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The Streets Trodden by Stephen Crane
From the Bowery of New York to Fort Romper, Nebraska, and Yellow Sky, Texas

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In the best of Stephen Crane's fiction, there are no roads; there are only streets, the mean streets. The sensational debut novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets — published in 1893, when the author was barely 22 years old — sets the tone in the very first sentences.

A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley. He was throwing stones at howling urchins from Devil's Row who were circling madly about the heap and pelting at him.

The brave little boy's teenage sister is the protagonist of the novel. She is ground down unremittingly by the law of the Bowery and in the end jumps off Brooklyn Bridge.

The one street running through Fort Romper, Nebraska, is hardly more inviting than the belly of New York City. When at the opening of "The Blue Hotel" an ill-assorted group of travelers descend the train on the plains of Nebraska and approach "the company of low, clapboard houses which composed Ft. Romper," a blizzard is picking up, making the walk to Scully's hotel a braving of the elements. One of the group, the Swede, is sufficiently subdued to believe that he will meet his end in Ft. Romper; he dismisses all reminders that "this ain't Wyoming, ner none of them places. This is Nebrasker."

When the Swede steps out of the Blue Hotel and walks down to the saloon, ignoring the blizzard and the red light above the saloon entrance, he meets his end. As he lies there, stabbed, in the sawdust, the cash register on the counter declares: "This registers the amount of your purchase."

This is in line with Crane's most famous poem, "A Man Said to the Universe."

A man said to the universe:
"Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
"a sense of obligation."

Even in Yellow Sky, that sunny and sleepy Texas town that has weathered the frontier, if not all of its habits, the streets are fraught with sudden terror.

A man in a maroon-colored flannel shirt . . . rounded a corner and walked into the middle of the main street of Yellow Sky. In either hand the man held a long, heavy, blue-black revolver. Often he yelled, and these cries rang through a semblance of a deserted village, shrilly flying over the roofs in a volume that seemed to have no relation to the ordinary vocal strength of a man. It was as if the surrounding stillness formed a tomb over him. . . .

The man's face flamed in a rage begot of whisky. His eyes, rolling, and yet keen for ambush, hunted the still doorways and windows. He walked with the creeping movement of the midnight cat. As it occurred to him, he roared menacing information. The long revolvers in his hands were as easy as straws; they were moved with an electric swiftness. . . .

The man, Scratchy Wilson, may in the end turn out to be the town drunk, actually a quite harmless person and pathetic at best; but the sudden terror he introduced lingers on in the dust of the street, as he places his pistols in his holsters and turns away. "His feet made funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand."

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