Just “One More Unfortunate”

Mark Twain

Virginia City Territorial Enterprise/June 27, 1865

Immorality is not decreasing in San Francisco. I saw a girl in the city prison last night who looked as much out of place there as I did myself – possibly more so. She was petite and diffident, and only sixteen years and one month old. To judge by her looks, one would say she was as sinless as a child. But such was not the case. She had been living with a strapping young nigger for six months! She told her story as artlessly as a school-girl, and it did not occur to her for a moment that she had been doing anything unbecoming; and I never listened to a narrative which seemed more simple and straight forward, or more free from ostentation and vain-glory. She told her name, and her age, to a day; she said she was born in Holborn, City of London; father living, but gone back to England; was not married to the negro, but she was left with out any one to take care of her, and he had taken charge of that department and had conducted it since she was fifteen and a half years old very satisfactorily. All listeners pitied her, and said feelingly: “Poor heifer! poor devil!” and said she was an ignorant, erring child, and had not done wrong wilfully and knowingly, and they hoped she would pass her examination for the Industrial School and be removed from the temptation and the opportunity to sin. Tears – and it was a credit to their manliness and their good feeling – tears stood in the eyes of some of those stern policemen.

O, woman, thy name is humbug! Afterwards, while I sat taking some notes, and not in sight from the women’s cell, some of the old blisters fell to gossiping, and lo! young Simplicity chipped in and clattered away as lively as the vilest of them! It came out in the conversation that she was hail fellow well met with all the old female rapscallions in the city, and had had business relations with their several establishments for a long time past. She spoke affectionately of some of them, and the reverse of others; and dwelt with a toothsome relish upon numberless reminiscences of her social and commercial intercourse with them. She knew all manner of men, too – men with quaint and suggestive names, for the most part – and liked “Oyster-eyed Bill,” and “Bloody Mike,” and “The Screamer,” but cherished a spirit of animosity toward “Foxy McDonald” for cutting her with a bowie-knife at a strumpet ball one night. She a poor innocent kitten! Oh! She was a scallawag whom it would be base flattery to call a prostitute! She a candidate for the Industrial School! Bless you, she has graduated long ago. She is competent to take charge of a University of Vice. In the ordinary branches she is equal to the best; and in the higher ones, such as ornamental swearing, and fancy embroidered filagree slang, she is a shade superior to any artist I ever listened to.


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