It is to me a deeply suggestive and solemn thing to see a man standing guard by night. It thrilled through me, as at the gate of an arsenal in Charleston, the question once smote me, “Who comes there?” followed by the sharp command: “Advance and give the countersign.” Every moral teacher stands on picket, or patrols the wall as watchman. His work is to sound the alarm; and whether it be in the first watch, in the second watch, in the third watch, or in the fourth watch, to be vigilant until the daybreak flings its “morning glories” of blooming cloud across the arching trellis of the sky.
The ancients divided their night into four parts—the first watch, from six to nine; the second, from nine to twelve; the third, from twelve to three; and the fourth, from three to six.
I speak now of the city in the third watch, or from twelve to three o’clock.
I never weary of looking upon the life and brilliancy of the city in the first watch. That is the hour when the stores are closing. The laboring men, having quitted the scaffolding and the shop, are on their way home. It rejoices me to give them my seat in the city car. They have stood and hammered away all day. Their feet are weary. They are exhausted with the tug of work. They are mostly cheerful. With appetites sharpened on the swift turner’s wheel and the carpenter’s whetstone, they seek the evening meal. The clerks, too, have broken away from the counter, and with brain weary of the long line of figures, and the whims of those who go a-shopping, seek the face of mother, or wife and child. The merchants are unharnessing themselves from their anxieties, on their way up the street. The boys that lock up are heaving away at the shutters, shoving the heavy bolts, and taking a last look at the fire to see that all is safe. The streets are thronged with young men, setting out from the great centres of bargain-making.
Let idlers clear the street, and give right of way to the besweated artisans and merchants! They have earned their bread, and are now on their way home to get it.
The lights in full jet hang over ten thousand evening repasts—the parents at either end of the table, the children between. Thank God! “who setteth the solitary in families!”
A few hours later, and all the places of amusement, good and bad, are in full tide. Lovers of art, catalogue in hand, stroll through the galleries and discuss the pictures. The ball-room is resplendent with the rich apparel of those who, on either side of the white, glistening boards, await the signal from the orchestra. The footlights of the theatre flash up; the bell rings, and the curtain rises; and out from the gorgeous scenery glide the actors, greeted with the vociferation of the expectant multitudes. Concert-halls are lifted into enchantment with the warble of one songstress, or swept out on a sea of tumultuous feeling by the blast of brazen instruments. Drawing-rooms are filled with all gracefulness of apparel, with all sweetness of sound, with all splendor of manner; mirrors are catching up and multiplying the scene, until it seems as if in infinite corridors there were garlanded groups advancing and retreating.