. Indeed it is said that the consumption of this drug is greater in Maine than in all the other States put together. But in justice to this highly respectable State, I must add that the drunkenness which forced this stringent measure upon the legislature was among the thousands of English and Irish emigrants who annually land at Portland. My only companion here was a rosy-cheeked, simple country girl, who was going to Kennebunk, and, never having been from home before, had not the slightest idea what to do. Presuming on my antiquated appearance, she asked me "to take care of her, to get her ticket for her, for she dare'nt ask those men for it, and to let her sit by me in the car." She said she was so frightened with something she'd seen that she didn't know how she should go in the cars. I asked her what it was. "Oh," she said, "it was a great thing, bright red, with I don't know how many wheels, and a large black top, and bright shining things moving about all over it, and smoke and steam coming out of it, and it made such an awful noise it seemed to shake the earth."