CHAPTER XXXIII. STREET-WALKERS.
As soon as the sun sets over the Great City, Broadway, and the streets running parallel with it, become infested with numbers of young girls and women, who pass up and down the thoroughfares with a quick, mysterious air, which rarely fails to draw attention to them. These are known as street-walkers, and it would seem from outward indications that their number is steadily increasing. The best looking and the best dressed are seen on Broadway, and in parts of Fifth and Fourth Avenues. The others correspond to the localities they frequent. They are chiefly young girls, seventeen being the average age, but you will see children of twelve and thirteen amongst them. Very few promenade Broadway below Canal street. The neighborhoods of the hotels and places of amusement are the most frequented. Some of the girls are pretty and modest, but the majority are ugly and brazen. New faces are constantly appearing on Broadway, to take the places of the old ones which have gone down to the depths.
The majority of the girls have some regular employment at which they work in the day. Their regular earnings are small, and they take this means of increasing them. Some, however, sleep all day, and ply their infamous trade at night. There are cases in which the girls are driven to such a life by their parents, who either wish to rid themselves of their child's support, or to profit by her earnings. We have known cases where the girls have voluntarily supported their parents by the wages of their shame. We once heard of two sisters, well known on Broadway, who devoted their earnings to paying off a heavy debt of their father, which he was unable to meet. Sometimes these girls deserve more pity than blame; but a very large proportion of them, perhaps the majority, act as decoys for garroters and thieves. Hundreds of strangers, coming to the city, follow them to their rooms only to find themselves in the power of thieves, who compel them on pain of instant death to surrender all their valuables. The room taken by the decoy is vacated immediately after the robbery, the girl and her confederate disappear, and it is impossible to find them.
The police do not allow these girls to stop and converse with men on Broadway. If a girl succeeds in finding a companion, she beckons him into one of the side streets, where the police will not interfere with her. If he is willing to go with her, she conducts him to her room which is in one of the numerous bed-houses of the city.
These bed-houses are simply large or small dwellings containing many furnished rooms, which are let to street-walkers by the week, or which are hired to applicants of any class by the night. They are very profitable, and are frequently owned by men of good social position, who rent them out to others, or who retain the ownership, and employ a manager. The rent, whether weekly or nightly, is invariably paid in advance, so that the landlord loses nothing.
The girl leads her companion to one of these houses, and if she has a room already engaged, proceeds directly to it; if not, one is engaged from a domestic on the spot, the price is paid, and the parties are shown up stairs. The place is kept dark and quiet, in order to avoid the attention of the police. The houses are more or less comfortable and handsome, according to the class by which they are patronized. They are sometimes preferred by guilty parties in high life, as the risk of being seen and recognized is less there than in more aristocratic houses. These houses have a constant run of visitors from, about eight o'clock until long after midnight.
The various night lines of steamers running from New York city, are literally overrun with abandoned women, seeking companions. The Albany and the Boston lines are made intensely disagreeable by such persons. A correspondent of one of the New Jersey papers, thus relates his experience on board of one of the magnificent vessels of a Boston line.
The grand saloon is filled with a throng of travellers listening to the sweet music discoursed by a band in the upper gallery, employed for the season by the company. One cannot but remark, with mingled pain and indignation, the large number of brazen-faced prostitutes and professional gamblers who saunter up and down the saloon and galleries, seeking their prey among the unsuspecting passengers.
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