Children of the Tenements
by Jacob A. Riis
WHEN THE LETTER
THE CAT TOOK THE
SAW IN THE
MIDWINTER IN NEW
A CHIP FROM THE
IN THE TENEMENTS
ABE'S GAME OF
A LITTLE PICTURE
A DREAM OF THE
HEROES WHO FIGHT
A HEATHEN BABY
IN BOTTLE ALLEY
IN THE MULBERRY
FIRE IN THE
WAR ON THE GOATS
HE KEPT HIS
HOW JIM WENT TO
A BACKWOODS HERO
MAKING A WAY OUT
OF THE SLUM
I have been asked a great many times in the last dozen years if I
would not write an East-side novel, and I have sometimes had much
difficulty in convincing the publishers that I meant it when I said I
would not. Yet the reason is plain: I cannot. I wish I could. There are
some facts one can bring home much more easily than otherwise by
wrapping them in fiction. But I never could invent even a small part of
a plot. The story has to come to me complete before I can tell it. The
stories printed in this volume came to me in the course of my work as
police reporter for nearly a quarter of a century, and were printed in
my paper, the Evening Sun. Some of them I published in the
Century Magazine, the Churchman, and other periodicals, and
they were embodied in an earlier collection under the title, Out of
Mulberry Street. Occasionally, I have used the freedom of the writer
by stringing facts together to suit my own fancy. But none of the
stories are invented. Nine out of ten of them are just as they came to
me fresh from the life of the people, faithfully to portray which
should, after all, be the aim of all fiction, as it must be its
J. A. R.
CHILDREN OF THE TENEMENTS
THE RENT BABY
Adam Grunschlag sat at his street stand in a deep brown study. He
heeded not the gathering twilight, or the snow that fell in great white
flakes, as yet with an appreciable space between, but with the promise
of a coming storm in them. He took no notice of the bustle and stir all
about that betokened the approaching holiday. The cries of the huckster
hawking oranges from his cart, of the man with the crawling toy, and of
the pedler of colored Christmas candles passed him by unheard. Women
with big baskets jostled him, stopped and fingered his cabbages; he
answered their inquiries mechanically. Adam's mind was not in the
street, at his stand, but in the dark back basement where his wife
Hansche was lying, there was no telling how sick. They could not afford
a doctor. Of course, he might send to the hospital for one, but he
would be sure to take her away, and then what would become of little
Abe? Besides, if they had nothing else in the whole world, they had yet
each other. When that was no longer the caseAdam would have lacked no
answer to the vexed question if life were then worth living.
Troubles come not singly, but in squads, once the bag be untied. It
was not the least sore point with Adam that he had untied it himself.
They were doing well enough, he and his wife, in their home in
Leinbach, Austria, keeping a little grocery store, and living humbly
but comfortably, when word of the country beyond the sea where much
money was made, and where every man was as good as the next, made them
uneasy and discontented. In the end they gave up the grocery and their
little home, Hansche not without some tears; but she dried them quickly
at the thought of the good times that were waiting. With these ever
before them they bore the hardships of the steerage, and in good season
reached Hester Street and the longed-for haven, only to findthis. A
rear basement, dark and damp and unwholesome, for which the landlord,
along with the privilege of keeping a stand in the street, which was
not his to give, made them pay twelve dollars a month. Truly, much
money was made in America, but not by those who paid the rent. It was
all they could do, working early and late, he with his push-cart and at
his stand, she with the needle, slaving for the sweater, to get the
rent together and keep a roof over the head of little Abe.
Five years they had kept that up, and things had gone from bad to
worse. The police blackmail had taken out of it what little profit
there was in the push-cart business. Times had grown harder than they
ever were in Hester Street. To cap it all, two weeks ago gas had begun
to leak into the basement from somewhere, and made Hansche sick, so
that she dropped down at her work. Adam had complained to the landlord,
and he had laughed at him. What did he want for twelve dollars, anyway?
If the basement wasn't good enough for him, why didn't he hire an
upstairs flat? The landlord did not tell him that he could do that for
the same rent he paid for the miserable hole he burrowed in. He had a
good thing and he knew it. Adam Grunschlag knew nothing of the Legal
Aid Society, that is there to help such as he. He was afraid to appeal
to the police. He was just a poor, timid Jew, of a race that has been
hunted for centuries to make sport and revenue for the great and
mighty. When he spoke of moving and the landlord said that he would
forfeit the twenty dollars deposit that he had held back all these
years, and which was all the capital the pedler had, he thought that
was the law, and was silent. He could not afford to lose it, and yet he
must find some way of making a change, for the sake of little Abe as
well as his wife, and the child.
At the thought of the child, the pedler gave a sudden start and was
wide awake on the instant. Little Abe was their own, and though he had
come in the gloom of that dismal basement, he had been the one ray of
sunshine that had fallen into their dreary lives. But the child was a
rent baby. In the crowded tenements of New York the lodger serves the
same purpose as the Irishman's pig; he helps to pay the rent. The
childit was never called anything elsewas a lodger. Flotsam from
Rivington Street, after the breaking up of a family there, it had come
to them, to perish if the Lord so willed it in that basement. Infant
slaughter houses the Tenement House Commission had called their kind.
The father paid seventy-five cents a week for its keep, pending the
disclosure of the divine purpose with the baby. The Grunschlags, all
unconscious of the partnership that was thus thrust upon them, did
their best for it, and up to the time the trouble with the gas began it
was a disgracefully healthy baby. Since then it had sickened with the
rest. But now, if the worst came to the worst, what was to become of
The pedler was not given long to debate this new question. Even as
he sat staring dumbly at nothing in his perplexity, little Abe crawled
out of the yard with the news that mamma was most deaded; and though
it was not so bad as that, it was made clear to her husband when he
found her in one of her bad fainting spells, that things had come to a
pass where something had to be done. There followed a last ineffectual
interview with the landlord, a tearful leave-taking, and as the
ambulance rolled away with Hansche to the hospital, where she would be
a hundred times better off than in Hester Street, the pedler took
little Abe by the hand, and, carrying the child, set out to deliver it
over to its rightful owners. If he were rid of it, he and Abe might
make a shift to get along. It was a case, emphatically; in which two
were company and three a crowd.
He spied the father in Stanton Street where he was working, but when
he saw Adam he tried to run away. Desperation gave the pedler both
strength and speed, however, and he overhauled him despite his
handicaps, and thrust the baby upon him. But the father would have none
Aber, mein Gott, pleaded the pedler, vat I do mit him? He vas
I don't care what you do with her, said the hard-hearted father.
Give her awayanything. I can't keep her.
And this time he really escaped. Left alone with his charge, the
pedler bethought himself of a friend in Pitt Street who had little
children. Where so many fed, there would be easily room for another. To
Pitt Street he betook himself, only to meet with another setback. They
didn't want any babies there; had enough of their own. So he went to a
widow in East Broadway who had none, to be driven forth with hard
words. What did a widow want with a baby? Did he want to disgrace her?
Adam Grunschlag visited in turn every countryman he knew of on the East
Side, and proposed to each of them to take the baby off his hands,
without finding a single customer for it. Either because it was hurt by
such treatment, or because it thought it time for Hansche's attentions,
the child at length set up a great cry. Little Abe, who had trotted
along bravely upon his four-years-old legs, wrapped in a big plaid
shawl, lost his grip at that and joined in, howling dolefully that he
Adam Grunschlag gave up at last and sat down on the curb, helpless
and hopeless. Hungry! Yes, and so was he. Since morning he had not
eaten a morsel, and been on his feet incessantly. Two hungry mouths to
fill beside his own and not a cent with which to buy bread. For the
first time he felt a pang of bitterness as he saw the shoppers hurry by
with filled baskets to homes where there was cheer and plenty. From the
window of a tenement across the way shone the lights of a Christmas
tree, lighted as in old-country fashion on the Holy Eve. Christmas!
What had it ever meant to him and his but hatred and persecution? There
was a shout from across the street and voices raised in laughter and
song. The children could be seen dancing about the tree, little room
though there was. Ah, yes! Let them make merry upon their holiday while
two little ones were starving in the street. A colder blast than
ordinary came up from the river and little Abe crept close to him,
wailing disconsolate within his shawl.
Hey, what's this? said a rough, but not unkindly voice at his
elbow. Campin' out, shepherd fashion, Moses? Bad for the kids; these
ain't the hills of Judea.
It was the policeman on the beat stirring the trio gently with his
club. The pedler got up without a word, to move away, but little Abe,
from fright or hunger, set up such a howl that the policeman made him
stop to explain. While he did so, telling as briefly as he could about
the basement and Hansche and the baby that was not his, a silver
quarter found its way mysteriously into little Abe's fist, to the utter
upsetting of all that kid's notions of policemen and their functions.
When the pedler had done, the officer directed him to Police
Headquarters where they would take the baby, he need have no fear of
Better leave this one there, too, was his parting counsel. Little
Abe did not understand, but he took a firmer grip on his papa's hand,
and never let go all the way up the three long flights of stairs to the
police nursery where the child at last found peace and a bottle. But
when the matron tried to coax him to stay also, he screamed and carried
on so that they were glad to let him go lest he wake everybody in the
building. Though proverbially Police Headquarters never sleeps, yet it
does not like to be disturbed in its midnight nap, as it were. It is
human with the rest of us, that is how.
Down in the marble-tiled hall little Abe and his father stopped
irresolute. Outside it was dark and windy; the snow, that had ceased
falling in the evening, was swept through the streets on the northern
blast. They had nowhere to go. The doorman was called downstairs just
then to the telegraph office. When he came up again he found father and
son curled up on the big mat by the register, sound asleep. It was
against the regulations entirely, and he was going to wake them up and
put them out, when he happened to glance through the glass doors at the
storm without, and remembered that it was Christmas Eve. With a growl
he let them sleep, trusting to luck that the inspector wouldn't come
out. The doorman, too, was human.
So it came about that the newspaper boys who ran with messages to
the reporters' offices across the street, found them there and held a
meeting over them. Rudie, the smartest of them, declared that his
fingers just itched for that sheeny's whiskers, but the others paid
little attention to him. Even reporters' messengers are not so bad as
they like to have others believe them, sometimes. The year before, in
their rough sport in the alley, the boys had upset old Mary, so that
she fell and broke her arm. That finished old Mary's scrubbing, for the
break never healed. Ever since this, bloodthirsty Rudie had been
stealing down Mulberry Street to the old woman's attic on pay-day and
sharing his meagre wages with her, paying, beside, the insurance
premium that assured her of a decent burial; though he denied it hotly
if charged with it. So when Rudie announced that he would like to pull
the pedler's whiskers, it was taken as a motion that he be removed to
the reporters' quarters and made comfortable there, and the motion was
carried unanimously. Was it not Christmas Eve?
Little Abe was carried across Mulberry Street, sleeping soundly, and
laid upon Rudie's cot. The dogs, Chief and Trilby, that run things in
Mulberry Street when the boys are away, snuggled down by him to keep
him warm, taking him at once under their protection. The father took
off his shoes, and curling up by the stove, slept, tired out, but not
until he had briefly told the boys the story he had once that evening
gone over with the policeman. They heard it in silence, but one or two
made notes which, could he have seen them, would have spoiled one
Hester Street landlord's Christmas. When the pedler was asleep, they
took them across the street and consulted with the inspector about it.
Father and son slept soundly yet when, the morning papers having
gone to press, the boys came down into the office with the night-gang
of reporters to spend the dog-watch, according to their wont, in a game
of ungodly poker. They were flush, for it had been pay-day in the
afternoon, and under the reckless impulse of the holiday the jack-pot,
ordinarily modest enough for cause, grew to unheard-of proportions. It
contained nearly fifteen dollars when Rudie opened it at last. Amid
breathless silence, he then and there made the only public speech of
The pot, he said, goes to the sheeny and his kid for their
Christmas, or my name is mud.
Wild applause followed the speech. It awakened the pedler and little
Abe. They sat up and rubbed their eyes, while Chief and Trilby barked
their welcome. The morning was struggling through the windows. The snow
had ceased falling and the sky was clear.
Mornin', said Rudie, with mock deference, will yer worships have
yer breakfast now, or will ye wait till ye get it?
The pedler looked about him in bewilderment. I hab kein blam'
cent, he said, feeling hopelessly in his pockets.
A joyous yell greeted him. Ikey has more nor you, shouted the
boys, showing the quarter which little Abe had held fast to in his
sleep. And see this.
They swept the jack-pot into his lap, handfuls of shining silver.
The pedler blinked at the sight.
Good morning and Merry Christmas, they shouted. We just had
Bellevue on the 'phone, and Hansche is all right. She will be out
to-day. The gas poisoned her, that was all. For that the police will
settle with the landlord, or we will. You go back there and get your
money back, and go and hire a flat. This is Christmas, and don't you
And they pushed the pedler and little Abe, made fast upon a gorgeous
sled that suddenly appeared from somewhere, out into the street, and
gave them a rousing cheer as they turned the corner going east, Adam
dragging the sled and little Abe seated on his throne, perfectly and
A STORY OF BLEECKER STREET
Mrs. Kane had put the baby to bed. The regular breathing from two
little cribs in different corners told her that her day's work was
nearing its end. She paused at the window in the middle of her
picking-up to look out at the autumn evening. The house stood on the
bank of the East River near where the Harlem joins it. Below ran the
swift stream, with the early twilight stealing over it from the near
shore; across the water the myriad windows in the Children's Hospital
glowed red in the sunset. From the shipyard, where men were working
overtime, came up the sound of hammering and careless laughter.
The peacefulness of the scene rested the tired woman. She stood
absorbed, without noticing that the door behind her was opened swiftly
and that some one came in. It was only when the baby, wakening, sat up
in bed and asked with wide, wondering eyes, Who is that? that she
turned to see.
Just inside the door stood a strange woman. A glance at her dress
showed her to be an escaped prisoner. A number of such from the Island
were employed under guard in the adjoining hospital, and Mrs. Kane saw
them daily. Her first impulse was to call to the men working below, but
something in the stranger's look and attitude checked her. She went
over to the child's bed and stood by it.
How did you get out? she asked, confronting the woman. The
question rose to her lips mechanically.
The woman answered with a toss of her head toward the hospital. She
was young yet, but her face was old. Debauchery had left deep scars
upon it. Her black hair hung in disorder.
They'll be after me, she said hurriedly. Her voice was hoarse; it
kept the promise of the face. Don't let them. Hide me
thereanywhere. She glanced uneasily from the open closet to the door
of the inner room.
Mrs. Kane's face hardened. The stranger was a convict, a thief
perhaps. Why should sheA door slammed below, and there were excited
voices in the hall, the tread of heavy steps on the stairs. The
That's them, she said. Quick! lemme get in! O God! she pleaded
with desperate entreaty, as Mrs. Kane stood coldly unresponsive, you
have your baby. I haven't seen mine in seven months, and they never
wrote. I'll never have the chance again.
The steps had halted in the second-floor hall. They were on the last
flight of stairs now. The mother's heart relented.
Here, she said, go in.
The bedroom door had barely closed upon the fugitive when a man in a
prison-keeper's garb stuck his head in from the hall. He saw only the
mother and the baby in its crib.
Hang the woman! he growled. Did yez
A voice called from the lower hall: Hey, Billy! she ain't in there.
She give us the slip, sure.
The keeper withdrew his head, growling. In the street the hue and
cry was raised; a prisoner had escaped.
When all was quiet, Mrs. Kane opened the bedroom door. She had a
dark wrapper and an old gray shawl on her arm.
Go, she said, not unkindly, and laid them on the bed; Go to your
The woman caught at her hand with a sob, but she withdrew it hastily
and went back to her baby's crib.
The moon shone upon the hushed streets, when a woman, hooded in a
gray shawl, walked rapidly down Fifth Street, eying the tenements with
a searching look as she passed. On the stoop of one, a knot of mothers
were discussing their household affairs, idling a bit after the day's
work. The woman halted in front of the group, and was about to ask a
question, when one of the women arose with the exclamation:
Mother of God! it's Mame.
Well, said the woman, testily, and what if it is? Am I a spook
that ye need stare at me so? Ye knowed me well enough before. Where is
There was no answer. The women looked at one another irresolutely.
None of them seemed to know what to say. It was the newcomer who broke
the silence again.
Can't ye speak? she said, in a voice in which anger and rising
apprehension were struggling. Where's the boy? Kate, what is it?
She had caught hold of the rail, as if in fear of falling. The woman
addressed said hesitatingly:
Did ye never hear, Mame? Ain't no one tole ye?
Tole me what? cried the other, shrilly. They tole me nothing.
What's wrong? Good God! 'tain't nothin' with the child? She shook the
other in sudden anger. Speak, Kate, can't you?
Will is dead, said Kate, slowly, thus urged. It's nine weeks come
Sunday that he fell out o' the winder and was kilt. They buried him
from the Morgue. We thought you knowed.
Stunned by the blow, the woman had sunk upon the lowest step and
buried her face in her hands. She sat there with her shawl drawn over
her head, as one by one the neighbors went inside. One lingered; it was
the one they had called Kate.
Mame, she said, when the last was gone, touching her on the
An almost imperceptible movement of the head under its shawl
testified that she heard.
Mebbe it was for the best, said Kate, irresolutely; he might have
took afterTimyou know.
The shrouded figure sat immovable, Kate eyed it in silence, and went
The night wore on. The streets were deserted and the stores closed.
Only the saloon windows blazed with light. But the figure sat there
yet. It had not stirred. Then it rose, shook out the shawl, and
displayed the face of the convict woman who had sought refuge in Mrs.
Kane's flat. The face was dry-eyed and hard.
The policeman on the beat rang the bell of the Florence Mission at
two o'clock on Sunday morning, and waited until Mother Pringle had
unbolted the door. One for you, he said briefly, and pointed toward
the bedraggled shape that crouched in the corner. It was his day off,
and he had no time to trouble with prisoners. The matron drew a corner
of the wet shawl aside and took one cold hand. She eyed it attentively;
there was a wedding ring upon it.
Why, child, she said, you'll catch your death of cold. Come right
in. Girls, give a hand.
Two of the women inmates half led, half carried her in, and the
bolts shut out Bleecker Street once more. They led her to the
dormitory, where they took off her dress and shawl, heavy with the cold
rain. The matron came bustling in; one of the girls spoke to her aside.
She looked sharply at the newcomer.
Mamie Anderson! she said. Well, of all things! Where have you
been all this while? Yes, I know, she added soothingly, as the
stranger made a sign to speak. Never mind; we'll talk about it
to-morrow. Go to sleep now and get over it.
But though bathed and fed and dosed with bromide,bromide is a
standard prescription at the Florence Mission,Mamie Anderson did not
get over it. Bruised and sore from many blows, broken in body and
spirit, she told the girls who sat by her bed through the night such
fragments of her story as she could remember. It began, the part of it
that took account of Bleecker Street, when her husband was sent to
State's Prison for robbery, and, to live, she took up with a scoundrel
from whom she kept the secret of her child. With such of her earnings
as she could steal from her tormentor she had paid little Willie's
board until she was arrested and sent to the Island.
What had happened in the three days since she escaped from the
hospital, where she had been detailed with the scrubbing squad, she
recalled only vaguely and with long lapses. They had been days and
nights of wild carousing. She had come to herself at last, lying beaten
and bound in a room in the house where her child was killed, so she
said. A neighbor had heard her groans, released her, and given her car
fare to go down town. So she had come and sat in the doorway of the
Mission to die.
How much of this story was the imagining of a disordered mind, the
police never found out.
Upon her body were marks as of ropes that had made dark bruises, but
at the inquest they were said to be of blows. Toward morning, when the
girls had lain down to snatch a moment's sleep, she called one of them,
whom she had known before, and asked for a drink of water. As she took
it with feeble hand, she asked:
Lil', can you pray?
For an answer the girl knelt by her bed and prayed. When she had
ended, Mamie Anderson fell asleep.
She was still sleeping when the others got up. They noticed after a
while that she lay very quiet and white, and one of them going to see,
found her dead.
That is the story of Mamie Anderson, as Bleecker Street told it to
me. Out on Long Island there is, in a suburban cemetery, a lovely
shaded spot where I sometimes sit by our child's grave. The green
hillside slopes gently under the chestnuts, violets and buttercups
spring from the sod, and the robin sings its jubilant note in the long
June twilights. Halfway down the slope, six or eight green mounds
cluster about a granite block in which are hewn the words:
These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have
washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the
It is the burial-plot of the Florence Mission. Under one of the
mounds lies all that was mortal of Mamie Anderson.
THE KID HANGS UP HIS STOCKING
The clock in the West Side Boys' Lodging-house ticked out the
seconds of Christmas eve as slowly and methodically as if six fat
turkeys were not sizzling in the basement kitchen against the morrow's
spread, and as if two-score boys were not racking their brains to guess
what kind of pies would go with them. Out on the avenue the shopkeepers
were barring doors and windows, and shouting Merry Christmas! to one
another across the street as they hurried to get home. The drays ran
over the pavement with muffled sounds; winter had set in with a heavy
snow-storm. In the big hall the monotonous click of checkers on the
board kept step with the clock. The smothered exclamations of the boys
at some unexpected, bold stroke, and the scratching of a little
fellow's pencil on a slate, trying to figure out how long it was yet
till the big dinner, were the only sounds that broke the quiet of the
room. The superintendent dozed behind his desk.
A door at the end of the hall creaked, and a head with a shock of
weather-beaten hair was stuck cautiously through the opening.
Tom! it said in a stage-whisper. Hi, Tom! Come up an' git on ter
de lay of de Kid.
A bigger boy in a jumper, who had been lounging on two chairs by the
group of checker players, sat up and looked toward the door. Something
in the energetic toss of the head there aroused his instant curiosity,
and he started across the room. After a brief whispered conference the
door closed upon the two, and silence fell once more on the hall.
They had been gone but a little while when they came back in haste.
The big boy shut the door softly behind him and set his back against
Fellers, he said, what d'ye t'ink? I'm blamed if de Kid ain't
gone an' hung up his sock fer Chris'mas!
The checkers dropped, and the pencil ceased scratching on the slate,
in breathless suspense.
Come up an' see, said Tom, briefly, and led the way.
The whole band followed on tiptoe. At the foot of the stairs their
Yer don't make no noise, he said, with a menacing gesture. You,
Savoy!to one in a patched shirt and with a mischievous
twinkle,you don't come none o' yer monkey-shines. If you scare de
Kid you'll get it in de neck, see!
With this admonition they stole upstairs. In the last cot of the
double tier of bunks a boy much smaller than the rest slept, snugly
tucked in the blankets. A tangled curl of yellow hair strayed over his
baby face. Hitched to the bedpost was a poor, worn little stocking,
arranged with much care so that Santa Claus should have as little
trouble in filling it as possible. The edge of a hole in the knee had
been drawn together and tied with a string to prevent anything falling
out. The boys looked on in amazed silence. Even Savoy was dumb.
Little Willie, or, as he was affectionately dubbed by the boys, the
Kid, was a waif who had drifted in among them some months before.
Except that his mother was in the hospital, nothing was known about
him, which was regular and according to the rule of the house. Not as
much was known about most of its patrons; few of them knew more
themselves, or cared to remember. Santa Claus had never been anything
to them but a fake to make the colored supplements sell. The revelation
of the Kid's simple faith struck them with a kind of awe. They sneaked
Fellers, said Tom, when they were all together again in the big
room,by virtue of his length, which had given him the nickname of
Stretch, he was the speaker on all important occasions,ye seen it
yerself. Santy Claus is a-comin' to this here joint to-night. I
wouldn't 'a' believed it. I ain't never had no dealin's wid de ole guy.
He kinder forgot I was around, I guess. But de Kid says he is a-comin'
to-night, an' what de Kid says goes.
Then he looked round expectantly. Two of the boys, Gimpy and Lem,
were conferring aside in an undertone. Presently Gimpy, who limped, as
his name indicated, spoke up.
Lem says, says he
Gimpy, you chump! you'll address de chairman, interrupted Tom,
with severe dignity, or you'll get yer jaw broke, if yer leg is
Cut it out, Stretch, was Gimpy's irreverent answer. This here
ain't no regular meetin', an' we ain't goin' to have none o' yer rot.
Lem he says, says he, let's break de bank an' fill de Kid's sock. He
won't know but it wuz ole Santy done it.
A yell of approval greeted the suggestion. The chairman, bound to
exercise the functions of office in season and out of season, while
they lasted, thumped the table.
It is regular motioned an' carried, he announced, that we break
de bank fer de Kid's Chris'mas. Come on, boys!
The bank was run by the house, with the superintendent as paying
teller. He had to be consulted, particularly as it was past banking
hours; but the affair having been succinctly put before him by a
committee, of which Lem and Gimpy and Stretch were the talking members,
he readily consented to a reopening of business for a scrutiny of the
various accounts which represented the boys' earnings at selling papers
and blacking boots, minus the cost of their keep and of sundry
surreptitious flings at craps in secret corners. The inquiry
developed an available surplus of three dollars and fifty cents. Savoy
alone had no account; the run of craps had recently gone heavily
against him. But in consideration of the season, the house voted a
credit of twenty-five cents to him. The announcement was received with
cheers. There was an immediate rush for the store, which was delayed
only a few minutes by the necessity of Gimpy and Lem stopping on the
stairs to thump one another as the expression of their entire
The procession that returned to the lodging-house later on, after
wearing out the patience of several belated storekeepers, might have
been the very Santa's supply-train itself. It signalized its advent by
a variety of discordant noises, which were smothered on the stairs by
Stretch, with much personal violence, lest they wake the Kid out of
season. With boots in hand and bated breath, the midnight band stole up
to the dormitory and looked in. All was safe. The Kid was dreaming, and
smiled in his sleep. The report roused a passing suspicion that he was
faking, and Savarese was for pinching his toe to find out. As this
would inevitably result in disclosure, Savarese and his proposal were
scornfully sat upon. Gimpy supplied the popular explanation.
He's a-dreamin' that Santy Claus has come, he said, carefully
working a base-ball bat past the tender spot in the stocking.
Hully Gee! commented Shorty, balancing a drum with care on the end
of it, I'm thinkin' he ain't far out. Looks's ef de hull shop'd come
It did when it was all in place. A trumpet and a gun that had made
vain and perilous efforts to join the bat in the stocking leaned
against the bed in expectant attitudes. A picture-book with a pink
Bengal tiger and a green bear on the cover peeped over the pillow, and
the bedposts and rail were festooned with candy and marbles in bags. An
express-wagon with a high seat was stabled in the gangway. It carried a
load of fir branches that left no doubt from whose livery it hailed.
The last touch was supplied by Savoy in the shape of a monkey on a
yellow stick, that was not in the official bill of lading.
I swiped it fer de Kid, he said briefly in explanation.
When it was all done the boys turned in, but not to sleep. It was
long past midnight before the deep and regular breathing from the beds
proclaimed that the last had succumbed.
The early dawn was tinging the frosty window panes with red when
from the Kid's cot there came a shriek that roused the house with a
start of very genuine surprise.
Hello! shouted Stretch, sitting up with a jerk and rubbing his
eyes. Yes, sir! in a minute. Hello, Kid, what to
The Kid was standing barefooted in the passageway, with a base-ball
bat in one hand and a trumpet and a pair of drumsticks in the other,
viewing with shining eyes the wagon and its cargo, the gun and all the
rest. From every cot necks were stretched, and grinning faces watched
the show. In the excess of his joy the Kid let out a blast on the
trumpet that fairly shook the building. As if it were a signal, the
boys jumped out of bed and danced a breakdown about him in their
shirt-tails, even Gimpy joining in.
Holy Moses! said Stretch, looking down, if Santy Claus ain't been
here an' forgot his hull kit, I'm blamed!
THE SLIPPER-MAKER'S FAST
Isaac Josephs, slipper-maker, sat up on the fifth floor of his Allen
Street tenement, in the gray of the morning, to finish the task he had
set himself before Yom Kippur. Three days and three nights he had
worked without sleep, almost without taking time to eat, to make ready
the two dozen slippers that were to enable him to fast the fourth day
and night for conscience' sake, and now they were nearly done. As he
saw the end of his task near, he worked faster and faster while the
Three years he had slaved for the sweater, stinted and starved
himself, before he had saved enough to send for his wife and children,
awaiting his summons in the city by the Black Sea. Since they came they
had slaved and starved together; for wages had become steadily less,
work more grinding, and hours longer and later. Still, of that he
thought little. They had known little else, there or here; they were
together now. The past was dead; the future was their own, even in the
Allen Street tenement, toiling night and day at starvation wages.
To-morrow was the feast, their first Yom Kippur since they had come
together again,Esther, his wife, and Ruth and little Ben,the feast
when, priest and patriarch of his own house, he might forget his
bondage and be free. Poor little Ben! The hand that smoothed the soft
leather on the last took a tenderer, lingering touch as he glanced
toward the stool where the child had sat watching him work till his
eyes grew small. Brave little Ben, almost a baby yet, but so patient,
so wise, and so strong!
The deep breathing of the sleeping children reached him from their
crib. He smiled and listened, with the half-finished slipper in his
hand. As he sat thus, a great drowsiness came upon him. He nodded once,
twice; his hands sank into his lap, his head fell forward upon his
chest. In the silence of the morning he slept, worn out with utter
He awoke with a guilty start to find the first rays of the dawn
struggling through his window, and his task yet undone. With desperate
energy he seized the unfinished slipper to resume his work. His
unsteady hand upset the little lamp by his side, upon which his
burnishing-iron was heating. The oil blazed up on the floor and ran
toward the nearly finished pile of work. The cloth on the table caught
fire. In a fever of terror and excitement, the slipper-maker caught it
in his hands, wrung it, and tore at it to smother the flames. His hands
were burned, but what of that? The slippers, the slippers! If they were
burned, it was ruin. There would be no Yom Kippur, no feast of
Atonement, no fastrather, no end of it; starvation for him and his.
He beat the fire with his hands and trampled it with his feet as it
burned and spread on the floor. His hair and his beard caught fire:
With a despairing shriek he gave it up and fell before the precious
slippers, barring, the way of the flames to them with his body.
The shriek woke his wife. She sprang out of bed, snatched up a
blanket, and threw it upon the fire. It went out, was smothered under
the blanket. The slipper-maker sat up, panting and grateful. His Yom
Kippur was saved.
The tenement awoke to hear of the fire in the morning, when all Jew
town was stirring with preparations for the feast. The slipper-maker's
wife was setting the house to rights for the holiday then. Two
half-naked children played about her knees, asking eager questions
about it. Asked if her husband had often to work so hard, and what he
made by it, she shrugged her shoulders and said, The rent and a
And yet all this labor and effort to enable him to fast one day
according to the old dispensation, when all the rest of the days he
fasted according to the new!
DEATH COMES TO CAT ALLEY
The dead-wagon stopped at the mouth of Cat Alley. Its coming made a
commotion among the children in the block, and the Chief of Police
looked out of his window across the street, his attention arrested by
the noise. He saw a little pine coffin carried into the alley under the
arm of the driver, a shoal of ragged children trailing behind. After a
while the driver carried it out again, shoved it in the wagon, where
there were other boxes like it, and, slamming the door, drove off.
A red-eyed woman watched it down the street until it disappeared
around the corner. Then she wiped her eyes with her apron and went in.
It was only Mary Welsh's baby that was dead, but to her the alley,
never cheerful on the brightest of days, seemed hopelessly desolate
to-day. It was all she had. Her first baby died in teething.
Cat Alley is a back-yard illustration of the theory of evolution.
The fittest survive, and the Welsh babies were not among them. It would
be strange if they were. Mike, the father, works in a Crosby Street
factory when he does work. It is necessary to put it that way, for,
though he has not been discharged, he had only one day's work this week
and none at all last week. He gets one dollar a day, and the one dollar
he earned these last two weeks his wife had to draw to pay the doctor
with when the baby was so sick. They have had nothing else coming in,
and but for the wages of Mrs. Welsh's father, who lives with them,
there would have been nothing in the house to eat.
The baby came three weeks ago, right in the hardest of the hard
times. It was never strong enough to nurse, and the milk bought in
Mulberry Street is not for babies to grow on who are not strong enough
to stand anything. Little John never grew at all. He lay upon his
pillow this morning as white and wan and tiny as the day he came into a
world that didn't want him.
Yesterday, just before he died, he sat upon his grandmother's lap
and laughed and crowed for the first time in his brief life, just like
he was talkin' to me, said the old woman, with a smile that struggled
hard to keep down a sob. I suppose it was a sort of inward cramp, she
addeda mother's explanation of baby laugh in Cat Alley.
The mother laid out the little body on the only table in their room,
in its only little white slip, and covered it with a piece of discarded
lace curtain to keep off the flies. They had no ice, and no money to
pay an undertaker for opening the little grave in Calvary, where their
first baby lay. All night she sat by the improvised bier, her tears
When morning came and brought the woman with the broken arm from
across the hall to sit by her, it was sadly evident that the burial of
the child must be hastened. It was not well to look at the little face
and the crossed baby hands, and even the mother saw it.
Let the trench take him, in God's name; He has his soul, said the
grandmother, crossing herself devoutly.
An undertaker had promised to put the baby in the grave in Calvary
for twelve dollars and take two dollars a week until it was paid. But
how can a man raise two dollars a week, with only one coming in in two
weeks, and that gone to the doctor? With a sigh Mike Welsh went for the
lines that must smooth its way to the trench in the Potter's Field,
and then to Mr. Blake's for the dead-wagon. It was the hardest walk of
And so it happened that the dead-wagon halted at Cat Alley and that
little John took his first and last ride. A little cross and a number
on the pine box, cut in the lid with a chisel, and his brief history
was closed, with only the memory of the little life remaining to the
Welshes to help them fight the battle alone.
In the middle of the night, when the dead-lamp burned dimly at the
bottom of the alley, a policeman brought to Police Headquarters a
wailing child, an outcast found in the area of a Lexington Avenue house
by a citizen, who handed it over to the police. Until its cries were
smothered in the police nursery upstairs with the ever ready bottle,
they reached the bereaved mother in Cat Alley and made her tears drop
faster. As the dead-wagon drove away with its load in the morning,
Matron Travers came out with the now sleeping waif in her arms. She,
too, was bound for Mr. Blake's.
The two took their ride on the same boatthe living child, whom no
one wanted, to Randall's Island, to be enlisted with its number in the
army of the city's waifs, strong and able to fight its way; the dead,
for whom a mother's heart yearns, to its place in the great ditch.
A PROPOSAL ON THE ELEVATED
The sleeper on the 3.35 A.M. elevated train from the Harlem bridge
was awake for once. The sleeper is the last car in the train, and has
its own set that snores nightly in the same seats, grunts with the
fixed inhospitality of the commuter at the intrusion of a stranger, and
is on terms with Conrad, the German conductor, who knows each one of
his passengers and wakes him up at his station. The sleeper is unique.
It is run for the benefit of those who ride in it, not for the
company's. It not only puts them off properly; it waits for them, if
they are not there. The conductor knows that they will come. They are
men, mostly, with small homes beyond the bridge, whose work takes them
down town to the markets, the Post-office, and the busy marts of the
city long before cockcrow. The day begins in New York at all hours.
Usually the sleeper is all that its name implies, but this morning
it was as far from it as could be. A party of young people, fresh from
a neighboring hop, had come on board and filled the rear end of the
car. Their feet tripped yet to the dance, and snatches of the latest
waltz floated through the train between peals of laughter and little
girlish shrieks. The regulars glared, discontented, in strange seats,
unable to go to sleep. Only the railroad yardmen dropped off promptly
as they came in. Theirs was the shortest ride, and they could least
afford to lose time. Two old Irishmen, flanked by their dinner-pails,
gravely discussed the Henry George campaign.
Across the passage sat a group of three aparta young man, a girl,
and a little elderly woman with lines of care and hard work in her
patient face. She guarded carefully three umbrellas, a very old and
faded one, and two that were new and of silk, which she held in her
lap, though it had not rained for a month. He was a likely young
fellow, tall and straight, with the thoughtful eye of a student. His
dark hair fell nearly to his shoulders, and his coat had a foreign cut.
The girl was a typical child of the city, slight and graceful of form,
dressed in good taste, and with a bright, winning face. The two chatted
confidentially together, forgetful of all else, while mamma, between
them, nodded sleepily in her seat.
A sudden burst of white light flooded the car.
Hey! Ninety-ninth Street! called the conductor, and rattled the
door. The railroad men tumbled out pell-mell, all but one. Conrad shook
him, and he went out mechanically, blinking his eyes.
Eighty-ninth next! from the doorway.
The laughter at the rear end of the car had died out. The young
people, in a quieter mood, were humming a popular love-song. Presently
above the rest rose a clear tenor:
Oh, promise me that some day you and I
Will take our love together to some sky
Where we can be alone and faith renew
The clatter of the train as it flew over a switch drowned the rest.
When the last wheel had banged upon the frog, I heard the young
student's voice, in the soft accents of southern Europe:
Wenn ich in Wien war He was telling her of his home and his
people in the language of his childhood. I glanced across. She sat
listening with kindling eyes. Mamma slumbered sweetly; her worn old
hands clutched unconsciously the umbrellas in her lap. The two
Irishmen, having settled the campaign, had dropped to sleep, too. In
the crowded car the two were alone. His hand sought hers and met it
Forty-seventh! There was a clatter of tin cans below. The
contingent of milkmen scrambled out of their seats and off for the
depot. In the lull that followed their going, the tenor rose from the
Those first sweet violets of early spring,
Which come in whispers, thrill us both, and sing
Of love unspeakable that is to be,
Oh, promise me! Oh, promise me!
The two young people faced each other. He had thrown his hat upon
the seat beside him and held her hand fast, gesticulating with his free
hand as he spoke rapidly, eloquently, eagerly of his prospects and his
hopes. Her own toyed nervously with his coat-lapel, twisting and
twirling a button as he went on. What he said might have been heard to
the other end of the car, had there been anybody to listen. He was to
live here always; his uncle would open a business in New York, of which
he was to have charge, when he had learned to know the country and its
people. It would not be long now, and thenand then
There was a long stop after the levy for the ferries had left. The
conductor went out on the platform and consulted with the
ticket-chopper. He was scrutinizing his watch for the second time, when
the faint jingle of an east-bound car was heard.
Here she comes! said the ticket-chopper. A shout, and a man
bounded up the steps, three at a time. It was an engineer who, to make
connection with his locomotive at Chatham Square, must catch that
Hullo, Conrad! Nearly missed you, he said as he jumped on the car,
All right, Jack. And the conductor jerked the bell-rope. You made
it, though. The train sped on.
Two lives, heretofore running apart, were hastening to a union. The
lovers had seen nothing, heard nothing but each other. His eyes burned
as hers met his and fell before them. His head bent lower until his
face almost touched hers. His dark hair lay against her blond curls.
The ostrich-feather on her hat swept his shoulder.
Mögtest Du mich haben? he entreated.
Above the grinding of the wheels as the train slowed up for the
station a block ahead, pleaded the tenor:
Oh, promise me that you will take my hand,
The most unworthy in this lonely land
Did she speak? Her face was hidden, but the blond curls moved with a
nod so slight that only a lover's eye could see it. He seized her
disengaged hand. The conductor stuck his head into the car.
A squad of stout, florid men with butchers' aprons started for the
door. The girl arose hastily.
Mamma! she called, steh' auf! Es ist Fourteenth Street.
The little woman woke up, gathered the umbrellas in her arms, and
bustled after the marketmen, her daughter leading the way. He sat as
Ach! he sighed, and ran his hand through his dark hair, so
And he went out after them.
LITTLE WILL'S MESSAGE
It is that or starve, Captain. I can't get a job. God knows I've
tried, but without a recommend, it's no use. I ain't no good at
beggin'. Andandthere's the childer.
There was a desperate note in the man's voice that made the Captain
turn and look sharply at him. A swarthy, strongly built man in a rough
coat, and with that in his dark face which told that he had lived
longer than his years, stood at the door of the Detective Office. His
hand that gripped the door handle shook so that the knob rattled in his
grasp, but not with fear. He was no stranger to that place. Black
Bill's face had looked out from the Rogues' Gallery longer than most of
those now there could remember. The Captain looked him over in silence.
You had better not, Bill, he said. You know what will come of it.
When you go up again it will be the last time. And up you go, sure.
The man started to say something, but choked it down and went out
without a word. The Captain got up and rang his bell.
Bill, who was here just now, is off again, he said to the officer
who came to the door. He says it is steal or starve, and he can't get
a job. I guess he is right. Who wants a thief in his pay? And how can I
recommend him? And still I think he would keep straight if he had the
chance. Tell Murphy to look after him and see what he is up to.
The Captain went out, tugging viciously at his gloves. He was in
very bad humor. The policeman at the Mulberry Street door got hardly a
nod for his cheery Merry Christmas as he passed.
Wonder what's crossed him, he said, looking down the street after
The green lamps were lighted and shone upon the hurrying six o'clock
crowds from the Broadway shops. In the great business buildings the
iron shutters were pulled down and the lights put out, and in a little
while the reporters' boys that carried slips from Headquarters to the
newspaper offices across the street were the only tenants of the block.
A stray policeman stopped now and then on the corner and tapped the
lamp-post reflectively with his club as he looked down the deserted
street and wondered, as his glance rested upon the Chief's darkened
windows, how it felt to have six thousand dollars a year and every
night off. In the Detective Office the Sergeant who had come in at
roll-call stretched himself behind the desk and thought of home. The
lights of a Christmas tree in the abutting Mott Street tenement shone
through his window, and the laughter of children mingled with the tap
of the toy drum. He pulled down the sash in order to hear better. As he
did so, a strong draught swept his desk. The outer door slammed. Two
detectives came in bringing a prisoner between them. A woman
The Sergeant pulled the blotter toward him mechanically and dipped
What's the charge? he asked.
Picking pockets in Fourteenth Street. This lady is the complainant,
The name was that of a well-known police magistrate. The Sergeant
looked up and bowed. His glance took in the prisoner, and a look of
recognition came into his face.
What, Bill! So soon? he said.
The prisoner was sullenly silent. He answered the questions put to
him briefly, and was searched. The stolen pocket-book, a small paper
package, and a crumpled letter were laid upon the desk. The Sergeant
saw only the pocket-book.
Looks bad, he said with wrinkled brow.
We caught him at it, explained the officer. Guess Bill has lost
heart. He didn't seem to care. Didn't even try to get away.
The prisoner was taken to a cell. Silence fell once more upon the
office. The Sergeant made a few red lines in the blotter and resumed
his reveries. He was not in a mood for work. He hitched his chair
nearer the window and looked across the yard. But the lights there were
put out, the children's laughter had died away. Out of sorts at he
hardly knew what, he leaned back in his chair, with his hands under the
back of his head. Here it was Christmas Eve, and he at the desk instead
of being out with the old woman buying things for the children. He
thought with a sudden pang of conscience of the sled he had promised to
get for Johnnie and had forgotten. That was hard luck. And what would
Katie say when
He had got that far when his eye, roaming idly over the desk, rested
upon the little package taken from the thief's pocket. Something about
it seemed to move him with sudden interest. He sat up and reached for
it. He felt it carefully all over. Then he undid the package slowly and
drew forth a woolly sheep. It had a blue ribbon about its neck, with a
tiny bell hung on it.
The Sergeant set the sheep upon the desk and looked at it fixedly
for better than a minute. Having apparently studied out its mechanism,
he pulled its head and it baa-ed. He pulled it once more, and nodded.
Then he took up the crumpled letter and opened it.
This was what he read, scrawled in a child's uncertain hand:
Deer Sante ClaasPease wont yer bring me a sjeep wat bas. Aggie
had won wonst. An Kate wants a dollie offul. In the reere 718 19th
Street by the gas house. Your friend Will.
The Sergeant read it over twice very carefully and glanced over the
page at the sheep, as if taking stock and wondering why Kate's dollie
was not there. Then he took the sheep and the letter and went over to
the Captain's door. A gruff Come in! answered his knock. The Captain
was pulling off his overcoat. He had just come in from his dinner.
Captain, said the Sergeant, we found this in the pocket of Black
Bill who is locked up for picking Mrs. 's pocket an hour ago. It is
a clear case. He didn't even try to give them the slip, and he set the
sheep upon the table and laid the letter beside it.
Black Bill? said the Captain, with something of a start; the
dickens, you say! And he took up the letter and read it. He was not a
very good penman, was little Will. The Captain had even a harder time
of it than the Sergeant had had making out his message.
Three times he went over it, spelling out the words, and each time
comparing it with the woolly exhibit that was part of the evidence,
before he seemed to understand. Then it was in a voice that would have
frightened little Will very much could he have heard it, and with a
black look under his bushy eyebrows, that he bade the Sergeant Fetch
Bill up here! One might almost have expected the little white lamb to
have taken to its heels with fright at having raised such a storm,
could it have run at all. But it showed no signs of fear. On the
contrary it baa-ed quite lustily when the Sergeant should have been
safely out of earshot. The hand of the Captain had accidentally rested
upon the woolly head in putting down the letter. But the Sergeant was
not out of earshot. He heard it and grinned.
An iron door in the basement clanged and there were steps in the
passageway. The doorman brought in Bill. He stood by the door, sullenly
submissive. The Captain raised his head. It was in the shade.
So you are back, are you? he said.
The thief nodded.
The Captain bent his brows upon him and said with sudden fierceness,
You couldn't keep honest a month, could you?
They wouldn't let me. Who wants a thief in his pay? And the
children were starving.
It was said patiently enough, but it made the Captain wince all the
same. They were his own words. But he did not give in so easily.
Starving? he repeated harshly. And that's why you got this, I
suppose, and he pushed the sheep from under the newspaper that had
fallen upon it by accident and covered it up.
The thief looked at it and flushed to the temples. He tried to speak
but could not. His face worked, and he seemed to be strangling. In the
middle of his fight to master himself he saw the child's crumpled
message on the desk. Taking a quick step across the room he snatched it
up, wildly, fiercely.
Captain, he gasped, and broke down utterly. The hardened thief
wept like a woman.
The Captain rang his bell. He stood with his back to the prisoner
when the doorman came in. Take him down, he commanded. And the iron
door clanged once more behind the prisoner.
Ten minutes later the reporters were discussing across the way the
nature of the case which the night promised to develop. They had
piped off the Captain and one of his trusted men leaving the building
together, bound east. Could they have followed them all the way, they
would have seen them get off the car at Nineteenth Street, and go
toward the gas house, carefully scanning the numbers of the houses as
they went. They found one at last before which they halted. The Captain
searched in his pocket and drew forth the baby's letter to Santa Claus,
and they examined the number under the gas lamp. Yes, that was right.
The door was open, and they went right through to the rear.
Up in the third story three little noses were flattened against the
window pane, and three childish mouths were breathing peep-holes
through which to keep a lookout for the expected Santa Claus. It was
cold, for there was no fire in the room, but in their fever of
excitement the children didn't mind that. They were bestowing all their
attention upon keeping the peep-holes open.
Do you think he will come? asked the oldest boythere were two
boys and a girlof Kate.
Yes, he will. I know he will come. Papa said so, said the child in
a tone of conviction.
I'se so hungry, and I want my sheep, said Baby Will.
Wait and I'll tell you of the wolf, said his sister, and she took
him on her lap. She had barely started when there were steps on the
stairs and a tap on the door. Before the half-frightened children could
answer it was pushed open. Two men stood on the threshold. One wore a
big fur overcoat. The baby looked at him in wide-eyed wonder.
Is you Santa Claus? he asked.
Yes, my little man, and are you Baby Will? said a voice that was
singularly different from the harsh one Baby Will's father had heard so
recently in the Captain's office, and yet very like it.
See. This is for you, I guess, and out of the big roomy pocket
came the woolly sheep and baa-ed right off as if it were his own
pasture in which he was at home. And well might any sheep be content
nestling at a baby heart so brimful of happiness as little Will's was
then, child of a thief though he was.
Papa spoke for it, and he spoke for Kate, too, and I guess for
everybody, said the bogus Santa Claus, and it is all right. My sled
will be here in a minute. Now we will just get to work and make ready
for him. All help!
The Sergeant behind the desk in the Detective Office might have had
a fit had he been able to witness the goings-on in that rear tenement
in the next hour; and then again he might not. There is no telling
about those Sergeants. The way that poor flat laid itself out of a
sudden was fairly staggering. It was not only that a fire was made and
that the pantry filled up in the most extraordinary manner; but a real
Christmas tree sprang up, out of the floor, as it were, and was found
to be all besprinkled with gold and stars and cornucopias with
sugarplums. From the top of it, which was not higher than Santa Claus
could easily reach, because the ceiling was low, a marvellous doll,
with real hair and with eyes that could open and shut, looked down with
arms wide open to take Kate to its soft wax heart. Under the branches
of the tree browsed every animal that went into and came out of Noah's
Ark, and there were glorious games of Messenger Boy and Three Bad
Bears, and honey-cakes and candy apples, and a little yellow-bird in a
cage, and what not? It was glorious. And when the tea-kettle began to
sing, skilfully manipulated by Santa Claus's assistant, who nominally
was known in Mulberry Street as Detective Sergeant Murphy, it was just
too lovely for anything. The baby's eyes grew wider and wider, and
Kate's were shining with happiness, when in the midst of it all she
suddenly stopped and said:
But where is papa? Why don't he come?
Santa Claus gave a little start at the sudden question, but pulled
himself together right away.
Why, yes, he said, he must have got lost. Now you are all right
we will just go and see if we can find him. Mrs. McCarthy here next
door will help you keep the kettle boiling and the lights burning till
we come back. Just let me hear that sheep baa once more. That's right!
I bet we'll find papa. And out they went.
An hour later, while Mr. , the Magistrate, and his good wife
were viewing with mock dismay the array of little stockings at their
hearth in their fine up-town house, and talking of the adventure of
Mrs. with the pickpocket, there came a ring at the door-bell and
the Captain of the detectives was ushered in. What he told them I do
not know, but this I do know, that when he went away the honorable
Magistrate went with him, and his wife waved good-by to them from the
stoop with wet eyes as they drove away in a carriage hastily ordered up
from a livery stable. While they drove down town, the Magistrate's wife
went up to the nursery and hugged her sleeping little ones, one after
the other, and tear-drops fell upon their warm cheeks that had wiped
out the guilt of more than one sinner before, and the children smiled
in their sleep. They say among the simple-minded folk of far-away
Denmark that then they see angels in their dreams.
The carriage stopped in Mulberry Street, in front of Police
Headquarters, and there was great scurrying among the reporters, for
now they were sure of their case. But no prominent citizen came
out, made free by the Magistrate, who opened court in the Captain's
office. Only a rough-looking man with a flushed face, whom no one knew,
and who stopped on the corner and looked back as one in a dream and
then went east, the way the Captain and his man had gone on their
expedition personating no less exalted a personage than Santa Claus
That night there was Christmas, indeed, in the rear tenement near
the gas house, for papa had come home just in time to share in its
cheer. And there was no one who did it with a better will, for the
Christmas evening that began so badly was the luckiest night in his
life. He had the promise of a job on the morrow in his pocket, along
with something to keep the wolf from the door in the holidays. His hard
days were over, and he was at last to have his chance to live an honest
life. And it was the baby's letter to Santa Claus and the baa sheep
that did it all, with the able assistance of the Captain and the
Sergeant. Don't let us forget the Sergeant.
I am not thinking now of theological dogmas or moral distinctions. I
am considering the matter from the plain every-day standpoint of the
police office. It is not my fault that the one thing that is lost more
persistently than any other in a large city is the very thing you would
imagine to be safest of all in the keeping of its owner. Nor do I
pretend to explain it. It is simply one of the contradictions of
metropolitan life. In twenty years' acquaintance with the police
office, I have seen money, diamonds, coffins, horses, and tubs of
butter brought there and pass into the keeping of the property clerk as
lost or strayed. I remember a whole front stoop, brownstone, with steps
and iron railing all complete, being put up at auction, unclaimed. But
these were mere representatives of a class which as a whole kept its
place and the peace. The children did neither. One might have been
tempted to apply the old inquiry about the pins to them but for another
contradictory circumstance: rather more of them are found than lost.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children keeps the
account of the surplus. It has now on its books half a score Jane Does
and twice as many Richard Roes, of whom nothing more will ever be known
than that they were found, which is on the whole, perhaps, bestfor
them certainly. The others, the lost, drift from the tenements and
back, a host of thousands year by year. The two I am thinking of were
of these, typical of the maelstrom.
Yette Lubinsky was three years old when she was lost from her Essex
Street home, in that neighborhood where once the police commissioners
thought seriously of having the children tagged with name and street
number, to save trotting them back and forth between police station and
Headquarters. She had gone from the tenement to the corner where her
father kept a stand, to beg a penny, and nothing more was known of her.
Weeks after, a neighbor identified one of her little frocks as the
match of one worn by a child she had seen dragged off by a
rough-looking man. But though Max Lubinsky, the pedler, and Yette's
mother camped on the steps of Police Headquarters early and late,
anxiously questioning every one who went in and out about their lost
child, no other word was heard of her. By and by it came to be an old
story, and the two were looked upon as among the fixtures of the place.
Mulberry Street has other such.
They were poor and friendless in a strange land, the very language
of which was jargon to them, as theirs was to us, timid in the crush,
and they were shouldered out. It was not inhumanity; at least, it was
not meant to be. It was the way of the city, with every one for
himself; and they accepted it, uncomplaining. So they kept their vigil
on the stone steps, in storm and fair weather, every night taking turns
to watch all who passed. When it was a policeman with a little child,
as it was many times between sunset and sunrise, the one on the watch
would start up the minute they turned the corner, and run to meet them,
eagerly scanning the little face, only to return, disappointed but not
cast down, to the step upon which the other slept, head upon knees,
waiting the summons to wake and watch.
Their mute sorrow appealed to me, then doing night duty in the
newspaper office across the way, and I tried to help them in their
search for the lost Yette. They accepted my help gratefully,
trustfully, but without loud demonstration. Together we searched the
police records, the hospitals, the morgue, and the long register of the
river's dead. She was not there. Having made sure of this, we turned to
the children's asylums. We had a description of Yette sent to each and
every one, with the minutest particulars concerning her and her
disappearance, but no word came back in response. A year passed, and we
were compelled at last to give over the search. It seemed as if every
means of finding out what had become of the child had been exhausted,
and all alike had failed.
During the long search, I had occasion to go more than once to the
Lubinskys' home. They lived up three flights, in one of the big
barracks that give to the lower end of Essex Street the appearance of a
deep black cañon with cliff-dwellers living in tiers all the way up,
their watch-fires showing like so many dull red eyes through the night.
The hall was pitch-dark, and the whole building redolent of the slum;
but in the stuffy little room where the pedler lived there was, in
spite of it all, an atmosphere of home that set it sharply apart from
the rest. One of these visits I will always remember. I had stumbled
in, unthinking, upon their Sabbath-eve meal. The candles were lighted,
and the children gathered about the table; at its head, the father,
every trace of the timid, shrinking pedler of Mulberry Street laid
aside with the week's toil, was invoking the Sabbath blessing upon his
house and all it harbored. I saw him turn, with a quiver of the lip, to
a vacant seat between him and the mother, and it was then that I
noticed the baby's high chair, empty, but kept ever waiting for the
little wanderer. I understood; and in the strength of domestic
affection that burned with unquenched faith in the dark tenement after
the many months of weary failure I read the history of this strange
people that in every land and in every day has conquered even the slum
with the hope of home.
It was not to be put to shame here, either. Yette returned, after
all, and the way of it came near being stranger than all the rest. Two
long years had passed, and the memory of her and hers had long since
faded out of Mulberry Street, when, in the overhauling of one of the
children's homes we thought we had canvassed thoroughly, the child
turned up, as unaccountably as she had been lost. All that I ever
learned about it was that she had been brought there, picked up by some
one in the street, probably, and, after more or less inquiry that had
failed to connect with the search at our end of the line, had been
included in their flock on some formal commitment, and had stayed
there. Not knowing her name,she could not tell it herself, to be
understood,they had given her one of their own choosing; and thus
disguised, she might have stayed there forever but for the fortunate
chance that cast her up to the surface once more, and gave the clew to
her identity at last. Even then her father had nearly as much trouble
in proving his title to his child as he had had in looking for her, but
in the end he made it good. The frock she had worn when she was lost
proved the missing link. The mate of it was still carefully laid away
in the tenement. So Yette returned to fill the empty chair at the
Sabbath board, and the pedler's faith was justified.
My other chip from the maelstrom was a lad half grown. He dropped
into my office as if out of the clouds, one long and busy day, when,
tired and out of sorts, I sat wishing my papers and the world in
general in Halifax. I had not heard the knock, and when I looked up,
there stood my boy, a stout, square-shouldered lad, with heavy cowhide
boots and dull, honest eyeseyes that looked into mine as if with a
question they were about to put, and then gave it up, gazing straight
ahead, stolid, impassive. It struck me that I had seen that face
before, and I found out immediately where. The officer of the
Children's Aid Society who had brought him explained that Frandsthat
was his namehad been in the society's care five months and over. They
had found him drifting in the streets, and, knowing whither that drift
set, had taken him in charge and sent him to one of their
lodging-houses, where he had been since, doing chores and plodding
about in his dull way. That was where I had met him. Now they had
decided that he should go to Florida, if he would, but first they would
like to find out something about him. They had never been able to,
beyond the fact that he was from Denmark. He had put his finger on the
map in the reading-room, one day, and shown them where he came from:
that was the extent of their information on that point. So they had
sent him to me to talk to him in his own tongue and see what I could
make of him.
I addressed him in the politest Danish I was master of, and for an
instant I saw the listening, questioning look return; but it vanished
almost at once, and he answered in monosyllables, if at all. Much of
what I said passed him entirely by. He did not seem to understand. By
slow stages I got out of him that his father was a farm-laborer; that
he had come over to look for his cousin, who worked in Passaic, New
Jersey, and had found him,Heaven knows how!but had lost him again.
Then he had drifted to New York, where the society's officers had come
upon him. He nodded when told that he was to be sent far away to the
country, much as if I had spoken of some one he had never heard of. We
had arrived at this point when I asked him the name of his native town.
The word he spoke came upon me with all the force of a sudden blow.
I had played in the old village as a boy; all my childhood was bound up
in its memories. For many years now I had not heard its namenot since
boyhood daysspoken as he spoke it. Perhaps it was because I was
tired: the office faded away, desk, Headquarters across the street,
boy, officer, business, and all. In their place were the brown heath I
loved, the distant hills, the winding wagon track, the peat stacks, and
the solitary sheep browsing on the barrows. Forgotten the thirty years,
the seas that rolled between, the teeming city! I was at home again, a
child. And there he stood, the boy, with it all in his dull, absent
look. I read it now as plain as the day.
Hua er et no? Ka do ett fostó hua a sejer?
It plumped out of me in the broad Jutland dialect I had neither
heard nor spoken in half a lifetime, and so astonished me that I nearly
fell off my chair. Sheep, peat-stacks, cairn, and hills all vanished
together, and in place of the sweet heather there was the table with
the tiresome papers. I reached out yearningly after the heath; I had
not seen it for such a long time,how long it did seem!andbut in
the same breath it was all there again in the smile that lighted up
Frands's broad face like a glint of sunlight from a leaden sky.
Joesses, jou, he laughed, no ka a da saa grou godt.
[Footnote 1: My exclamation on finding myself so
suddenly translated back to Denmark was an
impatient Why, don't you understand me? His
answer was, Lord, yes, now I do, indeed.]
It was the first honest Danish word he had heard since he came to
this bewildering land. I read it in his face, no longer heavy or dull;
saw it in the way he followed my speechspelling the words, as it
were, with his own lips, to lose no syllable; caught it in his glad
smile as he went on telling me about his journey, his home, and his
homesickness for the heath, with a breathless kind of haste, as if now
that at last he had a chance, he were afraid it was all a dream, and
that he would presently wake up and find it gone. Then the officer
pulled my sleeve.
He had coughed once or twice, but neither of us had heard him. Now
he held out a paper he had brought, with an apologetic gesture. It was
an agreement Frands was to sign, if he was going to Florida. I glanced
at it. Florida? Yes, to be sure; oh, yes, Florida. I spoke to the
officer, and it was in the Jutland dialect. I tried again, with no
better luck. I saw him looking at me queerly, as if he thought it was
not quite right with me, either, and then I recovered myself, and got
back to the office and to America; but it was an effort. One does not
skip across thirty years and two oceans, at my age, so easily as that.
And then the dull look came back into Frands's eyes, and he nodded
stolidly. Yes, he would go to Florida. The papers were made out, and
off he went, after giving me a hearty hand-shake that warranted he
would come out right when he became accustomed to the new country; but
he took something with him which it hurt me to part with.
Frands is long since in Florida, growing up with the country, and
little Yette is a young woman. So long ago was it that the current
which sucked her under cast her up again, that there lives not in the
whole street any one who can recall her loss. I tried to find one only
the other day, but all the old people were dead or had moved away, and
of the young, who were very anxious to help me, scarcely one was born
at that time. But still the maelstrom drags down its victims; and far
away lies my Danish heath under the gray October sky, hidden behind the
Paolo sat cross-legged on his bench, stitching away for dear life.
He pursed his lips and screwed up his mouth into all sorts of odd
shapes with the effort, for it was an effort. He was only eight, and
you would scarcely have imagined him over six, as he sat there sewing
like a real little tailor; only Paolo knew but one seam, and that a
hard one. Yet he held the needle and felt the edge with it in quite a
grown-up way, and pulled the thread just as far as his short arm would
reach. His mother sat on a stool by the window, where she could help
him when he got into a snarl,as he did once in a while, in spite of
all he could do,or when the needle had to be threaded. Then she
dropped her own sewing, and, patting him on the head, said he was a
Paolo felt very proud and big then, that he was able to help his
mother, and he worked even more carefully and faithfully than before,
so that the boss should find no fault. The shouts of the boys in the
block, playing duck-on-a-rock down in the street, came in through the
open window, and he laughed as he heard them. He did not envy them,
though he liked well enough to romp with the others. His was a sunny
temper, content with what came; besides, his supper was at stake, and
Paolo had a good appetite. They were in sober earnest, working for dear
lifePaolo and his mother.
Pants for the sweater in Stanton Street was what they were making;
little knickerbockers for boys of Paolo's own age. Twelve pants for
ten cents, he said, counting on his fingers. The mother brought them
once a weeka big bundle which she carried home on her headto have
the buttons put on, fourteen on each pair, the bottoms turned up, and a
ribbon sewed fast to the back seam inside. That was called finishing.
When work was briskand it was not always so since there had been such
frequent strikes in Stanton Streetthey could together make the rent
money, and even more, as Paolo was learning and getting a stronger grip
on the needle week by week. The rent was six dollars a month for a
dingy basement room, in which it was twilight even on the brightest
days, and a dark little cubbyhole where it was always midnight, and
where there was just room for a bed of old boards, no more. In there
slept Paolo with his uncle; his mother made her bed on the floor of the
kitchen, as they called it.
The three made the family. There used to be four; but one stormy
night in winter Paolo's father had not come home. The uncle came alone,
and the story he told made the poor home in the basement darker and
drearier for many a day than it had yet been. The two men worked
together for a padrone on the scows. They were in the crew that went
out that day to the dumping-ground, far outside the harbor. It was a
dangerous journey in a rough sea. The half-frozen Italians clung to the
great heaps like so many frightened flies, when the waves rose and
tossed the unwieldy scows about, bumping one against the other, though
they were strung out in a long row behind the tug, quite a distance
apart. One sea washed entirely over the last scow and nearly upset it.
When it floated even again, two of the crew were missing, one of them
Paolo's father. They had been washed away and lost, miles from shore.
No one ever saw them again.
The widow's tears flowed for her dead husband, whom she could not
even see laid in a grave which the priest had blessed. The good father
spoke to her of the sea as a vast God's acre, over which the storms are
forever chanting anthems in His praise to whom the secrets of its
depths are revealed; but she thought of it only as the cruel destroyer
that had robbed her of her husband, and her tears fell faster. Paolo
cried, too: partly because his mother cried; partly, if the truth must
be told, because he was not to have a ride to the cemetery in the
splendid coach. Giuseppe Salvatore, in the corner house, had never
ceased talking of the ride he had when his father died, the year
before. Pietro and Jim went along, too, and rode all the way behind the
hearse with black plumes. It was a sore subject with Paolo, for he was
in school that day.
And then he and his mother dried their tears and went to work.
Henceforth there was to be little else for them. The luxury of grief is
not among the few luxuries which Mott Street tenements afford. Paolo's
life, after that, was lived mainly with the pants on his hard bench in
the rear tenement. His routine of work was varied by the household
duties, which he shared with his mother. There were the meals to get,
few and plain as they were. Paolo was the cook, and not infrequently,
when a building was being torn down in the neighborhood, he furnished
the fuel as well. Those were his off days, when he put the needle away
and foraged with the other children, dragging old beams and carrying
burdens far beyond his years.
The truant officer never found his way to Paolo's tenement to
discover that he could neither read nor write, and, what was more,
would probably never learn. It would have been of little use, for the
public schools thereabouts were crowded, and Paolo could not have got
into one of them if he had tried. The teacher from the Industrial
School, which he had attended for one brief season while his father was
alive, called at long intervals, and brought him once a plant, which he
set out in his mother's window-garden and nursed carefully ever after.
The garden was contained within an old starch box, which had its
place on the window-sill since the policeman had ordered the
fire-escape to be cleared. It was a kitchen-garden with vegetables, and
was almost all the green there was in the landscape. From one or two
other windows in the yard there peeped tufts of green; but of trees
there was none in sightnothing but the bare clothes-poles with their
pulley-lines stretching from every window.
Beside the cemetery plot in the next block there was not an open
spot or breathing-place, certainly not a playground, within reach of
that great teeming slum that harbored more than a hundred thousand
persons, young and old. Even the graveyard was shut in by a high brick
wall, so that a glimpse of the greensward over the old mounds was to be
caught only through the spiked iron gates, the key to which was lost,
or by standing on tiptoe and craning one's neck. The dead there were of
more account, though they had been forgotten these many years, than the
living children who gazed so wistfully upon the little paradise through
the barred gates, and were chased by the policeman when he came that
way. Something like this thought was in Paolo's mind when he stood at
sunset and peered in at the golden rays falling athwart the green, but
he did not know it. Paolo was not a philosopher, but he loved beauty
and beautiful things, and was conscious of a great hunger which there
was nothing in his narrow world to satisfy.
Certainly not in the tenement. It was old and rickety and wretched,
in keeping with the slum of which it formed a part. The whitewash was
peeling from the walls, the stairs were patched, and the door-step long
since worn entirely away. It was hard to be decent in such a place, but
the widow did the best she could. Her rooms were as neat as the general
dilapidation would permit. On the shelf where the old clock stood,
flanked by the best crockery, most of it cracked and yellow with age,
there was red and green paper cut in scallops very nicely. Garlic and
onions hung in strings over the stove, and the red peppers that grew in
the starch-box at the window gave quite a cheerful appearance to the
room. In the corner, under a cheap print of the Virgin Mary with the
Child, a small night-light in a blue glass was always kept burning. It
was a kind of illumination in honor of the Mother of God, through which
the widow's devout nature found expression. Paolo always looked upon it
as a very solemn show. When he said his prayers, the sweet, patient
eyes in the picture seemed to watch him with a mild look that made him
turn over and go to sleep with a sigh of contentment. He felt then that
he had not been altogether bad, and that he was quite safe in their
Yet Paolo's life was not wholly without its bright spots. Far from
it. There were the occasional trips to the dump with Uncle Pasquale's
dinner, where there was always sport to be had in chasing the rats that
overran the place, fighting for the scraps and bones the trimmers had
rescued from the scows. There were so many of them, and so bold were
they, that an old Italian who could no longer dig, was employed to sit
on a bale of rags and throw things at them, lest they carry off the
whole establishment. When he hit one, the rest squealed and scampered
away; but they were back again in a minute, and the old man had his
hands full pretty nearly all the time. Paolo thought that his was a
glorious job, as any boy might, and hoped that he would soon be old,
too, and as important. And then the men at the cagea great wire crate
into which the rags from the ash barrels were stuffed, to be plunged
into the river, where the tide ran through them and carried some of the
loose dirt away. That was called washing the rags. To Paolo it was the
most exciting thing in the world. What if some day the crate should
bring up a fish, a real fish, from the river? When he thought of it he
wished that he might be sitting forever on that string-piece, fishing
with the rag-cage, particularly when he was tired of stitching and
turning over, a whole long day.
Besides, there were the real holidays, when there was a marriage, a
christening, or a funeral in the tenement, particularly when a baby
died whose father belonged to one of the many benefit societies. A
brass band was the proper thing then, and the whole block took a
vacation to follow the music and the white hearse out of their ward
into the next. But the chief of all the holidays came once a year, when
the feast of St. Roccothe patron saint of the village where Paolo's
parents had livedwas celebrated. Then a really beautiful altar was
erected at one end of the yard, with lights and pictures on it. The
rear fire-escapes in the whole row were decked with sheets, and made
into handsome balconies,reserved seats, as it were,on which the
tenants sat and enjoyed it.
A band in gorgeous uniforms played three whole days in the yard, and
the men in their holiday clothes stepped up, bowed, and crossed
themselves, and laid their gifts on the plate which St. Rocco's
namesake, the saloon-keeper in the block, who had got up the
celebration, had put there for them. In the evening they set off great
strings of fire-crackers in the street in the saint's honor, until the
police interfered once and forbade that. Those were great days for
But the fun Paolo loved best of all was when he could get in a
corner by himself, with no one to disturb him, and build castles and
things out of some abandoned clay or mortar, or wet sand if there was
nothing better. The plastic material took strange shapes of beauty
under his hands. It was as if life had been somehow breathed into it by
his touch, and it ordered itself as none of the other boys could make
it. His fingers were tipped with genius, but he did not know it, for
his work was only for the hour. He destroyed it as soon as it was made,
to try for something better. What he had made never satisfied himone
of the surest proofs that he was capable of great things, had he only
known it. But, as I said, he did not.
The teacher from the Industrial School came upon him one day,
sitting in the corner by himself, and breathing life into the mud. She
stood and watched him awhile, unseen, getting interested, almost
excited, as he worked on. As for Paolo, he was solving the problem that
had eluded him so long, and had eyes or thought for nothing else. As
his fingers ran over the soft clay, the needle, the hard bench, the
pants, even the sweater himself, vanished out of his sight, out of his
life, and he thought only of the beautiful things he was fashioning to
express the longing in his soul, which nothing mortal could shape.
Then, suddenly, seeing and despairing, he dashed it to pieces, and came
back to earth and to the tenement.
But not to the pants and the sweater. What the teacher had seen that
day had set her to thinking, and her visit resulted in a great change
for Paolo. She called at night and had a long talk with his mother and
uncle through the medium of the priest, who interpreted when they got
to a hard place. Uncle Pasquale took but little part in the
conversation. He sat by and nodded most of the time, assured by the
presence of the priest that it was all right. The widow cried a good
deal, and went more than once to take a look at the boy, lying snugly
tucked in his bed in the inner room, quite unconscious of the weighty
matters that were being decided concerning him. She came back the last
time drying her eyes, and laid both her hands in the hand of the
teacher. She nodded twice and smiled through her tears, and the bargain
was made. Paolo's slavery was at an end.
His friend came the next day and took him away, dressed up in his
best clothes, to a large school where there were many children, not of
his own people, and where he was received kindly. There dawned that day
a new life for Paolo, for in the afternoon trays of modelling-clay were
brought in, and the children were told to mould in it objects that were
set before them. Paolo's teacher stood by, and nodded approvingly as
his little fingers played so deftly with the clay, his face all lighted
up with joy at this strange kind of a school-lesson.
After that he had a new and faithful friend, and, as he worked away,
putting his whole young soul into the tasks that filled it with radiant
hope, other friends, rich and powerful, found him out in his slum. They
brought better-paying work for his mother than sewing pants for the
sweater, and Uncle Pasquale abandoned the scows to become a porter in a
big shipping-house on the West Side. The little family moved out of the
old home into a better tenement, though not far away. Paolo's loyal
heart clung to the neighborhood where he had played and dreamed as a
child, and he wanted it to share in his good fortune, now that it had
come. As the days passed, the neighbors who had known him as little
Paolo came to speak of him as one who some day would be a great artist
and make them all proud. He laughed at that, and said that the first
bust he would hew in marble should be that of his patient, faithful
mother; and with that he gave her a little hug, and danced out of the
room, leaving her to look after him with glistening eyes, brimming over
But Paolo's dream was to have another awakening. The years passed
and brought their changes. In the manly youth who came forward as his
name was called in the academy, and stood modestly at the desk to
receive his diploma, few would have recognized the little ragamuffin
who had dragged bundles of fire-wood to the rookery in the alley, and
carried Uncle Pasquale's dinner-pail to the dump. But the audience
gathered to witness the commencement exercises knew it all, and greeted
him with a hearty welcome that recalled his early struggles and his
hard-won success. It was Paolo's day of triumph. The class honors and
the medal were his. The bust that had won both stood in the hall
crowned with laurelan Italian peasant woman, with sweet, gentle face,
in which there lingered the memories of the patient eyes that had
lulled the child to sleep in the old days in the alley. His teacher
spoke to him, spoke of him, with pride in voice and glance; spoke
tenderly of his old mother of the tenement, of his faithful work, of
the loyal manhood that ever is the soul and badge of true genius. As he
bade him welcome to the fellowship of artists who in him honored the
best and noblest in their own aspirations, the emotion of the audience
found voice once more. Paolo, flushed, his eyes filled with happy
tears, stumbled out, he knew not how, with the coveted parchment in his
Home to his mother! It was the one thought in his mind as he walked
toward the big bridge to cross to the city of his hometo tell her of
his joy, of his success. Soon she would no longer be poor. The day of
hardship was over. He could work now and earn money, much money, and
the world would know and honor Paolo's mother as it had honored him. As
he walked through the foggy winter day toward the river, where delayed
throngs jostled one another at the bridge entrance, he thought with
grateful heart of the friends who had smoothed the way for him. Ah, not
for long the fog and slush! The medal carried with it a travelling
stipend, and soon the sunlight of his native land for him and her. He
should hear the surf wash on the shingly beach and in the deep grottos
of which she had sung to him when a child. Had he not promised her
this? And had they not many a time laughed for very joy at the
prospect, the two together?
He picked his way up the crowded stairs, carefully guarding the
precious roll. The crush was even greater than usual. There had been
delaysomething wrong with the cable; but a train was just waiting,
and he hurried on board with the rest, little heeding what became of
him so long as the diploma was safe. The train rolled out on the
bridge, with Paolo wedged in the crowd on the platform of the last car,
holding the paper high over his head, where it was sheltered safe from
the fog and the rain and the crush.
Another train backed up, received its load of cross humanity, and
vanished in the mist. The damp, gray curtain had barely closed behind
it, and the impatient throng was fretting at a further delay, when
consternation spread in the bridge-house. Word had come up from the
track that something had happened. Trains were stalled all along the
route. While the dread and uncertainty grew, a messenger ran up, out of
breath. There had been a collision. The last train had run into the one
preceding it, in the fog. One was killed, others were injured. Doctors
and ambulances were wanted.
They came with the police, and by and by the partly wrecked train
was hauled up to the platform. When the wounded had been taken to the
hospital, they bore from the train the body of a youth, clutching yet
in his hand a torn, blood-stained paper, tied about with a purple
ribbon. It was Paolo. The awakening had come. Brighter skies than those
of sunny Italy had dawned upon him in the gloom and terror of the great
crash. Paolo was at home, waiting for his mother.
THE LITTLE DOLLAR'S CHRISTMAS
It is too bad, said Mrs. Lee, and she put down the magazine in
which she had been reading of the poor children in the tenements of the
great city that know little of Christmas joys; no Christmas tree! One
of them shall have one, at any rate. I think this will buy it, and it
is so handy to send. Nobody would know that there was money in the
letter. And she enclosed a coupon in a letter to a professor, a friend
in the city, who, she knew, would have no trouble in finding the child,
and had it mailed at once. Mrs. Lee was a widow whose not too great
income was derived from the interest on some four per cent government
bonds which represented the savings of her husband's life of toil, that
was none the less hard because it was spent in a counting-room and not
with shovel and spade. The coupon looked for all the world like a
dollar bill, except that it was so small that a baby's hand could
easily cover it. The United States, the printing on it said, would pay
on demand to the bearer one dollar; and there was a number on it, just
as on a full-grown dollar, that was the number of the bond from which
it had been cut.
The letter travelled all night, and was tossed and sorted and
bunched at the end of its journey in the great gray beehive that never
sleeps, day or night, and where half the tears and joys of the land,
including this account of the little dollar, are checked off
unceasingly as first-class matter or second or third, as the case may
be. In the morning it was laid, none the worse for its journey, at the
professor's breakfast plate. The professor was a kindly man, and he
smiled as he read it. To procure one small Christmas tree for a poor
tenement, was its errand.
Little dollar, he said, I think I know where you are needed. And
he made a note in his book. There were other notes there that made him
smile again as he saw them. They had names set opposite them. One about
a Noah's ark was marked Vivi. That was the baby; and there was one
about a doll's carriage that had the words Katie, sure, set over
against it. The professor eyed the list in mock dismay.
How ever will I do it? he sighed, as he put on his hat.
Well, you will have to get Santa Claus to help you, John, said his
wife, buttoning his greatcoat about him. And, mercy! the duckses'
babies! don't forget them, whatever you do. The baby has been talking
about nothing else since he saw them at the store, the old duck and the
two ducklings on wheels. You know them, John?
But the professor was gone, repeating to himself as he went down the
garden walk, The duckses' babies, indeed! He chuckled as he said it,
why I cannot tell. He was very particular about his grammar, was the
professor, ordinarily. Perhaps it was because it was Christmas eve.
Down town went the professor; but instead of going with the crowd
that was setting toward Santa Claus's headquarters, in the big Broadway
store, he turned off into a quieter street, leading west. It took him
to a narrow thoroughfare, with five-story tenements frowning on either
side, where the people he met were not so well dressed as those he had
left behind, and did not seem to be in such a hurry of joyful
anticipation of the holiday. Into one of the tenements he went, and,
groping his way through a pitch-dark hall, came to a door way back, the
last one to the left, at which he knocked. An expectant voice said,
Come in, and the professor pushed open the door.
The room was very small, very stuffy, and very dark, so dark that a
smoking kerosene lamp that burned on a table next the stove hardly
lighted it at all, though it was broad day. A big, unshaven man, who
sat on the bed, rose when he saw the visitor, and stood uncomfortably
shifting his feet and avoiding the professor's eye. The latter's glance
was serious, though not unkind, as he asked the woman with the baby if
he had found no work yet.
No, she said, anxiously coming to the rescue, not yet; he was
waitin' for a recommend. But Johnnie had earned two dollars running
errands, and, now there was a big fall of snow, his father might get a
job of shovelling. The woman's face was worried, yet there was a
cheerful note in her voice that somehow made the place seem less
discouraging than it was. The baby she nursed was not much larger than
a middle-sized doll. Its little face looked thin and wan. It had been
very sick, she explained, but the doctor said it was mending now. That
was good, said the professor, and patted one of the bigger children on
There were six of them, of all sizes, from Johnnie, who could run
errands, down. They were busy fixing up a Christmas tree that half
filled the room, though it was of the very smallest. Yet, it was a real
Christmas tree, left over from the Sunday-school stock, and it was
dressed up at that. Pictures from the colored supplement of a Sunday
newspaper hung and stood on every branch, and three pieces of colored
glass, suspended on threads that shone in the smoky lamplight, lent
color and real beauty to the show. The children were greatly tickled.
John put it up, said the mother, by way of explanation, as the
professor eyed it approvingly. There ain't nothing to eat on it. If
there was, it wouldn't be there a minute. The childer be always
a-searchin' in it.
But there must be, or else it isn't a real Christmas tree, said
the professor, and brought out the little dollar. This is a dollar
which a friend gave me for the children's Christmas, and she sends her
love with it. Now, you buy them some things and a few candles, Mrs.
Ferguson, and then a good supper for the rest of the family. Good
night, and a Merry Christmas to you. I think myself the baby is getting
better. It had just opened its eyes and laughed at the tree.
The professor was not very far on his way toward keeping his
appointment with Santa Claus before Mrs. Ferguson was at the grocery
laying in her dinner. A dollar goes a long way when it is the only one
in the house; and when she had everything, including two cents' worth
of flitter-gold, four apples, and five candles for the tree, the grocer
footed up her bill on the bag that held her potatoesninety-eight
cents. Mrs. Ferguson gave him the little dollar.
What's this? said the grocer, his fat smile turning cold as he
laid a restraining hand on the full basket. That ain't no good.
It's a dollar, ain't it? said the woman, in alarm. It's all
right. I know the man that give it to me.
It ain't all right in this store, said the grocer, sternly. Put
them things back. I want none o' that.
The woman's eyes filled with tears as she slowly took the lid off
the basket and lifted out the precious bag of potatoes. They were
waiting for that dinner at home. The children were even then camping on
the door-step to take her in to the tree in triumph. And now
For the second time a restraining hand was laid upon her basket; but
this time it was not the grocer's. A gentleman who had come in to order
a Christmas turkey had overheard the conversation, and had seen the
It is all right, he said to the grocer. Give it to me. Here is a
dollar bill for it of the kind you know. If all your groceries were as
honest as this bill, Mr. Schmidt, it would be a pleasure to trade with
you. Don't be afraid to trust Uncle Sam where you see his promise to
The gentleman held the door open for Mrs. Ferguson, and heard the
shout of the delegation awaiting her on the stoop as he went down the
I wonder where that came from, now, he mused. Coupons in Bedford
Street! I suppose somebody sent it to the woman for a Christmas gift.
Hello! Here are old Thomas and Snowflake. Now, wouldn't it surprise her
old stomach if I gave her a Christmas gift of oats? If only the shock
doesn't kill her! Thomas! Oh, Thomas!
The old man thus hailed stopped and awaited the gentleman's coming.
He was a cartman who did odd jobs through the ward, so picking up a
living for himself and the white horse, which the boys had dubbed
Snowflake in a spirit of fun. They were a well-matched old pair, Thomas
and his horse. One was not more decrepit than the other.
There was a tradition along the docks, where Thomas found a job now
and then, and Snowflake an occasional straw to lunch on, that they were
of an age, but this was denied by Thomas.
See here, said the gentleman, as he caught up with them; I want
Snowflake to keep Christmas, Thomas. Take this and buy him a bag of
oats. And give it to him carefully, do you hear?not all at once,
Thomas. He isn't used to it.
Gee whizz! said the old man, rubbing his eyes with his cap, as his
friend passed out of sight, oats fer Christmas! G'lang, Snowflake; yer
The feed-man put on his spectacles and looked Thomas over at the
strange order. Then he scanned the little dollar, first on one side,
then on the other.
Never seed one like him, he said. 'Pears to me he is mighty
short. Wait till I send round to the hockshop. He'll know, if anybody.
The man at the pawnshop did not need a second look. Why, of
course, he said, and handed a dollar bill over the counter. Old
Thomas, did you say? Well, I am blamed if the old man ain't got a
stocking after all. They're a sly pair, he and Snowflake.
Business was brisk that day at the pawnshop. The door-bell tinkled
early and late, and the stock on the shelves grew. Bundle was added to
bundle. It had been a hard winter so far. Among the callers in the
early afternoon was a young girl in a gingham dress and without other
covering, who stood timidly at the counter and asked for three dollars
on a watch, a keepsake evidently, which she was loath to part with.
Perhaps it was the last glimpse of brighter days. The pawnbroker was
doubtful; it was not worth so much. She pleaded hard, while he compared
the number of the movement with a list sent in from Police
Two, he said decisively at last, snapping the case shuttwo or
nothing. The girl handed over the watch with a troubled sigh. He made
out a ticket and gave it to her with a handful of silver change.
Was it the sigh and her evident distress, or was it the little
dollar? As she turned to go, he called her back.
Here, it is Christmas! he said. I'll run the risk. And he added
the coupon to the little heap.
The girl looked at it and at him questioningly.
It is all right, he said; you can take it; I'm running short of
change. Bring it back if they won't take it. I'm good for it. Uncle
Sam had achieved a backer.
In Grand Street the holiday crowds jammed every store in their eager
hunt for bargains. In one of them, at the knit-goods counter, stood the
girl from the pawnshop, picking out a thick, warm shawl. She hesitated
between a gray and a maroon-colored one, and held them up to the light.
For you? asked the salesgirl, thinking to aid her. She glanced at
her thin dress and shivering form as she said it.
No, said the girl; for mother; she is poorly and needs it. She
chose the gray, and gave the salesgirl her handful of money.
The girl gave back the coupon.
They don't go, she said; give me another, please.
But I haven't got another, said the girl, looking apprehensively
at the shawl. TheMr. Feeney said it was all right. Take it to the
desk, please, and ask.
The salesgirl took the bill and the shawl, and went to the desk. She
came back, almost immediately, with the storekeeper, who looked sharply
at the customer and noted the number of the coupon.
It is all right, he said, satisfied apparently by the inspection;
a little unusual, only. We don't see many of them. Can I help you,
miss? And he attended her to the door.
In the street there was even more of a Christmas show going on than
in the stores. Pedlers of toys, of mottoes, of candles, and of
knickknacks of every description stood in rows along the curb, and were
driving a lively trade. Their push-carts were decorated with fir
brancheseven whole Christmas trees. One held a whole cargo of Santa
Clauses in a bower of green, each one with a cedar-bush in his folded
arms, as a soldier carries his gun. The lights were blazing out in the
stores, and the hucksters' torches were flaring at the corners. There
was Christmas in the very air and Christmas in the storekeeper's till.
It had been a very busy day. He thought of it with a satisfied nod as
he stood a moment breathing the brisk air of the winter day, absently
fingering the coupon the girl had paid for the shawl. A thin voice at
his elbow said: Merry Christmas, Mr. Stein! Here's yer paper.
It was the newsboy who left the evening papers at the door every
night. The storekeeper knew him, and something about the struggle they
had at home to keep the roof over their heads. Mike was a kind of
protégé of his. He had helped to get him his route.
Wait a bit, Mike, he said. You'll be wanting your Christmas from
me. Here's a dollar. It's just like yourself: it is small, but it is
all right. You take it home and have a good time.
Was it the message with which it had been sent forth from far away
in the country, or what was it? Whatever it was, it was just impossible
for the little dollar to lie still in the pocket while there was want
to be relieved, mouths to be filled, or Christmas lights to be lit. It
just couldn't, and it didn't.
Mike stopped around the corner of Allen Street, and gave three
whoops expressive of his approval of Mr. Stein; having done which, he
sidled up to the first lighted window out of range to examine his gift.
His enthusiasm changed to open-mouthed astonishment as he saw the
little dollar. His jaw fell. Mike was not much of a scholar, and could
not make out the inscription on the coupon; but he had heard of
shinplasters as something they had in the war, and he took this to be
some sort of a ten-cent piece. The policeman on the block might tell.
Just now he and Mike were hunk. They had made up a little difference
they'd had, and if any one would know, the cop surely would. And off he
went in search of him.
Mr. McCarthy pulled off his gloves, put his club under his arm, and
studied the little dollar with contracted brow. He shook his head as he
handed it back, and rendered the opinion that it was some dom swindle
that's ag'in' the law. He advised Mike to take it back to Mr. Stein,
and added, as he prodded him in an entirely friendly manner in the ribs
with his locust, that if it had been the week before he might have run
him in for having the thing in his possession. As it happened, Mr.
Stein was busy and not to be seen, and Mike went home between hope and
fear, with his doubtful prize.
There was a crowd at the door of the tenement, and Mike saw, before
he had reached it, running, that it clustered about an ambulance that
was backed up to the sidewalk. Just as he pushed his way through the
throng it drove off, its clanging gong scattering the people right and
left. A little girl sat weeping on the top step of the stoop. To her
Mike turned for information.
Susie, what's up? he asked, confronting her with his armful of
papers. Who's got hurted?
It's papa, sobbed the girl. He ain't hurted. He's sick, and he
was took that bad he had to go, an' to-morrer is Christmas, an'oh,
It is not the fashion of Essex Street to slop over. Mike didn't. He
just set his mouth to a whistle and took a turn down the hall to think.
Susie was his chum. There were seven in her flat; in his only four,
including two that made wages. He came back from his trip with his mind
Suse, he said, come on in. You take this, Suse, see! an' let the
kids have their Christmas. Mr. Stein give it to me. It's a little one,
but if it ain't all right I'll take it back and get one that is good.
Go on, now, Suse, you hear? And he was gone.
There was a Christmas tree that night in Susie's flat, with candles
and apples and shining gold, but the little dollar did not pay for it.
That rested securely in the purse of the charity visitor who had come
that afternoon, just at the right time, as it proved. She had heard the
story of Mike and his sacrifice, and had herself given the children a
one-dollar bill for the coupon. They had their Christmas, and a joyful
one, too, for the lady went up to the hospital and brought back word
that Susie's father would be all right with rest and care, which he was
now getting. Mike came in and helped them sack the tree when the lady
was gone. He gave three more whoops for Mr. Stein, three for the lady,
and three for the hospital doctor to even things up. Essex Street was
all right that night.
Do you know, professor, said that learned man's wife, when, after
supper, he had settled down in his easy-chair to admire the Noah's ark
and the duckses' babies and the rest, all of which had arrived safely
by express ahead of him and were waiting to be detailed to their
appropriate stockings while the children sleptdo you know, I heard
such a story of a little newsboy to-day. It was at the meeting of our
district charity committee this evening. Miss Linder, our visitor, came
right from the house. And she told the story of Mike and Susie.
And I just got the little dollar bill to keep. Here it is. She
took the coupon out of her purse and passed it to her husband.
Eh! what? said the professor, adjusting his spectacles and reading
the number. If here isn't my little dollar come back to me! Why, where
have you been, little one? I left you in Bedford Street this morning,
and here you come by way of Essex. Well, I declare! And he told his
wife how he had received it in a letter in the morning.
John, she said, with a sudden impulse,she didn't know, and
neither did he, that it was the charm of the little dollar that was
working again,John, I guess it is a sin to stop it. Jones's children
won't have any Christmas tree, because they can't afford it. He told me
so this morning when he fixed the furnace. And the baby is sick. Let us
give them the little dollar. He is here in the kitchen now.
And they did; and the Joneses, and I don't know how many others, had
a Merry Christmas because of the blessed little dollar that carried
Christmas cheer and good luck wherever it went. For all I know, it may
be going yet. Certainly it is a sin to stop it, and if any one has
locked it up without knowing that he locked up the Christmas dollar,
let him start it right out again. He can tell it easily enough. If he
just looks at the number, that's the one.
He was an every-day tough, bull-necked, square-jawed, red of face,
and with his hair cropped short in the fashion that rules at Sing Sing
and is admired of Battle Row. Any one could have told it at a glance.
The bruised and wrathful face of the policeman who brought him to
Mulberry Street, to be stood up before the detectives in the hope
that there might be something against him to aggravate the offence of
beating an officer with his own club, bore witness to it. It told a
familiar story. The prisoner's gang had started a fight in the street,
probably with a scheme of ultimate robbery in view, and the police had
come upon it unexpectedly. The rest had got away with an assortment of
promiscuous bruises. The Kid stood his ground, and went down with two
cops on top of him after a valiant battle, in which he had performed
the feat that entitled him to honorable mention henceforth in the
felonious annals of the gang. There was no surrender in his sullen look
as he stood before the desk, his hard face disfigured further by a
streak of half-dried blood, reminiscent of the night's encounter. The
fight had gone against himthat was all right. There was a time for
getting square. Till then he was man enough to take his medicine, let
them do their worst.
It was there, plain as could be, in his set jaws and dogged bearing
as he came out, numbered now and indexed in the rogues' gallery, and
started for the police court between two officers. It chanced that I
was going the same way, and joined company. Besides, I have certain
theories concerning toughs which my friend the sergeant says are rot,
and I was not averse to testing them on the Kid.
But the Kid was a bad subject. He replied to my friendly advances
with a muttered curse, or not at all, and upset all my notions in the
most reckless way. Conversation had ceased before we were halfway
across to Broadway. He wanted no guff, and I left him to his
meditations respecting his defenceless state. At Broadway there was a
jam of trucks, and we stopped at the corner to wait for an opening.
It all happened so quickly that only a confused picture of it is in
my mind till this day. A sudden start, a leap, and a warning cry, and
the Kid had wrenched himself loose. He was free. I was dimly conscious
of a rush of blue and brass; and then I sawthe whole street sawa
child, a toddling baby, in the middle of the railroad track, right in
front of the coming car. It reached out its tiny hand toward the madly
clanging bell and crowed. A scream rose wild and piercing above the
tumult; men struggled with a frantic woman on the curb, and turned
their heads away
And then there stood the Kid, with the child in his arms, unhurt. I
see him now, as he set it down, gently as any woman, trying with
lingering touch to unclasp the grip of the baby hand upon his rough
finger. I see the hard look coming back into his face as the policeman,
red and out of breath, twisted the nipper on his wrist, with a
half-uncertain aside to me, Them toughs there ain't no depending on,
nohow. Sullen, defiant, planning vengeance, I see him led away to
jail. Ruffian and thief! The police blotter said so.
But, even so, the Kid had proved that my theories about toughs were
not rot. Who knows but that, like sergeants, the blotter may be
WHEN THE LETTER CAME
To-morrow it will come, Godfrey Krueger had said that night to his
landlord. To-morrow it will surely come, and then I shall have money.
Soon I shall be rich, richer than you can think.
And the landlord of the Forsyth Street tenement, who in his heart
liked the gray-haired inventor, but who had rooms to let, grumbled
something about a to-morrow that never came.
Oh, but it will come, said Krueger, turning on the stairs and
shading the lamp with his hand, the better to see his landlord's
good-natured face; you know the application has been advanced. It is
bound to be granted, and to-night I shall finish my ship.
Now, as he sat alone in his room at his work, fitting, shaping, and
whittling with restless hands, he had to admit to himself that it was
time it came. Two whole days he had lived on a crust, and he was
starving. He had worked and waited thirteen hard years for the success
that had more than once been almost within his grasp, only to elude it
again. It had never seemed nearer and surer than now, and there was
need of it. He had come to the jumping-off place. All his money was
gone, to the last cent, and his application for a pension hung fire in
Washington unaccountably. It had been advanced to the last stage, and
word that it had been granted might be received any day. But the days
slipped by and no word came. For two days he had lived on faith and a
crust, but they were giving out together. If only
Well, when it did come, what with his back pay for all those years,
he would have the means to build his ship, and hunger and want would be
forgotten. He should have enough. And the world would know that Godfrey
Krueger was not an idle crank.
In six months I shall cross the ocean to Europe in twenty hours in
my air-ship, he had said in showing the landlord his models, with as
many as want to go. Then I shall become a millionnaire and shall make
you one, too. And the landlord had heaved a sigh at the thought of his
twenty-seven dollars, and doubtingly wished it might be so.
Weak and famished, Krueger bent to his all but finished task. Before
morning he should know that it would work as he had planned. There
remained only to fit the last parts together. The idea of building an
air-ship had come to him while he lay dying with scurvy, as they
thought, in a Confederate prison, and he had never abandoned it. He had
been a teacher and a student, and was a trained mathematician. There
could be no flaw in his calculations. He had worked them out again and
again. The energy developed by his plan was great enough to float a
ship capable of carrying almost any burden, and of directing it against
the strongest head winds. Now, upon the threshold of success, he was
awaiting merely the long-delayed pension to carry his dream into life.
To-morrow would bring it, and with it an end to all his waiting and
One after another the lights went out in the tenement. Only the one
in the inventor's room burned steadily through the night. The policeman
on the beat noticed the lighted window, and made a mental note of the
fact that some one was sick. Once during the early hours he stopped
short to listen. Upon the morning breeze was borne a muffled sound, as
of a distant explosion. But all was quiet again, and he went on,
thinking that his senses had deceived him. The dawn came in the eastern
sky, and with it the stir that attends the awakening of another day.
The lamp burned steadily yet behind the dim window pane.
The milkmen came, and the push-cart criers. The policeman was
relieved, and another took his place. Lastly came the mail-carrier with
a large official envelope marked, Pension Bureau, Washington. He
shouted up the stairway:
The landlord came to the door and was glad. So it had come, had it?
Run, Emma, he said to his little daughter, run and tell Mr.
Godfrey his letter has come.
The child skipped up the steps gleefully. She knocked at the
inventor's door, but no answer came. It was not locked, and she pushed
it open. The little lamp smoked yet on the table. The room was strewn
with broken models and torn papers that littered the floor. Something
there frightened the child. She held to the banisters and called
Papa! Oh, papa!
They went in together on tiptoe without knowing why, the postman
with the big official letter in his hand. The morrow had kept its
promise. Of hunger and want there was an end. On the bed, stretched at
full length, with his Grand Army hat flung beside him, lay the
inventor, dead. A little round hole in the temple, from which a few
drops of blood had flowed, told what remained of his story. In the
night disillusion had come, with failure.
THE CAT TOOK THE KOSHER MEAT
The tenement No. 76 Madison Street had been for some time
scandalized by the hoidenish ways of Rose Baruch, the little cloak
maker on the top floor. Rose was seventeen, and boarded with her mother
in the Pincus family. But for her harum-scarum ways she might, in the
opinion of the tenement, be a nice girl and some day a good wife; but
these were unbearable.
For the tenement is a great working hive in which nothing has value
unless exchangeable for gold. Rose's animal spirits, which long hours
and low wages had no power to curb, were exchangeable only for wrath in
the tenement. Her noisy feet on the stairs when she came home woke up
all the tenants, and made them swear at the loss of the precious
moments of sleep which were their reserve capital. Rose was so
Americanized, they said impatiently among themselves, that nothing
could be done with her.
Perhaps they were mistaken. Perhaps Rose's stout refusal to be
subdued even by the tenement was their hope, as it was her capital.
Perhaps her spiteful tread upon the stairs heralded the coming protest
of the free-born American against slavery, industrial or otherwise, in
which their day of deliverance was dawning. It may be so. They didn't
see it. How should they? They were not Americanized; not yet.
However that might be, Rose came to the end that was to be expected.
The judgment of the tenement was, for the time, borne out by
experience. This was the way of it:
Rose's mother had bought several pounds of kosher meat and put it
into the ice-boxthat is to say, on the window-sill of their
fifth-floor flat. Other ice-box these East Side sweaters' tenements
have none. And it does well enough in cold weather, unless the cat gets
around, or, as it happened in this case, it slides off and falls down.
Rose's breakfast and dinner disappeared down the air-shaft, seventy
feet or more, at 10.30 P.M.
There was a family consultation as to what should be done. It was
late, and everybody was in bed, but Rose declared herself equal to the
rousing of the tenants in the first floor rear, through whose window
she could climb into the shaft for the meat. She had done it before for
a nickel. Enough said. An expedition set out at once from the top floor
to recover the meat. Mrs. Baruch, Rose, and Jake, the boarder, went in
Arrived before the Knauff family's flat on the ground floor, they
opened proceedings by a vigorous attack on the door. The Knauffs woke
up in a fright, believing that the house was full of burglars. They
were stirring to barricade the door, when they recognized Rose's voice
and were calmed. Let in, the expedition explained matters, and was
grudgingly allowed to take a look out of the window in the air-shaft.
Yes! there was the meat, as yet safe from rats. The thing was to get
The boarder tried first, but crawled back frightened. He couldn't
reach it. Rose jerked him impatiently away.
Leg go! she said. I can do it. I was there wunst. You're no
And she bent over the window-sill, reaching down until her toes
barely touched the floor, when all of a sudden, before they could grab
her skirts, over she went, heels over head, down the shaft, and
The shrieks of the Knauffs, of Mrs. Baruch, and of Jake, the
boarder, were echoed from below. Rose's voice rose in pain and in
bitter lamentation from the bottom of the shaft. She had fallen fully
fifteen feet, and in the fall had hurt her back badly, if, indeed, she
had not injured herself beyond repair. Her cries suggested nothing
less. They filled the tenement, rising to every floor and appealing at
every bedroom window.
In a minute the whole building was astir from cellar to roof. A
dozen heads were thrust out of every window, and answering wails
carried messages of helpless sympathy to the once so unpopular Rose.
Upon this concert of sorrow the police broke in with anxious inquiry as
to what was the matter.
When they found out, a second relief expedition was organized. It
reached Rose through the basement coal-bin, and she was carried out and
sent to the Gouverneur Hospital. There she lies, unable to move, and
the tenement wonders what is amiss that it has lost its old spirits. It
has not even anything left to swear at.
The cat took the kosher meat.
It was Christmas Eve over on the East Side. Darkness was closing in
on a cold, hard day. The light that struggled through the frozen
windows of the delicatessen store and the saloon on the corner, fell
upon men with empty dinner-pails who were hurrying homeward, their
coats buttoned tightly, and heads bent against the steady blast from
the river, as if they were butting their way down the street.
The wind had forced the door of the saloon ajar, and was whistling
through the crack; but in there it seemed to make no one afraid.
Between roars of laughter, the clink of glasses and the rattle of dice
on the hardwood counter were heard out in the street. More than one of
the passers-by who came within range was taken with an extra shiver in
which the vision of wife and little ones waiting at home for his coming
was snuffed out, as he dropped in to brace up. The lights were long out
when the silent streets reëchoed his unsteady steps toward home, where
the Christmas welcome had turned to dread.
But in this twilight hour they burned brightly yet, trying hard to
pierce the bitter cold outside with a ray of warmth and cheer. Where
the lamps in the delicatessen store made a mottled streak of brightness
across the flags, two little boys stood with their noses flattened
against the window. The warmth inside, and the lights, had made little
islands of clear space on the frosty pane, affording glimpses of the
wealth within, of the piles of smoked herring, of golden cheese, of
sliced bacon and generous, fat-bellied hams; of the rows of odd-shaped
bottles and jars on the shelves that held there was no telling what
good things, only it was certain that they must be good from the looks
And the heavenly smell of spices and things that reached the boys
through the open door each time the tinkling bell announced the coming
or going of a customer! Better than all, back there on the top shelf
the stacks of square honey-cakes, with their frosty coats of sugar,
tied in bundles with strips of blue paper.
The wind blew straight through the patched and threadbare jackets of
the lads as they crept closer to the window, struggling hard by
breathing on the pane to make their peep-holes bigger, to take in the
whole of the big cake with the almonds set in; but they did not heed
Jim! piped the smaller of the two, after a longer stare than
usual; hey, Jim! them's Sante Claus's. See 'em?
Sante Claus! snorted the other, scornfully, applying his eye to
the clear spot on the pane. There ain't no ole duffer like dat. Them's
honey-cakes. Me 'n' Tom had a bite o' one wunst.
There ain't no Sante Claus? retorted the smaller shaver, hotly, at
his peep-hole. There is, too. I seen him myself when he cum to our
What's youse kids a-scrappin' fur? broke in a strange voice.
Another boy, bigger, but dirtier and tougher looking than either of
the two, had come up behind them unobserved. He carried an armful of
unsold extras under one arm. The other was buried to the elbow in the
pocket of his ragged trousers.
The kids knew him, evidently, and the smallest eagerly accepted
him as umpire.
It's Jim w'at says there ain't no Sante Claus, and I seen him
Jim! demanded the elder ragamuffin, sternly, looking hard at the
culprit; Jim! yere a chump! No Sante Claus? What're ye givin' us? Now,
With utter amazement the boys saw him disappear through the door
under the tinkling bell into the charmed precincts of smoked herring,
jam, and honey-cakes. Petrified at their peep-holes, they watched him,
in the veritable presence of Santa Claus himself with the fir-branch,
fish out five battered pennies from the depths of his pocket and pass
them over to the woman behind the jars, in exchange for one of the
bundles of honey-cakes tied with blue. As if in a dream they saw him
issue forth with the coveted prize.
There, kid! he said, holding out the two fattest and whitest cakes
to Santa Claus's champion; there's yer Christmas. Run along, now, to
yer barracks; and you, Jim, here's one for you, though yer don't
desarve it. Mind ye let the kid alone.
This one'll have to do for me grub, I guess. I ain't sold me
'Newses,' and the ole man'll kick if I bring 'em home.
Before the shuffling feet of the ragamuffins hurrying homeward had
turned the corner, the last mouthful of the newsboy's supper was
smothered in a yell of Extree! as he shot across the street to
intercept a passing stranger.
As the evening wore on, it grew rawer and more blustering still.
Flakes of dry snow that stayed where they fell, slowly tracing the
curb-lines, the shutters, and the door-steps of the tenements with
gathering white, were borne up on the storm from the water. To the
right and left stretched endless streets between the towering barracks,
as beneath frowning cliffs pierced with a thousand glowing eyes that
revealed the watch-fires withina mighty city of cave-dwellers held in
the thraldom of poverty and want.
Outside there was yet hurrying to and fro. Saloon doors were
slamming, and bare-legged urchins, carrying beer-jugs, hugged the walls
close for shelter. From the depths of a blind alley floated out the
discordant strains of a vagabond brass band blowing in the yule of
the poor. Banished by police ordinance from the street, it reaped a
scant harvest of pennies for Christmas cheer from the windows opening
on the back yard. Against more than one pane showed the bald outline of
a forlorn little Christmas tree, some stray branch of a hemlock picked
up at the grocer's and set in a pail for the childer to dance around,
a dime's worth of candy and tinsel on the boughs.
From the attic over the way came, in spells between, the gentle
tones of a German song about the Christ-child. Christmas in the East
Side tenements begins with the sunset on the Holy Eve, except where
the name is as a threat or a taunt. In a hundred such homes the whir of
many sewing-machines, worked by the sweater's slaves with weary feet
and aching backs, drowned every feeble note of joy that struggled to
make itself heard above the noise of the great treadmill.
To these what was Christmas but the name for suffering, reminder of
lost kindred and liberty, of the slavery of eighteen hundred years,
freedom from which was purchased only with gold. Ay, gold! The gold
that had power to buy freedom yet, to buy the good-will, ay, and the
good name, of the oppressor, with his houses and land. At the thought
the tired eye glistened, the aching back straightened, and to the weary
foot there came new strength to finish the long task while the city
Where a narrow passageway put in between two big tenements to a
ramshackle rear barrack, Nibsy, the newsboy, halted in the shadow of
the doorway and stole a long look down the dark alley.
He toyed uncertainly with his still unsold papersworn dirty and
ragged as his clothes by this timebefore he ventured in, picking his
way between barrels and heaps of garbage; past the Italian cobbler's
hovel, where a tallow dip, stuck in a cracked beer-glass, before a
picture of the Mother of God, showed that even he knew it was
Christmas and liked to show it; past the Sullivan flat, where blows and
drunken curses mingled with the shriek of women, as Nibsy had heard
many nights before this one.
He shuddered as he felt his way past the door, partly with a
premonition of what was in store for himself, if the old man was at
home, partly with a vague, uncomfortable feeling that somehow Christmas
Eve should be different from other nights, even in the alley; down to
its farthest end, to the last rickety flight of steps that led into the
filth and darkness of the tenement. Up this he crept, three flights, to
a door at which he stopped and listened, hesitating, as he had stopped
at the entrance to the alley; then, with a sudden, defiant gesture, he
pushed it open and went in.
A bare and cheerless room; a pile of rags for a bed in the corner,
another in the dark alcove, miscalled bedroom; under the window a
broken candle and an iron-bound chest, upon which sat a sad-eyed woman
with hard lines in her face, peeling potatoes in a pan; in the middle
of the room a rusty stove, with a pile of wood, chopped on the floor
alongside. A man on his knees in front fanning the fire with an old
slouch hat. With each breath of draught he stirred, the crazy old pipe
belched forth torrents of smoke at every joint. As Nibsy entered, the
man desisted from his efforts and sat up, glaring at hima villanous
ruffian's face, scowling with anger.
Late ag'in! he growled; an' yer papers not sold. What did I tell
yer, brat, if ye dared
Tom! Tom! broke in the wife, in a desperate attempt to soothe the
ruffian's temper. The boy can't help it, an' it's Christmas Eve. For
the love o'
The devil take yer rot and yer brat! shouted the man, mad with the
fury of passion. Let me at him! and, reaching over, he seized a heavy
knot of wood and flung it at the head of the boy.
Nibsy had remained just inside the door, edging slowly toward his
mother, but with a watchful eye on the man at the stove. At the first
movement of his hand toward the woodpile he sprang for the stairway
with the agility of a cat, and just dodged the missile. It struck the
door, as he slammed it behind him, with force enough to smash the
Down the three flights in as many jumps he went, and through the
alley, over barrels and barriers, never stopping once till he reached
the street, and curses and shouts were left behind.
In his flight he had lost his unsold papers, and he felt ruefully in
his pocket as he went down the street, pulling his rags about him as
much from shame as to keep out the cold.
Four pennies were all he had left after his Christmas treat to the
two little lads from the barracks; not enough for supper or for a bed;
and it was getting colder all the time.
On the sidewalk in front of the notion store a belated Christmas
party was in progress. The children from the tenements in the alley and
across the way were having a game of blind-man's-buff, groping blindly
about in the crowd to catch each other. They hailed Nibsy with shouts
of laughter, calling to him to join in.
We're having Christmas! they yelled.
Nibsy did not hear them. He was thinking, thinking, the while
turning over his four pennies at the bottom of his pocket. Thinking if
Christmas was ever to come to him, and the children's Santa Claus to
find his alley where the baby slept within reach of her father's cruel
hand. As for him, he had never known anything but blows and curses. He
could take care of himself. But his mother and the babyAnd then it
came to him with shuddering cold that it was getting late, and that he
must find a place to sleep.
He weighed in his mind the merits of two or three places where he
was in the habit of hiding from the cops when the alley got to be too
hot for him.
There was the hay barge down by the dock, with the watchman who got
drunk sometimes, and so gave the boys a chance. The chances were at
least even of its being available on Christmas Eve, and of Santa Claus
having thus done him a good turn after all.
Then there was the snug berth in the sand-box you could curl all up
in. Nibsy thought with regret of its being, like the hay barge, so far
away and to windward, too.
Down by the printing-offices there were the steam gratings, and a
chance corner in the cellars, stories and stories underground, where
the big presses keep up such a clatter from midnight till far into the
As he passed them in review, Nibsy made up his mind with sudden
determination, and, setting his face toward the south, made off down
* * * * *
The rumble of the last departing news-wagon over the pavement, now
buried deep in snow, had died away in the distance, when, from out of
the bowels of the earth there issued a cry, a cry of mortal terror and
pain that was echoed by a hundred throats.
From one of the deep cellar-ways a man ran out, his clothes and hair
and beard afire; on his heels a breathless throng of men and boys;
following them, close behind, a rush of smoke and fire.
The clatter of the presses ceased suddenly, to be followed quickly
by the clangor of hurrying fire-bells. With hooks and axes the firemen
rushed in; hose was let down through the manholes, and down there in
the depths the battle was fought and won.
The building was saved; but in the midst of the rejoicing over the
victory there fell a sudden silence. From the cellar-way a grimy,
helmeted figure arose, with something black and scorched in his arms. A
tarpaulin was spread upon the snow and upon it he laid his burden,
while the silent crowd made room and word went over to the hospital for
the doctor to come quickly.
Very gently they lifted poor little Nibsyfor it was he, caught in
his berth by a worse enemy than the cop or the watchman of the hay
bargeinto the ambulance that bore him off to the hospital cot, too
Conscious only of a vague discomfort that had succeeded terror and
pain, Nibsy wondered uneasily why they were all so kind. Nobody had
taken the trouble to as much as notice him before. When he had thrust
his papers into their very faces they had pushed him roughly aside.
Nibsy, unhurt and able to fight his way, never had a show. Sick and
maimed and sore, he was being made much of, though he had been caught
where the boys were forbidden to go. Things were queer, anyhow, and
The room was getting so dark that he could hardly see the doctor's
kindly face, and had to grip his hand tightly to make sure that he was
there; almost as dark as the stairs in the alley he had come down in
such a hurry.
There was the baby nowpoor babyand motherand then a great
blank, and it was all a mystery to poor Nibsy no longer. For, just as a
wild-eyed woman pushed her way through the crowd of nurses and doctors
to his bedside, crying for her boy, Nibsy gave up his soul to God.
* * * * *
It was very quiet in the alley. Christmas had come and gone. Upon
the last door a bow of soiled crape was nailed up with two tacks. It
had done duty there a dozen times before, that year.
Upstairs, Nibsy was at home, and for once the neighbors, one and
all, old and young, came to see him.
Even the father, ruffian that he was, offered no objection. Cowed
and silent, he sat in the corner by the window farthest from where the
plain little coffin stood, with the lid closed down.
A couple of the neighbor-women were talking in low tones by the
stove, when there came a timid knock at the door. Nobody answering, it
was pushed open, first a little, then far enough to admit the shrinking
form of a little ragamuffin, the smaller of the two who had stood
breathing peep-holes on the window pane of the delicatessen store the
night before when Nibsy came along.
He dragged with him a hemlock branch, the leavings from some
Christmas tree at the grocery.
It's from Sante Claus, he said, laying it on the coffin. Nibsy
knows. And he went out.
Santa Claus had come to Nibsy, after all, in his alley. And Nibsy
IN THE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL
The fact was printed the other day that the half-hundred children or
more who are in the hospitals on North Brother Island had no
playthings, not even a rattle, to make the long days skip by, which,
set in smallpox, scarlet fever, and measles, must be longer there than
anywhere else in the world. The toys that were brought over there with
a consignment of nursery tots who had the typhus fever had been worn
clean out, except some fish horns which the doctor frowned on, and
which were therefore not allowed at large. Not as much as a red monkey
on a yellow stick was there left on the island to make the youngsters
That afternoon a big, hearty-looking man came into the office with
the paper in his hand, and demanded to see the editor. He had come, he
said, to see to it that those sick youngsters got the playthings they
were entitled to; and a regular Santa Claus he proved to the friendless
little colony on the lonely island; for he left a crisp fifty-dollar
note behind when he went away without giving his name. The single
condition was attached to the gift that it should be spent buying toys
for the children on North Brother Island.
Accordingly, a strange invading army took the island by storm three
or four nights ago. Under cover of the darkness it had itself ferried
over from One Hundred and Thirty-eighth Street in the department yawl,
and before morning it was in undisputed possession. It has come to
stay. Not a doll or a sheep will ever leave the island again. They may
riot upon it as they please, within certain well-defined limits, but
none of them can ever cross the channel to the mainland again, unless
it be the rubber dolls who can swim, so it is said. Here is the
Six sheep (four with lambs), six fairies (big dolls in street
dress), twelve rubber dolls (in woollen jackets), four railroad trains,
twenty-eight base-balls, twenty rubber balls, six big painted (Scotch
plaid) rubber balls, six still bigger ditto, seven boxes of blocks,
half a dozen music-boxes, twenty-four rattles, six bubble (soap) toys,
twelve small engines, six games of dominos, twelve rubber toys (old
woman who lived in a shoe, etc.), five wooden toys (bad bear, etc.),
thirty-six horse reins.
As there is only one horse on the island, and that one a very
steady-going steed in no urgent need of restraint, this last item might
seem superfluous, but only to the uninstructed mind. Within a brief
week half the boys and girls on the island that are out of bed long
enough to stand on their feet will be transformed into ponies and the
other half into drivers, and flying teams will go cavorting around to
the tune of Johnny, Get your Gun, and the Jolly Brothers Gallop, as
they are ground out of the music-boxes by little fingers that but just
now toyed feebly with the balusters on the golden stair.
That music! When I went over to the island it fell upon my ears in
little drops of sweet melody, as soon as I came in sight of the nurses'
quarters. I listened, but couldn't make out the tune. The drops seemed
mixed. When I opened the door upon one of the nurses, Dr. Dixon, and
the hospital matron, each grinding his or her music for all there was
in it, and looking perfectly happy withal, I understood why.
They were all playing different tunes at the same time, the nurse
When the Robins Nest Again, Dr. Dixon Nancy Lee, and the matron
Sweet Violets. A little child stood by in open-mouthed admiration,
that became ecstasy when I joined in with The Babies on our Block. It
was all for the little one's benefit, and she thought it beautiful
without a doubt.
The storekeeper, knowing that music hath charms to soothe the breast
of even a typhus-fever patient, had thrown in a dozen boxes as his own
gift. Thus one good deed brings on another, and a good deal more than
fifty dollars' worth of happiness will be ground out on the island
before there is an end of the music.
There is one little girl in the measles ward already who will eat
only when her nurse sits by grinding out Nancy Lee. She cannot be
made to swallow one mouthful on any other condition. No other nurse and
no other tune but Nancy Lee will doneither the Star-Spangled
Banner nor The Babies on our Block. Whether it is Nancy all by her
melodious self, or the beautiful picture of her in a sailor's suit on
the lid of the box, or the two and the nurse and the dinner together,
that serve to soothe her, is a question of some concern to the island,
since Nancy and the nurse have shown signs of giving out together.
Three of the six sheep that were bought for the ridiculously low
price of eighty-nine cents apiece, the lambs being thrown in as
makeweight, were grazing on the mixed-measles lawn over on the east
shore of the island, with a fairy in evening dress eying them rather
disdainfully in the grasp of tearful Annie Cullum. Annie is a foundling
from the asylum temporarily sojourning here. The measles and the
scarlet fever were the only things that ever took kindly to her in her
little life. They tackled her both at once, and poor Annie, after a six
or eight weeks' tussle with them, has just about enough spunk left to
cry when anybody looks at her.
Three woolly sheep and a fairy all at once have robbed her of all
hope, and in the midst of it all she weeps as if her heart would break.
Even when the nurse pulls one of the unresisting muttonheads, and it
emits a loud Baa-a, she stops only just for a second or two and then
wails again. The sheep look rather surprised, as they have a right to.
They have come to be little Annie's steady company, hers and her
fellow-sufferers' in the mixed-measles ward. The triangular lawn upon
which they are browsing is theirs to gambol on when the sun shines, but
cross the walk that borders it they never can, any more than the babies
with whom they play. Sumptuary law rules the island they are on. Habeas
corpus and the constitution stop short of the ferry. Even Comstock's
authority does not cross it: the one exception to the rule that dolls
and sheep and babies shall not visit from ward to ward is in favor of
the rubber dolls, and the etiquette of the island requires that they
shall lay off their woollen jackets and go calling just as the factory
turned them out, without a stitch or shred of any kind on.
As for the rest, they are assigned, babies, nurses, sheep, rattles,
and railroad trains, to their separate measles, scarlet fever, and
diphtheria lawns or wards, and there must be content to stay. A sheep
may be transferred from the scarlet-fever ward with its patron to the
mixed-measles or diphtheria, when symptoms of either of these diseases
appear, as they often do; but it cannot then go back again, lest it
carry the seeds of the new contagion to its old friends.
Even the fairies are put under the ban of suspicion by such evil
associations, and, once they have crossed the line, are not allowed to
go back to corrupt the good manners of the babies with only one
Pauline Meyer, the bigger of the two girls on the mixed-measles
stoop,the other is friendless Annie,has just enough strength to
laugh when her sheep's head is pulled. She has been on the limits of
one ward after another these four months, and has had everything, short
of typhus fever and smallpox, that the island affords.
It is a marvel that there is one laugh left in her whole little
shrunken body after it all; but there is, and the grin on her face
reaches almost from ear to ear, as she clasps the biggest fairy in an
arm very little stouter than a boy's bean blower, and hears the lamb
bleat. Why, that one smile on that ghastly face would be thought worth
his fifty dollars by the children's friend, could he see it. Pauline is
the child of Swedish emigrants. She and Annie will not fight over their
lambs and their dolls, not for many weeks. They can't. They can't even
One of the railroad trains, drawn by a glorious tin engine, with the
name Union painted on the cab, is making across the stoop for the
little boy with the whooping-cough in the next building. But it won't
get there; it is quarantined. But it will have plenty of exercise.
Little hands are itching to get hold of it in one of the cribs inside.
There are thirty-six sick children on the island just now, about half
of them boys, who will find plenty of use for the balls and things as
soon as they get about. How those base-balls are to be kept within
bounds is a hopeless mystery the doctors are puzzling over.
Even if nines are organized in every ward, as has been suggested, it
is hard to see how they can be allowed to play each other, as they
would want to, of course, as soon as they could toddle about. It would
be something, though, a smallpox nine pitted against the scarlets or
the measles, with an umpire from the mixed ward!
The old woman that lived in a shoe, being of rubber, is a privileged
character, and is away on a call in the female scarlet, says the nurse.
It is a good thing that she was made that way, for she is very popular.
So are Mother Goose and her ten companion rubber toys. The bear and the
man that strike alternately a wooden anvil with a ditto hammer are
scarcely less exciting to the infantile mind; but, being of wood, they
are steady boarders permanently attached each to his ward. The dominos
fell to the lot of the male scarlets. That ward has half a dozen grown
men in it at present, and they have never once lost sight of the little
black blocks since they first saw them.
The doctor reports that they are getting better just as fast as they
can since they took to playing dominos. If there is any hint in this to
the profession at large, they are welcome to it, along with humanity.
A little girl with a rubber doll in a red woollen jacketa
combination to make the perspiration run right off one with the
humidity at 98looks wistfully down from the second-story balcony of
the smallpox pavilion, as the doctor goes past with the last sheep
tucked under his arm.
But though it baa-a ever so loudly, it is not for her. It is bound
for the white tent on the shore, shunned even here, where sits a
solitary watcher gazing wistfully all day toward the city that has
passed out of his life. Perchance it may bring to him a message from
the far-away home where the birds sang for him, and the waves and the
flowers spoke to him, and Unclean had not been written against his
name. Of all on the Pest Island he alone is hopeless. He is a leper,
and his sentence is that of a living death in a strange land.
NIGGER MARTHA'S WAKE
A woman with face all seared and blotched by something that had
burned through the skin sat propped up in the doorway of a Bowery
restaurant at four o'clock in the morning, senseless, apparently dying.
A policeman stood by, looking anxiously up the street and consulting
his watch. At intervals he shook her to make sure she was not dead. The
drift of the Bowery that was borne that way eddied about, intent upon
what was going on. A dumpy little man edged through the crowd and
peered into the woman's face.
Phew! he said, it's Nigger Martha! What is gettin' into the girls
on the Bowery I don't know. Remember my Maggie? She was her chum.
This to the watchman on the block. The watchman remembered. He knows
everything that goes on in the Bowery. Maggie was the wayward daughter
of a decent laundress, and killed herself by drinking carbolic acid
less than a month before. She had wearied of the Bowery. Nigger Martha
was her one friend. And now she had followed her example.
She was drunk when she did it. It is in their cups that a glimpse of
the life they traded away for the street comes sometimes to these
wretches, with remorse not to be borne.
It came so to Nigger Martha. Ten minutes before, she had been
sitting with two boon companions in the oyster saloon next door,
discussing their night's catch. Elsie Specs was one of the two; the
other was known to the street simply as Mame. Elsie wore glasses, a
thing unusual enough in the Bowery to deserve recognition. From their
presence Martha rose suddenly, to pull a vial from her pocket. Mame saw
it, and, knowing what it meant in the heavy humor that was upon Nigger
Martha, she struck it from her hand with a pepper-box. It fell, but was
not broken. The woman picked it up, and staggering out, swallowed its
contents upon the sidewalkthat is, as much as went into her mouth.
Much went over her face, burning it. She fell shrieking.
Then came the crowd. The Bowery never sleeps. The policeman on the
beat set her in the doorway and sent a hurry call for an ambulance. It
came at last, and Nigger Martha was taken to the hospital.
As Mame told it, so it was recorded on the police blotter, with the
addition that she was anywhere from forty to fifty years old. That was
the strange part of it. It is not often that any one lasts out a
generation in the Bowery. Nigger Martha did. Her beginning was way back
in the palmy days of Billy McGlory and Owney Geoghegan. Her first
remembered appearance was on the occasion of the mock wake they got up
at Geoghegan's for Police Captain Foley when he was broken. That was in
the days when dive-keepers made and broke police captains, and made no
secret of it. Billy McGlory did not. Ever since, Martha was on the
In time she picked up Maggie Mooney, and they got to be chummy. The
friendships of the Bowery by night may not be of a very exalted type,
but when death breaks them it leaves nothing to the survivor. That is
the reason suicides there happen in pairs. The story of Tilly Lorrison
and Tricksy came from the Tenderloin not long ago. This one of Maggie
Mooney and Nigger Martha was theirs over again.
In each case it was the younger, the one nearest the life that was
forever past, who took the step first, in despair. The other followed.
To her it was the last link with something that had long ceased to be
anything but a dream, which was broken. But without the dream life was
unbearable, in the Tenderloin and on the Bowery.
The newsboys were crying their night extras when Undertaker
Reardon's wagon jogged across the Bowery with Nigger Martha's body in
it. She had given the doctors the slip, as she had the policeman many a
time. A friend of hers, an Italian in The Bend, had hired the
undertaker to do it proper, and Nigger Martha was to have a funeral.
All the Bowery came to the wake. The all-nighters from Chatham
Square to Bleecker Street trooped up to the top-floor flat in the
Forsyth Street tenement where Nigger Martha was laid out. There they
sat around, saying little and drinking much. It was not a cheery crowd.
The Bowery by night is not cheerful in the presence of The Mystery.
Its one effort is to get away from it, to forgetthe thing it can
never do. When out of its sight it carouses boisterously, as children
sing and shout in the dark to persuade themselves that they are not
afraid. And some who hear think it happy.
Sheeny Rose was the master of ceremonies and kept the door. This for
a purpose. In life Nigger Martha had one enemy whom she
hatedcock-eyed Grace. Like all of her kind, Nigger Martha was
superstitious. Grace's evil eye ever brought her bad luck when she
crossed her path, and she shunned her as the pestilence. When
inadvertently she came upon her, she turned as she passed and spat
twice over her left shoulder. And Grace, with white malice in her
wicked face, spurned her.
I don't want, Nigger Martha had said one night in the hearing of
Sheeny RoseI don't want that cock-eyed thing to look at my body when
I am dead. She'll give me hard luck in the grave yet.
And Sheeny Rose was there to see that cock-eyed Grace didn't come to
She did come. She labored up the long stairs, and knocked, with no
one will ever know what purpose in her heart. If it was a last glimmer
of good, of forgiveness, it was promptly squelched. It was Sheeny Rose
who opened the door.
You can't come in here, she said curtly. You know she hated you.
She didn't want you to look at her stiff.
Cock-eyed Grace's face grew set with anger. Her curses were heard
within. She threatened fight, but dropped it.
All right, she said as she went down. I'll fix you, Sheeny Rose!
It was in the exact spot where Nigger Martha had sat and died that
Grace met her enemy the night after the funeral. Lizzie La Blanche, the
Marine's girl, was there; Elsie Specs, Little Mame, and Jack the Dog,
toughest of all the girls, who for that reason had earned the name of
Mayor of the Bowery. She brooked no rivals. They were all within
reach when the two enemies met under the arc light.
Cock-eyed Grace sounded the challenge.
Now, you little Sheeny Rose, she said, I'm goin' to do ye fer
shuttin' of me out o' Nigger Martha's wake.
With that out came her hatpin, and she made a lunge at Sheeny Rose.
The other was on her guard. Hatpin in hand, she parried the thrust and
lunged back. In a moment the girls had made a ring about the two,
shutting them out of sight. Within it the desperate women thrust and
parried, backed and squared off, leaping like tigers when they saw an
opening. Their hats had fallen off, their hair was down, and eager hate
glittered in their eyes. It was a battle for life; for there is no
dagger more deadly than the hatpin these women carry, chiefly as a
weapon of defence in the hour of need.
They were evenly matched. Sheeny Rose made up in superior suppleness
of limb for the pent-up malice of the other. Grace aimed her thrusts at
her opponent's face. She tried to reach her eye. Once the sharp steel
just pricked Sheeny Rose's cheek and drew blood. In the next turn
Rose's hatpin passed within a quarter-inch of Grace's jugular.
But the blow nearly threw her off her feet, and she was at her
enemy's mercy. With an evil oath the fiend thrust full at her face just
as the policeman, who had come through the crowd unobserved, so intent
was it upon the fight, knocked the steel from her hand.
At midnight two dishevelled hags with faces flattened against the
bars of adjoining cells in the police station were hurling sidelong
curses at each other and at the maddened doorman. Nigger Martha's wake
had received its appropriate and foreordained ending.
WHAT THE CHRISTMAS SUN SAW IN THE
The December sun shone clear and cold upon the city. It shone upon
rich and poor alike. It shone into the homes of the wealthy on the
avenues and in the up-town streets, and into courts and alleys hedged
in by towering tenements down town. It shone upon throngs of busy
holiday shoppers that went out and in at the big stores, carrying
bundles big and small, all alike filled with Christmas cheer and kindly
messages from Santa Claus.
It shone down so gayly and altogether cheerily there, that wraps and
overcoats were unbuttoned for the north wind to toy with. My, isn't it
a nice day? said one young lady in a fur shoulder cape to a friend,
pausing to kiss and compare lists of Christmas gifts.
Most too hot, was the reply, and the friends passed on. There was
warmth within and without. Life was very pleasant under the Christmas
sun up on the avenue.
Down in Cherry Street the rays of the sun climbed over a row of tall
tenements with an effort that seemed to exhaust all the life that was
in them, and fell into a dirty block, half choked with trucks, with ash
barrels and rubbish of all sorts, among which the dust was whirled in
clouds upon fitful, shivering blasts that searched every nook and
cranny of the big barracks. They fell upon a little girl, barefooted
and in rags, who struggled out of an alley with a broken pitcher in her
grimy fist, against the wind that set down the narrow slit like the
draught through a big factory chimney. Just at the mouth of the alley
it took her with a sudden whirl, a cyclone of dust and drifting ashes,
tossed her fairly off her feet, tore from her grip the threadbare shawl
she clutched at her throat, and set her down at the saloon door
breathless and half smothered. She had just time to dodge through the
storm-doors before another whirlwind swept whistling down the street.
My, but isn't it cold? she said, as she shook the dust out of her
shawl and set the pitcher down on the bar. Gimme a pint, laying down
a few pennies that had been wrapped in a corner of the shawl, and
mamma says make it good and full.
All'us the way with youse kidswant a barrel when yees pays fer a
pint, growled the bartender. There, run along, and don't ye hang
around that stove no more. We ain't a steam-heatin' the block fer
The little girl clutched her shawl and the pitcher, and slipped out
into the street where the wind lay in ambush and promptly bore down on
her in pillars of whirling dust as soon as she appeared. But the sun
that pitied her bare feet and little frozen hands played a trick on old
Boreasit showed her a way between the pillars, and only just her
skirt was caught by one and whirled over her head as she dodged into
her alley. It peeped after her halfway down its dark depths, where it
seemed colder even than in the bleak street, but there it had to leave
It did not see her dive through the doorless opening into a hall
where no sun-ray had ever entered. It could not have found its way in
there had it tried. But up the narrow, squeaking stairs the girl with
the pitcher was climbing. Up one flight of stairs, over a knot of
children, half babies, pitching pennies on the landing, over wash-tubs
and bedsteads that encumbered the nexthouse-cleaning going on in that
flat; that is to say, the surplus of bugs was being turned out with
petroleum and a featherup still another, past a half-open door
through which came the noise of brawling and curses. She dodged and
quickened her step a little until she stood panting before a door on
the fourth landing that opened readily as she pushed it with her bare
A room almost devoid of stick or rag one might dignify with the name
of furniture. Two chairs, one with a broken back, the other on three
legs, beside a rickety table that stood upright only by leaning against
the wall. On the unwashed floor a heap of straw covered with dirty
bedtick for a bed; a foul-smelling slop-pail in the middle of the room;
a crazy stove, and back of it a door or gap opening upon darkness.
There was something in there, but what it was could only be surmised
from a heavy snore that rose and fell regularly. It was the bedroom of
the apartment, windowless, airless, and sunless, but rented at a price
a millionnaire would denounce as robbery.
That you, Liza? said a voice that discovered a woman bending over
the stove. Run 'n' get the childer. Dinner's ready.
The winter sun glancing down the wall of the opposite tenement, with
a hopeless effort to cheer the back yard, might have peeped through the
one window of the room in Mrs. McGroarty's flat, had that window not
been coated with the dust of ages, and discovered that dinner party in
action. It might have found a score like it in the alley. Four unkempt
children, copies each in his or her way of Liza and their mother, Mrs.
McGroarty, who did washing for a living. A meat bone, a cut from
the butcher's at four cents a pound, green pickles, stale bread and
beer. Beer for the four, a sup all round, the baby included. Why not?
It was the one relish the searching ray would have found there.
Potatoes were there, toopotatoes and meat! Say not the poor in the
tenements are starving. In New York only those starve who cannot get
work and have not the courage to beg. Fifty thousand always out of a
job, say those who pretend to know. A round half-million asking and
getting charity in eight years, say the statisticians of the Charity
Organization. Any one can go round and see for himself that no one need
starve in New York.
From across the yard the sunbeam, as it crept up the wall, fell
slantingly through the attic window whence issued the sound of
hammer-blows. A man with a hard face stood in its light, driving nails
into the lid of a soap box that was partly filled with straw. Something
else was there; as he shifted the lid that didn't fit, the glimpse of
sunshine fell across it; it was a dead child, a little baby in a white
slip, bedded in straw in a soap box for a coffin. The man was hammering
down the lid to take it to the Potter's Field. At the bed knelt the
mother, dry-eyed, delirious from starvation that had killed her child.
Five hungry, frightened children cowered in the corner, hardly daring
to whisper as they looked from the father to the mother in terror.
There was a knock on the door that was drowned once, twice, in the
noise of the hammer on the little coffin. Then it was opened gently,
and a young woman came in with a basket. A little silver cross shone
upon her breast. She went to the poor mother, and, putting her hand
soothingly on her head, knelt by her with gentle and loving words. The
half-crazed woman listened with averted face, then suddenly burst into
tears and hid her throbbing head in the other's lap.
The man stopped hammering and stared fixedly upon the two; the
children gathered around with devouring looks as the visitor took from
her basket bread, meat, and tea. Just then, with a parting wistful look
into the bare attic room, the sun-ray slipped away, lingered for a
moment about the coping outside, and fled over the housetops.
As it sped on its winter-day journey, did it shine into any cabin in
an Irish bog more desolate than these Cherry Street homes? An army of
thousands, whose one bright and wholesome memory, only tradition of
home, is that poverty-stricken cabin in the desolate bog, are herded in
such barracks to-day in New York. Potatoes they have; yes, and meat at
four centseven seven. Beer for a relishnever without beer. But
home? The home that was home, even in a bog, with the love of it that
has made Ireland immortal and a tower of strength in the midst of her
sufferingwhat of that? There are no homes in New York's poor
Down the crooked path of the Mulberry Street Bend the sunlight
slanted into the heart of New York's Italy. It shone upon bandannas and
yellow neckerchiefs; upon swarthy faces and corduroy breeches; upon
black-haired girlsmothers at thirteen; upon hosts of bow-legged
children rolling in the dirt; upon pedlers' carts and rag-pickers
staggering under burdens that threatened to crush them at every step.
Shone upon unnumbered Pasquales dwelling, working, idling, and gambling
there. Shone upon the filthiest and foulest of New York's tenements,
upon Bandit's Roost, upon Bottle Alley, upon the hidden byways that
lead to the tramps' burrows. Shone upon the scene of annual infant
slaughter. Shone into the foul core of New York's slums that was at
last to go to the realm of bad memories because civilized man might not
look upon it and live without blushing.
It glanced past the rag-shop in the cellar, whence welled up
stenches to poison the town, into an apartment three flights up that
held two women, one young, the other old and bent. The young one had a
baby at her breast. She was rocking it tenderly in her arms, singing in
the soft Italian tongue a lullaby, while the old granny listened
eagerly, her elbows on her knees, and a stumpy clay pipe, blackened
with age, between her teeth. Her eyes were set on the wall, on which
the musty paper hung in tatters, fit frame for the wretched,
poverty-stricken room, but they saw neither poverty nor want; her aged
limbs felt not the cold draught from without, in which they shivered;
she looked far over the seas to sunny Italy, whose music was in her
O dolce Napoli, she mumbled between her toothless jaws, O suol
The song ended in a burst of passionate grief. The old granny and
the baby woke up at once. They were not in sunny Italy; not under
southern, cloudless skies. They were in The Bend, in Mulberry Street,
and the wintry wind rattled the door as if it would say, in the
language of their new home, the land of the free: Less music! More
work! Root, hog, or die!
Around the corner the sunbeam danced with the wind into Mott Street,
lifted the blouse of a Chinaman and made it play tag with his pigtail.
It used him so roughly that he was glad to skip from it down a
cellar-way that gave out fumes of opium strong enough to scare even the
north wind from its purpose. The soles of his felt shoes showed as he
disappeared down the ladder that passed for cellar steps. Down there,
where daylight never came, a group of yellow, almond-eyed men were
bending over a table playing fan-tan. Their very souls were in the
game, every faculty of the mind bent on the issue and the stake. The
one blouse that was indifferent to what went on was stretched on a mat
in a corner. One end of a clumsy pipe was in his mouth, the other held
over a little spirit-lamp on the divan on which he lay. Something
fluttered in the flame with a pungent, unpleasant smell. The smoker
took a long draught, inhaling the white smoke, then sank back on his
couch in senseless content.
Upstairs tiptoed the noiseless felt shoes, bent on some house
errand, to the household floors above, where young white girls from
the tenements of The Bend and the East Side live in slavery worse, if
not more galling, than any of the galley with ball and chainthe
slavery of the pipe. Four, eight, sixteen, twenty odd such homes in
this tenement, disgracing the very name of home and family, for
marriage and troth are not in the bargain.
In one room, between the half-drawn curtains of which the sunbeam
works its way in, three girls are lying on as many bunks, smoking all.
They are very young, under age, though each and every one would
glibly swear in court to the satisfaction of the police that she is
sixteen, and therefore free to make her own bad choice. Of these, one
was brought up among the rugged hills of Maine; the other two are from
the tenement crowds, hardly missed there. But their companion? She is
twirling the sticky brown pill over the lamp, preparing to fill the
bowl of her pipe with it. As she does so, the sunbeam dances across the
bed, kisses the red spot on her cheek that betrays the secret her
tyrant long has known,though to her it is hidden yet,that the pipe
has claimed its victim and soon will pass it on to the Potter's Field.
Nell, says one of her chums in the other bunk, something stirred
within her by the flash, Nell, did you hear from the old farm to home
since you come here?
Nell turns half around, with the toasting-stick in her hand, an ugly
look on her wasted features, a vile oath on her lips.
To hell with the old farm, she says, and putting the pipe to her
mouth inhales it all, every bit, in one long breath, then falls back on
her pillow in drunken stupor.
That is what the sun of a winter day saw and heard in Mott Street.
It had travelled far toward the west, searching many dark corners
and vainly seeking entry to others; had gilded with equal impartiality
the spires of five hundred churches and the tin cornices of thirty
thousand tenements, with their million tenants and more; had smiled
courage and cheer to patient mothers trying to make the most of life in
the teeming crowds, that had too little sunshine by far; hope to
toiling fathers striving early and late for bread to fill the many
mouths clamoring to be fed.
The brief December day was far spent. Now its rays fell across the
North River and lighted up the windows of the tenements in Hell's
Kitchen and Poverty Gap. In the Gap especially they made a brave show;
the windows of the crazy old frame-house under the big tree that sat
back from the street looked as if they were made of beaten gold. But
the glory did not cross the threshold. Within it was dark and dreary
and cold. The room at the foot of the rickety, patched stairs was
empty. The last tenant was beaten to death by her husband in his
drunken fury. The sun's rays shunned the spot ever after, though it was
long since it could have made out the red daub from the mould on the
Upstairs, in the cold attic, where the wind wailed mournfully
through every open crack, a little girl sat sobbing as if her heart
would break. She hugged an old doll to her breast. The paint was gone
from its face; the yellow hair was in a tangle; its clothes hung in
rags. But she only hugged it closer. It was her doll. They had been
friends so long, shared hunger and hardship together, and now
Her tears fell faster. One drop trembled upon the wan cheek of the
doll. The last sunbeam shot athwart it and made it glisten like a
priceless jewel. Its glory grew and filled the room. Gone were the
black walls, the darkness, and the cold. There was warmth and light and
joy. Merry voices and glad faces were all about. A flock of children
danced with gleeful shouts about a great Christmas tree in the middle
of the floor. Upon its branches hung drums and trumpets and toys, and
countless candles gleamed like beautiful stars. Farthest up, at the
very top, her doll, her very own, with arms outstretched, as if
appealing to be taken down and hugged. She knew it, knew the
mission-school that had seen her first and only real Christmas, knew
the gentle face of her teacher, and the writing on the wall she had
taught her to spell out: In His name. His name, who, she had said,
was all little children's friend. Was He also her dolly's friend, and
would He know it among the strange people?
The light went out; the glory faded. The bare room, only colder and
more cheerless than before, was left. The child shivered. Only that
morning the doctor had told her mother that she must have medicine and
food and warmth, or she must go to the great hospital where papa had
gone before, when their money was all spent. Sorrow and want had laid
the mother upon the bed he had barely left. Every stick of furniture,
every stitch of clothing on which money could be borrowed, had gone to
the pawnbroker. Last of all, she had carried mamma's wedding-ring to
pay the druggist. Now there was no more left, and they had nothing to
eat. In a little while mamma would wake up, hungry.
The little girl smothered a last sob and rose quickly. She wrapped
the doll in a threadbare shawl as well as she could, tiptoed to the
door, and listened a moment to the feeble breathing of the sick mother
within. Then she went out, shutting the door softly behind her, lest
she wake her.
Up the street she went, the way she knew so well, one block and a
turn round the saloon corner, the sunset glow kissing the track of her
bare feet in the snow as she went, to a door that rang a noisy bell as
she opened it and went in. A musty smell filled the close room.
Packages, great and small, lay piled high on shelves behind the worn
counter. A slovenly woman was haggling with the pawnbroker about the
money for a skirt she had brought to pledge.
Not a cent more than a quarter, he said, contemptuously, tossing
the garment aside. It's half worn out it is, dragging it back and
forth over the counter these six months. Take it or leave it. Hallo!
What have we here? Little Finnegan, eh? Your mother not dead yet? It's
in the poorhouse ye will be if she lasts much longer. What the
He had taken the package from the trembling child's handthe
precious dolland unrolled the shawl. A moment he stood staring in
dumb amazement at its contents. Then he caught it up and flung it with
an angry oath upon the floor, where it was shivered against the
Get out o' here, ye Finnegan brat, he shouted; I'll tache ye to
come a-guyin' o' me. I'll
The door closed with a bang upon the frightened child, alone in the
cold night. The sun saw not its home-coming. It had hidden behind the
night clouds, weary of the sight of man and his cruelty.
Evening had worn into night. The busy city slept. Down by the
wharves, now deserted, a poor boy sat on the bulwark, hungry,
foot-sore, and shivering with cold. He sat thinking of friends and
home, thousands of miles away over the sea, whom he had left six months
before to go among strangers. He had been alone ever since, but never
more so than that night. His money gone, no work to be found, he had
slept in the streets for nights. That day he had eaten nothing; he
would rather die than beg, and one of the two he must do soon.
There was the dark river rushing at his feet; the swirl of the
unseen waters whispered to him of rest and peace he had not known
sinceit was so coldand who was there to care, he thought bitterly.
No one would ever know. He moved a little nearer the edge, and listened
A low whine fell on his ear, and a cold, wet face was pressed
against his. A little crippled dog that had been crouching silently
beside him nestled in his lap. He had picked it up in the street, as
forlorn and friendless as himself, and it had stayed by him. Its touch
recalled him to himself. He got up hastily, and, taking the dog in his
arms, went to the police station near by, and asked for shelter. It was
the first time he had accepted even such charity, and as he lay down on
his rough plank he hugged a little gold locket he wore around his neck,
the last link with better days, and thought with a hard sob of home. In
the middle of the night he awoke with a start. The locket was gone. One
of the tramps who slept with him had stolen it. With bitter tears he
went up and complained to the Sergeant at the desk, and the Sergeant
ordered him to be kicked out into the street as a liar, if not a thief.
How should a tramp boy have come honestly by a gold locket? The doorman
put him out as he was bidden, and when the little dog showed its teeth,
a policeman seized it and clubbed it to death on the step.
* * * * *
Far from the slumbering city the rising moon shines over a wide
expanse of glistening water. It silvers the snow upon a barren heath
between two shores, and shortens with each passing minute the shadows
of countless headstones that bear no names, only numbers. The breakers
that beat against the bluff wake not those who sleep there. In the deep
trenches they lie, shoulder to shoulder, an army of brothers, homeless
in life, but here at rest and at peace. A great cross stands upon the
lonely shore. The moon sheds its rays upon it in silent benediction and
floods the garden of the unknown, unmourned dead with its soft light.
Out on the Sound the fishermen see it flashing white against the
starlit sky, and bare their heads reverently as their boats speed by,
borne upon the wings of the west wind.
MIDWINTER IN NEW YORK
The very earliest impression I received of America's metropolis was
through a print in my child's picture-book that was entitled Winter in
New York. It showed a sleighing party, or half a dozen such, muffled
to the ears in furs, and racing with grim determination for some place
or another that lay beyond the page, wrapped in the mystery which so
tickles the childish fancy. For it was clear to me that it was not
accident that they were all going the same way. There was evidently
some prize away off there in the waste of snow that beckoned them on.
The text gave me no clew to what it was. It only confirmed the
impression, which was strengthened by the introduction of a half-naked
savage who shivered most wofully in the foreground, that New York was
somewhere within the arctic circle and a perfect paradise for a healthy
boy, who takes to snow as naturally as a duck takes to water. I do not
know how the discovery that they were probably making for Gabe Case's
and his bottle of champagne, which always awaited the first sleigh on
the road, would have struck me in those days. Most likely as a grievous
disappointment; for my fancy, busy ever with Uncas and Chingachgook and
Natty Bumppo, had certainly a buffalo hunt, or an ambush, or, at the
very least, a big fire, ready at the end of the road. But such is life.
Its most cherished hopes have to be surrendered one by one to the prosy
facts of every-day existence. I recall distinctly how it cut me to the
heart when I first walked up Broadway, with an immense navy pistol
strapped around my waist, to find it a paved street, actually paved,
with no buffaloes in sight and not a red man or a beaver hut.
However, life has its compensations also. At fifty I am as willing
to surrender the arctic circle as I was hopeful of it at ten, with the
price of coal in the chronic plight of my little boy when he has a
troublesome hitch in his trousers: O dear me! my pants hang up and
don't hang down. And Gabe Case's is a most welcome exchange to me for
the ambush, since I have left out the pistol and the rest of the
armament. I listen to the stories of the oldest inhabitant, of the
winters when the snow lay to the second-story windows in the Bowery,
with the fervent wish that they may never come back, and secretly gloat
over his wail that the seasons have changed and are not what they were.
The man who exuberantly proclaims that New York is getting to have the
finest winter-resort climate in the world is my friend, and I do not
care if I never see another snowball. Alas, yes! though Deerslayer and
I are still on the old terms, I fear the evidence is that I am growing
In the midst of the rejoicing comes old Boreas, as last winter, for
instance, and blows down my house of cards. Just when we thought
ourselves safe in referring to the great blizzard as a monstrous,
unheard-of thing, and were dwelling securely in the memory of how we
gathered violets in the woods out in Queens and killed mosquitoes in
the house in Christmas week, comes grim winter and locks the rivers and
buries us up to the neck in snow, before the Thanksgiving dinner is
cold. Then the seasons when Gabe's much-coveted bottle stood unclaimed
on the shelf in its bravery of fine ribbons till far into the New Year,
and was won then literally by a scratch on a road hardly downy with
white, seem like a tale that is told, and we realize that latitude does
not unaided make temperature. It is only in exceptional winters, after
all, that we class for a brief spell with Naples. Greenland and the
polar stream are never long in asserting their claim and Santa Claus's
to unchecked progress to our hearths.
And now, when one comes to think of it, who would say them nay for
the sake of a ton of coal, or twenty? If one grows old, he is still
young in his children. There is the smallest tot at this very moment
sliding under my window with shrieks of delight, in the first fall of
the season, though the November election is barely a week gone, and
snowballing the hired girl in quite the fashion of the good old days,
with the grocer's clerk stamping his feet at the back gate and roaring
out his enjoyment at her plight in a key only Jack Frost has in
keeping. A hundred thousand pairs of boys' eyes are stealing anxious
glances toward school windows to-day, lest the storm cease before they
are let out, and scant attention is paid to the morning's lessons, I
will warrant. Who would exchange the bob-sled and the slide and the
hurricane delights of coasting for eternal summer and magnolias in
January? Not I, for onenot yet. Human nature is, after all, more
robust than it seems at the study fire. I never declared in the board
of deacons why I stood up so stoutly for the minister we called that
winter to our little church,with deacons discretion is sometimes
quite the best part of valor,but I am not ashamed of it. It was the
night when we were going home, and neighbor Connery gave us a ride on
his new bob down that splendid hill,the whole board, men and
women,that I judged him for what he really wasthat resolute leg out
behind that kept us on our course as straight as a die, rounding every
log and reef with the skill of a river pilot, never flinching once. It
was the leg that did it; but it was, as I thought, an index to the
Discomfort and suffering are usually the ideas associated with deep
winter in a great city like New York, and there is a deal of
itdiscomfort to us all and suffering among the poor. The mere
statement that the Street-Cleaning Department last winter carted away
and dumped into the river 1,679,087 cubic yards of snow at thirty cents
a yard, and was then hotly blamed for leaving us in the slush, fairly
measures the one and is enough to set the taxpayer to thinking. The
suffering in the tenements of the poor is as real, but even their black
cloud is not without its silver lining. It calls out among those who
have much as tender a charity as is ever alive among those who have
little or nothing and who know one another for brothers without needing
the reminder of a severe cold snap or a big storm to tell them of it.
More money was poured into the coffers of the charitable societies in
the last big cold snap than they could use for emergency relief; and
the reckless advertising in sensational newspapers of the starvation
that was said to be abroad called forth an emphatic protest from
representatives of the social settlements and of the Charity
Organization Society, who were in immediate touch with the poor. The
old question whether a heavy fall of snow does not more than make up to
the poor man the suffering it causes received a wide discussion at the
time, but in the end was left open as always. The simple truth is that
it brings its own relief to those who are always just on the verge. It
sets them to work, and the charity visitor sees the effect in wages
coming in, even if only for a brief season. The far greater loss which
it causes, and which the visitor does not see, is to those who are
regularly employed, and with whom she has therefore no concern, in
suspending all other kinds of outdoor work than snow-shovelling.
Take it all together, and I do not believe even an unusual spell of
winter carries in its trail in New York such hopeless martyrdom to the
poor as in Old World cities, London for instance. There is something in
the clear skies and bracing air of our city that keeps the spirits up
to the successful defiance of anything short of actual hunger. There
abides with me from days and nights of poking about in dark London
alleys an impression of black and sooty rooms, and discouraged,
red-eyed women blowing ever upon smouldering fires, that is
disheartening beyond anything I ever encountered in the dreariest
tenements here. Outside, the streets lay buried in fog and slush that
brought no relief to the feelings.
Misery enough I have seen in New York's tenements; but deep as the
shadows are in the winter picture of it, it has no such darkness as
that. The newsboys and the sandwich-men warming themselves upon the
cellar gratings in Twenty-third Street and elsewhere have oftener than
not a ready joke to crack with the passer-by, or a little jig step to
relieve their feelings and restore the circulation. The very tramp who
hangs by his arms on the window-bars of the power-house at Houston
Street and Broadway indulges in safe repartee with the engineer down in
the depths, and chuckles at being more than a match for him. Down there
it is always July, rage the storm king ever so boisterously up on the
level. The windows on the Mercer Street corner of the building are
always openor else there are no windows. The spaces between the bars
admit a man's arm very handily, and as a result there are always on
cold nights as many hands pointing downward at the engineer and his
boilers as there are openings in the iron fence. The tramps sleep, so
suspended the night long, toasting themselves alternately on front and
The good humor under untoward circumstances that is one of the
traits of our people never comes out so strongly as when winter blocks
river and harbor with ice and causes no end of trouble and
inconvenience to the vast army of workers which daily invades New York
in the morning and departs again with the gathering twilight. The
five-minute trip across sometimes takes hours then, and there is never
any telling where one is likely to land, once the boat is in the
stream. I have, on one occasion, spent nearly six hours on an East
River ferry-boat, trying to cross to Fulton Street in Brooklyn, during
which time we circumnavigated Governor's Island and made an involuntary
excursion down the bay. It was during the Beecher trial, and we had a
number of the lawyers on both sides on board, so that the court had to
adjourn that day while we tried the case among the ice-floes. But
though the loss of time was very great, yet I saw no sign of annoyance
among the passengers through all that trip. Everybody made the best of
a bad bargain.
Many a time since, have I stood jammed in a hungry and tired crowd
on the Thirty-fourth Street ferry for an hour at a time, watching the
vain efforts of the pilot to make a landing, while train after train
went out with no passengers, and have listened to the laughter and
groans that heralded each failure. Then, when at last the boat touched
the end of the slip and one man after another climbed upon the swaying
piles and groped his perilous way toward the shore, the cheers that
arose and followed them on their way, with everybody offering advice
and encouragement, and accepting it in the same good-humored way!
In the two big snow-storms of a recent winter, when traffic was for
a season interrupted, and in the great blizzard of 1888, when it was
completely suspended, even on the elevated road, and news reached us
from Boston only by cable via London, it was laughing and snowballing
crowds one encountered plodding through the drifts. It was as if real
relief had come with the lifting of the strain of our modern life and
the momentary relapse into the slow-going way of our fathers. Out in
Queens, where we were snow-bound for days, we went about digging one
another out and behaving like a lot of boys, once we had made sure that
the office would have to mind itself for a season.
It is, however, not to the outlying boroughs one has to go if he
wishes to catch the real human spirit that is abroad in the city in a
snow-storm, or to the avenues where the rich live, though the snow to
them might well be a real luxury; or even to the rivers, attractive as
they are in the wild grandeur of arctic festooning from mastheads and
rigging; with incoming steamers, armored in shining white, picking
their way as circumspectly among the floes as if they were navigating
Baffin's Bay instead of the Hudson River; and with their swarms of
swift sea-gulls, some of them spotless white, others as rusty and dusty
as the scavengers whom for the time being they replace ineffectually,
all of them greedily intent upon wresting from the stream the food
which they no longer find outside the Hook. I should like you well
enough to linger with me on the river till the storm is over, and watch
the marvellous sunsets that flood the western sky with colors of green
and gold which no painter's brush ever matched; and when night has
dropped the curtain, to see the lights flashing forth from the tall
buildings in story after story until it is as if the fairyland of our
childhood's dreams lay there upon the brooding waters within grasp of
Beautiful as these are, it is to none of them I should take you,
nevertheless, to show you the spirit of winter in New York. Not to the
road, where the traditional strife for the magnum of champagne is
waged still; or to that other road farther east upon which the
youngand the old, too, for that mattertake straw-rides to City
Island, there to eat clam chowder, the like of which is not to be
found, it is said, in or out of Manhattan. I should lead you, instead,
down among the tenements, where, mayhap, you thought to find only
misery and gloom, and bid you observe what goes on there.
All night the snow fell steadily and silently, sifting into each
nook and corner and searching out every dark spot, until when the day
came it dawned upon a city mantled in spotless white, all the dirt and
the squalor and the ugliness gone out of it, and all the harsh sounds
of mean streets hushed. The storekeeper opened his door and shivered as
he thought of the job of shovelling, with the policeman and his
notice to hurry it up; shivered more as he heard the small boy on the
stairs with the premonitory note of trouble in his exultant yell, and
took a firmer grip on his broom. But his alarm was needless. The boy
had other feuds on hand. His gang had been feeding fat an ancient
grudge against the boys in the next block or the block beyond, waiting
for the first storm to wipe it out in snow, and the day opened with a
brisk skirmish between the opposing hosts. In the school the plans for
the campaign were perfected, and when it was out they met in the White
Garden, known to the directory as Tompkins Square, the traditional
duelling-ground of the lower East Side; and there ensued such a battle
as Homer would have loved to sing.
Full many a lad fell on the battlements that were thrown up in
haste, only to rise again and fight until a soaker, wrung out in the
gutter and laid away to harden in the frost, caught him in the eye and
sent him to the rear, a reeling, bawling invalid, but prouder of his
hurt than any veteran of his scars, just as his gang carried the band
stand by storm and drove the Seventh-streeters from the Garden in
ignominious flight. That night the gang celebrated the victory with a
mighty bonfire, while the beaten one, viewing the celebration from
afar, nursed its bruises and its wrath, and recruited its hosts for the
morrow. And on the next night, behold! the bonfire burned in Seventh
Street and not in Eleventh. The fortunes of war are proverbially
fickle. The band stand in the Garden has been taken many a time since
the police took it by storm in battle with the mob in the seventies,
but no mob has succeeded that one to clamor for bread or blood. It
may be that the snow-fights have been a kind of safety-valve for the
young blood to keep it from worse mischief later on. There are worse
things in the world than to let the boys have a fling where no greater
harm can befall than a bruised eye or a strained thumb.
In the corner where the fight did not rage, and in a hundred back
yards, smaller bands of boys and girls were busy rolling huge balls
into a mighty snow man with a broom for a gun and bits of purloined
coal for eyes and nose, and making mock assaults upon it and upon one
another, just as the dainty little darlings in curls and leggings were
doing in the up-town streets, but with ever so much more zest in their
play. Their screams of delight rose to the many windows in the
tenements, from which the mothers were exchanging views with next-door
neighbors as to the probable duration of the spell o' weather, and
John's or Pat's chance of getting or losing a job in consequence. The
snow man stood there till long after all doubts were settled on these
mooted points, falling slowly into helpless decrepitude in spite of
occasional patching. But long before that time the frost succeeding the
snow had paved the way for coasting in the hilly streets, and
discovered countless slides in those that were flat, to the huge
delight of the small boy and the discomfiture of his unsuspecting
elders. With all the sedateness of my fifty years, I confess that I
cannot to this day resist a slide in a tenement street, with its
unending string of boys and girls going down it with mighty whoops. I
am bound to join in, spectacles, umbrella, and all, at the risk of
literally going down in a heap with the lot.
There is one over on First Avenue, on the way I usually take when I
go home. It begins at a hydrant, which I suspect has had something to
do in more than one way with its beginning, and runs down fully half a
block. If some of my dignified associates on various committees of
sobriety beyond reproach could see me take it not once, but two or
three times, with a ragged urchin clinging to each of the skirts of my
coat, I am afraidI am afraid I might lose caste, to put it mildly.
But the children enjoy it, and so do I, nearly as much as the little
fellows in the next block enjoy their skating on one in the gutter,
with little skids of wood twisted in the straps to hold the skate on
In sight of my slide I pass after a big storm between towering walls
of snow in front of a public school which for years was the only one in
the city that had an outdoor playground. It was wrested from the dead
for the benefit of the living, by the condemnation of an old
burying-ground, after years of effort. The school has ever since been
one of the brightest, most successful in town. The snowbanks exhibit
the handiwork of the boys, all of them from the surrounding tenements.
They are shaped into regular walls with parapets cunningly wrought and
sometimes with no little artistic effect. One winter the walls were
much higher than a man's head, and the passageways between them so
narrow that a curious accident happened, which came near being fatal. A
closed wagon with a cargo of ginger-beer was caught between them and
upset. The beer popped, and the driver's boy, who was inside and unable
to get out, was rescued only with much trouble from the double peril of
being smothered and drowned in the sudden flood.
But the coasting! Let any one who wishes to see real democratic New
York at play take a trip on such a night through the up-town streets
that dip east and west into the great arteries of traffic, and watch
the sights there when young America is in its glory. Only where there
is danger from railroad crossings do the police interfere to stop the
fun. In all other blocks they discreetly close an eye, or look the
other way. New York is full of the most magnificent coasting-slides,
and there is not one of them that is not worked overtime when the snow
is on the ground. There are possibilities in the slopes of the
Acropolis and the Cathedral Parkway as yet undeveloped to their full
extent; but wherever the population crowds, it turns out without stint
to enjoy the fun whenever and as soon as occasion offers.
There is a hill over on Avenue A, near by the East River Park, that
is typical in more ways than one. To it come the children of the
tenements with their bob-sleds and belly-whoppers made up of bits of
board, sometimes without runners, and the girls from the fine houses
facing the park and up along Eighty-sixth Street, in their toboggan
togs with caps and tassels, and chaperoned by their young fellows, just
a little disposed to turn up their noses at the motley show. But they
soon forget about that in the fun of the game. Down they go, rich and
poor, boys and girls, men and women, with yells of delight as the snow
seems to fly from under them, and the twinkling lights far up the
avenue come nearer and nearer with lightning speed. The slide is lined
on both sides with a joyous throng of their elders, who laugh and
applaud equally the poor sled and the flexible flyer of prouder
pedigree, urging on the returning horde that toils panting up the steep
to take its place in the line once more. Till far into the young day
does the avenue resound with the merriment of the people's winter
On the railroad streets the storekeeper is still battling between
calls with the last of the day's fall, fervently wishing it may be the
last of the season's, when whir! comes the big sweeper along the track,
raising a whirlwind of snow and dirt that bespatters him and his newly
cleaned flags with stray clods from its brooms, until, out of patience,
and seized at last, in spite of himself, by the spirit of the thing, he
drops broom and shovel and joins the children in pelting the sweeper in
turn. The motorman ducks his head, humps his shoulders, and grins. The
whirlwind sweeps on, followed by a shower of snowballs, and vanishes in
the dim distance.
One of the most impressive sights of winter in New York has gone
with so much else that was picturesque, in this age of results, and
will never be seen in our streets again. The old horse-plough that used
to come with rattle and bang and clangor of bells, drawn by five spans
of big horses, the pick of the stables, wrapped in a cloud of steam,
and that never failed to draw a crowd where it went, is no more. The
rush and the swing of the long line, the crack of the driver's mighty
whip and his warning shouts to Jack or Pete to pull and keep step,
the steady chop-chop thud of the sand-shaker, will be seen and heard no
more. In the place of the horse-plough has come the electric sweeper, a
less showy but a good deal more effective device.
The plough itself is gone. It has been retired by the railroads as
useless in practice except to remove great masses of snow, which are
not allowed to accumulate nowadays, if it can be helped. The share
could be lowered only to within four or five inches of the ground,
while the wheel-brooms of the sweeper sweep between every stone,
making a clean job of it. Lacking the life of the horse-plough, it is
suggestive of concentrated force far beyond anything in the elaborate
show of its predecessor.
The change suggests, not inaptly, the evolution of the old ship of
the line under full canvas into the modern man-of-war, sailless and
grim, and the conceit is strengthened by the warlike build of the
electric sweeper. It is easy to imagine the iron flanges that sweep the
snow from the track to be rammers for a combat at close quarters, and
the canvas hangers that shield the brushes, torpedo-nets for defence
against a hidden enemy. The motorman on the working end of the sweeper
looks like nothing so much as the captain on the bridge of a
man-of-war, and he conducts himself with the same imperturbable calm
under the petty assaults of the guerillas of the street.
From the moment a storm breaks till the last flake has fallen, the
sweepers are run unceasingly over the tracks of the railroads, each in
its own division, which it is its business to keep clear. The track is
all the companies have to mind. There was a law, or a rule, or an
understanding, nobody seems to know exactly which, that they were to
sweep also between the tracks, and two feet on each side, in return for
their franchises; but in effect this proved impracticable. It was never
done. Under the late Colonel Waring the Street-Cleaning Department came
to an understanding with the railroad companies under which they clear
certain streets, not on their routes, that are computed to have a
surface space equal to that which they would have had to clean had they
lived up to the old rule. The department in its turn removes the
accumulations piled up by their sweepers, unless a providential thaw
gets ahead of it.
Removing the snow after a big storm from the streets of New York, or
even from an appreciable number of them, is a task beside which the
cleaning of the Augean stables was a mean and petty affair. In dealing
with the dirt, Hercules's expedient has sometimes been attempted, with
more or less success; but not even turning the East River into our
streets would rid them of the snow. Though in the last severe winter
the department employed at times as many as four thousand extra men and
all the carts that were to be drummed up in the city, carting away, as
I have said, the enormous total of more than a million and a half cubic
yards of snow, every citizen knows, and testified loudly at the time,
that it all hardly scratched the ground. The problem is one of the many
great ones of modern city life which our age of invention must bequeath
unsolved to the dawning century.
In the Street-Cleaning Department's service the snow-plough holds
yet its ancient place of usefulness. Eleven of them are kept for use in
Manhattan and the Bronx alone. The service to which they are put is to
clear at the shortest notice, not the travelled avenues where the
railroad sweepers run, but the side streets that lead from these to the
fire-engine and truck-houses, to break a way for the apparatus for the
emergency that is sure to come. Upon the paths so made the engines make
straight for the railroad tracks when called out, and follow these to
A cold snap inevitably brings a run of fires in its train. Stoves
are urged to do their utmost all day, and heaped full of coal to keep
overnight. The fire finds at last the weak point in the flue, and
mischief is abroad. Then it is that the firemen are put upon their
mettle, and then it is, too, that they show of what stuff they are
made. In none of the three big blizzards within the memory of us all
did any fire get away from them. During the storm of 1888, when the
streets were nearly impassable for three whole days, they were called
out to fight forty-five fires, any one of which might have threatened
the city had it been allowed to get beyond control; but they smothered
them all within the walls where they started. It was the same in the
bad winter I spoke of. In one blizzard the men of Truck 7 got only four
hours' sleep in four days. When they were not putting out fires they
were compelled to turn in and shovel snow to help the paralyzed
Street-Cleaning Department clear the way for their trucks. Their plight
was virtually that of all the rest.
What Colonel Roosevelt said of his Rough Riders after the fight in
the trenches before Santiago, that it is the test of men's nerve to
have them roused up at three o'clock in the morning, hungry and cold,
to fight an enemy attacking in the dark, and then have them all run the
same way,forward,is true of the firemen as well, and, like the
Rough Riders, they never failed when the test came. The firemen going
to the front at the tap of the bell, no less surely to grapple with
lurking death than the men who faced Mauser bullets, but with none of
the incidents of glorious war, the flag, the hurrah, and all the things
that fire a soldier's heart, to urge them on,clinging, half naked,
with numb fingers to the ladders as best they can while trying to put
on their stiff and frozen garments,is one of the sights that make one
proud of being a man. To see them in action, dripping icicles from
helmet and coat, high upon the ladder, perhaps incased in solid ice and
frozen to the rungs, yet holding the stream as steady to its work as if
the spray from the nozzle did not fall upon them in showers of stinging
hail, is very apt to make a man devoutly thankful that it is not his
lot to fight fires in winter. It is only a few winters since, at the
burning of a South Street warehouse, two pipemen had to be chopped from
their ladder with axes, so thick was the armor of ice that had formed
about and upon them while they worked.
The terrible beauty of such a sight is very vivid in my memory. It
was on the morning when Chief Bresnan and Foreman Rooney went down with
half a dozen of their men in the collapse of the roof in a burning
factory. The men of the rank and file hewed their way through to the
open with their axes. The chief and the foreman were caught under the
big water-tank, the wooden supports of which had been burned away, and
were killed. They were still lying under the wreck when I came. The
fire was out. The water running over the edge of the tank had frozen
into huge icicles that hung like a great white shroud over the bier of
the two dead heroes. It was a gas-fixture factory, and the hundreds of
pipes, twisted into all manner of fantastic shapes of glittering ice,
lent a most weird effect to the sorrowful scene. I can still see Chief
Gicquel, all smoke-begrimed, and with the tears streaming down his big,
manly face,poor Gicquel! he went to join his brothers in so many a
hard fight only a little while after,pointing back toward the wreck
with the choking words, They are in there! They had fought their last
fight and won, as they ever did, even if they did give their lives for
the victory. Greater end no fireman could crave.
Winter in New York has its hardships and toil, and it has its joys
as well, among rich and poor. Grim and relentless, it is beautiful at
all times until man puts his befouling hand upon the landscape it
paints in street and alley, where poetry is never at home in summer.
The great city lying silent under its soft white blanket at night, with
its myriad of lights twinkling and rivalling the stars, is beautiful
beyond compare. Go watch the moonlight on forest and lake in the park,
when the last straggler has gone and the tramp of the lonely
policeman's horse has died away under the hill; listen to the whisper
of the trees, all shining with dew of Boreas's breath: of the dreams
they dream in their long sleep, of the dawn that is coming, the warm
sunlight of spring, and say that life is not worth living in America's
metropolis, even in winter, whatever the price of coal, and I shall
tell you that you are fit for nothing but treason, stratagem, and
spoils; for you have no music in your soul.
A CHIP FROM THE MAELSTROM
The cop just sceert her to death, that's what he done. For Gawd's
sake, boss, don't let on I tole you.
The negro, stopping suddenly in his game of craps in the Pell Street
back yard, glanced up with a look of agonized entreaty. Discovering no
such fell purpose in his questioner's face, he added quickly,
And if he asks if you seed me a-playing craps, say no, not on yer
life, boss, will yer? And he resumed the game where he left off.
An hour before he had seen Maggie Lynch die in that hallway, and it
was of her he spoke. She belonged to the tenement and to Pell Street,
as he did himself. They were part of it while they lived, with all that
that implied; when they died, to make part of it again, reorganized and
closing ranks in the trench on Hart's Island. It is only the Celestials
in Pell Street who escape the trench. The others are booked for it from
the day they are pushed out from the rapids of the Bowery into this
maelstrom that sucks under all it seizes. Thenceforward they come to
the surface only at intervals in the police courts, each time more
forlorn, but not more hopeless, until at last they disappear and are
heard of no more.
When Maggie Lynch turned the corner no one there knows. The street
keeps no reckoning, and it doesn't matter. She took her place
unchallenged, and her character was registered in due time. It was
good. Even Pell Street has its degrees and its standard of perfection.
The standard's strong point is contempt of the Chinese, who are hosts
in Pell Street. Maggie Lynch came to be known as homeless, without a
man, though with the prospects of motherhood approaching, yet she had
never lived with a Chink. To Pell Street that was heroic. It would
have forgiven all the rest, had there been anything to forgive. But
there was not. Whatever else may be, cant is not among the vices of
And it is well. Maggie Lynch lived with the Cuffs on the top floor
of No. 21 until the Cuffs moved. They left an old lounge they didn't
want, and Maggie. Maggie was sick, and the housekeeper had no heart to
put her out. Heart sometimes survives in the slums, even in Pell
Street, long after respectability has been hopelessly smothered. It
provided shelter and a bed for Maggie when her only friends deserted
her. In return she did what she could, helping about the hall and
stairs. Queer that gratitude should be another of the virtues the slum
has no power to smother, though dive and brothel and the scorn of the
good do their best, working together.
There was an old mattress that had to be burned, and Maggie dragged
it down with an effort. She took it out in the street, and there set it
on fire. It burned and blazed high in the narrow street. The policeman
saw the sheen in the windows on the opposite side of the way, and saw
the danger of it as he came around the corner. Maggie did not notice
him till he was right behind her. She gave a great start when he spoke
I've a good mind to lock you up for this, he said as he stamped
out the fire. Don't you know it's against the law?
The negro heard it and saw Maggie stagger toward the door, with her
hand pressed upon her heart, as the policeman went away down the
street. On the threshold she stopped, panting.
My Gawd, that cop frightened me! she said, and sat down on the
A tenant who came out saw that she was ill, and helped her into the
hall. She gasped once or twice, and then lay back, dead.
Word went around to the Elizabeth Street station, and was sent on
from there with an order for the dead-wagon. Maggie's turn had come for
the ride up the Sound. She was as good as checked for the Potter's
Field, but Pell Street made an effort and came up almost to Maggie's
Even while the dead-wagon was rattling down the Bowery, one of the
tenants ran all the way to Henry Street, where he had heard that
Maggie's father lived, and brought him to the police station. The old
man wiped his eyes as he gazed upon his child, dead in her sins.
She had a good home, he said to Captain Young, but she didn't
know it, and she wouldn't stay. Send her home, and I will bury her with
The Potter's Field was cheated out of a victim, and by Pell Street.
But the maelstrom grinds on and on.
SARAH JOYCE'S HUSBANDS
Policeman Muller had run against a boisterous crowd surrounding a
drunken woman at Prince Street and the Bowery. When he joined the crowd
it scattered, but got together again before it had run half a block,
and slunk after him and his prisoner to the Mulberry Street station.
There Sergeant Woodruff learned by questioning the woman that she was
Mary Donovan and had come down from Westchester to have a holiday. She
had had it without a doubt. The Sergeant ordered her to be locked up
for safe-keeping, when, unexpectedly, objection was made.
A small lot of the crowd had picked up courage to come into the
station to see what became of the prisoner. From out of this, one spoke
up: Don't lock that woman up; she is my wife.
Eh, said the Sergeant, and who are you?
The man said he was George Reilly and a salesman. The prisoner had
given her name as Mary Donovan and said she was single. The Sergeant
drew Mr. Reilly's attention to the street door, which was there for his
accommodation, but he did not take the hint. He became so abusive that
he, too, was locked up, still protesting that the woman was his wife.
She had gone on her way to Elizabeth Street, where there is a
matron, to be locked up there; and the objections of Mr. Reilly having
been silenced at last, peace was descending once more upon the
station-house, when the door was opened, and a man with a swagger
Got that woman locked up here? he demanded.
What woman? asked the Sergeant, looking up.
Her what Muller took in.
Well, said the Sergeant, looking over the desk, what of her?
I want her out; she is my wife. She
The Sergeant rang his bell. Here, lock this man up with that
woman's other husband, he said, pointing to the stranger.
The fellow ran out just in time, as the doorman made a grab for him.
The Sergeant drew a tired breath and picked up the ruler to make a red
line in his blotter. There was a brisk step, a rap, and a young fellow
stood in the open door.
Say, Serg, he began.
The Sergeant reached with his left hand for the inkstand, while his
right clutched the ruler. He never took his eyes off the stranger.
Say, wheedled he, glancing around and seeing no trap, Serg, I
say: that woman w'at's locked up, she's
She's what? asked the Sergeant, getting the range as well as he
My wife, said the fellow.
There was a bang, the slamming of a door, and the room was empty.
The doorman came running in, looked out, and up and down the street.
But nothing was to be seen. There is no record of what became of the
third husband of Mary Donovan.
The first slept serenely in the jail. The woman herself, when she
saw the iron bars in the Elizabeth Street station, fell into hysterics
and was taken to the Hudson Street Hospital.
Reilly was arraigned in the Tombs Police Court in the morning. He
paid his fine and left, protesting that he was her only husband.
He had not been gone ten minutes when Claimant No. 4 entered.
Was Sarah Joyce brought here? he asked Clerk Betts.
The clerk couldn't find the name.
Look for Mary Donovan, said No. 4.
Who are you? asked the clerk.
I am Sarah's husband, was the answer.
Clerk Betts smiled, and told the man the story of the other three.
Well, I am blamed, he said.
MERRY CHRISTMAS IN THE TENEMENTS
It was just a sprig of holly, with scarlet berries showing against
the green, stuck in, by one of the office boys probably, behind the
sign that pointed the way up to the editorial rooms. There was no
reason why it should have made me start when I came suddenly upon it at
the turn of the stairs; but it did. Perhaps it was because that dingy
hall, given over to dust and draughts all the days of the year, was the
last place in which I expected to meet with any sign of Christmas;
perhaps it was because I myself had nearly forgotten the holiday.
Whatever the cause, it gave me quite a turn.
I stood, and stared at it. It looked dry, almost withered. Probably
it had come a long way. Not much holly grows about Printing-House
Square, except in the colored supplements, and that is scarcely of a
kind to stir tender memories. Withered and dry, this did. I thought,
with a twinge of conscience, of secret little conclaves of my children,
of private views of things hidden from mamma at the bottom of drawers,
of wild flights when papa appeared unbidden in the door, which I had
allowed for once to pass unheeded. Absorbed in the business of the
office, I had hardly thought of Christmas coming on, until now it was
here. And this sprig of holly on the wall that had come to remind
me,come nobody knew how far,did it grow yet in the beech-wood
clearings, as it did when I gathered it as a boy, tracking through the
snow? Christ-thorn we called it in our Danish tongue. The red
berries, to our simple faith, were the drops of blood that fell from
the Saviour's brow as it drooped under its cruel crown upon the cross.
Back to the long ago wandered my thoughts: to the moss-grown beech
in which I cut my name and that of a little girl with yellow curls, of
blessed memory, with the first jack-knife I ever owned; to the
story-book with the little fir tree that pined because it was small,
and because the hare jumped over it, and would not be content though
the wind and the sun kissed it, and the dews wept over it and told it
to rejoice in its young life; and that was so proud when, in the second
year, the hare had to go round it, because then it knew it was getting
big,Hans Christian Andersen's story that we loved above all the rest;
for we knew the tree right well, and the hare; even the tracks it left
in the snow we had seen. Ah, those were the Yule-tide seasons, when the
old Domkirke shone with a thousand wax candles on Christmas eve; when
all business was laid aside to let the world make merry one whole week;
when big red apples were roasted on the stove, and bigger doughnuts
were baked within it for the long feast! Never such had been known
since. Christmas to-day is but a name, a memory.
A door slammed below, and let in the noises of the street. The holly
rustled in the draught. Some one going out said, A Merry Christmas to
you all! in a big, hearty voice. I awoke from my revery to find myself
back in New York with a glad glow at the heart. It was not true. I had
only forgotten. It was myself that had changed, not Christmas. That was
here, with the old cheer, the old message of good-will, the old royal
road to the heart of mankind. How often had I seen its blessed charity,
that never corrupts, make light in the hovels of darkness and despair!
how often watched its spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion in those
who had, besides themselves, nothing to give! and as often the sight
had made whole my faith in human nature. No! Christmas was not of the
past, its spirit not dead. The lad who fixed the sprig of holly on the
stairs knew it; my reporter's note-book bore witness to it. Witness of
my contrition for the wrong I did the gentle spirit of the holiday,
here let the book tell the story of one Christmas in the tenements of
It is evening in Grand Street. The shops east and west are pouring
forth their swarms of workers. Street and sidewalk are filled with an
eager throng of young men and women, chatting gayly, and elbowing the
jam of holiday shoppers that linger about the big stores. The
street-cars labor along, loaded down to the steps with passengers
carrying bundles of every size and odd shape. Along the curb a string
of pedlers hawk penny toys in push-carts with noisy clamor, fearless
for once of being moved on by the police. Christmas brings a two weeks'
respite from persecution even to the friendless street-fakir. From the
window of one brilliantly lighted store a bevy of mature dolls in
dishabille stretch forth their arms appealingly to a troop of
factory-hands passing by. The young men chaff the girls, who shriek
with laughter and run. The policeman on the corner stops beating his
hands together to keep warm, and makes a mock attempt to catch them,
whereat their shrieks rise shriller than ever. Them stockin's o' yourn
'll be the death o' Santa Claus! he shouts after them, as they dodge.
And they, looking back, snap saucily, Mind yer business, freshy! But
their laughter belies their words. They giv' it to ye straight that
time, grins the grocer's clerk, come out to snatch a look at the
crowds; and the two swap holiday greetings.
At the corner, where two opposing tides of travel form an eddy, the
line of push-carts debouches down the darker side street. In its gloom
their torches burn with a fitful glare that wakes black shadows among
the trusses of the railroad structure overhead. A woman, with worn
shawl drawn tightly about head and shoulders, bargains with a pedler
for a monkey on a stick and two cents' worth of flitter-gold. Five
ill-clad youngsters flatten their noses against the frozen pane of the
toy-shop, in ecstasy at something there, which proves to be a milk
wagon, with driver, horses, and cans that can be unloaded. It is
something their minds can grasp. One comes forth with a penny goldfish
of pasteboard clutched tightly in his hand, and, casting cautious
glances right and left, speeds across the way to the door of a
tenement, where a little girl stands waiting. It's yer Chris'mas,
Kate, he says, and thrusts it into her eager fist. The black doorway
swallows them up.
Across the narrow yard, in the basement of the rear house, the
lights of a Christmas tree show against the grimy window pane. The hare
would never have gone around it, it is so very small. The two children
are busily engaged fixing the goldfish upon one of its branches. Three
little candles that burn there shed light upon a scene of utmost
desolation. The room is black with smoke and dirt. In the middle of the
floor oozes an oil-stove that serves at once to take the raw edge off
the cold and to cook the meals by. Half the window panes are broken,
and the holes stuffed with rags. The sleeve of an old coat hangs out of
one, and beats drearily upon the sash when the wind sweeps over the
fence and rattles the rotten shutters. The family wash, clammy and
gray, hangs on a clothes-line stretched across the room. Under it, at a
table set with cracked and empty plates, a discouraged woman sits eying
the children's show gloomily. It is evident that she has been drinking.
The peaked faces of the little ones wear a famished look. There are
threethe third an infant, put to bed in what was once a baby
carriage. The two from the street are pulling it around to get the tree
in range. The baby sees it, and crows with delight. The boy shakes a
branch, and the goldfish leaps and sparkles in the candle-light.
See, sister! he pipes; see Santa Claus! And they clap their
hands in glee. The woman at the table wakes out of her stupor, gazes
around her, and bursts into a fit of maudlin weeping.
The door falls to. Five flights up, another opens upon a bare attic
room which a patient little woman is setting to rights. There are only
three chairs, a box, and a bedstead in the room, but they take a deal
of careful arranging. The bed hides the broken plaster in the wall
through which the wind came in; each chair-leg stands over a rat-hole,
at once to hide it and to keep the rats out. One is left; the box is
for that. The plaster of the ceiling is held up with pasteboard
patches. I know the story of that attic. It is one of cruel desertion.
The woman's husband is even now living in plenty with the creature for
whom he forsook her, not a dozen blocks away, while she keeps the home
together for the childer. She sought justice, but the lawyer demanded
a retainer; so she gave it up, and went back to her little ones. For
this room that barely keeps the winter wind out she pays four dollars a
month, and is behind with the rent. There is scarce bread in the house;
but the spirit of Christmas has found her attic. Against a broken wall
is tacked a hemlock branch, the leavings of the corner grocer's
fitting-block; pink string from the packing-counter hangs on it in
festoons. A tallow dip on the box furnishes the illumination. The
children sit up in bed, and watch it with shining eyes.
We're having Christmas! they say.
The lights of the Bowery glow like a myriad twinkling stars upon the
ceaseless flood of humanity that surges ever through the great highway
of the homeless. They shine upon long rows of lodging-houses, in which
hundreds of young men, cast helpless upon the reef of the strange city,
are learning their first lessons of utter loneliness; for what
desolation is there like that of the careless crowd when all the world
rejoices? They shine upon the tempter setting his snares there, and
upon the missionary and the Salvation Army lass, disputing his catch
with him; upon the police detective going his rounds with coldly
observant eye intent upon the outcome of the contest; upon the wreck
that is past hope, and upon the youth pausing on the verge of the pit
in which the other has long ceased to struggle. Sights and sounds of
Christmas there are in plenty in the Bowery. Balsam and hemlock and fir
stand in groves along the busy thoroughfare, and garlands of green
embower mission and dive impartially. Once a year the old street
recalls its youth with an effort. It is true that it is largely a
commercial effort; that the evergreen, with an instinct that is not of
its native hills, haunts saloon-corners by preference; but the smell of
the pine woods is in the air, andChristmas is not too criticalone
is grateful for the effort. It varies with the opportunity. At
Beefsteak John's it is content with artistically embalming crullers
and mince-pies in green cabbage under the window lamp. Over yonder,
where the mile-post of the old lane still stands,in its unhonored old
age become the vehicle of publishing the latest sure cure to the
world,a florist, whose undenominational zeal for the holiday and
trade outstrips alike distinction of creed and property, has
transformed the sidewalk and the ugly railroad structure into a
veritable bower, spanning it with a canopy of green, under which dwell
with him, in neighborly good-will, the Young Men's Christian
Association and the Jewish tailor next door.
In the next block a turkey-shoot is in progress. Crowds are trying
their luck at breaking the glass balls that dance upon tiny jets of
water in front of a marine view with the moon rising, yellow and big,
out of a silver sea. A man-of-war, with lights burning aloft, labors
under a rocky coast. Groggy sailormen, on shore leave, make unsteady
attempts upon the dancing balls. One mistakes the moon for the target,
but is discovered in season. Don't shoot that, says the man who loads
the guns; there's a lamp behind it. Three scared birds in the window
recess try vainly to snatch a moment's sleep between shots and the
trains that go roaring overhead on the elevated road. Roused by the
sharp crack of the rifles, they blink at the lights in the street, and
peck moodily at a crust in their bed of shavings.
The dime museum gong clatters out its noisy warning that the
lecture is about to begin. From the concert hall, where men sit
drinking beer in clouds of smoke, comes the thin voice of a
short-skirted singer, warbling, Do they think of me at home? The
young fellow who sits near the door, abstractedly making figures in the
wet track of the schooners, buries something there with a sudden
restless turn, and calls for another beer. Out in the street a band
strikes up. A host with banners advances, chanting an unfamiliar hymn.
In the ranks marches a cripple on crutches. Newsboys follow, gaping.
Under the illuminated clock of the Cooper Institute the procession
halts, and the leader, turning his face to the sky, offers a prayer.
The passing crowds stop to listen. A few bare their heads. The devoted
group, the flapping banners, and the changing torch-light on upturned
faces, make a strange, weird picture. Then the drum-beat, and the band
files into its barracks across the street. A few of the listeners
follow, among them the lad from the concert hall, who slinks
shamefacedly in when he thinks no one is looking.
Down at the foot of the Bowery is the pan-handlers' beat, where
the saloons elbow one another at every step, crowding out all other
business than that of keeping lodgers to support them. Within call of
it, across the square, stands a church which, in the memory of men yet
living, was built to shelter the fashionable Baptist audiences of a day
when Madison Square was out in the fields, and Harlem had a foreign
sound. The fashionable audiences are gone long since. To-day the
church, fallen into premature decay, but still handsome in its strong
and noble lines, stands as a missionary outpost in the land of the
enemy, its builders would have said, doing a greater work than they
planned. To-night is the Christmas festival of its English-speaking
Sunday-school, and the pews are filled. The banners of United Italy, of
modern Hellas, of France and Germany and England, hang side by side
with the Chinese dragon and the starry flagsigns of the cosmopolitan
character of the congregation. Greek and Roman Catholics, Jews and
joss-worshippers, go there; few Protestants, and no Baptists. It is
easy to pick out the children in their seats by nationality, and as
easy to read the story of poverty and suffering that stands written in
more than one mother's haggard face, now beaming with pleasure at the
little ones' glee. A gayly decorated Christmas tree has taken the place
of the pulpit. At its foot is stacked a mountain of bundles, Santa
Claus's gifts to the school. A self-conscious young man with soap-locks
has just been allowed to retire, amid tumultuous applause, after
blowing Nearer, my God, to Thee on his horn until his cheeks swelled
almost to bursting. A trumpet ever takes the Fourth Ward by storm. A
class of little girls is climbing upon the platform. Each wears a
capital letter on her breast, and has a piece to speak that begins with
the letter; together they spell its lesson. There is momentary
consternation: one is missing. As the discovery is made, a child pushes
past the doorkeeper, hot and breathless. I am in 'Boundless Love,'
she says, and makes for the platform, where her arrival restores
confidence and the language.
In the audience the befrocked visitor from up-town sits cheek by
jowl with the pigtailed Chinaman and the dark-browed Italian. Up in the
gallery, farthest from the preacher's desk and the tree, sits a Jewish
mother with three boys, almost in rags. A dingy and threadbare shawl
partly hides her poor calico wrap and patched apron. The woman shrinks
in the pew, fearful of being seen; her boys stand upon the benches, and
applaud with the rest. She endeavors vainly to restrain them. Tick,
tick! goes the old clock over the door through which wealth and
fashion went out long years ago, and poverty came in.
Tick, tick! the world moves, with uswithout; without or with. She
is the yesterday, they the to-morrow. What shall the harvest be?
Loudly ticked the old clock in time with the doxology, the other
day, when they cleared the tenants out of Gotham Court down here in
Cherry Street, and shut the iron doors of Single and Double Alley
against them. Never did the world move faster or surer toward a better
day than when the wretched slum was seized by the health officers as a
nuisance unfit longer to disgrace a Christian city. The snow lies deep
in the deserted passageways, and the vacant floors are given over to
evil smells, and to the rats that forage in squads, burrowing in the
neglected sewers. The wall of wrath still towers above the buildings
in the adjoining Alderman's Court, but its wrath at last is wasted.
It was built by a vengeful Quaker, whom the alderman had knocked
down in a quarrel over the boundary line, and transmitted its legacy of
hate to generations yet unborn; for where it stood it shut out sunlight
and air from the tenements of Alderman's Court. And at last it is to
go, Gotham Court and all; and to the going the wall of wrath has
contributed its share, thus in the end atoning for some of the harm it
wrought. Tick! old clock; the world moves. Never yet did Christmas seem
less dark on Cherry Hill than since the lights were put out in Gotham
In The Bend the philanthropist undertaker who buries for what he
can catch on the plate hails the Yule-tide season with a pyramid of
green made of two coffins set on end. It has been a good day, he says
cheerfully, putting up the shutters; and his mind is easy. But the
good days of The Bend are over, too. The Bend itself is all but gone.
Where the old pigsty stood, children dance and sing to the strumming of
a cracked piano-organ propelled on wheels by an Italian and his wife.
The park that has come to take the place of the slum will curtail the
undertaker's profits, as it has lessened the work of the police. Murder
was the fashion of the day that is past. Scarce a knife has been drawn
since the sunlight shone into that evil spot, and grass and green
shrubs took the place of the old rookeries. The Christmas gospel of
peace and good-will moves in where the slum moves out. It never had a
The children follow the organ, stepping in the slush to the music,
bareheaded and with torn shoes, but happy; across the Five Points and
through the Bay,known to the directory as Baxter Street,to the
Divide, still Chatham Street to its denizens, though the aldermen have
rechristened it Park Row. There other delegations of Greek and Italian
children meet and escort the music on its homeward trip. In one of the
crooked streets near the river its journey comes to an end. A battered
door opens to let it in. A tallow dip burns sleepily on the creaking
stairs. The water runs with a loud clatter in the sink: it is to keep
it from freezing. There is not a whole window pane in the hall. Time
was when this was a fine house harboring wealth and refinement. It has
neither now. In the old parlor downstairs a knot of hard-faced men and
women sit on benches about a deal table, playing cards. They have a jug
between them, from which they drink by turns. On the stump of a
mantel-shelf a lamp burns before a rude print of the Mother of God. No
one pays any heed to the hand-organ man and his wife as they climb to
their attic. There is a colony of them up therethree families in four
Come in, Antonio, says the tenant of the double flat,the one
with two rooms,come and keep Christmas. Antonio enters, cap in
hand. In the corner by the dormer-window a crib has been fitted up in
commemoration of the Nativity. A soap-box and two hemlock branches are
the elements. Six tallow candles and a night-light illuminate a
singular collection of rarities, set out with much ceremonial show. A
doll tightly wrapped in swaddling-clothes represents the Child. Over
it stands a ferocious-looking beast, easily recognized as a survival of
the last political campaign,the Tammany tiger,threatening to
swallow it at a gulp if one as much as takes one's eyes off it. A
miniature Santa Claus, a pasteboard monkey, and several other articles
of bric-a-brac of the kind the tenement affords, complete the outfit.
The background is a picture of St. Donato, their village saint, with
the Madonna whom they worship most. But the incongruity harbors no
suggestion of disrespect. The children view the strange show with
genuine reverence, bowing and crossing themselves before it. There are
five, the oldest a girl of seventeen, who works for a sweater, making
three dollars a week. It is all the money that comes in, for the father
has been sick and unable to work eight months and the mother has her
hands full: the youngest is a baby in arms. Three of the children go to
a charity school, where they are fed, a great help, now the holidays
have come to make work slack for sister. The rent is six dollarstwo
weeks' pay out of the four. The mention of a possible chance of light
work for the man brings the daughter with her sewing from the adjoining
room, eager to hear. That would be Christmas indeed! Pietro! She runs
to the neighbors to communicate the joyful tidings. Pietro comes, with
his new-born baby, which he is tending while his wife lies ill, to look
at the maestro, so powerful and good. He also has been out of work for
months, with a family of mouths to fill, and nothing coming in. His
children are all small yet, but they speak English.
What, I say, holding a silver dime up before the oldest, a smart
little chap of sevenwhat would you do if I gave you this?
Get change, he replies promptly. When he is told that it is his
own, to buy toys with, his eyes open wide with wondering incredulity.
By degrees he understands. The father does not. He looks questioningly
from one to the other. When told, his respect increases visibly for
the rich gentleman.
They were villagers of the same community in southern Italy, these
people and others in the tenements thereabouts, and they moved their
patron saint with them. They cluster about his worship here, but the
worship is more than an empty form. He typifies to them the old
neighborliness of home, the spirit of mutual help, of charity, and of
the common cause against the common enemy. The community life survives
through their saint in the far city to an unsuspected extent. The sick
are cared for; the dreaded hospital is fenced out. There are no Italian
evictions. The saint has paid the rent of this attic through two hard
months; and here at his shrine the Calabrian village gathers, in the
persons of these three, to do him honor on Christmas eve.
Where the old Africa has been made over into a modern Italy, since
King Humbert's cohorts struck the up-town trail, three hundred of the
little foreigners are having an uproarious time over their Christmas
tree in the Children's Aid Society's school. And well they may, for the
like has not been seen in Sullivan Street in this generation. Christmas
trees are rather rarer over here than on the East Side, where the
German leavens the lump with his loyalty to home traditions. This is
loaded with silver and gold and toys without end, until there is little
left of the original green. Santa Claus's sleigh must have been upset
in a snow-drift over here, and righted by throwing the cargo overboard,
for there is at least a wagon-load of things that can find no room on
the tree. The appearance of teacher with a double armful of
curly-headed dolls in red, yellow, and green Mother-Hubbards, doubtful
how to dispose of them, provokes a shout of approval, which is
presently quieted by the principal's bell. School is in for the
preliminary exercises. Afterward there are to be the tree and ice-cream
for the good children. In their anxiety to prove their title clear,
they sit so straight, with arms folded, that the whole row bends over
backward. The lesson is brief, the answers to the point.
What do we receive at Christmas? the teacher wants to know. The
whole school responds with a shout, Dolls and toys! To the question,
Why do we receive them at Christmas? the answer is not so prompt. But
one youngster from Thompson Street holds up his hand. He knows.
Because we always get 'em, he says; and the class is convinced: it is
a fact. A baby wails because it cannot get the whole tree at once. The
little motherherself a child of less than a dozen winterswho has
it in charge, cooes over it, and soothes its grief with the aid of a
surreptitious sponge-cake evolved from the depths of teacher's pocket.
Babies are encouraged in these schools, though not originally included
in their plan, as often the one condition upon which the older children
can be reached. Some one has to mind the baby, with all hands out at
The school sings Santa Lucia and Children of the Heavenly King,
and baby is lulled to sleep.
Who is this King? asks the teacher, suddenly, at the end of a
verse. Momentary stupefaction. The little minds are on ice-cream just
then; the lad nearest the door has telegraphed that it is being carried
up in pails. A little fellow on the back seat saves the day. Up goes
his brown fist.
Well, Vito, who is he?
McKinley! pipes the lad, who remembers the election just past; and
the school adjourns for ice-cream.
It is a sight to see them eat it. In a score of such schools, from
the Hook to Harlem, the sight is enjoyed in Christmas week by the men
and women who, out of their own pockets, reimburse Santa Claus for his
outlay, and count it a joy, as well they may; for their beneficence
sometimes makes the one bright spot in lives that have suffered of all
wrongs the most cruel,that of being despoiled of their childhood.
Sometimes they are little Bohemians; sometimes the children of refugee
Jews; and again, Italians, or the descendants of the Irish stock of
Hell's Kitchen and Poverty Row; always the poorest, the shabbiest, the
hungriestthe children Santa Claus loves best to find, if any one will
show him the way. Having so much on hand, he has no time, you see, to
look them up himself. That must be done for him; and it is done. To the
teacher in the Sullivan Street school came one little girl, this last
Christmas, with anxious inquiry if it was true that he came around with
I hanged my stocking last time, she said, and he didn't come at
all. In the front house indeed, he left a drum and a doll, but no
message from him reached the rear house in the alley. Maybe he
couldn't find it, she said soberly. Did the teacher think he would
come if she wrote to him? She had learned to write.
Together they composed a note to Santa Claus, speaking for a doll
and a bellthe bell to play go to school with when she was kept home
minding the baby. Lest he should by any chance miss the alley in spite
of directions, little Rosa was invited to hang her stocking, and her
sister's, with the janitor's children's in the school. And lo! on
Christmas morning there was a gorgeous doll, and a bell that was a
whole curriculum in itself, as good as a year's schooling any day!
Faith in Santa Claus is established in that Thompson Street alley for
this generation at least; and Santa Claus, got by hook or by crook into
an Eighth Ward alley, is as good as the whole Supreme Court bench, with
the Court of Appeals thrown in, for backing the Board of Health against
But the ice-cream! They eat it off the seats, half of them kneeling
or squatting on the floor; they blow on it, and put it in their pockets
to carry home to baby. Two little shavers discovered to be feeding each
other, each watching the smack develop on the other's lips as the acme
of his own bliss, are cousins; that is why. Of cake there is a double
supply. It is a dozen years since Fighting Mary, the wildest child in
the Seventh Avenue school, taught them a lesson there which they have
never forgotten. She was perfectly untamable, fighting everybody in
school, the despair of her teacher, till on Thanksgiving, reluctantly
included in the general amnesty and mince-pie, she was caught cramming
the pie into her pocket, after eying it with a look of pure ecstasy,
but refusing to touch it. For mother was her explanation, delivered
with a defiant look before which the class quailed. It is recorded, but
not in the minutes, that the board of managers wept over Fighting Mary,
who, all unconscious of having caused such an astonishing break, was
at that moment engaged in maintaining her prestige and reputation by
fighting the gang in the next block. The minutes contain merely a
formal resolution to the effect that occasions of mince-pie shall carry
double rations thenceforth. And the rule has been keptnot only in
Seventh Avenue, but in every industrial schoolsince. Fighting Mary
won the biggest fight of her troubled life that day, without striking a
It was in the Seventh Avenue school last Christmas that I offered
the truant class a four-bladed penknife as a prize for whittling out
the truest Maltese cross. It was a class of black sheep, and it was the
blackest sheep of the flock that won the prize. That awful Savarese,
said the principal in despair. I thought of Fighting Mary, and bade her
take heart. I regret to say that within a week the hapless Savarese was
black-listed for banking up the school door with snow, so that not even
the janitor could get out and at him.
Within hail of the Sullivan Street school camps a scattered little
band, the Christmas customs of which I had been trying for years to
surprise. They are Indians, a handful of Mohawks and Iroquois, whom
some ill wind has blown down from their Canadian reservation, and left
in these West Side tenements to eke out such a living as they can,
weaving mats and baskets, and threading glass pearls on slippers and
pin-cushions, until, one after another, they have died off and gone to
happier hunting-grounds than Thompson Street. There were as many
families as one could count on the fingers of both hands when I first
came upon them, at the death of old Tamenund, the basket maker. Last
Christmas there were seven. I had about made up my mind that the only
real Americans in New York did not keep the holiday at all, when, one
Christmas eve, they showed me how. Just as dark was setting in, old
Mrs. Benoit came from her Hudson Street atticwhere she was known
among the neighbors, as old and poor as she, as Mrs. Ben Wah, and was
believed to be the relict of a warrior of the name of Benjamin Wahto
the office of the Charity Organization Society, with a bundle for a
friend who had helped her over a rough spotthe rent, I suppose. The
bundle was done up elaborately in blue cheese-cloth, and contained a
lot of little garments which she had made out of the remnants of
blankets and cloth of her own from a younger and better day. For
those, she said, in her French patois, who are poorer than myself;
and hobbled away. I found out, a few days later, when I took her
picture weaving mats in her attic room, that she had scarcely food in
the house that Christmas day and not the car fare to take her to
church! Walking was bad, and her old limbs were stiff. She sat by the
window through the winter evening, and watched the sun go down behind
the western hills, comforted by her pipe. Mrs. Ben Wah, to give her her
local name, is not really an Indian; but her husband was one, and she
lived all her life with the tribe till she came here. She is a
philosopher in her own quaint way. It is no disgrace to be poor, said
she to me, regarding her empty tobacco-pouch; but it is sometimes a
great inconvenience. Not even the recollection of the vote of censure
that was passed upon me once by the ladies of the Charitable Ten for
surreptitiously supplying an aged couple, the special object of their
charity, with army plug, could have deterred me from taking the hint.
Very likely, my old friend Miss Sherman, in her Broome Street
cellar,it is always the attic or the cellar,would object to Mrs.
Ben Wah's claim to being the only real American in my note-book. She is
from Down East, and says stun for stone. In her youth she was
lady's-maid to a general's wife, the recollection of which military
career equally condones the cellar and prevents her holding any sort of
communication with her common neighbors, who add to the offence of
being foreigners the unpardonable one of being mostly men. Eight cats
bear her steady company, and keep alive her starved affections. I found
them on last Christmas eve behind barricaded doors; for the cold that
had locked the water-pipes had brought the neighbors down to the
cellar, where Miss Sherman's cunning had kept them from freezing. Their
tin pans and buckets were even then banging against her door. They're
a miserable lot, said the old maid, fondling her cats defiantly; but
let 'em. It's Christmas. Ah! she added, as one of the eight stood up
in her lap and rubbed its cheek against hers, they're innocent. It
isn't poor little animals that does the harm. It's men and women that
does it to each other. I don't know whether it was just philosophy,
like Mrs. Ben Wah's, or a glimpse of her story. If she had one, she
kept it for her cats.
In a hundred places all over the city, when Christmas comes, as many
open-air fairs spring suddenly into life. A kind of Gentile Feast of
Tabernacles possesses the tenement districts especially.
Green-embowered booths stand in rows at the curb, and the voice of the
tin trumpet is heard in the land. The common source of all the show is
down by the North River, in the district known as the Farm. Down
there Santa Claus establishes headquarters early in December and until
past New Year. The broad quay looks then more like a clearing in a pine
forest than a busy section of the metropolis. The steamers discharge
their loads of fir trees at the piers until they stand stacked
mountain-high, with foot-hills of holly and ground-ivy trailing off
toward the land side. An army train of wagons is engaged in carting
them away from early morning till late at night; but the green forest
grows, in spite of it all, until in places it shuts the shipping out of
sight altogether. The air is redolent with the smell of balsam and
pine. After nightfall, when the lights are burning in the busy market,
and the homeward-bound crowds with baskets and heavy burdens of
Christmas greens jostle one another with good-natured banter,nobody
is ever cross down here in the holiday season,it is good to take a
stroll through the Farm, if one has a spot in his heart faithful yet to
the hills and the woods in spite of the latter-day city. But it is when
the moonlight is upon the water and upon the dark phantom forest, when
the heavy breathing of some passing steamer is the only sound that
breaks the stillness of the night, and the watchman smokes his only
pipe on the bulwark, that the Farm has a mood and an atmosphere all its
own, full of poetry which some day a painter's brush will catch and
Into the ugliest tenement street Christmas brings something of
picturesqueness, of cheer. Its message was ever to the poor and the
heavy-laden, and by them it is understood with an instinctive yearning
to do it honor. In the stiff dignity of the brownstone streets up-town
there may be scarce a hint of it. In the homes of the poor it blossoms
on stoop and fire-escape, looks out of the front window, and makes the
unsightly barber-pole to sprout overnight like an Aaron's-rod. Poor
indeed is the home that has not its sign of peace over the hearth, be
it but a single sprig of green. A little color creeps with it even into
rabbinical Hester Street, and shows in the shop-windows and in the
children's faces. The very feather dusters in the pedler's stock take
on brighter hues for the occasion, and the big knives in the cutler's
shop gleam with a lively anticipation of the impending goose with
fixin'sa concession, perhaps, to the commercial rather than the
religious holiday: business comes then, if ever. A crowd of ragamuffins
camp out at a window where Santa Claus and his wife stand in state,
embodiment of the domestic ideal that has not yet gone out of fashion
in these tenements, gazing hungrily at the announcement that A silver
present will be given to every purchaser by a real Santa Claus.M.
Levitsky. Across the way, in a hole in the wall, two cobblers are
pegging away under an oozy lamp that makes a yellow splurge on the inky
blackness about them, revealing to the passer-by their bearded faces,
but nothing of the environment save a single sprig of holly suspended
from the lamp. From what forgotten brake it came with a message of
cheer, a thought of wife and children across the sea waiting their
summons, God knows. The shop is their house and home. It was once the
hall of the tenement; but to save space, enough has been walled in to
make room for their bench and bed; the tenants go through the next
house. No matter if they are cramped; by and by they will have room. By
and by comes the spring, and with it the steamer. Does not the green
branch speak of spring and of hope? The policeman on the beat hears
their hammers beat a joyous tattoo past midnight, far into Christmas
morning. Who shall say its message has not reached even them in their
Where the noisy trains speed over the iron highway past the
second-story windows of Allen Street, a cellar door yawns darkly in the
shadow of one of the pillars that half block the narrow sidewalk. A
dull gleam behind the cobweb-shrouded window pane supplements the sign
over the door, in Yiddish and English: Old Brasses. Four crooked and
mouldy steps lead to utter darkness, with no friendly voice to guide
the hapless customer. Fumbling along the dank wall, he is left to find
the door of the shop as best he can. Not a likely place to encounter
the fastidious from the Avenue! Yet ladies in furs and silk find this
door and the grim old smith within it. Now and then an artist stumbles
upon them, and exults exceedingly in his find. Two holiday shoppers are
even now haggling with the coppersmith over the price of a pair of
curiously wrought brass candlesticks. The old man has turned from the
forge, at which he was working, unmindful of his callers roving among
the dusty shelves. Standing there, erect and sturdy, in his shiny
leather apron, hammer in hand, with the firelight upon his venerable
head, strong arms bared to the elbow, and the square paper cap pushed
back from a thoughtful, knotty brow, he stirs strange fancies. One half
expects to see him fashioning a gorget or a sword on his anvil. But his
is a more peaceful craft. Nothing more warlike is in sight than a row
of brass shields, destined for ornament, not for battle. Dark shadows
chase one another by the flickering light among copper kettles of ruddy
glow, old-fashioned samovars, and massive andirons of tarnished brass.
The bargaining goes on. Overhead the nineteenth century speeds by with
rattle and roar; in here linger the shadows of the centuries long dead.
The boy at the anvil listens open-mouthed, clutching the bellows-rope.
In Liberty Hall a Jewish wedding is in progress. Liberty! Strange
how the word echoes through these sweaters' tenements, where starvation
is at home half the time. It is as an all-consuming passion with these
people, whose spirit a thousand years of bondage have not availed to
daunt. It breaks out in strikes, when to strike is to hunger and die.
Not until I stood by a striking cloak-maker whose last cent was gone,
with not a crust in the house to feed seven hungry mouths, yet who had
voted vehemently in the meeting that day to keep up the strike to the
bitter end,bitter indeed, nor far distant,and heard him at sunset
recite the prayer of his fathers: Blessed art thou, O Lord our God,
King of the world, that thou hast redeemed us as thou didst redeem our
fathers, hast delivered us from bondage to liberty, and from servile
dependence to redemption!not until then did I know what of sacrifice
the word might mean, and how utterly we of another day had forgotten.
But for once shop and tenement are left behind. Whatever other days may
have in store, this is their day of play, when all may rejoice.
The bridegroom, a cloak-presser in a hired dress suit, sits alone
and ill at ease at one end of the hall, sipping whiskey with a fine air
of indifference, but glancing apprehensively toward the crowd of women
in the opposite corner that surround the bride, a pale little shop-girl
with a pleading, winsome face. From somewhere unexpectedly appears a
big man in an ill-fitting coat and skullcap, flanked on either side by
a fiddler, who scrapes away and away, accompanying the improvisator in
a plaintive minor key as he halts before the bride and intones his lay.
With many a shrug of stooping shoulders and queer excited gesture, he
drones, in the harsh, guttural Yiddish of Hester Street, his story of
life's joys and sorrows, its struggles and victories in the land of
promise. The women listen, nodding and swaying their bodies
sympathetically. He works himself into a frenzy, in which the fiddlers
vainly try to keep up with him. He turns and digs the laggard angrily
in the side without losing the metre. The climax comes. The bride
bursts into hysterical sobs, while the women wipe their eyes. A plate,
heretofore concealed under his coat, is whisked out. He has conquered;
the inevitable collection is taken up.
The tuneful procession moves upon the bridegroom. An Essex Street
girl in the crowd, watching them go, says disdainfully: None of this
humbug when I get married. It is the straining of young America at the
fetters of tradition. Ten minutes later, when, between double files of
women holding candles, the couple pass to the canopy where the rabbi
waits, she has already forgotten; and when the crunching of a glass
under the bridegroom's heel announces that they are one, and that until
the broken pieces be reunited he is hers and hers alone, she joins with
all the company in the exulting shout of Mozzel tov! (Good luck!).
Then the dupka, men and women joining in, forgetting all but the
moment, hands on hips, stepping in time, forward, backward, and across.
And then the feast.
They sit at the long tables by squads and tribes. Those who belong
together sit together. There is no attempt at pairing off for
conversation or mutual entertainment, at speech-making or toasting. The
business in hand is to eat, and it is attended to. The bridegroom, at
the head of the table, with his shiny silk hat on, sets the example;
and the guests emulate it with zeal, the men smoking big, strong cigars
between mouthfuls. Gosh! ain't it fine? is the grateful comment of
one curly-headed youngster, bravely attacking his third plate of
chicken-stew. Fine as silk, nods his neighbor in knickerbockers.
Christmas, for once, means something to them that they can understand.
The crowd of hurrying waiters make room for one bearing aloft a small
turkey adorned with much tinsel and many paper flowers. It is for the
bride, the one thing not to be touched until the next dayone day off
from the drudgery of housekeeping; she, too, can keep Christmas.
A group of bearded, dark-browed men sit apart, the rabbi among them.
They are the orthodox, who cannot break bread with the rest, for fear,
though the food be kosher, the plates have been defiled. They brought
their own to the feast, and sit at their own table, stern and
justified. Did they but know what depravity is harbored in the impish
mind of the girl yonder, who plans to hang her stocking overnight by
the window! There is no fireplace in the tenement. Queer things happen
over here, in the strife between the old and the new. The girls of the
College Settlement, last summer, felt compelled to explain that the
holiday in the country which they offered some of these children was to
be spent in an Episcopal clergyman's house, where they had prayers
every morning. Oh, was the mother's indulgent answer, they know it
isn't true, so it won't hurt them.
The bell of a neighboring church tower strikes the vesper hour. A
man in working-clothes uncovers his head reverently, and passes on.
Through the vista of green bowers formed of the grocer's stock of
Christmas trees a passing glimpse of flaring torches in the distant
square is caught. They touch with flame the gilt cross towering high
above the White Garden, as the German residents call Tompkins Square.
On the sidewalk the holy-eve fair is in its busiest hour. In the
pine-board booths stand rows of staring toy dogs alternately with
plaster saints. Red apples and candy are hawked from carts. Pedlers
offer colored candles with shrill outcry. A huckster feeding his horse
by the curb scatters, unseen, a share for the sparrows. The cross
flashes white against the dark sky.
In one of the side streets near the East River has stood for thirty
years a little mission church, called Hope Chapel by its founders, in
the brave spirit in which they built it. It has had plenty of use for
the spirit since. Of the kind of problems that beset its pastor I
caught a glimpse the other day, when, as I entered his room, a
rough-looking man went out.
One of my cares, said Mr. Devins, looking after him with
contracted brow. He has spent two Christmas days of twenty-three out
of jail. He is a burglar, or was. His daughter has brought him round.
She is a seamstress. For three months, now, she has been keeping him
and the home, working nights. If I could only get him a job! He won't
stay honest long without it; but who wants a burglar for a watchman?
And how can I recommend him?
A few doors from the chapel an alley sets into the block. We halted
at the mouth of it.
Come in, said Mr. Devins, and wish Blind Jennie a Merry
We went in, in single file; there was not room for two. As we
climbed the creaking stairs of the rear tenement, a chorus of
children's shrill voices burst into song somewhere above.
It is her class, said the pastor of Hope Chapel, as he stopped on
the landing. They are all kinds. We never could hope to reach them;
Jennie can. They fetch her the papers given out in the Sunday-school,
and read to her what is printed under the pictures; and she tells them
the story of it. There is nothing Jennie doesn't know about the Bible.
The door opened upon a low-ceiled room, where the evening shades lay
deep. The red glow from the kitchen stove discovered a jam of children,
young girls mostly, perched on the table, the chairs, in one another's
laps, or squatting on the floor; in the midst of them, a little old
woman with heavily veiled face, and wan, wrinkled hands folded in her
lap. The singing ceased as we stepped across the threshold.
Be welcome, piped a harsh voice with a singular note of
cheerfulness in it. Whose step is that with you, pastor? I don't know
it. He is welcome in Jennie's house, whoever he be. Girls, make him to
home. The girls moved up to make room.
Jennie has not seen since she was a child, said the clergyman,
gently; but she knows a friend without it. Some day she shall see the
great Friend in his glory, and then she shall be Blind Jennie no more.
The little woman raised the veil from a face shockingly disfigured,
and touched the eyeless sockets. Some day, she repeated, Jennie
shall see. Not long nownot long! Her pastor patted her hand. The
silence of the dark room was broken by Blind Jennie's voice, rising
cracked and quavering: Alas! and did my Saviour bleed? The shrill
chorus burst in:
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.
The light that falls from the windows of the Neighborhood Guild, in
Delancey Street, makes a white path across the asphalt pavement.
Within, there is mirth and laughter. The Tenth Ward Social Reform Club
is having its Christmas festival. Its members, poor mothers,
scrubwomen,the president is the janitress of a tenement near
by,have brought their little ones, a few their husbands, to share in
the fun. One little girl has to be dragged up to the grab-bag. She
cries at the sight of Santa Claus. The baby has drawn a woolly horse.
He kisses the toy with a look of ecstatic bliss, and toddles away. At
the far end of the hall a game of blindman's-buff is starting up. The
aged grandmother, who has watched it with growing excitement, bids one
of the settlement workers hold her grandchild, that she may join in;
and she does join in, with all the pent-up hunger of fifty joyless
years. The worker, looking on, smiles; one has been reached. Thus is
the battle against the slum waged and won with the child's play.
Tramp! tramp! comes the to-morrow upon the stage. Two hundred and
fifty pairs of little feet, keeping step, are marching to dinner in the
Newsboys' Lodging-house. Five hundred pairs more are restlessly
awaiting their turn upstairs. In prison, hospital, and almshouse
to-night the city is host, and gives of her plenty. Here an unknown
friend has spread a generous repast for the waifs who all the rest of
the days shift for themselves as best they can. Turkey, coffee, and
pie, with vegetubles to fill in. As the file of eagle-eyed youngsters
passes down the long tables, there are swift movements of grimy hands,
and shirt-waists bulge, ragged coats sag at the pockets. Hardly is the
file seated when the plaint rises: I ain't got no pie! It got swiped
on me. Seven despoiled ones hold up their hands.
The superintendent laughsit is Christmas eve. He taps one
tentatively on the bulging shirt. What have you here, my lad?
Me pie, responds he, with an innocent look; I wuz scart it would
A little fellow who has been eying one of the visitors attentively
takes his knife out of his mouth, and points it at him with conviction.
I know you, he pipes. You're a p'lice commissioner. I seen yer
picter in the papers. You're Teddy Roosevelt!
The clatter of knives and forks ceases suddenly. Seven pies creep
stealthily over the edge of the table, and are replaced on as many
plates. The visitors laugh. It was a case of mistaken identity.
Farthest down town, where the island narrows toward the Battery, and
warehouses crowd the few remaining tenements, the sombre-hued colony of
Syrians is astir with preparation for the holiday. How comes it that in
the only settlement of the real Christmas people in New York the corner
saloon appropriates to itself all the outward signs of it? Even the
floral cross that is nailed over the door of the Orthodox church is
long withered and dead; it has been there since Easter, and it is yet
twelve days to Christmas by the belated reckoning of the Greek Church.
But if the houses show no sign of the holiday, within there is nothing
lacking. The whole colony is gone a-visiting. There are enough of the
unorthodox to set the fashion, and the rest follow the custom of the
country. The men go from house to house, laugh, shake hands, and kiss
one another on both cheeks, with the salutation, Kol am va antom
Salimoon. Every year and you are safe, the Syrian guide renders it
into English; and a non-professional interpreter amends it: May you
grow happier year by year. Arrack made from grapes and flavored with
anise seed, and candy baked in little white balls like marbles, are
served with the indispensable cigarette; for long callers, the pipe.
In a top-floor room of one of the darkest of the dilapidated
tenements, the dusty window panes of which the last glow in the winter
sky is tinging faintly with red, a dance is in progress. The guests,
most of them fresh from the hillsides of Mount Lebanon, squat about the
room. A reed-pipe and a tambourine furnish the music. One has the
centre of the floor. With a beer jug filled to the brim on his head, he
skips and sways, bending, twisting, kneeling, gesturing, and keeping
time, while the men clap their hands. He lies down and turns over, but
not a drop is spilled. Another succeeds him, stepping proudly,
gracefully, furling and unfurling a handkerchief like a banner. As he
sits down, and the beer goes around, one in the corner, who looks like
a shepherd fresh from his pasture, strikes up a songa far-off,
lonesome, plaintive lay. 'Far as the hills,' says the guide; a song
of the old days and the old people, now seldom heard. All together
croon the refrain. The host delivers himself of an epic about his love
across the seas, with the most agonizing expression, and in a
shockingly bad voice. He is the worst singer I ever heard; but his
companions greet his effort with approving shouts of Yi! yi! They
look so fierce, and yet are so childishly happy, that at the thought of
their exile and of the dark tenement the question arises, Why all this
joy? The guide answers it with a look of surprise. They sing, he
says, because they are glad they are free. Did you not know?
The bells in old Trinity chime the midnight hour. From dark hallways
men and women pour forth and hasten to the Maronite church. In the loft
of the dingy old warehouse wax candles burn before an altar of brass.
The priest, in a white robe with a huge gold cross worked on the back,
chants the ritual. The people respond. The women kneel in the aisles,
shrouding their heads in their shawls; a surpliced acolyte swings his
censer; the heavy perfume of burning incense fills the hall.
The band at the anarchists' ball is tuning up for the last dance.
Young and old float to the happy strains, forgetting injustice,
oppression, hatred. Children slide upon the waxed floor, weaving
fearlessly in and out between the couplesbetween fierce, bearded men
and short-haired women with crimson-bordered kerchiefs. A
Punch-and-Judy show in the corner evokes shouts of laughter.
Outside the snow is falling. It sifts silently into each nook and
corner, softens all the hard and ugly lines, and throws the spotless
mantle of charity over the blemishes, the shortcomings. Christmas
morning will dawn pure and white.
ABE'S GAME OF JACKS
Time hung heavily on Abe Seelig's hands, alone, or as good as alone,
in the flat on the stoop of the Allen Street tenement. His mother had
gone to the butcher's. Chajim, the father,Chajim is the Yiddish of
Herman,was long at the shop. To Abe was committed the care of his
two young brothers, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham was nine, and past time
for fooling. Play is fooling in the sweaters' tenements, and the
muddling of ideas makes trouble, later on, to which the police returns
have the index.
Don't let 'em on the stairs, the mother had said, on going, with a
warning nod toward the bed where Jake and Ikey slept. He didn't intend
to. Besides, they were fast asleep. Abe cast about him for fun of some
kind, and bethought himself of a game of jacks. That he had no
jackstones was of small moment to him. East Side tenements, where
pennies are infrequent, have resources. One penny was Abe's hoard. With
that, and an accidental match, he began the game.
It went on well enough, albeit slightly lopsided by reason of the
penny being so much the weightier, until the match, in one unlucky
throw, fell close to a chair by the bed, and, in falling, caught fire.
Something hung down from the chair, and while Abe gazed,
open-mouthed, at the match, at the chair, and at the bed right
alongside, with his sleeping brothers on it, the little blaze caught
it. The flame climbed up, up, up, and a great smoke curled under the
ceiling. The children still slept, locked in each other's arms, and
He ran, frightened half out of his senses, out of the room, out of
the house, into the street, to the nearest friendly place he knew, a
grocery store five doors away, where his mother traded; but she was not
there. Abe merely saw that she was not there, then he hid himself,
In all the block, where three thousand tenants live, no one knew
what cruel thing was happening on the stoop of No. 19.
A train passed on the elevated road, slowing up for the station near
by. The engineer saw one wild whirl of fire within the room, and
opening the throttle of his whistle wide, let out a screech so long and
so loud that in ten seconds the street was black with men and women
rushing out to see what dreadful thing had happened.
No need of asking. From the door of the Seelig flat, burned through,
fierce flames reached across the hall, barring the way. The tenement
was shut in.
Promptly it poured itself forth upon fire-escape ladders, front and
rear, with shrieks and wailing. In the street the crowd became a deadly
crush. Police and firemen battered their way through, ran down and over
men, women, and children, with a desperate effort.
The firemen from Hook and Ladder Six, around the corner, had heard
the shrieks, and, knowing what they portended, ran with haste. But they
were too late with their extinguishers; could not even approach the
burning flat. They could only throw up their ladders to those above.
For the rest they must needs wait until the engines came.
One tore up the street, coupled on a hose, and ran it into the
house. Then died out the fire in the flat as speedily as it had come.
The burning room was pumped full of water, and the firemen entered.
Just within the room they came upon little Jacob, still alive, but
half roasted. He had struggled from the bed nearly to the door. On the
bed lay the body of Isaac, the youngest, burned to a crisp.
They carried Jacob to the police station. As they brought him out, a
frantic woman burst through the throng and threw herself upon him. It
was the children's mother come back. When they took her to the
blackened corpse of little Ike, she went stark mad. A dozen neighbors
held her down, shrieking, while others went in search of the father.
In the street the excitement grew until it became almost
uncontrollable when the dead boy was carried out.
In the midst of it little Abe returned, pale, silent, and
frightened, to stand by his raving mother.
A LITTLE PICTURE
The fire-bells rang on the Bowery in the small hours of the morning.
One of the old dwelling-houses that remain from the day when the
Bouwerie was yet remembered as an avenue of beer-gardens and pleasure
resorts was burning. Down in the street stormed the firemen, coupling
hose and dragging it to the front. Upstairs in the peak of the roof, in
the broken skylight, hung a man, old, feeble, and gasping for breath,
struggling vainly to get out. He had piled chairs upon tables, and
climbed up where he could grasp the edge, but his strength had given
out when one more effort would have freed him. He felt himself sinking
back. Over him was the sky, reddened now by the fire that raged below.
Through the hole the pent-up smoke in the building found vent and
rushed in a black and stifling cloud.
Air, air! gasped the old man. O God, water!
There was a swishing sound, a splash, and the copious spray of a
stream sent over the house from the street fell upon his upturned face.
It beat back the smoke. Strength and hope returned. He took another
grip on the rafter just as he would have let go.
Oh, that I might be reached yet and saved from this awful death!
he prayed. Help, O God, help!
An answering cry came over the adjoining roof. He had been heard,
and the firemen, who did not dream that any one was in the burning
building, had him in a minute. He had been asleep in the store when the
fire aroused him and drove him, blinded and bewildered, to the attic,
where he was trapped.
Safe in the street, the old man fell upon his knees.
I prayed for water, and it came; I prayed for freedom, and was
saved. The God of my fathers be praised! he said, and bowed his head
A DREAM OF THE WOODS
Something came over Police Headquarters in the middle of the summer
night. It was like the sighing of the north wind in the branches of the
tall firs and in the reeds along lonely river-banks where the otter
dips from the brink for its prey. The doorman, who yawned in the hall,
and to whom reed-grown river banks have been strangers so long that he
has forgotten they ever were, shivered and thought of pneumonia.
The Sergeant behind the desk shouted for some one to close the door;
it was getting as cold as January. The little messenger boy on the
lowest step of the oaken stairs nodded and dreamed in his sleep of
Uncas and Chingachgook and the great woods. The cunning old beaver was
there in his hut, and he heard the crack of Deerslayer's rifle.
He knew all the time he was dreaming, sitting on the steps of Police
Headquarters, and yet it was all as real to him as if he were there,
with the Mingoes creeping up to him in ambush all about and reaching
for his scalp.
While he slept, a light step had passed, and the moccasin of the
woods left its trail in his dream. In with the gust through the
Mulberry Street door had come a strange pair, an old woman and a
bright-eyed child, led by a policeman, and had passed up to Matron
Travers's quarters on the top floor.
Strangely different, they were yet alike, both children of the
woods. The woman was a squaw typical in looks and bearing, with the
straight, black hair, dark skin, and stolid look of her race. She
climbed the steps wearily, holding the child by the hand. The little
one skipped eagerly, two steps at a time. There was the faintest tinge
of brown in her plump cheeks, and a roguish smile in the corner of her
eyes that made it a hardship not to take her up in one's lap and hug
her at sight. In her frock of red-and-white calico she was a fresh and
charming picture, with all the grace of movement and the sweet shyness
of a young fawn.
The policeman had found them sitting on a big trunk in the Grand
Central Station, waiting patiently for something or somebody that
didn't come. When he had let them sit until he thought the child ought
to be in bed, he took them into the police station in the depot, and
there an effort was made to find out who and what they were. It was not
an easy matter. Neither could speak English. They knew a few words of
French, however, and between that and a note the old woman had in her
pocket the general outline of the trouble was gathered. They were of
the Canaghwaga tribe of Iroquois, domiciled in the St. Regis
reservation across the Canadian border, and had come down to sell a
trunkful of beads, and things worked with beads. Some one was to meet
them, but had failed to come, and these two, to whom the trackless
wilderness was as an open book, were lost in the city of ten thousand
The matron made them understand by signs that two of the nine white
beds in the nursery were for them, and they turned right in, humbly and
silently thankful. The little girl had carried up with her, hugged very
close under her arm, a doll that was a real ethnological study. It was
a faithful rendering of the Indian pappoose, whittled out of a chunk of
wood, with two staring glass beads for eyes, and strapped to a board
the way Indian babies are, under a coverlet of very gaudy blue. It was
a marvellous doll baby, and its nurse was mighty proud of it. She
didn't let it go when she went to bed. It slept with her, and got up to
play with her as soon as the first ray of daylight peeped in over the
The morning brought visitors, who admired the doll, chirruped to the
little girl, and tried to talk with her grandmother, for that they made
her out to be. To most questions she simply answered by shaking her
head and holding out her credentials. There were two letters: one to
the conductor of the train from Montreal, asking him to see that they
got through all right; the other, a memorandum, for her own benefit
apparently, recounting the number of hearts, crosses, and other
treasures she had in her trunk. It was from those she had left behind
at the reservation.
Little Angus, it ran, sends what is over to sell for him. Sarah
sends the hearts. As soon as you can, will you try and sell some
hearts? Then there was love to mother, and lastly an account of what
the mason had said about the chimney of the cabin. They had sent for
him to fix it. It was very dangerous the way it was, ran the message,
and if mother would get the bricks, he would fix it right away.
The old squaw looked on with an anxious expression while the note
was being read, as if she expected some sense to come out of it that
would find her folks; but none of that kind could be made out of it, so
they sat and waited until General Parker should come in.
General Ely S. Parker was the big Indian of Mulberry Street in a
very real sense. Though he was a clerk in the Police Department and
never went on the war-path any more, he was the head of the ancient
Indian Confederacy, chief of the Six Nations, once so powerful for
mischief, and now a mere name that frightens no one. Donegahawaone
cannot help wishing that the picturesque old chief had kept his name of
the council lodgewas not born to sit writing at an office desk. In
youth he tracked the bear and the panther in the Northern woods. The
scattered remnants of the tribes East and West owned his rightful
authority as chief. The Canaghwagas were one of these. So these lost
ones had come straight to the official and actual head of their people
when they were stranded in the great city. They knew it when they heard
the magic name of Donegahawa, and sat silently waiting and wondering
till he should come. The child looked up admiringly at the gold-laced
cap of Inspector Williams, when he took her on his knee, and the stern
face of the big policeman relaxed and grew tender as a woman's as he
took her face between his hands and kissed it.
When the general came in he spoke to them at once in their own
tongue, and very sweet and musical it was. Then their troubles were
soon over. The sachem, when he had heard their woes, said two words
between puffs of his pipe that cleared all the shadows away. They
sounded to the paleface ear like Huh Hooochsjawai, or something
equally barbarous, but they meant that there were not so many Indians
in town but that theirs could be found, and in that the sachem was
right. The number of redskins in Thompson Streetthey all live over
thereis about seven.
The old squaw, when she was told that her friend would be found, got
up promptly, and, bowing first to Inspector Williams and the other
officials in the room, and next to the general, said very sweetly,
Njeawa, and Lightfootthat was the child's name, it appearedsaid
it after her; which meant, the general explained, that they were very
much obliged. Then they went out in charge of a policeman to begin
their search, little Lightfoot hugging her doll and looking back over
her shoulder at the many gold-laced policemen who had captured her
little heart. And they kissed their hands after her.
Mulberry Street awoke from its dream of youth, of the fields and the
deep woods, to the knowledge that it was a bad day. The old doorman,
who had stood at the gate patiently answering questions for twenty
years, told the first man who came looking for a lost child, with
sudden resentment, that he ought to be locked up for losing her, and,
pushing him out in the rain, slammed the door after him.
'TWAS 'LIZA'S DOINGS
Joe drove his old gray mare along the stony road in deep thought.
They had been across the ferry to Newtown with a load of Christmas
truck. It had been a hard pull uphill for them both, for Joe had found
it necessary not a few times to get down and give old 'Liza a lift to
help her over the roughest spots; and now, going home, with the
twilight coming on and no other job a-waiting, he let her have her own
way. It was slow, but steady, and it suited Joe; for his head was full
of busy thoughts, and there were few enough of them that were pleasant.
Business had been bad at the big stores, never worse, and what
trucking there was there were too many about. Storekeepers who never
used to look at a dollar, so long as they knew they could trust the man
who did their hauling, were counting the nickels these days. As for
chance jobs like this one, that was all over with the holidays, and
there had been little enough of it, too.
There would be less, a good deal, with the hard winter at the door,
and with 'Liza to keep and the many mouths to fill. Still, he wouldn't
have minded it so much but for mother fretting and worrying herself
sick at home, and all along o' Jim, the eldest boy, who had gone away
mad and never come back. Many were the dollars he had paid the doctor
and the druggist to fix her up, but it was no use. She was worrying
herself into a decline, it was clear to be seen.
Joe heaved a heavy sigh as he thought of the strapping lad who had
brought such sorrow to his mother. So strong and so handy on the wagon.
Old 'Liza loved him like a brother and minded him even better than she
did himself. If he only had him now, they could face the winter and the
bad times, and pull through. But things never had gone right since he
left. He didn't know, Joe thought humbly as he jogged along over the
rough road, but he had been a little hard on the lad. Boys wanted a
chance once in a while. All work and no play was not for them. Likely
he had forgotten he was a boy once himself. But Jim was such a big lad,
'most like a man. He took after his mother more than the rest. She had
been proud, too, when she was a girl. He wished he hadn't been hasty
that time they had words about those boxes at the store. Anyway, it
turned out that it wasn't Jim's fault. But he was gone that night, and
try as they might to find him, they never had word of him since. And
Joe sighed again more heavily than before.
Old 'Liza shied at something in the road, and Joe took a firmer hold
on the reins. It turned his thoughts to the horse. She was getting old,
too, and not as handy as she was. He noticed that she was getting
winded with a heavy load. It was well on to ten years she had been
their capital and the breadwinner of the house. Sometimes he thought
that she missed Jim. If she was to leave them now, he wouldn't know
what to do, for he couldn't raise the money to buy another horse nohow,
as things were. Poor old 'Liza! He stroked her gray coat musingly with
the point of his whip as he thought of their old friendship. The horse
pointed one ear back toward her master and neighed gently, as if to
assure him that she was all right.
Suddenly she stumbled. Joe pulled her up in time, and throwing the
reins over her back, got down to see what it was. An old horseshoe, and
in the dust beside it a new silver quarter. He picked both up and put
the shoe in the wagon.
They say it is luck, he mused, finding horse-iron and money.
Maybe it's my Christmas. Get up, 'Liza! And he drove off to the ferry.
The glare of a thousand gas lamps had chased the sunset out of the
western sky, when Joe drove home through the city's streets. Between
their straight, mile-long rows surged the busy life of the coming
holiday. In front of every grocery store was a grove of fragrant
Christmas trees waiting to be fitted into little green stands with
fairy fences. Within, customers were bargaining, chatting, and
bantering the busy clerks. Pedlers offering tinsel and colored candles
waylaid them on the door-step. The rack under the butcher's awning
fairly groaned with its weight of plucked geese, of turkeys, stout and
skinny, of poultry of every kind. The saloon-keeper even had wreathed
his door-posts in ground-ivy and hemlock, and hung a sprig of holly in
the window, as if with a spurious promise of peace on earth and
good-will toward men who entered there. It tempted not Joe. He drove
past it to the corner, where he turned up a street darker and lonelier
than the rest, toward a stretch of rocky, vacant lots fenced in by an
old stone wall. 'Liza turned in at the rude gate without being told,
and pulled up at the house.
A plain little one-story frame with a lean-to for a kitchen, and an
adjoining stable-shed, overshadowed all by two great chestnuts of the
days when there were country lanes where now are paved streets, and on
Manhattan Island there was farm by farm. A light gleamed in the window
looking toward the street. As 'Liza's hoofs were heard on the drive, a
young girl with a shawl over her head ran out from some shelter where
she had been watching, and took the reins from Joe.
You're late, she said, stroking the mare's steaming flank. 'Liza
reached around and rubbed her head against the girl's shoulder,
nibbling playfully at the fringe of her shawl.
Yes; we've come far, and it's been a hard pull. 'Liza is tired.
Give her a good feed, and I'll bed her down. How's mother?
Sprier than she was, replied the girl, bending over the shaft to
unbuckle the horse; seems as if she'd kinder cheered up for
Christmas. And she led 'Liza to the stable while her father backed the
wagon into the shed.
It was warm and very comfortable in the little kitchen, where he
joined the family after washing up. The fire burned brightly in the
range, on which a good-sized roast sizzled cheerily in its pot, sending
up clouds of savory steam. The sand on the white-pine floor was swept
in tongues, old-country fashion. Joe and his wife were both born across
the sea, and liked to keep Christmas eve as they had kept it when they
were children. Two little boys and a younger girl than the one who had
met him at the gate received him with shouts of glee, and pulled him
straight from the door to look at a hemlock branch stuck in the tub of
sand in the corner. It was their Christmas tree, and they were to light
it with candles, red and yellow and green, which mamma got them at the
grocer's where the big Santa Claus stood on the shelf. They pranced
about like so many little colts, and clung to Joe by turns, shouting
all at once, each one anxious to tell the great news first and loudest.
Joe took them on his knee, all three, and when they had shouted
until they had to stop for breath, he pulled from under his coat a
paper bundle, at which the children's eyes bulged. He undid the
Who do you think has come home with me? he said, and he held up
before them the veritable Santa Claus himself, done in plaster and all
snow-covered. He had bought it at the corner toy-store with his lucky
quarter. I met him on the road over on Long Island, where 'Liza and I
was to-day, and I gave him a ride to town. They say it's luck falling
in with Santa Claus, partickler when there's a horseshoe along. I put
hisn up in the barn, in 'Liza's stall. Maybe our luck will turn yet,
eh! old woman? And he put his arm around his wife, who was setting out
the dinner with Jennie, and gave her a good hug, while the children
danced off with their Santa Claus.
She was a comely little woman, and she tried hard to be cheerful.
She gave him a brave look and a smile, but there were tears in her
eyes, and Joe saw them, though he let on that he didn't. He patted her
tenderly on the back and smoothed his Jennie's yellow braids, while he
swallowed the lump in his throat and got it down and out of the way. He
needed no doctor to tell him that Santa Claus would not come again and
find her cooking their Christmas dinner, unless she mended soon and
It may be it was the thought of that which made him keep hold of her
hand in his lap as they sat down together, and he read from the good
book the tidings of great joy which shall be to all people, and said
the simple grace of a plain and ignorant, but reverent, man. He held it
tight, as though he needed its support, when he came to the petition
for those dear to us and far away from home, for his glance strayed
to the empty place beside the mother's chair, and his voice would
tremble in spite of himself. He met his wife's eyes there, but,
strangely, he saw no faltering in them. They rested upon Jim's vacant
seat with a new look of trust that almost frightened him. It was as if
the Christmas peace, the tidings of great joy, had sunk into her heart
with rest and hope which presently throbbed through his, with new light
and promise, and echoed in the children's happy voices.
So they ate their dinner together, and sang and talked until it was
time to go to bed. Joe went out to make all snug about 'Liza for the
night and to give her an extra feed. He stopped in the door, coming
back, to shake the snow out of his clothes. It was coming on with bad
weather and a northerly storm, he reported. The snow was falling thick
already and drifting badly. He saw to the kitchen fire and put the
children to bed. Long before the clock in the neighboring church tower
struck twelve, and its doors were opened for the throngs come to
worship at the midnight mass, the lights in the cottage were out, and
all within it fast asleep.
The murmur of the homeward-hurrying crowds had died out, and the
last echoing shout of Merry Christmas! had been whirled away on the
storm, now grown fierce with bitter cold, when a lonely wanderer came
down the street. It was a lad, big and strong-limbed, and, judging from
the manner in which he pushed his way through the gathering drifts, not
unused to battle with the world, but evidently in hard luck. His
jacket, white with the falling snow, was scant and worn nearly to rags,
and there was that in his face which spoke of hunger and suffering
silently endured. He stopped at the gate in the stone fence, and looked
long and steadily at the cottage in the chestnuts. No life stirred
within, and he walked through the gap with slow and hesitating step.
Under the kitchen window he stood awhile, sheltered from the storm, as
if undecided, then stepped to the horse shed and rapped gently on the
'Liza! he called, 'Liza, old girl! It's meJim!
A low, delighted whinnying from the stall told the shivering boy
that he was not forgotten there. The faithful beast was straining at
her halter in a vain effort to get at her friend. Jim raised a bar that
held the door closed by the aid of a lever within, of which he knew the
trick, and went in. The horse made room for him in her stall, and laid
her shaggy head against his cheek.
Poor old 'Liza! he said, patting her neck and smoothing her gray
coat, poor old girl! Jim has one friend that hasn't gone back on him.
I've come to keep Christmas with you, 'Liza! Had your supper, eh?
You're in luck. I haven't; I wasn't bid, 'Liza; but never mind. You
shall feed for both of us. Here goes! He dug into the oats-bin with
the measure, and poured it full into 'Liza's crib.
Fill up, old girl! and good night to you. With a departing pat he
crept up the ladder to the loft above, and, scooping out a berth in the
loose hay, snuggled down in it to sleep. Soon his regular breathing up
there kept step with the steady munching of the horse in her stall. The
two reunited friends were dreaming happy Christmas dreams.
The night wore into the small hours of Christmas morning. The fury
of the storm was unabated. The old cottage shook under the fierce
blasts, and the chestnuts waved their hoary branches wildly,
beseechingly, above it, as if they wanted to warn those within of some
threatened danger. But they slept and heard them not. From the kitchen
chimney, after a blast more violent than any that had gone before, a
red spark issued, was whirled upward and beaten against the shingle
roof of the barn, swept clean of snow. Another followed it, and
another. Still they slept in the cottage; the chestnuts moaned and
brandished their arms in vain. The storm fanned one of the sparks into
a flame. It flickered for a moment and then went out. So, at least, it
seemed. But presently it reappeared, and with it a faint glow was
reflected in the attic window over the door. Down in her stall 'Liza
moved uneasily. Nobody responding, she plunged and reared, neighing
loudly for help. The storm drowned her calls; her master slept,
But one heard it, and in the nick of time. The door of the shed was
thrown violently open, and out plunged Jim, his hair on fire and his
clothes singed and smoking. He brushed the sparks off himself as if
they were flakes of snow. Quick as thought, he tore 'Liza's halter from
its fastening, pulling out staple and all, threw his smoking coat over
her eyes, and backed her out of the shed. He reached in, and, pulling
the harness off the hook, threw it as far into the snow as he could,
yelling Fire! at the top of his voice. Then he jumped on the back of
the horse, and beating her with heels and hands into a mad gallop, was
off up the street before the bewildered inmates of the cottage had
rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and come out to see the barn on fire
and burning up.
Down street and avenue fire-engines raced with clanging bells,
leaving tracks of glowing coals in the snow-drifts, to the cottage in
the chestnut lots. They got there just in time to see the roof crash
into the barn, burying, as Joe and his crying wife and children
thought, 'Liza and their last hope in the fiery wreck. The door had
blown shut, and the harness Jim threw out was snowed under. No one
dreamed that the mare was not there. The flames burst through the wreck
and lit up the cottage and swaying chestnuts. Joe and his family stood
in the shelter of it, looking sadly on. For the second time that
Christmas night tears came into the honest truckman's eyes. He wiped
them away with his cap.
Poor 'Liza! he said.
A hand was laid with gentle touch upon his arm. He looked up. It was
his wife. Her face beamed with a great happiness.
Joe, she said, you remember what you read: 'tidings of great
joy.' Oh, Joe, Jim has come home!
She stepped aside, and there was Jim, sister Jennie hanging on his
neck, and 'Liza alive and neighing her pleasure. The lad looked at his
father and hung his head.
Jim saved her, father, said Jennie, patting the gray mare; it was
him fetched the engines.
Joe took a step toward his son and held out his hand to him.
Jim, he said, you're a better man nor yer father. From now on,
you 'n' I run the truck on shares. But mind this, Jim: never leave
mother no more.
And in the clasp of the two hands all the past was forgotten and
forgiven. Father and son had found each other again.
'Liza, said the truckman, with sudden vehemence, turning to the
old mare and putting his arm around her neck, 'Liza! It was your
doin's. I knew it was luck when I found them things. Merry Christmas!
And he kissed her smack on her hairy mouth, one, two, three times.
HEROES WHO FIGHT FIRE
Thirteen years have passed since, but it is all to me as if it
had happened yesterdaythe clanging of the fire-bells, the hoarse
shouts of the firemen, the wild rush and terror of the streets; then
the great hush that fell upon the crowd; the sea of upturned faces,
with the fire-glow upon it; and up there, against the background of
black smoke that poured from roof and attic, the boy clinging to the
narrow ledge, so far up that it seemed humanly impossible that help
could ever come.
[Footnote 2: Written in 1898.]
But even then it was coming. Up from the street, while the crew of
the truck company were laboring with the heavy extension-ladder that at
its longest stretch was many feet too short, crept four men upon long,
slender poles with cross-bars, iron-hooked at the end. Standing in one
window, they reached up and thrust the hook through the next one above,
then mounted a story higher. Again the crash of glass, and again the
dizzy ascent. Straight up the wall they crept, looking like human flies
on the ceiling, and clinging as close, never resting, reaching one
recess only to set out for the next; nearer and nearer in the race for
life, until but a single span separated the foremost from the boy. And
now the iron hook fell at his feet, and the fireman stood upon the step
with the rescued lad in his arms, just as the pent-up flame burst lurid
from the attic window, reaching with impotent fury for its prey. The
next moment they were safe upon the great ladder waiting to receive
Then such a shout went up! Men fell on each other's necks, and cried
and laughed at once. Strangers slapped one another on the back, with
glistening faces, shook hands, and behaved generally like men gone
suddenly mad. Women wept in the street. The driver of a car stalled in
the crowd, who had stood through it all speechless, clutching the
reins, whipped his horses into a gallop, and drove away yelling like a
Comanche, to relieve his feelings. The boy and his rescuer were carried
across the street without any one knowing how. Policemen forgot their
dignity, and shouted with the rest. Fire, peril, terror, and loss were
alike forgotten in the one touch of nature that makes the whole world
Fireman John Binns was made captain of his crew, and the Bennett
medal was pinned on his coat on the next parade-day. The burning of the
St. George Flats was the first opportunity New York had of witnessing a
rescue with the scaling-ladders that form such an essential part of the
equipment of the fire-fighters to-day. Since then there have been many
such. In the company in which John Binns was a private of the second
grade, two others to-day bear the medal for brave deeds: the foreman,
Daniel J. Meagher, and Private Martin M. Coleman, whose name has been
seven times inscribed on the roll of honor for twice that number of
rescues, any one of which stamped him as a man among men, a real hero.
And Hook-and-Ladder No. 3 is not especially distinguished among the
fire-crews of the metropolis for daring and courage. New Yorkers are
justly proud of their firemen. Take it all in all, there is not, I
think, to be found anywhere a body of men as fearless, as brave, and as
efficient as the Fire Brigade of New York. I have known it well for
twenty years, and I speak from a personal acquaintance with very many
of its men, and from a professional knowledge of more daring feats,
more hairbreadth escapes, and more brilliant work, than could well be
recorded between the covers of this book.
Indeed, it is hard, in recording any, to make a choice and to avoid
giving the impression that recklessness is a chief quality in the
fireman's make-up. That would not be true. His life is too full of real
peril for him to expose it recklesslythat is to say, needlessly. From
the time when he leaves his quarters in answer to an alarm until he
returns, he takes a risk that may at any moment set him face to face
with death in its most cruel form. He needs nothing so much as a clear
head; and nothing is prized so highly, nothing puts him so surely in
the line of promotion; for as he advances in rank and responsibility,
the lives of others, as well as his own, come to depend on his
judgment. The act of conspicuous daring which the world applauds is
oftenest to the fireman a matter of simple duty that had to be done in
that way because there was no other. Nor is it always, or even usually,
the hardest duty, as he sees it. It came easy to him because he is an
athlete, trained to do just such things, and because once for all it is
easier to risk one's life in the open, in the sight of one's fellows,
than to face death alone, caught like a rat in a trap. That is the real
peril which he knows too well; but of that the public hears only when
he has fought his last fight, and lost.
How literally our every-day securityof which we think, if we think
of it at all, as a mere matter of courseis built upon the supreme
sacrifice of these devoted men, we realize at long intervals, when a
disaster occurs such as the one in which Chief Bresnan and Foreman
Rooney lost their lives three years ago. They were crushed to death
under the great water-tank in a Twenty-fourth Street factory that was
on fire. Its supports had been burned away. An examination that was
then made of the water-tanks in the city discovered eight thousand that
were either wholly unsupported, except by the roof-beams, or propped on
timbers, and therefore a direct menace, not only to the firemen when
they were called there, but daily to those living under them. It is not
pleasant to add that the department's just demand for a law that should
compel landlords either to build tanks on the wall or on iron supports
has not been heeded yet; but that is, unhappily, an old story.
[Footnote 3: Rooney wore the Bennett medal for
saving the life of a woman at the disastrous
in the old World building, on January 31,
The ladder upon which he stood was too short.
Riding upon the topmost rung, he bade the woman
jump, and caught and held her as she fell.]
Seventeen years ago the collapse of a Broadway building during a
fire convinced the community that stone pillars were unsafe as
supports. The fire was in the basement, and the firemen had turned the
hose on. When the water struck the hot granite columns, they cracked
and fell, and the building fell with them. There were upon the roof at
the time a dozen men of the crew of Truck Company No. 1, chopping holes
for smoke-vents. The majority clung to the parapet, and hung there till
rescued. Two went down into the furnace from which the flames shot up
twenty feet when the roof broke. One, Fireman Thomas J. Dougherty, was
a wearer of the Bennett medal, too. His foreman answers on parade-day,
when his name is called, that he died on the field of duty. These, at
all events, did not die in vain. Stone columns are not now used as
supports for buildings in New York.
So one might go on quoting the perils of the firemen as so many
steps forward for the better protection of the rest of us. It was the
burning of the St. George Flats, and more recently of the Manhattan
Bank, in which a dozen men were disabled, that stamped the average
fire-proof construction as faulty and largely delusive. One might even
go further, and say that the fireman's risk increases in the ratio of
our progress or convenience. The water-tanks came with the very high
buildings, which in themselves offer problems to the fire-fighters that
have not yet been solved. The very air-shafts that were hailed as the
first advance in tenement-house building added enormously to the
fireman's work and risk, as well as to the risk of every one dwelling
under their roofs, by acting as so many huge chimneys that carried the
fire to the windows opening upon them in every story. More than half of
all the fires in New York occur in tenement houses. When the Tenement
House Commission of 1894 sat in this city, considering means of making
them safer and better, it received the most practical help and advice
from the firemen, especially from Chief Bresnan, whose death occurred
only a few days after he had testified as a witness. The
recommendations upon which he insisted are now part of the general
Chief Bresnan died leading his men against the enemy. In the Fire
Department the battalion chief leads; he does not direct operations
from a safe position in the rear. Perhaps this is one of the secrets of
the indomitable spirit of his men. Whatever hardships they have to
endure, his is the first and the biggest share. Next in line comes the
captain, or foreman, as he is called. Of the six who were caught in the
fatal trap of the water-tank, four hewed their way out with axes
through an intervening partition. They were of the ranks. The two who
were killed were the chief and Assistant Foreman John L. Rooney, who
was that day in charge of his company, Foreman Shaw having just been
promoted to Bresnan's rank. It was less than a year after that Chief
Shaw was killed in a fire in Mercer Street. I think I could reckon up
as many as five or six battalion chiefs who have died in that way,
leading their men. The men would not deserve the name if they did not
follow such leaders, no matter where the road led.
In the chief's quarters of the Fourteenth Battalion up in Wakefield
there sits to-day a man, still young in years, who in his maimed body
but unbroken spirit bears such testimony to the quality of New York's
fire-fighters as the brave Bresnan and his comrade did in their death.
Thomas J. Ahearn led his company as captain to a fire in the
Consolidated Gas-Works on the East Side. He found one of the buildings
ablaze. Far toward the rear, at the end of a narrow lane, around which
the fire swirled and arched itself, white and wicked, lay the body of a
mandead, said the panic-stricken crowd. His sufferings had been
brief. A worse fate threatened all unless the fire was quickly put out.
There were underground reservoirs of naphthathe ground was
honeycombed with themthat might explode at any moment with the fire
raging overhead. The peril was instant and great. Captain Ahearn looked
at the body, and saw it stir. The watch-chain upon the man's vest rose
and fell as if he were breathing.
He is not dead, he said. I am going to get that man out. And he
crept down the lane of fire, unmindful of the hidden dangers, seeing
only the man who was perishing. The flames scorched him; they blocked
his way; but he came through alive, and brought out his man, so badly
hurt, however, that he died in the hospital that day. The Board of Fire
Commissioners gave Ahearn the medal for bravery, and made him chief.
Within a year he all but lost his life in a gallant attempt to save the
life of a child that was supposed to be penned in a burning Rivington
Street tenement. Chief Ahearn's quarters were near by, and he was first
on the ground. A desperate man confronted him in the hallway. My
child! my child! he cried, and wrung his hands. Save him! He is in
there. He pointed to the back room. It was black with smoke. In the
front room the fire was raging. Crawling on hands and feet, the chief
made his way into the room the man had pointed out. He groped under the
bed, and in it, but found no child there. Satisfied that it had
escaped, he started to return. The smoke had grown so thick that
breathing was no longer possible, even at the floor. The chief drew his
coat over his head, and made a dash for the hall door. He reached it
only to find that the spring-lock had snapped shut. The door-knob
burned his hand. The fire burst through from the front room, and seared
his face. With a last effort, he kicked the lower panel out of the
door, and put his head through. And then he knew no more.
His men found him lying so when they came looking for him. The coat
was burned off his back, and of his hat only the wire rim remained. He
lay ten months in the hospital, and came out deaf and wrecked
physically. At the age of forty-five the board retired him to the quiet
of the country district, with this formal resolution, that did the
board more credit than it could do him. It is the only one of its kind
upon the department books:
Resolved, That in assigning Battalion Chief Thomas J.
command the Fourteenth Battalion, in the newly annexed
the Board deems it proper to express the sense of obligation
by the Board and all good citizens for the brilliant and
meritorious services of Chief Ahearn in the discharge of duty
which will always serve as an example and an inspiration to
uniformed force, and to express the hope that his future years
service at a less arduous post may be as comfortable and
as his former years have been brilliant and honorable.
Firemen are athletes as a matter of course. They have to be, or they
could not hold their places for a week, even if they could get into
them at all. The mere handling of the scaling-ladders, which, light
though they seem, weigh from sixteen to forty pounds, requires unusual
strength. No particular skill is needed. A man need only have steady
nerve, and the strength to raise the long pole by its narrow end, and
jam the iron hook through a window which he cannot see but knows is
there. Once through, the teeth in the hook and the man's weight upon
the ladder hold it safe, and there is no real danger unless he loses
his head. Against that possibility the severe drill in the school of
instruction is the barrier. Any one to whom climbing at dizzy heights,
or doing the hundred and one things of peril to ordinary men which
firemen are constantly called upon to do, causes the least discomfort,
is rejected as unfit. About five percent of all appointees are
eliminated by the ladder test, and never get beyond their probation
service. A certain smaller percentage takes itself out through loss of
nerve generally. The first experience of a room full of smothering
smoke, with the fire roaring overhead, is generally sufficient to
convince the timid that the service is not for him. No cowards are
dismissed from the department, for the reason that none get into it.
The notion that there is a life-saving corps apart from the general
body of firemen rests upon a mistake. They are one. Every fireman
nowadays must pass muster at life-saving drill, must climb to the top
of any building on his scaling-ladder, slide down with a rescued
comrade, or jump without hesitation from the third story into the
life-net spread below. By such training the men are fitted for their
work, and the occasion comes soon that puts them to the test. It came
to Daniel J. Meagher, of whom I spoke as foreman of Hook-and-Ladder
Company No. 3, when, in the midnight hour, a woman hung from the
fifth-story window of a burning building, and the longest ladder at
hand fell short ten or a dozen feet of reaching her. The boldest man in
the crew had vainly attempted to get to her, and in the effort had
sprained his foot. There were no scaling-ladders then. Meagher ordered
the rest to plant the ladder on the stoop and hold it out from the
building so that he might reach the very topmost step. Balanced thus
where the slightest tremor might have caused ladder and all to crash to
the ground, he bade the woman drop, and receiving her in his arms,
carried her down safe.
No one but an athlete with muscles and nerves of steel could have
performed such a feat, or that which made Dennis Ryer, of the crew of
Engine No. 36, famous three years ago. That was on Seventh Avenue at
One Hundred and Thirty-fourth Street. A flat was on fire, and the
tenants had fled; but one, a woman, bethought herself of her parrot,
and went back for it, to find escape by the stairs cut off when she
again attempted to reach the street. With the parrot-cage, she appeared
at the top-floor window, framed in smoke, calling for help. Again there
was no ladder to reach. There were neighbors on the roof with a rope,
but the woman was too frightened to use it herself. Dennis Ryer made it
fast about his own waist, and bade the others let him down, and hold on
for life. He drew the woman out, but she was heavy, and it was all they
could do above to hold them. To pull them over the cornice was out of
the question. Upon the highest step of the ladder, many feet below,
stood Ryer's father, himself a fireman of another company, and saw his
Hold fast, Dennis! he shouted. If you fall I will catch you. Had
they let go, all three would have been killed. The young fireman saw
the danger, and the one door of escape, with a glance. The window
before which he swung, half smothered by the smoke that belched from
it, was the last in the house. Just beyond, in the window of the
adjoining house, was safety, if he could but reach it. Putting out a
foot, he kicked the wall, and made himself swing toward it, once,
twice, bending his body to add to the motion. The third time he all but
passed it, and took a mighty grip on the affrighted woman, shouting
into her ear to loose her own hold at the same time. As they passed the
window on the fourth trip, he thrust her through sash and all with a
supreme effort, and himself followed on the next rebound, while the
street, that was black with a surging multitude, rang with a mighty
cheer. Old Washington Ryer, on his ladder, threw his cap in the air,
and cheered louder than all the rest. But the parrot was
deadfrightened to death, very likely, or smothered.
I once asked Fireman Martin M. Coleman, after one of those
exhibitions of coolness and courage that thrust him constantly upon the
notice of the newspaper men, what he thought of when he stood upon the
ladder, with this thing before him to do that might mean life or death
the next moment. He looked at me in some perplexity.
Think? he said slowly. Why, I don't think. There ain't any time
to. If I'd stopped to think, them five people would 'a' been burnt. No;
I don't think of danger. If it is anything, it is thatup thereI am
boss. The rest are not in it. Only I wish, he added, rubbing his arm
ruefully at the recollection, that she hadn't fainted. It's hard when
they faint. They're just so much dead-weight. We get no help at all
from them heavy women.
And that was all I could get out of him. I never had much better
luck with Chief Benjamin A. Gicquel, who is the oldest wearer of the
Bennett medal, just as Coleman is the youngest, or the one who received
it last. He was willing enough to talk about the science of putting out
fires; of Department Chief Bonner, the man of few words, who, he
thinks, has mastered the art beyond any man living; of the
back-draught, and almost anything else pertaining to the business: but
when I insisted upon his telling me the story of the rescue of the
Schaefer family of five from a burning tenement down in Cherry Street,
in which he earned his rank and reward, he laughed a good-humored
little laugh, and said that it was the old manmeaning Schaeferwho
should have had the medal. It was a grand thing in him to let the
little ones come out first. I have sometimes wished that firemen were
not so modest. It would be much easier, if not so satisfactory, to
record their gallant deeds. But I am not sure that it is, after all,
modesty so much as a wholly different point of view. It is business
with them, the work of their lives. The one feeling that is allowed to
rise beyond this is the feeling of exultation in the face of peril
conquered by courage, which Coleman expressed. On the ladder he was
boss! It was the fancy of a masterful man, and none but a masterful man
would have got upon the ladder at all.
Doubtless there is something in the spectacular side of it that
attracts. It would be strange if there were not. There is everything in
a fireman's existence to encourage it. Day and night he leads a kind of
hair-trigger life, that feeds naturally upon excitement, even if only
as a relief from the irksome idling in quarters. Try as they may to
give him enough to do there, the time hangs heavily upon his hands,
keyed up as he is, and need be, to adventurous deeds at shortest
notice. He falls to grumbling and quarrelling, and the necessity
becomes imperative of holding him to the strictest discipline, under
which he chafes impatiently. They nag like a lot of old women, said
Department Chief Bonner to me once; and the best at a fire are often
the worst in the house. In the midst of it all the gong strikes a
familiar signal. The horses' hoofs thunder on the planks; with a leap
the men go down the shining pole to the main floor, all else forgotten;
and with crash and clatter and bang the heavy engine swings into the
street, and races away on a wild gallop, leaving a trail of fire
Presently the crowd sees rubber-coated, helmeted men with pipe and
hose go through a window from which such dense smoke pours forth that
it seems incredible that a human being could breathe it for a second
and live. The hose is dragged squirming over the sill, where shortly a
red-eyed face with dishevelled hair appears, to shout something
hoarsely to those below, which they understand. Then, unless some
emergency arise, the spectacular part is over. Could the citizen whose
heart beat as he watched them enter see them now, he would see grimy
shapes, very unlike the fine-looking men who but just now had roused
his admiration, crawling on hands and knees, with their noses close to
the floor if the smoke be very dense, ever pointing the pipe in the
direction where the enemy is expected to appear. The fire is the enemy;
but he can fight that, once he reaches it, with something of a chance.
The smoke kills without giving him a show to fight back. Long practice
toughens him against it, until he learns the trick of eating the
smoke. He can breathe where a candle goes out for want of oxygen. By
holding his mouth close to the nozzle, he gets what little air the
stream of water brings with it and sets free; and within a few inches
of the floor there is nearly always a current of air. In the last
emergency, there is the hose that he can follow out. The smoke always
is his worst enemy. It lays ambushes for him which he can suspect, but
not ward off. He tries to, by opening vents in the roof as soon as the
pipemen are in place and ready; but in spite of all precautions, he is
often surprised by the dreaded back-draught.
I remember standing in front of a burning Broadway store, one night,
when the back-draught blew out the whole front without warning. It is
simply an explosion of gases generated by the heat, which must have
vent, and go upon the line of least resistance, up, or down, or in a
circleit does not much matter, so that they go. It swept shutters,
windows, and all, across Broadway, in this instance, like so much
chaff, littering the street with heavy rolls of cloth. The crash was
like a fearful clap of thunder. Men were knocked down on the opposite
sidewalk, and two teams of engine horses, used to almost any kind of
happening at a fire, ran away in a wild panic. It was a blast of that
kind that threw down and severely injured Battalion Chief M'Gill, one
of the oldest and most experienced of firemen, at a fire on Broadway in
March, 1890; and it has cost more brave men's lives than the fiercest
fire that ever raged. The puff, as the firemen call it, comes
suddenly, and from the corner where it is least expected. It is dread
of that, and of getting overcome by the smoke generally, which makes
firemen go always in couples or more together. They never lose sight of
one another for an instant, if they can help it. If they do, they go at
once in search of the lost. The delay of a moment may prove fatal to
Lieutenant Samuel Banta of the Franklin Street company, discovering
the pipe that had just been held by Fireman Quinn at a Park Place fire
thrashing aimlessly about, looked about him, and saw Quinn floating on
his face in the cellar, which was running full of water. He had been
overcome, had tumbled in, and was then drowning, with the fire raging
above and alongside. Banta jumped in after him, and endeavored to get
his head above water. While thus occupied, he glanced up, and saw the
preliminary puff of the back-draught bearing down upon him. The
lieutenant dived at once, and tried to pull his unhappy pipe-man with
him; but he struggled and worked himself loose. From under the water
Banta held up a hand, and it was burnt. He held up the other, and knew
that the puff had passed when it came back unsinged. Then he brought
Quinn out with him; but it was too late. Caught between flood and fire,
he had no chance. When I asked the lieutenant about it, he replied
simply: The man in charge of the hose fell into the cellar. I got him
out; that was all. But how? I persisted. Why, I went down through
the cellar, said the lieutenant, smiling, as if it was the most
ordinary thing in the world.
It was this same Banta who, when Fireman David H. Soden had been
buried under the falling walls of a Pell Street house, crept through a
gap in the basement wall, in among the fallen timbers, and, in imminent
peril of his own life, worked there with a hand-saw two long hours to
free his comrade, while the firemen held the severed timbers up with
ropes to give him a chance. Repeatedly, while he was at work, his
clothes caught fire, and it was necessary to keep playing the hose upon
him. But he brought out his man safe and sound, and, for the twentieth
time perhaps, had his name recorded on the roll of merit. His comrades
tell how, at one of the twenty, the fall of a building in Hall Place
had left a workman lying on a shaky piece of wall, helpless, with a
broken leg. It could not bear the weight of a ladder, and it seemed
certain death to attempt to reach him, when Banta, running up a
slanting beam that still hung to its fastening with one end, leaped
from perch to perch upon the wall, where hardly a goat could have found
footing, reached his man, and brought him down slung over his shoulder,
and swearing at him like a trooper lest the peril of the descent cause
him to lose his nerve and with it the lives of both.
Firemen dread cellar fires more than any other kind, and with
reason. It is difficult to make a vent for the smoke, and the danger of
drowning is added to that of being smothered when they get fairly to
work. If a man is lost to sight or touch of his fellows there for ever
so brief a while, there are five chances to one that he will not again
be seen alive. Then there ensues such a fight as the city witnessed
only last May at the burning of a Chambers Street paper-warehouse. It
was fought out deep underground, with fire and flood, freezing cold and
poisonous gases, leagued against Chief Bonner's forces. Next door was a
cold-storage house, whence the cold. Something that was burningI do
not know that it was ever found out just whatgave forth the
smothering fumes before which the firemen went down in squads. File
after file staggered out into the street, blackened and gasping, to
drop there. The near engine-house was made into a hospital, where the
senseless men were laid on straw hastily spread. Ambulance surgeons
worked over them. As fast as they were brought to, they went back to
bear a hand in the work of rescue. In delirium they fought to return.
Down in the depths one of their number was lying helpless.
There is nothing finer in the records of glorious war than the story
of the struggle these brave fellows kept up for hours against
tremendous odds for the rescue of their comrade. Time after time they
went down into the pit of deadly smoke, only to fail. Lieutenant Banta
tried twice and failed. Fireman King was pulled up senseless, and
having been brought round went down once more. Fireman Sheridan
returned empty-handed, more dead than alive. John O'Connell, of Truck
No. 1, at length succeeded in reaching his comrade and tying a rope
about him, while from above they drenched both with water to keep them
from roasting. They drew up a dying man; but John G. Reinhardt dead is
more potent than a whole crew of firemen alive. The story of the fight
for his life will long be told in the engine-houses of New York, and
will nerve the Kings and the Sheridans and the O'Connells of another
day to like deeds.
How firemen manage to hear in their sleep the right signal, while
they sleep right through any number that concerns the next company, not
them, is one of the mysteries that will probably always remain
unsolved. I don't know, said Department Chief Bonner, when I asked
him once. I guess it is the same way with everybody. You hear what you
have to hear. There is a gong right over my bed at home, and I hear
every stroke of it, but I don't hear the baby. My wife hears the baby
if it as much as stirs in its crib, but not the gong. Very likely he
is right. The fact that the fireman can hear and count correctly the
strokes of the gong in his sleep has meant life to many hundreds, and
no end of properly saved; for it is in the early moments of a fire that
it can be dealt with summarily. I recall one instance in which the
failure to interpret a signal properly, or the accident of taking a
wrong road to the fire, cost a life, and, singularly enough, that of
the wife of one of the firemen who answered the alarm. It was all so
pitiful, so tragic, that it has left an indelible impression on my
mind. It was the fire at which Patrick F. Lucas earned the medal for
that year by snatching five persons out of the very jaws of death in a
Dominick Street tenement. The alarm-signal rang in the hook-and-ladder
company's quarters in North Moore Street, but was either misunderstood
or they made a wrong start. Instead of turning east to West Broadway,
the truck turned west, and went galloping toward Greenwich Street. It
was only a few seconds, the time that was lost, but it was enough.
Fireman Murphy's heart went up in his throat when, from his seat on the
truck as it flew toward the fire, he saw that it was his own home that
was burning. Up on the fifth floor he found his wife penned in. She
died in his arms as he carried her to the fire-escape. The fire, for
once, had won in the race for a life.
While I am writing this, the morning paper that is left at my door
tells the story of a fireman who, laid up with a broken ankle in an
up-town hospital, jumped out of bed, forgetting his injury, when the
alarm-gong rang his signal, and tried to go to the fire. The
fire-alarms are rung in the hospitals for the information of the
ambulance corps. The crippled fireman heard the signal at the dead of
night, and, only half awake, jumped out of bed, groped about for the
sliding-pole, and, getting hold of the bedpost, tried to slide down
that. The plaster cast about his ankle was broken, the old injury
reopened, and he was seriously hurt.
New York firemen have a proud saying that they fight fire from the
inside. It means unhesitating courage, prompt sacrifice, and victory
gained, all in one. The saving of life that gets into the newspapers
and wins applause is done, of necessity, largely from the outside, but
is none the less perilous for that. Sometimes, though rarely, it has in
its intense gravity almost a comic tinge, as at one of the infrequent
fires in the Mulberry Bend some years ago. The Italians believe, with
reason, that there is bad luck in fire, therefore do not insure, and
have few fires. Of this one the Romolo family shrine was the cause. The
lamp upon it exploded, and the tenement was ablaze when the firemen
came. The policeman on the beat had tried to save Mrs. Romolo; but she
clung to the bedpost, and refused to go without the rest of the family.
So he seized the baby, and rolled down the burning stairs with it, his
beard and coat afire. The only way out was shut off when the engines
arrived. The Romolos shrieked at the top-floor window, threatening to
throw themselves out. There was not a moment to be lost. Lying flat on
the roof, with their heads over the cornice, the firemen fished the two
children out of the window with their hooks. The ladders were run up in
time for the father and mother.
The readiness of resource no less than the intrepid courage and
athletic skill of the rescuers evoke enthusiastic admiration. Two
instances stand out in my recollection among many. Of one Fireman Howe,
who had on more than one occasion signally distinguished himself, was
the hero. It happened on the morning of January 2, 1896, when the
Geneva Club on Lexington Avenue was burnt out. Fireman Howe drove
Hook-and-Ladder No. 7 to the fire that morning, to find two boarders at
the third-story window, hemmed in by flames which already showed behind
them. Followed by Fireman Pearl, he ran up in the adjoining building,
and presently appeared at a window on the third floor, separated from
the one occupied by the two men by a blank wall-space of perhaps four
or five feet. It offered no other footing than a rusty hook, but it was
enough. Astride of the window-sill, with one foot upon the hook, the
other anchored inside by his comrade, his body stretched at full length
along the wall, Howe was able to reach the two, and to swing them, one
after the other, through his own window to safety. As the second went
through, the crew in the street below set up a cheer that raised the
sleeping echoes of the street. Howe looked down, nodded, and took a
firmer grip; and that instant came his great peril.
A third face had appeared at the window just as the fire swept
through. Howe shut his eyes to shield them, and braced himself on the
hook for a last effort. It broke; and the man, frightened out of his
wits, threw himself headlong from the window upon Howe's neck.
The fireman's form bent and swayed. His comrade within felt the
strain, and dug his heels into the boards. He was almost dragged out of
the window, but held on with a supreme effort. Just as he thought the
end had come, he felt the strain ease up. The ladder had reached Howe
in the very nick of time, and given him support, but in his desperate
effort to save himself and the other, he slammed his burden back over
his shoulder with such force that he went crashing through, carrying
sash and all, and fell, cut and bruised, but safe, upon Fireman Pearl,
who grovelled upon the door, prostrate and panting.
The other case New York remembers yet with a shudder. It was known
long in the department for the bravest act ever done by a firemanan
act that earned for Foreman William Quirk the medal for 1888. He was
next in command of Engine No. 22 when, on a March morning, the Elberon
Flats in East Eighty-fifth street were burned. The Westlake family,
mother, daughter, and two sons, were in the fifth story, helpless and
hopeless. Quirk ran up on the scaling-ladder to the fourth floor, hung
it on the sill above, and got the boys and their sister down. But the
flames burst from the floor below, cutting off their retreat. Quirk's
captain had seen the danger, and shouted to him to turn back while it
was yet time. But Quirk had no intention of turning back. He measured
the distance and the risk with a look, saw the crowd tugging
frantically at the life-net under the window, and bade them jump, one
by one. They jumped, and were saved. Last of all, he jumped himself,
after a vain effort to save the mother. She was already dead. He caught
her gown, but the body slipped from his grasp and fell crashing to the
street fifty feet below. He himself was hurt in his jump. The
volunteers who held the net looked up, and were frightened; they let go
their grip, and the plucky fireman broke a leg and hurt his back in the
Like a cry of fire in the night appeals to the dullest imagination
with a sense of sudden fear. There have been nights in this city when
the cry swelled into such a clamor of terror and despair as to make the
stoutest heart quakewhen it seemed to those who had to do with
putting out fires as if the end of all things was at hand. Such a night
was that of the burning of Cohnfeld's Folly, in Bleecker Street,
March 17, 1891. The burning of the big store involved the destruction,
wholly or in part, of ten surrounding buildings, and called out nearly
one-third of the city's Fire Department. While the fire raged as yet
unchecked,while walls were falling with shock and crash of thunder,
the streets full of galloping engines and ambulances carrying injured
firemen, with clangor of urgent gongs; while insurance patrolmen were
being smothered in buildings a block away by the smoke that hung like a
pall over the city,another disastrous fire broke out in the dry-goods
district, and three alarm-calls came from West Seventeenth Street. Nine
other fires were signalled, and before morning all the crews that were
left were summoned to Allen Street, where four persons were burned to
death in a tenement. Those are the wild nights that try firemen's
souls, and never yet found them wanting. During the great blizzard,
when the streets were impassable and the system crippled, the fires in
the city averaged nine a day,forty-five for the five days from March
12 to 16,and not one of them got beyond control. The fire
commissioners put on record their pride in the achievement, as well
they might. It was something to be proud of, indeed.
Such a night promised to be the one when the Manhattan Bank and the
State Bank across the street on the other Broadway corner, with three
or four other buildings, were burned, and when the ominous two nines
were rung, calling nine-tenths of the whole force below Central Park to
the threatened quarter. But, happily, the promise was not fully kept.
The supposed fire-proof bank crumbled in the withering blast like so
much paper; the cry went up that whole companies of firemen were
perishing within it; and the alarm had reached Police Headquarters in
the next block, where they were counting the election returns. Thirteen
firemen, including the deputy department chief, a battalion chief, and
two captains, limped or were carried from the burning bank, more or
less injured. The stone steps of the fire-proof stairs had fallen with
them or upon them. Their imperilled comrades, whose escape was cut off,
slid down hose and scaling-ladders. The last, the crew of Engine
Company No. 3, had reached the street, and all were thought to be out,
when the assistant foreman, Daniel Fitzmaurice, appeared at the
fifth-story window. The fire beating against it drove him away, but he
found footing at another, next adjoining the building on the north. To
reach him from below, with the whole building ablaze, was impossible.
Other escape there was none, save a cornice ledge extending halfway to
his window; but it was too narrow to afford foothold.
Then an extraordinary scene was enacted in the sight of thousands.
In the other building were a number of fire-insurance patrolmen,
covering goods to protect them against water damage. One of
thesePatrolman John Rushstepped out on the ledge, and edged his way
toward a spur of stone that projected from the bank building. Behind
followed Patrolman Barnett, steadying him and pressing him close
against the wall. Behind him was another, with still another holding on
within the room, where the living chain was anchored by all the rest.
Rush, at the end of the ledge, leaned over and gave Fitzmaurice his
hand. The fireman grasped it, and edged out upon the spur. Barnett,
holding the rescuer fast, gave him what he neededsomething to cling
to. Once he was on the ledge, the chain wound itself up as it had
unwound itself. Slowly, inch by inch, it crept back, each man pushing
the next flat against the wall with might and main, while the
multitudes in the street held their breath, and the very engines
stopped panting, until all were safe.
John Rush is a fireman to-day, a member of Thirty-three's crew in
Great Jones Street. He was an insurance patrolman then. The
organization is unofficial. Its main purpose is to save property; but
in the face of the emergency firemen and patrolmen become one body,
obeying one head.
That the spirit which has made New York's Fire Department great
equally animates its commercial brother has been shown more than once,
but never better than at the memorable fire in the Hotel Royal, which
cost so many lives. No account of heroic life-saving at fires, even as
fragmentary as this, could pass by the marvellous feat, or feats, of
Sergeant (now Captain) John R. Vaughan on that February morning six
years ago. The alarm rang in patrol station No. 3 at 3.20 o'clock on
Sunday morning. Sergeant Vaughan, hastening to the fire with his men,
found the whole five-story hotel ablaze from roof to cellar. The fire
had shot up the elevator shaft, round which the stairs ran, and from
the first had made escape impossible. Men and women were jumping and
hanging from windows. One, falling from a great height, came within an
inch of killing the sergeant as he tried to enter the building. Darting
up into the next house, and leaning out of the window with his whole
body, while one of the crew hung on to one leg,as Fireman Pearl did
to Howe's in the splendid rescue at the Geneva Club,he took a
half-hitch with the other in some electric-light wires that ran up the
wall, trusting to his rubber boots to protect him from the current, and
made of his body a living bridge for the safe passage from the last
window of the burning hotel of three men and a woman whom death stared
in the face, steadying them as they went with his free hand. As the
last passed over, ladders were being thrown up against the wall, and
what could be done there was done.
Sergeant Vaughan went up on the roof. The smoke was so dense there
that he could see little, but through it he heard a cry for help, and
made out the shape of a man standing upon a window-sill in the fifth
story, overlooking the courtyard of the hotel. The yard was between
them. Bidding his men follow,they were five, all told,he ran down
and around in the next street to the roof of the house that formed an
angle with the hotel wing. There stood the man below him, only a jump
away, but a jump which no mortal might take and live. His face and
hands were black with smoke. Vaughan, looking down, thought him a
negro. He was perfectly calm.
It is no use, he said, glancing up. Don't try. You can't do it.
The sergeant looked wistfully about him. Not a stick or a piece of
rope was in sight. Every shred was used below. There was absolutely
nothing. But I couldn't let him, he said to me, months after, when he
had come out of the hospital, a whole man again, and was back at
work,I just couldn't, standing there so quiet and brave. To the man
he said sharply:
I want you to do exactly as I tell you, now. Don't grab me, but let
me get the first grab. He had noticed that the man wore a heavy
overcoat, and had already laid his plan.
Don't try, urged the man. You cannot save me. I will stay here
till it gets too hot; then I will jump.
No, you won't, from the sergeant, as he lay at full length on the
roof, looking over. It is a pretty hard yard down there. I will get
you, or go dead myself.
The four sat on the sergeant's legs as he swung free down to the
waist; so he was almost able to reach the man on the window with
Now jumpquick! he commanded; and the man jumped. He caught him
by both wrists as directed, and the sergeant got a grip on the collar
of his coat.
Hoist! he shouted to the four on the roof; and they tugged with
their might. The sergeant's body did not move. Bending over till the
back creaked, it hung over the edge, a weight of two hundred and three
pounds suspended from and holding it down. The cold sweat started upon
his men's foreheads as they tried and tried again, without gaining an
inch. Blood dripped from Sergeant Vaughan's nostrils and ears. Sixty
feet below was the paved courtyard; over against him the window, behind
which he saw the back-draught coming, gathering headway with lurid,
swirling smoke. Now it burst through, burning the hair and the coats of
the two. For an instant he thought all hope was gone.
But in a flash it came back to him. To relieve the terrible
dead-weight that wrenched and tore at his muscles, he was swinging the
man to and fro like a pendulum, head touching head. He could swing
him up! A smothered shout warned his men. They crept nearer the
edge without letting go their grip on him, and watched with staring
eyes the human pendulum swing wider and wider, farther and farther,
until now, with a mighty effort, it swung within their reach. They
caught the skirt of the coat, held on, pulled in, and in a moment
lifted him over the edge.
They lay upon the roof, all six, breathless, sightless, their faces
turned to the winter sky. The tumult on the street came up as a faint
echo; the spray of a score of engines pumping below fell upon them,
froze, and covered them with ice. The very roar of the fire seemed far
off. The sergeant was the first to recover. He carried down the man he
had saved, and saw him sent off to the hospital. Then first he noticed
that he was not a negro; the smut had been rubbed from his face. Monday
had dawned before he came to, and days passed before he knew his
rescuer. Sergeant Vaughan was laid up himself then. He had returned to
his work, and finished it; but what he had gone through was too much
for human strength. It was spring before he returned to his quarters,
to find himself promoted, petted, and made much of.
From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a little step. Among the
many who journeyed to the insurance patrol station to see the hero of
the great fire, there came, one day, a woman. She was young and pretty,
the sweetheart of the man on the window-sill. He was a lawyer, since a
state senator of Pennsylvania. She wished the sergeant to repeat
exactly the words he spoke to him in that awful moment when he bade him
jumpto life or death. She had heard them, and she wanted the sergeant
to repeat them to her, that she might know for sure he was the man who
did it. He stammered and hitchedtried subterfuges. She waited,
inexorable. Finally, in desperation, blushing fiery red, he blurted out
a lot of cuss-words. You know, he said apologetically, in telling
of it, when I am in a place like that I can't help it.
When she heard the words which her fiance had already told her,
straightway she fell upon the fireman's neck. The sergeant stood
dumfounded. Women are queer, he said.
Thus a fireman's life. That the very horses that are their friends
in quarters, their comrades at the fire, sharing with them what comes
of good and evil, catch the spirit of it, is not strange. It would be
strange if they did not. With human intelligence and more than human
affection, the splendid animals follow the fortunes of their masters,
doing their share in whatever is demanded of them. In the final showing
that in thirty years, while with the growing population the number of
fires has steadily increased, the average loss per fire has as steadily
decreased, they have their full share, also, of the credit. In 1866
there were 796 fires in New York, with an average loss of $8075.38 per
fire. In 1876, with 1382 fires, the loss was but $2786.70 at each. In
1896, 3890 fires averaged only $878.81. It means that every year more
fires are headed off than run downsmothered at the start, as a fire
should be. When to the verdict of faithful unto death that record is
added, nothing remains to be said. The firemen know how much of that is
the doing of their four-legged comrades. It is the one blot on the fair
picture that the city which owes these horses so much has not seen fit,
in gratitude, to provide comfort for their worn old age. When a fireman
grows old, he is retired on half-pay for the rest of his days. When a
horse that has run with the heavy engines to fires by night and by day
for perhaps ten or fifteen years is worn out, it issold, to a
huckster, perhaps, or a contractor, to slave for him until it is fit
only for the bone-yard! The city receives a paltry two or three
thousand dollars a year for this rank treachery, and pockets the
blood-money without a protest. There is room next, in New York, for a
movement that shall secure to the fireman's faithful friend the
grateful reward of a quiet farm, a full crib, and a green pasture to
the end of its days, when it is no longer young enough and strong
enough to run with the machine.
JOHN GAVIN, MISFIT
John Gavin was to blamethere is no doubt of that. To be sure, he
was out of a job, with never a cent in his pockets, his babies
starving, and notice served by the landlord that day. He had travelled
the streets till midnight looking for work, and had found none. And so
he gave up. Gave up, with the Employment Bureau in the next street
registering applicants; with the Wayfarers' Lodge over in Poverty Gap,
where he might have earned fifty cents, anyway, chopping wood; with
charities without end, organized and unorganized, that would have sat
upon and registered his case, and numbered it properly. With all these
things and a hundred like them to meet their wants, the Gavins of our
day have been told often enough that they have no business to lose
hope. That they will persist is strange. But perhaps this one had never
heard of them.
Anyway, Gavin is dead. But yesterday he was the father of six
children, running from May, the eldest, who was thirteen and at school,
to the baby, just old enough to poke its little fingers into its
father's eyes and crow and jump when he came in from his long and
dreary tramps. They were as happy a little family as a family of eight
could be with the wolf scratching at the door, its nose already poking
through. There had been no work and no wages in the house for months,
and the landlord had given notice that at the end of the week, out they
must go, unless the back rent was paid. And there was about as much
likelihood of its being paid as of a slice of the February sun dropping
down through the ceiling into the room to warm the shivering Gavin
It began when Gavin's health gave way. He was a lather and had a
steady job till sickness came. It was the old story: nothing laid
awayhow could there be, with a houseful of childrenand nothing
coming in. They talk of death-rates to measure the misery of the slum
by, but death does not touch the bottom. It ends the misery. Sickness
only begins it. It began Gavin's. When he had to drop hammer and nails,
he got a job in a saloon as a barkeeper; but the saloon didn't prosper,
and when it was shut up, there was an end. Gavin didn't know it then.
He looked at the babies and kept up spirits as well as he could, though
it wrung his heart.
He tried everything under the sun to get a job. He travelled early
and travelled late, but wherever he went they had men and to spare. And
besides, he was ill. As they told him bluntly, sometimes, they didn't
have any use for sick men. Men to work and earn wages must be strong.
And he had to own that it was true.
Gavin was not strong. As he denied himself secretly the nourishment
he needed that his little ones might have enough, he felt it more and
more. It was harder work for him to get around, and each refusal left
him more downcast. He was yet a young man, only thirty-four, but he
felt as if he was old and tiredtired out; that was it.
The feeling grew on him while he went his last errand, offering his
services at saloons and wherever, as he thought, an opening offered. In
fact, he thought but little about it any more. The whole thing had
become an empty, hopeless formality with him. He knew at last that he
was looking for the thing he would never find; that in a cityful where
every man had his place he was a misfit with none. With his dull brain
dimly conscious of that one idea, he plodded homeward in the midnight
hour. He had been on the go since early morning, and excepting some
lunch from the saloon counters, had eaten nothing.
The lamp burned dimly in the room where May sat poring yet over her
books, waiting for papa. When he came in she looked up and smiled, but
saw by his look, as he hung up his hat, that there was no good news,
and returned with a sigh to her book. The tired mother was asleep on
the bed, dressed, with the baby in her arms. She had lain down to quiet
it and had been lulled to sleep with it herself.
Gavin did not wake them. He went to the bed where the four little
ones slept, and kissed them, each in his turn, then came back and
kissed his wife and baby.
May nestled close to him as he bent over her and gave her, too, a
Where are you going, papa? she asked.
He turned around at the door and cast a look back at the quiet room,
irresolute. Then he went back once more to kiss his sleeping wife and
But however softly, it woke the mother. She saw him making for the
door, and asked him where he meant to go so late.
Out, just a little while, he said, and his voice was husky. He
turned his head away.
A woman's instinct made her arise hastily and go to him.
Don't go, she said; please don't go away.
As he still moved toward the door, she put her arm about his neck
and drew his head toward her.
She strove with him anxiously, frightened, she hardly knew herself
by what. The lamplight fell upon something shining which he held behind
his back. The room rang with the shot, and the baby awoke crying, to
see its father slip from mamma's arms to the floor, dead.
For John Gavin, alive, there was no place. At least he did not find
it; for which, let it be said and done with, he was to blame. Dead,
society will find one for him. And for the one misfit got off the list
there are seven whom not employment bureau nor woodyard nor charity
register can be made to reach. Social economy the thing is called;
which makes the eighth misfit.
A HEATHEN BABY
A stack of mail comes to Police Headquarters every morning from the
precincts by special department carrier. It includes the reports for
the last twenty-four hours of stolen and recovered goods, complaints,
and the thousand and one things the official mail-bag contains from day
to day. It is all routine, and everything has its own pigeonhole into
which it drops and is forgotten until some raking up in the department
turns up the old blotters and the old things once more. But at last the
mail-bag contained something that was altogether out of the usual run,
to wit, a Chinese baby.
Pickaninnies have come in it before this, lots of them, black and
shiny, and one pappoose from a West Side wigwam; but a Chinese baby
Sergeant Jack was so astonished that it took his breath away. When
he recovered he spoke learnedly about its clothes as evidence of its
heathen origin. Never saw such a thing before, he said. They were like
they were sewn on; it was impossible to disentangle that child by any
way short of rolling it on the floor.
Sergeant Jack is an old bachelor, and that is all he knows about
babies. The child was not sewn up at all. It was just swaddled, and no
Chinese had done that, but the Italian woman who found it. Sergeant
Jack sees such babies every night in Mulberry Street, but that is the
way with old bachelors. They don't know much, anyhow.
It was clear that the baby thought so. She was a little girl, very
little, only one night old; and she regarded him through her almond
eyes with a supercilious look, as who should say, Now, if he was only
a bottle, instead of a big, useless policeman, why, one might put up
with him; which reflection opened the flood-gates of grief and set the
little Chinee squalling: Yow! Yow! Yap! until the Sergeant held his
ears, and a policeman carried it upstairs in a hurry.
Downstairs first, in the Sergeant's big blotter, and upstairs in the
matron's nursery next, the baby's brief official history was recorded.
There was very little of it, indeed, and what there was was not marked
by much ceremony. The stork hadn't brought it, as it does in far-off
Denmark; nor had the doctor found it and brought it in, on the American
An Italian woman had just scratched it out of an ash barrel. Perhaps
that's the way they find babies in China, in which case the sympathy of
all American mothers and fathers will be with the present despoilers of
the heathen Chinee, who is entitled to no consideration whatever until
he introduces a new way.
The Italian woman was Mrs. Maria Lepanto. She lives in Thompson
Street, but she had come all the way down to the corner of Elizabeth
and Canal streets with her little girl to look at a procession passing
by. That, as everybody knows, is next door to Chinatown. It was ten
o'clock, and the end of the procession was in sight, when she noticed
something stirring in an ash barrel that stood against the wall. She
thought first it was a rat, and was going to run, when a noise that was
certainly not a rat's squeal came from the barrel. The child clung to
her hand and dragged her toward the sound.
Oh, mamma! she cried, in wild excitement, hear it! It isn't a
rat! I know! Hear!
It was a wail, a very tiny wail, ever so sorry, as well it might be,
coming from a baby that was cradled in an ash barrel. It was little
Susie's eager hands that snatched it out. Then they saw that it was
indeed a child, a poor, helpless, grieving little baby.
It had nothing on at all, not even a rag. Perhaps they had not had
time to dress it.
Oh, it will fit my dolly's jacket! cried Susie, dancing around and
hugging it in glee. It will, mamma! A real live baby! Now Tilde
needn't brag of theirs. We will take it home, won't we, mamma?
The bands brayed, and the flickering light of many torches filled
the night. The procession had gone down the street, and the crowd with
it. The poor woman wrapped the baby in her worn shawl and gave it to
the girl to carry. And Susie carried it, prouder and happier than any
of the men that marched to the music. So they arrived home. The little
stranger had found friends and a resting-place.
But not for long. In the morning Mrs. Lepanto took counsel with the
neighbors, and was told that the child must be given to the police.
That was the law, they said, and though little Susie cried bitterly at
having to part with her splendid new toy, Mrs. Lepanto, being a
law-abiding woman, wrapped up her find and took it to the Macdougal
That was the way it got to Headquarters with the morning mail, and
how Sergeant Jack got a chance to tell all he didn't know about babies.
Matron Travers knew more, a good deal. She tucked the little heathen
away in a trundle-bed with a big bottle, and blessed silence fell at
once on Headquarters. In five minutes the child was asleep.
While it slept, Matron Travers entered it in her book as No. 103
of that year's crop of the gutter, and before it woke up she was on the
way with it, snuggled safely in a big gray shawl, up to the Charities.
There Mr. Bauer registered it under yet another number, chucked it
under the chin, and chirped at it in what he probably thought might
pass for baby Chinese. Then it got another big bottle and went to sleep
At ten o'clock there came a big ship on purpose to give the little
Mott Street waif a ride up the river, and by dinner-time it was on a
green island with four hundred other babies of all kinds and shades,
but not one just like it in the whole lot. For it was New York's first
and only Chinese foundling. As to that Superintendent Bauer, Matron
Travers, and Mrs. Lepanto agreed. Sergeant Jack's evidence doesn't
count, except as backed by his superiors. He doesn't know a heathen
baby when he sees one.
The island where the waif from Mott Street cast anchor is called
Randall's Island, and there its stay ends, or begins. The chances are
that it ends, for with an ash barrel filling its past and a foundling
asylum its future, a baby hasn't much of a show. Babies were made to be
hugged each by one pair of mother's arms, and neither white-capped
nurses nor sleek milch cows fed on the fattest of meadow-grass can take
their place, try as they may. The babies know that they are cheated,
and they will not stay.
THE CHRISTENING IN BOTTLE ALLEY
All Bottle Alley was bidden to the christening. It being Sunday,
when Mulberry Street was wont to adjust its differences over the cards
and the wine-cup, it came heeled, ready for what might befall. From
Tomaso, the ragpicker in the farthest rear cellar, to the Signor
Undertaker, mainstay and umpire in the varying affairs of life, which
had a habit in The Bend of lapsing suddenly upon his professional
domain, they were all there, the men of Malpete's village. The baby was
named for the village saint, so that it was a kind of communal feast as
well. Carmen was there with her man, and Francisco Cessari.
If Carmen had any other name, neither Mulberry Street nor the Alley
knew it. She was Carmen to them when, seven years before, she had taken
up with Francisco, then a young mountaineer straight as the cedar of
his native hills, the breath of which was yet in the songs with which
he wooed her. Whether the priest had blessed their bonds no one knew or
asked. The Bend only knew that one day, after three years during which
the Francisco tenement had been the scene of more than one jealous
quarrel, not, it was whispered, without cause, the mountaineer was
missing. He did not come back. From over the sea The Bend heard, after
a while, that he had reappeared in the old village to claim the
sweetheart he had left behind. In the course of time new arrivals
brought the news that Francisco was married and that they were living
happily, as a young couple should. At the news Mulberry Street looked
askance at Carmen; but she gave no sign. By tacit consent, she was the
Widow Carmen after that.
The summers passed. The fourth brought Francisco Cessari, come back
to seek his fortune, with his wife and baby. He greeted old friends
effusively and made cautious inquiries about Carmen. When told that she
had consoled herself with his old rival, Luigi, with whom she was then
living in Bottle Alley, he laughed with a light heart, and took up his
abode within half a dozen doors of the alley. That was but a short time
before the christening at Malpete's. There their paths crossed each
other for the first time since his flight.
She met him with a smile on her lips, but with hate in her heart.
He, manlike, saw only the smile. The men smoking and drinking in the
court watched them speak apart, saw him, with the laugh that sat so
lightly upon his lips, turn to his wife, sitting by the hydrant with
the child, and heard him say, Look, Carmen! our baby!
The woman bent over it, and, as she did, the little one woke
suddenly out of its sleep and cried out in affright. It was noticed
that Carmen smiled again then, and that the young mother shivered, why
she herself could not have told. Francisco, joining the group at the
farther end of the yard, said carelessly that Carmen had forgotten.
They poked fun at him and spoke her name loudly, with laughter.
From the tenement, as they did, came Luigi and asked threateningly
who insulted his wife. They only laughed the more, said he had drunk
too much wine, and shouldering him out, bade him go look to his woman.
He went. Carmen had witnessed it all from the house. She called him a
coward and goaded him with bitter taunts until mad with anger and drink
he went out in the court once more and shook his fist in the face of
Francisco. They hailed his return with bantering words. Luigi was
spoiling for a fight they laughed, and would find one before the day
was much older. But suddenly silence fell upon the group. Carmen stood
on the step, pale and cold. She hid something under her apron.
Luigi! she called, and he came to her. She drew from under the
apron a cocked pistol, and, pointing to Francisco, pushed it into his
hand. At the sight the alley was cleared as suddenly as if a tornado
had swept through it. Malpete's guests leaped over fences, dived into
cellar-ways anywhere for shelter. The door of the woodshed slammed
behind Francisco just as his old rival reached it. The maddened man
tore it open and dragged him out by the throat. He pinned him against
the fence, and levelled the pistol with frenzied curses. They died on
his lips. The face that was turning livid in his grasp was the face of
his boyhood's friend. They had gone to school together, danced together
at the fairs in the old days. They had been friendstill Carmen came.
The muzzle of the weapon fell.
Shoot! said a hard voice behind him. Carmen stood there with face
of stone. She stamped her foot. Shoot! she commanded, pointing,
relentless, at the struggling man. Coward, shoot!
Her lover's finger crooked itself upon the trigger. A shriek, wild
and despairing, rang through the alley. A woman ran madly from the
house, flew across the pavement, and fell panting at Carmen's feet.
Mother of God! mercy! she cried, thrusting her babe before the
assassin's weapon. Jesus Maria! Carmen, the child! He is my husband!
No gleam of pity came into the cold eyes. Only hatred, fierce and
bitter, was there. In one swift, sweeping glance she saw it all: the
woman fawning at her feet, the man she hated limp and helpless in the
grasp of her lover.
He was mine once, she said, and he had no mercy. She pushed the
baby aside. Coward, shoot!
The shot was drowned in the shriek, hopeless, despairing, of the
widow who fell upon the body of Francisco as it slipped lifeless from
the grasp of the assassin. The christening party saw Carmen standing
over the three with the same pale smile on her cruel lips.
For once The Bend did not shield a murderer. The door of the
tenement was shut against him. The women spurned him. The very children
spat upon him as he fled to the street. The police took him there. With
him they seized Carmen. She made no attempt to escape. She had bided
her time, and it had come. She had her revenge. To the end of its lurid
life Bottle Alley remembered it as the murder accursed of God.
IN THE MULBERRY STREET COURT
Conduct unbecoming an officer, read the charge, in this, to wit,
that the said defendants brought into the station-house, by means to
deponent unknown, on the said Fourth of July, a keg of beer, and, when
apprehended, were consuming the contents of the same. Twenty
policemen, comprising the whole off platoon of the East One Hundred and
Fourth Street squad, answered the charge as defendants. They had been
caught grouped about a pot of chowder and the fatal keg in the
top-floor dormitory, singing, Beer, beer, glorious beer! Sergeant
McNally and Roundsman Stevenson interrupted the proceedings.
The Commissioner's eyes bulged as, at the call of the complaint
clerk, the twenty marched up and ranged themselves in rows, three deep,
They took the oath collectively, with a toss and a smack, as if to
say, I don't care if I do, and told separately and identically the
same story, while the Sergeant stared and the Commissioner's eyes grew
bigger and rounder.
Missing his reserves, Sergeant McNally had sent the Roundsman in
search of them. He was slow in returning, and the Sergeant went on a
tour of inspection himself. He journeyed to the upper region, and there
came upon the party in full swing. Then and there he called the roll.
Not one of the platoon was missing.
They formed a hollow square around something that looked uncommonly
like a beer-keg. A number of tin growlers stood beside it. The Sergeant
picked up one and turned the tap. There was enough left in the keg to
barely half fill it. Seeing that, the platoon followed him downstairs
without a murmur.
One by one the twenty took the stand after the Sergeant had left it,
and testified without a tremor that they had seen no beer-keg. In fact,
the majority would not know one if they saw it. They were tired and
hungry, having been held in reserve all day, when a pleasant smell
assailed their nostrils.
Each of the twenty followed his nose independently to the top floor,
where he was surprised to see the rest gathered about a pot of steaming
chowder. He joined the circle and partook of some. It was good. As to
beer, he had seen none and drunk less. There was something there of
wood with a brass handle to it. What it was none of them seemed to
know. They were all shocked at the idea that it might have been a
beer-keg. Such things are forbidden in police stations.
The Sergeant himself could not tell how it could have got in there,
while stoutly maintaining that it was a keg. He scratched his head and
concluded that it might have come over the roof, or, somehow, from a
building that is in course of erection next door. The chowder had come
in by the main door. At least one policeman had seen it carried
upstairs. He had fallen in behind it immediately.
When the Commissioner had heard this story told exactly twenty times
the platoon fell in and marched off to the elevated station. When he
can decide what punishment to inflict on a policeman who does not know
a beer-keg when he sees it, they all will be fined accordingly, and a
doorman who has served a term as a barkeeper will be sent to the East
One Hundred and Fourth Street station to keep the police there out of
DIFFICULTIES OF A DEACON
It is my firm opinion that newspaper men should not be deacons. Not
that there is any moral or spiritual reason why they should
abstainnot that; but it doesn't work; the chances are all against it.
I know it from experience. I was a deacon myself once.
It was at a time when they were destroying gambling tools at Police
Headquarters. I was there, and I carried away as a memento of the
occasion a pocketful of red, white, yellow, and blue chips. They were
pretty, and I thought they would be nice to have around. That was the
beginning of the mischief. I was a very energetic deacon, and attended
to the duties of the office with zeal. It was a young church; I had
helped to found it myself; and at the Thursday night meetings I was
rarely missing. The very next week it was my turn to lead it, and I
started in to interpret the text to the best of my ability, and with
much approval from the brethren.
I have a nervous habit, when talking, of fingering my watch, keys,
knife, or whatever I happen to fish out of my pocket first. It happened
to be the poker chips this time. Now, I have never played poker. I
don't know the game from the smallpox. But it seems that the
congregation did. I could not at first account for the enthusiasm of
the brethren as I laid down the law, and checked off the points
successively on a white, a red, and a yellow chip, summing the argument
up on a blue. I was rather flattered by my success at presenting the
matter in a convincing light; and when the dominie leaned over and
examined the chips attentively, I gave him a handful for the baby,
cheerfully telling him that I had plenty more at home.
The look of horror on the good man's face remained a puzzle to me
until some of the congregation asked me on the train in the morning, in
a confidential kind of way, where the game was, and how high was the
ante. The explanation that ensued was not a success. I think that it
shook the confidence of the brethren in me for the first time.
It occurs to me now, looking back, that the fact that I had a black
eye on that occasion may have contributed in a measure to this result.
Yet it was as innocent an eye as those chips; in fact, it was
distinctly an ecclesiastical black eye, if I may so call it. I was
never a fighter, any more than I was a gambler. Only once in my life
was I accused of fighting, and then most unjustly. It was when a man
who had come into my office with a hickory club to punish me for a
wrong, as he insisted upon considering it,while in reality it was an
act of strictest justice to him,happened to fall out of a window,
taking the whole sash with him. The simple fact was that I didn't
strike a blow. He literally fell out. However, that is another story,
and a much older one.
This black eye was a direct outcome of my zeal as deacon. Between
the duties it imposed upon me, and my work as a newspaper man, I was
getting very much in need of exercise of some sort. The doctor
recommended Indian clubs; but the boys in the office liked boxing, and
it seemed to me to have some advantages. So we clubbed together, and
got a set of gloves, and when we were not busy would put them on and
have a friendly set-to. It was inevitable that our youthful spirits
should rise at these meetings, and with them occasionally certain
lumps, which afterward shaded off into various tints bordering more or
less on black until we learned to keep a leech on hand for emergencies.
You see, what with the spirit of the contest, the tenderness of our
untrained flesh, and certain remembered scores which were thus paid off
in an entirely friendly and Christian manner, leaving no bad blood
behind,especially after we had engaged the leech,this was not only
reasonable, but inevitable. But the brethren knew nothing of this, and
couldn't be persuaded to listen to it; and, in fairness, it must be
owned that the spectacle of a deacon with a black eye and a handful of
poker chips expounding the text in prayer-meeting waswell, let us say
that appearances were against me.
Still, I might have come through it all right had it not been for
Mac. Mac was the dog. It never rains but it pours; and just at this
time midnight burglars took to raiding our suburban town, and dogs came
into fashion. Mac came into it with a long jump. He had been part of
the outfit of a dog pit in a low dive on the East Side which the police
had broken up. Sergeant Jack had heard of my need, and gave him to me
for old acquaintance' sake, warranting him to keep anybody away from
the house. Upon this point there was never the least doubt. We might
just as well have lived on a desert island while we had him. People
went around the next block to avoid our house. It was not because Mac
was unsociable; quite the contrary. He took to the town from the first,
especially to the other dogs. These he generally took by the throat, to
the great distress of their owners. I have never heard that bulldogs as
a class have theories, and I am not prepared to discuss the point. I
know that Mac had. He was an evolutionist, with a firm belief in the
principle of the survival of the fittest; and he did all one dog could
do to carry it into practice. His efforts eventually brought it down to
a question between himself and a big long-haired dog in the next
street. I think of this with regret, because it was the occasion of my
one real slip. The dog led me into temptation.
If it only had not been Sunday, and church time, when the issue
became urgent, and the long-haired one accepted our invitation for a
walk in the deep woods! In this saddening reflection I was partly
comforted, while taking the by-paths for home afterward,with Mac
limping along on three legs, and minus one ear,by the knowledge that
our view of the case had prevailed. The long-haired one troubled us no
Mac had his strong points, but he had also his failings. One of
these was a weakness for stale beer. I suppose he had been brought up
on it in the dog pit. The pure air of Long Island, and the usual
environment of his new home, did not wean him from it. He had not been
long in our house before he took to absenting himself for days and
nights at a time, returning ragged and fagged out, as if from a long
spree. We found out, by accident, that he spent those vacations in a
low saloon a mile up the plank road, which he had probably located on
one of his excursions through the country to extend his doctrine of
evolution. It was the conductor on the horse-car that ran past the
saloon who told me of it. Mac had found the cars out, too, and rode
regularly up and down to the place, surveying the country from the rear
platform. The conductor prudently refrained from making any remarks
after Mac had once afforded him a look at his jaw. I am sorry to say
that I think Mac got drunk on those trips. I judged, from remarks I
overheard once or twice about the deacon's drunken dog, that the
community shared my conviction. It was always quick to jump at
conclusions, particularly about deacons.
Sober second thought should have acquitted me of all the allegations
against me, except the one matter of the Sunday discussion in the
woods, which, however, I had forgotten to mention. But sober second
thought, that ought always and specially to attach itself to the
deaconry, was apparently at a premium in our town. I had begun to tire
of the constant explanations that were required, when the climax came
in a manner wholly unforeseen and unexpected. The cashier in the office
had run away, or was under suspicion, or something, and it became
necessary to overhaul the accounts to find out where the office stood.
When that was done, my chief summoned me down town for a private
interview. Upon the table lay my weekly pay-checks for three years
back, face down. My employer eyed them and me, by turns, curiously.
Mr. Riis, he began stiffly, I'm not going to judge you unheard;
and, for that matter, it is none of my business. I have known you all
this time as a sober, steady man; I believe you are a deacon in your
church; and I never heard that you gambled or bet money. It seems now
that I was never more mistaken in a man in my life. Tell me, how do you
do it, anyhow? Do you blow in the whole of your salary every week on
policy, or do you run a game of your own up there? Look at those
He pointed to the lot. I stared at them in bewilderment. They were
my own checks, sure enough; and underneath my name, on the back of each
one, was the indorsement of the infamous blackleg whose name had been a
byword ever since I could remember as that of the chief devil in the
policy blackmail conspiracy that had robbed the poor and corrupted the
police force to the core.
I went home and resigned my office as deacon. I did not explain. We
were having a little difficulty at the time, about another matter,
which made it easy. I did not add this straw, though the explanation
was simple enough. My chief grasped it at once; but then, he was not a
deacon. I had simply got my check cashed every week in a cigar-store
next door that was known to be a policy-shop for the special
accommodation of Police Headquarters in those days, and the check had
gone straight into the backer's bank-account. That was how. But, as I
said, it was hopeless to try to explain, and I didn't. I simply record
here what I said at the beginning, that it is no use for a newspaper
man, more particularly a police reporter, to try to be a deacon too.
The chances are all against it.
FIRE IN THE BARRACKS
The rush and roar, the blaze and the wild panic of a great fire
filled Twenty-third Street. Helmeted men stormed and swore; horses
tramped and reared; crying women, hurrying hither and thither, stumbled
over squirming hose on street and sidewalk.
The throbbing of a dozen pumping-engines merged all other sounds in
its frantic appeal for haste. In the midst of it all, seven red-shirted
men knelt beside a heap of trunks, hastily thrown up as for a
breastwork, and prayed fervently with bared heads.
Firemen and policemen stumbled up against them with angry words,
stopped, stared, and passed silently by. The fleeing crowd hailed and
fell back. The rush and the roar swirled to the right and to the left,
leaving the little band as if in an eddy, untouched and serene, with
the glow of the fire upon it and the stars paling overhead.
The seven were the Swedish Salvation Army. Their barracks were
burning up in a blast of fire so sudden and so fierce that scant time
was left to save life and goods.
From the tenements next door men and women dragged bundles and
feather-beds, choking stairs and halls, and shrieking madly to be let
out. The police struggled angrily with the torrent. The lodgers in the
Holly-Tree Inn, who had nothing to save, ran for their lives.
In the station-house behind the barracks they were hastily clearing
the prison. The last man had hardly passed out of his cell when, with a
deafening crash, the toppling wall fell upon and smashed the roof of
Fire-bells rang in every street as engines rushed from north and
south. A general alarm had called out the reserves. Every hydrant for
blocks around was tapped. Engine crews climbed upon the track of the
elevated road, picketed the surrounding tenements, and stood their
ground on top of the police station.
Up there two crews labored with a Siamese joint hose throwing a
stream as big as a man's thigh. It got away from them, and for a while
there was panic and a struggle up on the heights as well as in the
street. The throbbing hose bounded over the roof, thrashing right and
left, and flinging about the men who endeavored to pin it down like
half-drowned kittens. It struck the coping, knocked it off, and the
resistless stream washed brick and stone down into the yard as upon the
wave of a mighty flood.
Amid the fright and uproar the seven alone were calm. The sun rose
upon their little band perched upon the pile of trunks, victorious and
defiant. It shone upon Old Glory and the Salvation Army's flag floating
from their improvised fort, and upon an ample lake, sprung up within an
hour where yesterday there was a vacant sunken lot. The fire was out,
the firemen going home.
The lodgers in the Holly-Tree Inn, of whom there is one for every
day in the year, looked upon the sudden expanse of water, shivered, and
went in. The tenants returned to their homes. The fright was over, with
WAR ON THE GOATS
War has been declared in Hell's Kitchen. An indignant public opinion
demands to have something done ag'in' them goats, and there is alarm
at the river end of the street. A public opinion in Hell's Kitchen that
demands anything besides schooners of mixed ale is a sign. Surer than a
college settlement and a sociological canvass, it foretells the end of
the slum. Sebastopol, the rocky fastness of the gang that gave the
place its bad name, was razed only the other day, and now the police
have been set on the goats. Cause enough for alarm.
A reconnaissance in force by the enemy showed some foundation for
the claim that the goats owned the block. Thirteen were found foraging
in the gutters, standing upon trucks, or calmly dozing in doorways.
They evinced no particularly hostile disposition, but a marked desire
to know the business of every chance caller in the block. This caused a
passing unpleasantness between one big white goat and the janitress of
the tenement on the corner. Being crowded up against the wall by the
animal, bent on exploring her pockets, she beat it off with her
scrubbing-pail and mop. The goat, thus dismissed, joined a horse at the
curb in apparently innocent meditation, but with one leering eye fixed
back over its shoulder upon the housekeeper setting out an ash barrel.
Her back was barely turned when it was in the barrel, with head and
fore feet exploring its depths. The door of the tenement opened upon
the housekeeper trundling another barrel just as the first one fell and
rolled across the sidewalk, with the goat capering about. Then was the
air filled with bad language and a broomstick and a goat for a moment,
and the woman was left shouting her wrongs.
What de divil good is dem goats anyhow? she said, panting.
There's no housekeeper in de United Shtates can watch de ash cans wid
dem divil's imps around. They near killed an Eyetalian child the other
day, and two of them got basted in de neck when de goats follied dem
and didn't get nothing. That big white one o' Tim's, he's the worst in
de lot, and he's got only one horn, too.
This wicked and unsymmetrical animal is denounced for its malice
throughout the block by even the defenders of the goats. Singularly
enough, he cannot be located, and neither can Tim. If the scouting
party has better luck and can seize this wretched beast, half the
campaign may be over. It will be accepted as a sacrifice by one side,
and the other is willing to give it up.
Mrs. Shallock lives in a crazy old frame-house, over a saloon. Her
kitchen is approached by a sort of hen-ladder, a foot wide, which
terminates in a balcony, the whole of which was occupied by a big gray
goat. There was not room for the police inquisitor and the goat too,
and the former had to wait till the animal had come off his perch. Mrs.
Shallock is a widow. A load of anxiety and concern overspread her
motherly countenance when she heard of the trouble.
Are they after dem goats again? she said. Sarah! Leho! come right
here, an' don't you go in the street again. Excuse me, sor! but it's
all because one of dem knocked down an old woman that used to give it a
paper every day. She is the mother of the blind newsboy around on the
avenue, an' she used to feed an old paper to him every night. So he
follied her. That night she didn't have any, an' when he stuck his nose
in her basket an' didn't find any, he knocked her down, an' she bruk
Whether it was the one-horned goat that thus insisted upon his
sporting extra does not appear. Probably it was.
There's neighbors lives there has got 'em on floors, Mrs. Shallock
kept on. I'm paying taxes here, an' I think it's my privilege to have
one little goat.
I just wish they'd take 'em, broke in the widow's buxom daughter,
who had appeared in the doorway, combing her hair. They goes up in the
hall and knocks on the door with their horns all night. There's sixteen
dozen of them on the stoop, if there's one. What good are they? Let's
sell 'em to the butcher, mamma; he'll buy 'em for mutton, the way he
did Bill Buckley's. You know right well he did.
They ain't much good, that's a fact, mused the widow. But yere's
Leho; she's follying me around just like a child. She is a regular pet,
is Leho. We got her from Mr. Lee, who is dead, and we called her after
him, Leho [Leo]. Take Sarah; but Leho, little Leho, let's keep.
Leho stuck her head in through the front door and belied her name.
If the widow keeps her, another campaign will shortly have to be begun
in Forty-sixth Street. There will be more goats where Leho is.
Mr. Cleary lives in a rear tenement and has only one goat. It
belongs, he says, to his little boy, and is no good except to amuse
him. Minnie is her name, and she once had a mate. When it was sold, the
boy cried so much that he was sick for two weeks. Mr. Cleary couldn't
think of parting with Minnie.
Neither will Mr. Lennon, in the next yard, give up his. He owns the
stable, he says, and axes no odds of anybody. His goat is some good
anyhow, for it gives milk for his tea. Says his wife, Many is the dime
it has saved us. There are two goats in Mr. Lennon's yard, one perched
on top of a shed surveying the yard, the other engaged in chewing at a
buck-saw that hangs on the fence.
Mrs. Buckley does not know how many goats she has. A glance at the
bigger of the two that are stabled at the entrance to the tenement
explains her doubts, which are temporary. Mrs. Buckley says that her
husband generally sells them away, meaning the kids, presumably to
the butcher for mutton.
Hey, Jenny! she says, stroking the big one at the door. Jenny eyes
the visitor calmly, and chews an old newspaper. She has two horns.
She ain't as bad as they lets on, says Mrs. Buckley.
The scouting party reports the new public opinion of the Kitchen to
be of healthy but alien growth, as yet without roots in the soil strong
enough to stand the shock of a general raid on the goats. They
recommend as a present concession the seizure of the one-horned Billy
that seems to have no friends on the block, if indeed he belongs there,
and an ambush is being laid accordingly.
HE KEPT HIS TRYST
Policeman Schultz was stamping up and down his beat in Hester
Street, trying to keep warm, on the night before Christmas, when a
human wreck, in rum and rags, shuffled across his path and hailed
You allus treated me fair, Schultz, it said; say, will you do a
thing for me?
What is it, Denny? said the officer. He had recognized the wreck
as Denny the Robber, a tramp who had haunted his beat ever since he had
been on it, and for years before, he had heard, further back than any
Will you, said the wreck, wistfullywill you run me in and give
me about three months to-morrow? Will you do it?
That I will, said Schultz. He had often done it before, sometimes
for three, sometimes for six months, and sometimes for ten days,
according to how he and Denny and the justice felt about it. In the
spell between trips to the island, Denny was a regular pensioner of the
policeman, who let him have a quarter or so when he had so little money
as to be next to desperate. He never did get quite to that point.
Perhaps the policeman's quarters saved him. His nickname of the
Robber was given to him on the same principle that dubbed the
neighborhood he haunted the Pig Marketbecause pigs are the only ware
not for sale there. Denny never robbed anybody. The only thing he ever
stole was the time he should have spent in working. There was no
denying it, Denny was a loafer. He himself had told Schultz that it was
because his wife and children put him out of their house in Madison
Street five years before. Perhaps if his wife's story had been heard it
would have reversed that statement of facts. But nobody ever heard it.
Nobody took the trouble to inquire. The O'Neil familythat was
understood to be the nameinterested no one in Jewtown. One of its
members was enough. Except that Mrs. O'Neil lived in Madison Street,
somewhere near Lundy's store, nothing was known of her.
That I will, Denny, repeated the policeman, heartily, slipping him
a dime for luck. You come around to-morrow, and I will run you in. Now
But Denny didn't go, though he had the price of two balls at the
distillery. He shifted thoughtfully on his feet, and said:
Say, Schultz, if I should die now,I am all full o' rheumatiz, and
sore,if I should die before, would you see to me and tell the wife?
Small fear of yer dying, Denny, with the price of two drinks, said
the policeman, poking him facetiously in the ribs with his club. Don't
you worry. All the same, if you will tell me where the old woman lives,
I will let her know. What's the number?
But the Robber's mood had changed under the touch of the silver dime
that burned his palm. Never mind, Schultz, he said; I guess I won't
kick; so long! and moved off.
The snow drifted wickedly down Suffolk Street Christmas morning,
pinching noses and ears and cheeks already pinched by hunger and want.
It set around the corner into the Pig Market, where the hucksters
plodded knee-deep in the drifts, burying the horse-radish man and his
machine and coating the bare, plucked breasts of the geese that swung
from countless hooks at the corner stand with softer and whiter down
than ever grew there. It drove the suspender-man into the hallway of a
Suffolk Street tenement, where he tried to pluck the icicles from his
frozen ears and beard with numb and powerless fingers.
As he stepped out of the way of some one entering with a blast that
set like a cold shiver up through the house, he stumbled over
something, and put down his hand to feel what it was. It touched a cold
face, and the house rang with a shriek that silenced the clink of
glasses in the distillery, against the side door of which the something
lay. They crowded out, glasses in hand, to see what it was.
Only a dead tramp, said some one, and the crowd went back to the
warm saloon, where the barrels lay in rows on the racks. The clink of
glasses and shouts of laughter came through the peep-hole in the door
into the dark hallway as Policeman Schultz bent over the stiff, cold
shape. Some one had called him.
Denny, he said, tugging at his sleeve.
Denny, come. Your time is up. I am here. Denny never stirred. The
policeman looked up, white in the face.
My God! he said, he's dead. But he kept his date.
And so he had. Denny the Robber was dead. Rum and exposure and the
rheumatiz had killed him. Policeman Schultz kept his word, too, and
had him taken to the station on a stretcher.
He was a bad penny, said the saloon-keeper, and no one in Jewtown
was found to contradict him.
ROVER'S LAST FIGHT
The little village of Valley Stream nestles peacefully among the
woods and meadows of Long Island. The days and the years roll by
uneventfully within its quiet precincts. Nothing more exciting than the
arrival of a party of fishermen from the city, on a vain hunt for perch
in the ponds that lie hidden among its groves and feed the Brooklyn
waterworks, troubles the every-day routine of the village. Two great
railroad wrecks are remembered thereabouts, but these are already
ancient history. Only the oldest inhabitants know of the earlier one.
There hasn't been as much as a sudden death in the town since, and the
constable and chief of policeprobably one and the same
personhaven't turned an honest or dishonest penny in the whole course
of their official existence. All of which is as it ought to be.
But at last something occurred that ought not to have been. The
village was aroused at daybreak by the intelligence that a robbery had
been committed overnight, and a murder. The house of Gabriel Dodge, a
well-to-do farmer, had been sacked by thieves, who left in their trail
the farmer's murdered dog. Rover was a collie, large for his kind, and
quite as noisy as the rest of them. He had been left as an outside
guard, according to Farmer Dodge's awkward practice. Inside, he might
have been of use by alarming the folks when the thieves tried to get
in. But they had only to fear his bark; his bite was harmless.
The whole of Valley Stream gathered at Farmer Dodge's house to
watch, awe-struck, the mysterious movements of the police force as it
went tiptoeing about, peeping into corners, secretly examining tracks
in the mud, and squinting suspiciously at the brogans of the
bystanders. When it had all been gone through, this record of facts
bearing on the case was made:
Rover was dead.
He had apparently been smothered.
With the hand, not a rope.
There was a ladder set up against the window of the spare bedroom.
That it had not been there before was evidence that the thieves had
set it up.
The window was open, and they had gone in.
Several watches, some good clothes, sundry articles of jewellery,
all worth some six or seven hundred dollars, were missing and could not
In conclusion, the constable put on record his belief that the
thieves who had smothered the dog and set up the ladder had taken the
The solid citizens of the village sat upon the verdict in the store,
solemnly considered it, and agreed that it was so. This point settled,
there was left only the other: Who were the thieves? The solid citizens
by a unanimous decision concluded that Inspector Byrnes was the man to
So they came over to New York and laid the matter before him, with a
mental diagram of the village, the house, the dog, and the ladder at
the window. There was just the suspicion of a twinkle in the corner of
the inspector's eye as he listened gravely and then said:
It was the spare bedroom, wasn't it?
The spare bedroom, said the committee, in one breath.
The only one in the house? queried the inspector, further.
The only one, responded the echo.
H'm! pondered the inspector. You keep hands on your farm, Mr.
Mr. Dodge did.
Sleep in the house?
Discharged any one lately?
The committee rose as one man, and, staring at each other with
bulging eyes, said Jake! all at once.
Jakey, b'gosh! repeated the constable to himself, kicking his own
shins softly as he tugged at his beard. Jake, by thunder!
Jake was a boy of eighteen, who had been employed by the farmer to
do chores. He was shiftless, and a week or two before had been sent
away in disgrace. He had gone no one knew whither.
The committee told the inspector all about Jake, gave him a minute
description of him,of his ways, his gait, and his clothes,and went
home feeling that they had been wondrous smart in putting so sharp a
man on the track he would never have thought of if they hadn't
mentioned Jake's name. All he had to do now was to follow it to the
end, and let them know when he had reached it. And as these good men
had prophesied, even so it came to pass.
Detectives of the inspector's staff were put on the trail. They
followed it from the Long Island pastures across the East River to the
Bowery, and there into one of the cheap lodging-houses where thieves
are turned out ready-made while you wait. There they found Jake.
They didn't hail him at once, or clap him into irons, as the
constable from Valley Stream would have done. They let him alone and
watched awhile to see what he was doing. And the thing that they found
him doing was just what they expected: he was herding with thieves.
When they had thoroughly fastened this companionship upon the lad, they
arrested the band. They were three.
They had not been locked up many hours at Headquarters before the
inspector sent for Jake. He told him he knew all about his dismissal by
Farmer Dodge, and asked him what he had done to the old man. Jake
blurted out hotly, Nothing and betrayed such feeling that his
questioner soon made him admit that he was sore on the boss. From
that to telling the whole story of the robbery was only a little way,
easy to travel in such company as Jake was in then. He told how he had
come to New York, angry enough to do anything, and had struck the
Bowery. Struck, too, his two friends, not the only two of that kind who
loiter about that thoroughfare.
To them he told his story while waiting in the hotel for something
to turn up, and they showed him a way to get square with the old man
for what he had done to him. The farmer had money and property he would
hate to lose. Jake knew the lay of the land, and could steer them
straight; they would take care of the rest. See? said they.
Jake saw, and the sight tempted him. But in his mind's eye he saw
also Rover and heard him bark. How could he be managed?
He will come to me if I call him, pondered Jake, while his two
companions sat watching his face, but you may have to kill him. Poor
You call the dog and leave him to me, said the oldest thief, and
shut his teeth hard. And so it was arranged.
That night the three went out on the last train, and hid in the
woods down by the gatekeeper's house at the pond, until the last light
had gone out in the village and it was fast asleep. Then they crept up
by a back way to Farmer Dodge's house. As expected, Rover came bounding
out at their approach, barking furiously. It was Jake's turn then.
Rover, he called softly, and whistled. The dog stopped barking and
came on, wagging his tail, but still growling ominously as he got scent
of the strange men.
Rover, poor Rover, said Jake, stroking his shaggy fur and feeling
like the guilty wretch he was; for just then the hand of Pfeiffer, the
thief, grabbed the throat of the faithful beast in a grip as of an iron
vice, and he had barked his last bark. Struggle as he might, he could
not free himself or breathe, while Jake, the treacherous Jake, held his
legs. And so he died, fighting for his master and his home.
In the morning the ladder at the open window and poor Rover dead in
the yard told of the drama of the night.
The committee of farmers came over and took Jake home, after
congratulating Inspector Byrnes on having so intelligently followed
their directions in hunting down the thieves. The inspector shook hands
with them and smiled.
HOW JIM WENT TO THE WAR
Jocko and Jim sat on the scuttle-stairs and mourned; times were out
of joint with them. Since an ill wind had blown one of the recruiting
sergeants for the Spanish War into the next block, the old joys of the
tenement had palled on Jim. Nothing would do but he must go to the war.
The infection was general in the neighborhood. Even base-ball had
lost its savor. The Ivy nine had disbanded at the first drum-beat, and
had taken the fever in a body. Jim, being fourteen, and growing
muscle with daily pride, had it bad. Naturally Jocko, being Jim's
constant companion, developed the symptoms too, and, to external
appearances, thirsted for gore as eagerly as a naturally peace-loving,
long-tailed monkey could.
Jocko had belonged to an Italian organ-grinder in the days of the
persecution, when the aldermen issued an edict, against monkeys. Now
he was hung up for rent, unpaid. And, literally, he remained hung up
most of the time, usually by his tail from the banisters, in which
position he was able both to abet the mischief of the children, and to
elude the stealthy grabs of their exasperated elders by skipping nimbly
to the other side.
The tenement was one of the old-fashioned kind, built for a better
use, with wide, oval stairwell and superior opportunities for
observation and escape. Jocko inhabited the well by day, and from it
conducted his raids upon the tenants' kitchens with an impartiality
which, if it did not disarm, at least had stayed the hand of vengeance
That he gave great provocation not even his stanchest boy friend
could deny. His pursuit of information was persistent. The sight of
Jocko cracking stolen eggs on the stairs to see the yolk run out and
then investigating the empty shell with grave concern was cheering to
the children, but usually provoked a shower of execrations and
scrubbing-brushes from the despoiled households.
When the postman's call was heard in the hall, Jocko was on hand to
receive the mail. Once he did receive it, the impartial zeal with which
he distributed the letters to friend and foe brought forth more
scrubbing-brushes, and Jocko retired to his attic aerie, there to
ponder with Jim, his usual companion when in disgrace, the relation of
eggs and letters and scrubbing-brushes in a world that seemed all awry
to their simple minds.
The sense was heavy upon them this day as they sat silently brooding
on the stairs, Jim glum and hopeless, with his arms buried to the elbow
in his trousers pockets, Jocko, a world of care in his wrinkled face,
humped upon the step at his shoulder with limp tail. The rain beat upon
the roof in fitful showers, and the April storm rattled the crazy
shutters, adding to the depression of the two.
Jim broke the silence when a blast fiercer than the rest shook the
old house. 'Tain't right, he said dolefully, I know it ain't, Jock!
There's Tom and Foley gone off an' 'listed, and them only four years
older nor me. What's four years? This with a sniff of contempt.
Jocko gazed straight ahead. Four years of scrubbing-brushes and
stealthy grabs at his tail on the stairs! To Jocko they were a long,
An' dad! wailed Jim, unheeding. I hear him tell Mr. Murphy
himself that he was a drummer-boy in the war, and he won't let me at
A slightly upward curl of Jocko's tail testified to his sympathy.
I seen 'em march to de camp with their guns and drums. There was a
catch in Jim's voice now. And Susie's feller was there in
Jim broke down in desolation and despair at the recollection. Jocko
hitched as close to him as the step would let him, and brought his
shaggy side against the boy's jacket in mute compassion. So they sat in
silence until suddenly Jim got up and strode across the floor twice.
Jock, he said, stopping short in front of his friend, I know what
I'll do. Jock, do you hear? I know what I'm going to do!
Jocko sat up straight, erected his tail into a huge interrogation
point, cocked his wise little head on one side, and regarded his ally
expectantly. The storm was over, and the afternoon sun sent a ray
slanting across the floor.
I'm going anyhow! I'll run away, Jock! That's what I'll do! I'll
get a whack at them dagoes yet!
Jim danced a gleeful breakdown on the patch of sunlight, winding up
by making a grab for Jocko, who evaded him by jumping over his head to
the banister, where he became an animated pinwheel in approval of the
new mischief. They stopped at last, out of breath.
Jock, said the boy, considering his playmate approvingly, you
will make a soldier yourself yet. Come on, let's have a drill! This
way, Jock, up straight! Now, attention! Right handsalute! Jocko
exactly imitated his master, and so learned the rudiments of the
soldier's art as Jim knew it.
You'll do, Jock, he said, when the dusk stole into the attic, but
you can't go this trip. Good-by to you. Here goes for the soger camp!
There was surprise in the tenement when Jim did not come home for
supper; as the evening wore on the surprise became consternation. His
father gave over certain preparations for his reception which, if Jim
had known of them, might well have decided him to stick to sogering,
and went to the police station to learn if the boy had been heard of
there. He had not, and an alarm which the Sergeant sent out discovered
no trace of him the next day.
Jim was lost, but how? His mother wept, and his father spent weary
days and nights inquiring of every one within a distance of many blocks
for a red-headed boy in knee-pants and a base-ball cap. The grocer's
clerk on the corner alone furnished a clew. He remembered giving Jim
two crackers on the afternoon of the storm and seeing him turn west.
The clew began and ended there. Slowly the conviction settled on the
tenement that Jim had really run away to enlist.
I'll enlist him! said his father; and the tenement acquiesced in
the justice of his intentions and awaited developments. And all the
time Jocko kept Jim's secret safe.
Jocko had troubles enough of his own. Jim's friendship and quick wit
had more than once saved the monkey; for despite of harum-scarum ways,
the boy with the sunny smile was a general favorite. Now that he was
gone, the tenement rose in wrath against its tormentor; and Jocko
accepted the challenge.
All his lawless instincts were given full play. Even of the banana
man at the street stand who had given him peanuts when trade was good,
or sold them to him in exchange for pilfered pennies, he made an enemy
by grabbing bananas when his back was turned. Mrs. Rafferty, on the
second floor rear, one of his few champions, he estranged by exchanging
the war extra which the carrier left at the door for her, for the
German paper served to Mrs. Schultz, her pet aversion on the floor
below. Mrs. Rafferty upset the wash-tub in her rage at this prank.
Ye imp, she shrieked, laying about her with a wet towel, wid yer
hathen Dootch! It's that yer up to, is it? and poor Jocko paid dearly
for his mistake.
As he limped painfully to his attic retreat, his bitterest
reflection might have been that even the children, his former partners
in every plot against the public peace, had now joined in the general
assault upon him. Truly, every man's hand was raised against Jocko, and
in the spirit of Ishmael he entered on his crowning exploit.
On the top floor of the rear house was Mrs. Hoffman, a quiet German
tenant, who had heretofore escaped Jocko's unwelcome attentions. Now,
in his banishment to the upper regions, he bestowed them upon her with
an industry to which she objected loudly, but in vain. Shut off from
his accustomed base of supplies, he spent his hours watching her
kitchen from the fire-escape, and if she left it but for a minute, he
was over the roof and, by way of the shutter, in her flat, foraging for
In the battles that ensued, when Mrs. Hoffman surprised him, some of
her spare crockery was broken without damage to the monkey. Vainly did
she turn the key of her ice-box and think herself safe. Jocko had
watched her do it, and turned it, too, on his next trip, with results
satisfactory to himself. The climax came when he was discovered sitting
at the open skylight, under which Mrs. Hoffman and her husband were
working at their tailoring trade, calmly puffing away at Mr. Hoffman's
cherished meerschaum, and leisurely picking the putty from the glass
and dropping it upon the heads of the maddened couple.
The old German's terror and emotion at the sight nearly choked him.
Jocko, he called, with shaking voice, you fool monkey! Jocko! Papa's
pet! Come down mit mine pipe!
But Jocko merely brandished the pipe, and shook it at the tailor
with a wicked grin that showed all his sharp little teeth. Mrs. Hoffman
wanted to call a policeman and the board of health, but the thirst for
vengeance suggested a more effective plan to the tailor.
Wait! I fix him! I fix him good! he vowed, and forthwith betook
himself to the kitchen, where stood the ice-box.
From his attic lookout Jocko saw the tailor take from the ice-box a
bottle of beer, and drawing the cork with careful attention to detail,
partake of its contents with apparent relish. Finally the tailor put
back the bottle and went away, after locking the ice-box, but leaving
the key in the lock.
His step was yet on the stairs when the monkey peered through the
window, reached the ice-box with a bound and turned the key. There was
the bottle, just as the tailor had left it. Jocko held it as he had
seen him do, and pulled the cork. It came out easily. He held the
bottle to his mouth. After a while he put it down, and thoughtfully
rubbed the pit of his stomach. Then he took another pull, following
directions to the letter.
The last ray of the evening sun stole through the open window as
Jocko arose and wandered unsteadily toward the bedroom, the door of
which stood ajar. There was no one within. On the wall hung Mrs.
Hoffman's brocade shawl and Sunday hat. Jocko had often watched her put
them on. Now he possessed himself of both, and gravely carried them to
In the early twilight such a wail of bereavement arose in the rear
house that the tenants hurried from every floor to learn what was the
matter. It was Mrs. Hoffman, bemoaning the loss of her shawl and Sunday
A hurried search left no doubt who was the thief. There was the open
window, and the empty bottle on the door by the ice-box. Jocko's hour
of expiation had come. In the uproar that swelled louder as the angry
crowd of tenants made for the attic, his name was heard coupled with
direful threats. Foremost in the mob was Jim's father, with the stick
he had peeled and seasoned against the boy's return. In some way, not
clear to himself, he connected the monkey with Jim's truancy, and it
was something to be able to avenge himself on its hairy hide.
But Jocko was not in the attic. The mob ranged downstairs, searching
every nook and getting angrier as it went. The advance-guard had
reached the first floor landing, when a shout of discovery from one of
the boy scouts directed all eyes to the wall niche at the turn of the
There, in the place where the Venus of Milo or the winged Mercury
had stood in the days when wealth and fashion inhabited Houston Street,
sat Jocko, draped in Mrs. Hoffman's brocade shawl, her Sunday hat
tilted rakishly on one side, and with his tail at port-arms over his
left shoulder. He blinked lazily at the foe and then his head tilted
forward under Mrs. Hoffman's hat.
Saints presarve us! gasped Mrs. Rafferty, crossing herself. The
baste is drunk!
Yes, Jocko was undeniably tipsy. For one brief moment a sense of the
ludicrous struggled with the just anger of the mob. That moment decided
the fate of Jocko. There came a thunderous rap at the door, and there
stood a policeman with Jim, the runaway, in his grasp.
Does this boy he shouted, and stopped short, his gaze riveted
upon the monkey. Jim, shivering with apprehension, all desire to be a
soldier gone out of him, felt rather than saw the whole tenement
assembled in judgment, and he the culprit. He raised his tear-stained
face and beheld Jocko mounting guard. Policeman, camp, failure, and the
expected beating were all alike forgotten. He remembered only the sunny
attic and his pranks with Jocko, their last game of soldiering.
Attention! he piped at the top of his shrill voice. Right
At the word of command Jocko straightened up like a veteran, looked
sleepily around, and raising his right paw, saluted in military
fashion. The movement pushed the hat back on his head, and gave a
swaggering look to the forlorn figure that was irresistibly comical.
It was too much for the spectators. With a yell of laughter, the
tenement abandoned vengeance. Peal after peal rang out, in which the
policeman, Jim, and his father joined, old scores forgotten and
The cyclone of mirth aroused Jocko. He made a last groping effort to
collect his scattered wits, and met the eyes of Jim at the foot of the
stairs. With a joyful squeal of recognition he gave it up, turned one
mighty, inebriated somersault and went flying down, shedding Mrs.
Hoffman's garments to the right and left in his flight, and landed
plump on Jim's shoulder, where he sat grinning general amnesty, while a
rousing cheer went up for the two friends.
The slate was wiped clean. Jim had come home from the war.
A BACKWOODS HERO
I had started out to explore the Magnetawan River from our camp on
Lake Wahwaskesh toward the Georgian Bay, thirty miles south, but
speedily found my way blocked by the canal rapids. The river there
rushes through a deep and narrow cañon strewn with sharp rocks, a
perilous pass at all times for the most expert canoeist. We did not
attempt it, but, making a landing in Deep Bay, took the safer portage
around. At the end of a two-mile tramp we reached a clearing at the
foot of the cañon where the loggers had camped at one time. Black bass
and partridge go well together when a man is hungry, and there was
something so suggestive of birds about the place that I took a turn
around with my gun, while Aleck looked after the packs. Poking about on
the edge of the clearing, in the shadow of some big pines which the
lumbermen had spared, I came suddenly upon the most unlikely thing of
all in that wilderness, miles from any human habitationa
burying-ground! Two mounds, each with a weather-beaten board for a
headstone, were all it contained; just heaps of sand with a few
withered shrubs upon them. But a stout fence of cedar slabs, roughly
fashioned into pickets, to keep prowling animals away, hedged them
inevidence that some one had cared. Ormand Morden, I read upon one
of the boards, cut deep to last with a jack-knife. The other, nailed up
in the shape of a cross, bore the name M. McDonald. The date under
both names was the same: June 8, 1899.
What tragedy had happened here in the deep woods a year before? Even
while the question was shaping itself in my mind, it was answered by
another discovery. Slung on the fence at the foot of one grave was a
pair of spiked shoes; at the foot of the other the dead man's shoepacks
with sand and mud in them. Two river-drivers, then; drowned in the
rapids probably. I remembered the grave on Deadman's Island, hard by
the favorite haunt of the bass, which was still kept up after thirty
years, even as the memory of its lonely tenant lived on the lake where
another generation of woodsmen had replaced his. But what was the old
black brier-wood pipe doing on the head-rail between the two graves? I
looked about me with an involuntary start as I noticed that the ashes
of the last smoke were still in the bowl, expecting I hardly knew what
in the ghostly twilight of the forest.
Over our camp fire that evening Aleck set my fears at rest and told
me the story of the two graves, a tale of every-day heroism of the kind
of which life on the frontier has many to tell, to the credit of our
poor human nature. He was cadging supplies to the camp that winter
and was a witness at first hand of what happened.
Morden and Mike McDonald were bunkies in a gang of river-drivers
that had been cutting logs on the Deer River near its junction with the
Magnetawan. Morden was the older, and had a wife and children in the
settlements up north. He had been working his farm for a spell and
had gone back reluctantly to shantying because he needed the money in a
slack season. But he could see his way ahead now. When at night they
squatted by the fire in their log hut and took turns at the one pipe
they had between them, he spoke hopefully to his chum of the days that
were coming. Once this drive of logs was in, that was the end of it for
him. He would live like a man after that with the old woman and the
kids. Mike listened and smoked in silence. He was a man of few words.
But there was between them a strong bond of sympathy, despite the
disparity in their age and belief. McDonald was a Catholic and single.
Younger by ten years than the other, he was much the stronger and
abler, the athlete of a camp where there were no weaklings.
The water was low and the drive did not get through the lake until
spring was past and gone. It was a good week into June before the last
logs had gone over the canal rapids. The gang was preparing to follow,
to pitch camp on the spot where we were then sitting. Whether because
they didn't know the danger of it, or from a reckless determination to
take chances, the foreman with five of his men started to shoot the
rapids in the cook's punt. McDonald and Morden were of the venturesome
crew. They had not gone halfway before the punt was upset, and all six
were thrown out into the boiling waters. Five of them clung to the
slippery rocks and held on literally for life. Morden alone could not
swim. He went under, rose once, and floated head down past McDonald,
who was struggling to save himself. He put out a hand to grasp him, but
only tore the shirt from his back. The doomed man was whirled down to
Just beyond were the most dangerous rocks with a tortuous fall, in
which the strongest swimmer might hardly hope to live. Nothing was
said; no words were wasted. Looking around from his own perilous perch,
the foreman saw Mike let go his hold and make after his bunkie,
swimming free with powerful strokes. The next moment the fall swallowed
both up. They were seen no more.
Three days they camped in the clearing, searching for their dead. On
the fourth, just as dynamite was coming from the settlement to stir up
the river bottom with, they recovered the body of McDonald in Trout
Lake, some miles below. A team was sent to the nearest storehouse for
planks to make a coffin of. As they were hammering it together, the
body of his lost bunkie rose in the eddy just below the rapids, in
sight of the camp. So they made two boxes and buried them on the hill,
side by side. In death, as in life, they bunked together. Their
shoepacks they left at the foot of their graves, as I had found them,
and the pipe they smoked in common, to show that they were chums.
There was no priest and no time to fetch one. The rough woodsmen
stood around in silence, with the sunset glinting through the dark
pines on their bared heads. A swamp-robin in the brush made the
responses. The older men threw a handful of sand into each open grave.
The one Roman Catholic among them crossed himself devoutly: God rest
their souls. Amen! from a score of deep voices, and the service was
over. The men went back to their perilous work, harder by so much to
all of them because two were gone.
The shadows were deepening in the woods; the roar of the rapids came
up from the river like a distant chant of requiem as Aleck finished his
story. Except that the drivers sent Morden's wife his month's pay and
raised sixty dollars among themselves to put with it, there was nothing
more to tell. The two silent mounds under the pines told all the rest.
Come, I said, give me your knife; and I cut in the cross on
McDonald's grave the letters I. H. S.
What do they stand for? asked Aleck, looking on. I told him, and
wrote under the name, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man
lay down his life for his friends.
Aleck nodded. Ay! he said, that's him.
Jack sat on the front porch in a very bad humor indeed. That was in
itself something unusual enough to portend trouble; for ordinarily Jack
was a philosopher well persuaded that, upon the whole, this was a very
good world and Deacon Pratt's porch the centre of it on week-days. On
Sundays it was transferred to the village church, and on these days
Jack received there with the family. If the truth were told, it would
probably have been found that Jack conceived the services to be some
sort of function specially designed to do him honor at proper
intervals, for he always received an extra petting on these occasions.
He sat in the pew beside the deacon through the sermon as decorously as
befitted a dog come to years of discretion long since, and wagged his
tail in a friendly manner when the minister came down and patted him on
the head after the benediction. Outside he met the Sunday-school
children on their own ground, and on their own terms. Jack, if he
didn't have blood, had sense, which for working purposes is quite as
good, if not so common. The girls gave him candy and called him Jack
Sprat. His joyous bark could be heard long after church as he romped
with the boys by the creek on the way home. It was even suspected that
on certain Sabbaths they had enjoyed a furtive cross-country run
together; but by tacit consent the village overlooked it and put it
down to the dog. Jack was privileged and not to blame. There was
certainly something, from the children's point of view, also, in favor
of Jack's conception of Sunday.
On week-day nights there were the church meetings of one kind and
another, for which Deacon Pratt's house was always the place, not
counting the sociables which Jack attended with unfailing regularity.
They would not, any of them, have been quite regular without Jack.
Indeed, many a question of grave church polity had been settled only
after it had been submitted to and passed upon in meeting by Jack. Is
not that so, Jack? was a favorite clincher to arguments which, it was
felt, had won over his master. And Jack's groping paw cemented a treaty
of good-will and mutual concession that had helped the village church
over more than one hard place. For there were hard heads and stubborn
wills in it as there are in other churches; and Deacon Pratt, for all
he was a just man, was set on having his way.
And now all this was changed. What had come over the town Jack
couldn't make out, but that it was something serious nobody was needed
to tell him. Folks he used to meet at the gate, going to the trains of
mornings, on neighborly terms, hurried past him without as much as a
look. And Deacon Jones, who gave him ginger-snaps out of the
pantry-crock as a special bribe for a hand-shake, had even put out his
foot to kick him, actually kick him, when he waylaid him at the corner
that morning. The whole week there had not been as much as a visitor at
the house, and what with Christmas in townJack knew the signs well
enough; they meant raisins and goodies that came only when they burned
candles on trees in the churchit was enough to make any dog cross. To
top it all, his mistress must come down sick, worried into it all, as
like as not, he had heard the doctor say. If Jack's thoughts could have
been put into words as he sat on the porch looking moodily over the
road, they would doubtless have taken something like this shape, that
it was a pity that men didn't have the sense of dogs, but would bear
grudges and make themselves and their betters unhappy. And in the
village there would have been more than one to agree with him secretly.
Jack wouldn't have been any the wiser had he been told that the
trouble that had come to town was that of all things most worrisome, a
church quarrel. What was it about and how did it come? I doubt if any
of the men and women who strove in meeting for principle and conscience
with might and main, and said mean things about each other out of
meeting, could have explained it. I know they all would have explained
it differently, and so added fuel to the fire that was hot enough
already. In fact, that was what had happened the night before Jack
encountered his special friend, Deacon Jones, and it was in virtue of
his master's share in it that he had bestowed the memorable kick upon
him. Deacon Pratt was the valiant leader of the opposing faction.
To the general stress of mind the holiday had but added another
cause of irritation. Could Jack have understood the ethics of men he
would have known that it strangely happens that:
Forgiveness to the injured does belong,
But they ne'er pardon who have done the wrong,
and that everybody in a church quarrel having injured everybody else
within reach for conscience's sake, the season of good-will and even
the illness of that good woman, the wife of Deacon Pratt, admittedly
from worry over the trouble, practically put a settlement of it out of
the question. But being only a dog he did not understand. He could only
sulk; and as this went well enough with things as they were in general,
it proved that Jack was, as was well known, a very intelligent dog.
He had yet to give another proof of it, that very day, by preaching
to the divided congregation its Christmas sermon, a sermon that is to
this day remembered in Brownville; but of that neither they nor he,
sitting there on the stoop nursing his grievances, had at that time any
It was Christmas Eve. Since the early Lutherans settled there, away
back in the last century, it had been the custom in the village to
celebrate the Holy Eve with a special service and a Christmas tree; and
preparations had been going forward for it all the afternoon. It was
noticeable that the fighting in the congregation in no wise interfered
with the observance of the established forms of worship; rather, it
seemed to lend a keener edge to them. It was only the spirit that
suffered. Jack, surveying the road from the porch, saw baskets and
covered trays carried by, and knew their contents. He had watched the
big Christmas tree going down on the grocer's sled, and his experience
plus his nose supplied the rest. As the lights came out one by one
after twilight, he stirred uneasily at the unwonted stillness in his
house. Apparently no one was getting ready for church. Could it be that
they were not going; that this thing was to be carried to the last
ditch? He decided to go and investigate.
His investigations were brief, but entirely conclusive. For the
second time that day he was spurned, and by a friend. This time it was
the deacon himself who drove him from his wife's room, whither he had
betaken him with true instinct to ascertain the household intentions.
The deacon seemed to be, if anything, in a worse humor than even Jack
himself. The doctor had told him that afternoon that Mrs. Pratt was a
very sick woman, and that, if she was to pull through at all, she must
be kept from all worriment in an atmosphere which fairly bristled with
it. The deacon felt that he had a contract on his hands which might
prove too heavy for him. He felt, too, with bitterness, that he was an
ill-used man, that all his years of faithful labor, in the vineyard
went for nothing because of some wretched heresy which the enemy had
devised to wreck it; and all his humbled pride and his pent-up wrath
gathered itself into the kick with which he sent poor Jack flying back
where he had come from. It was clear that the deacon was not going to
Lonely and forsaken, Jack took his old seat on the porch and
pondered. The wrinkles in his brow multiplied and grew deeper as he
looked down the road and saw the Joneses, the Smiths, and the Allens go
by toward the church. When the Merritts had passed, too, under the
lamp, he knew that it must be nearly time for the sermon. They always
came in after the long prayer. Jack took a turn up and down the porch,
whined at the door once, and, receiving no answer, set off down the
road by himself.
The church was filled. It had never looked handsomer. The rival
factions had vied with each other in decorating it. Spruce and hemlock
sprouted everywhere, and garlands of ground-ivy festooned walls and
chancel. The delicious odor of balsam and of burning wax-candles was in
the air. The people were all there in their Sunday clothes and the old
minister in the pulpit; but the Sunday feeling was not there. Something
was not right. Deacon Pratt's pew alone of them all was empty, and the
congregation cast wistful glances at it, some secretly behind their
hymn-books, others openly and sorrowfully. What the doctor had said in
the afternoon had got out. He himself had told Mrs. Mills that it was
doubtful if the deacon's wife got around, and it sat heavily upon the
conscience of the people.
The opening hymns were sung; the Merritts, late as usual, had taken
their seats. The minister took up the Book to read the Christmas gospel
from the second chapter of Luke. He had been there longer than most of
those who were in the church to-night could remember, had grown old
with the people, had loved them as the shepherd who is answerable to
the Master for his flock. Their griefs and their troubles were his. If
he could not ward them off, he could suffer with them. His voice
trembled a little as he read of the tidings of great joy. Perhaps it
was age; but it grew firmer as he proceeded toward the end:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly
host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on
earth peace, good-will toward men.'
The old minister closed the Book and looked out over the
congregation. He looked long and yearningly, and twice he cleared his
throat, only to repeat, on earth peace, good-will toward men. The
people settled back in their seats, uneasily; they strangely avoided
the eye of their pastor. It rested in its slow survey of the flock upon
Deacon Pratt's empty pew. And at that moment a strange thing occurred.
Why it should seem strange was, perhaps, not the least strange part
of it. Jack had come in alone before. He knew the trick of the
door-latch, and had often opened it unaided. He was in the habit of
attending the church with the folks; there was no reason why they
should not expect him, unless they knew of one themselves. But somehow
the click of the latch went clear through the congregation as the
heavenly message of good-will had not. All eyes were turned upon the
deacon's pew; and they waited.
Jack came slowly and gravely up the aisle and stopped at his
master's pew. He sniffed of the empty seat disapprovingly once or
twicehe had never seen it in that state beforethen he climbed up
and sat, serious and attentive as he was wont, in his old seat, facing
the pulpit, nodding once as who should say, I'm here; proceed!
It is recorded that not even a titter was heard from the
Sunday-school, which was out in force. In the silence that reigned in
the church was heard only a smothered sob. The old minister looked with
misty eyes at his friend. He took off his spectacles, wiped them and
put them on again, and tried to speak; but the tears ran down his
cheeks and choked his voice. The congregation wept with him.
Brethren, he said, when he could speak, glory to God in the
highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men! Jack has preached a
better sermon than I can to-night. Let us pray together.
It is further recorded that the first and only quarrel in the
Brownville church ended on Christmas Eve and was never heard of again,
and that it was all the work of Jack's sermon.
SKIPPY OF SCRABBLE ALLEY
Skippy was at home in Scrabble Alley. So far as he had ever known
home of any kind it was there in the dark and mouldy basement of the
rear house, farthest back in the gap that was all the builder of those
big tenements had been able to afford of light and of air for the poor
people whose hard-earned wages, brought home every Saturday, left them
as poor as if they had never earned a dollar, to pile themselves up in
his strong box. The good man had long since been gathered to his
fathers: gone to his better home. It was in the newspapers, and in the
alley it was said that it was the biggest funeralmore than a hundred
carriages, and four black horses to pull the hearse. So it must be
true, of course.
Skippy wondered vaguely, sometimes, when he thought of it, what kind
of a home it might be where people went in a hundred carriages. He had
never sat in one. The nearest he had come to it was when Jimmy Murphy's
cab had nearly run him down once, and his fare, a big man with
whiskers, had put his head out and angrily called him a brat, and told
him to get out of the way, or he would have him arrested. And Jimmy had
shaken his whip at him and told him to skip home. Everybody told him to
skip. From the policeman on the block to the hard-fisted man he knew as
his father, and who always had a job for him with the growler when he
came home, they were having Skippy on the run. Probably that was how he
got his name. No one cared enough about it, or about the boy, to find
Was there anybody anywhere who cared about boys, anyhow? Were there
any boys in that other home where the carriages and the big hearse had
gone? And if there were, did they have to live in an alley, and did
they ever have any fun? These were thoughts that puzzled Skippy's young
brain once in a while. Not very long or very hard, for Skippy had not
been trained to think; what training the boys picked up in the alley
didn't run much to deep thinking.
Perhaps it was just as well. There were one or two men there who
were said to know a heap, and who had thought and studied it all out
about the landlord and the alley. But it was very tiresome that it
should happen to be just those two, for Skippy never liked them. They
were always cross and ugly, never laughed and carried on as other men
did once in a while, and made his little feet very tired running with
the growler early and late. He well remembered, too, that it was one of
them who had said, when they brought him home, sore and limping, from
under the wheels of Jimmy Murphy's cab, that he'd been better off if it
had killed him. He had always borne a grudge against him for that, for
there was no occasion for it that he could see. Hadn't he been to the
gin-mill for him that very day twice?
Skippy's horizon was bounded by the towering brick walls of Scrabble
Alley. No sun ever rose or set between them. On the hot summer days,
when the saloon-keeper on the farther side of the street pulled up his
awning, the sun came over the housetops and looked down for an hour or
two into the alley. It shone upon broken flags, a mud-puddle by the
hydrant where the children went splashing with dirty, bare feet, and
upon unnumbered ash barrels. A stray cabbage leaf in one of those was
the only green thing it found, for no ray ever strayed through the
window in Skippy's basement to trace the green mould on the wall.
Once, while he had been lying sick with a fever, Skippy had struck
up a real friendly acquaintance with that mouldy wall. He had pictured
to himself woods and hills and a regular wilderness, such as he had
heard of, in its green growth; but even that pleasure they had robbed
him of. The charity doctor had said that the mould was bad, and a man
scraped it off and put whitewash on the wall. As if everything that
made fun for a boy was bad.
Down the street a little way, was a yard just big enough and nice to
play ball in, but the agent had put up a sign that he would have no
boys and no ball-playing in his yard, and that ended it; for the cop
would have none of it in the street either. Once he had caught them at
it and given them the collar. They had been up before the judge; and
though he let them off, they had been branded, Skippy and the rest, as
a bad lot.
That was the starting-point in Skippy's career. With the brand upon
him he accepted the future it marked out for him, reasoning as little,
or as vaguely, about the justice of it as he had about the home
conditions of the alley. The world, what he had seen of it, had taught
him one lesson: to take things as he found them, because that was the
way they were; and that being the easiest, and, on the whole, best
suited to Skippy's general make-up, he fell naturally into the rôle
assigned him. After that he worked the growler on his own hook most of
the time. The gang he had joined found means of keeping it going that
more than justified the brand the policeman had put upon it. It was
seldom by honest work. What was the use? The world owed them a living,
and it was their business to collect it as easily as they could. It was
everybody's business to do that, as far as they could see, from the man
who owned the alley, down.
They made the alley pan out in their own way. It had advantages the
builder hadn't thought of, though he provided them. Full of secret ins
and outs, runways and passages not easily found, to the surrounding
tenements, it offered chances to get away when one or more of the gang
were wanted for robbing this store on the avenue, tapping that till,
or raiding the grocer's stock, that were A No. 1. When some tipsy man
had been waylaid and stood up, it was an unequalled spot for dividing
the plunder. It happened once or twice, as time went by, that a man was
knocked on the head and robbed within the bailiwick of the now
notorious Scrabble Alley gang, or that a drowned man floated ashore in
the dock with his pockets turned inside out. On such occasions the
police made an extra raid, and more or less of the gang were scooped
in; but nothing ever came of it. Dead men tell no tales, and they were
not more silent than the Scrabbles, if, indeed, these had anything to
It came gradually to be an old story. Skippy and his associates were
long since in the Rogues' Gallery, numbered and indexed as truly a bad
lot now. They were no longer boys, but toughs. Most of them had done
time up the river and come back more hardened than they went, full of
new tricks always, which they were eager to show the boys, to prove
that they had not been idle while they were away. On the police returns
they figured as speculators, a term that sounded better than thief,
and meant, as they understood it, much the same; viz. a man who made a
living out of other people's labor. It was conceded in the slums,
everywhere, that the Scrabble Alley gang was a little the boldest that
had for a long time defied the police. It had the call on the other
gangs in all the blocks around, for it had the biggest fighters as well
as the cleverest thieves of them all.
Then one holiday morning, when in a hundred churches the pæan went
up, On earth peace, good-will toward men, all New York rang with the
story of a midnight murder committed by Skippy's gang. The
saloon-keeper whose place they were sacking to get the stuff for
keeping Christmas in their way had come upon them, and Skippy had shot
him down while the others ran. A universal shout for vengeance went up
from outraged Society.
It sounded the death-knell of the gang. It was scattered to the four
winds, all except Skippy, who was tried for murder and hanged. The
papers spoke of his phenomenal calmness under the gallows; said it was
defiance. The priest who had been with him in his last hours said he
was content to go to a better home. They were all wrong. Had the
pictures that chased each other across Skippy's mind as the black cap
was pulled over his face been visible to their eyes, they would have
seen Scrabble Alley with its dripping hydrant, and the puddle in which
the children splashed with dirty, bare feet; the dark basement room
with its mouldy wall; the notice in the yard, No ball-playing allowed
here; the policeman who stamped him as one of a bad lot, and the
sullen man who thought it had been better for him, the time he was run
over, if he had died. Skippy asked himself moodily if he was right
after all, and if boys were ever to have any show. He died with the
They said that no such funeral ever went out of Scrabble Alley
before. There was a real raid on the undertaker's where Skippy lay in
state two whole days, and the wake was talked of for many a day as
something wonderful. At the funeral services it was said that without a
doubt Skippy had gone to a better home. His account was squared.
* * * * *
Skippy's story is not invented to be told here. In its main facts it
is a plain account of a well-remembered drama of the slums, on which
the curtain was rung down in the Tombs yard. There are Skippies without
number growing up in those slums to-day, vaguely wondering why they
were born into a world that does not want them; Scrabble Alleys to be
found for the asking, all over this big city where the tenements
abound, alleys in which generations of boys have lived and
diedprincipally died, and thus done for themselves the best they
could, according to the crusty philosopher of Skippy's setwith
nothing more inspiring than a dead blank wall within reach of their
windows all the days of their cheerless lives. Theirs is the account to
be squaredby justice, not vengeance. Skippy is but an item on the
wrong side of the ledger. The real reckoning of outraged society is not
with him, but with Scrabble Alley.
MAKING A WAY OUT OF THE SLUM
One stormy night in the winter of 1882, going across from my office
to the Police Headquarters of New York City, I nearly stumbled over an
odd couple that crouched on the steps. As the man shifted his seat to
make way for me, the light from the green lamp fell on his face, and I
knew it as one that had haunted the police office for days with a mute
appeal for help. Sometimes a woman was with him. They were Russian
Jews, poor immigrants. No one understood or heeded them. Elbowed out of
the crowd, they had taken refuge on the steps, where they sat silently
watchful of the life that moved about them, but beyond a swift, keen
scrutiny of all who came and went, having no share in it.
That night I heard their story. Between what little German they knew
and such scraps of their harsh jargon as I had picked up, I found out
that they were seeking their lost childlittle Yette, who had strayed
away from the Essex Street tenement and disappeared as utterly as if
the earth had swallowed her up. Indeed, I often thought of that in the
weeks and months of weary search that followed. For there was
absolutely no trace to be found of the child, though the tardy police
machinery was set in motion and worked to the uttermost. It was not
until two years later, when we had long given up the quest, that little
Yette was found by the merest accident in the turning over of the
affairs of an orphan asylum. Some one had picked her up in the street
and brought her in. She could not tell her name, and, with one given to
her there, and garbed in the uniform of the place, she was so
effectually lost in the crowd that the police alarm failed to identify
her. In fact, her people had no little trouble in proving property,
and but for the mother love that had refused to part with a little
gingham slip her lost baby had worn, it might have proved impossible.
It was the mate of the one which Yette had on when she was brought into
the asylum, and which they had kept there. So the child was restored,
and her humble home made happy.
That was my first meeting with the Russian Jew. In after years my
path crossed his often. I saw him herded with his fellows like cattle
in the poorest tenements, slaving sullenly in the sweat-shop, or rising
in anger against his tyrant in strikes that meant starvation as the
price of his vengeance. And always I had a sense of groping in the
memories of the past for a lost key to something. The other day I met
him once more. It was at sunset, upon a country road in southern New
Jersey. I was returning with Superintendent Sabsovich from an
inspection of the Jewish colonies in that region. The cattle were
lowing in the fields. The evening breathed peace. Down the sandy road
came a creaking farm wagon loaded with cedar posts for a vineyard hard
by. Beside it walked a sunburned, bearded man with an axe on his
shoulder, in earnest conversation with his boy, a strapping young
fellow in overalls. The man walked as one who is tired after a hard
day's work, but his back was straight and he held his head high. He
greeted us with a frank nod, as one who meets an equal.
The superintendent looked after him with a smile. To me there came
suddenly the vision of the couple under the lamp, friendless and
shrinking, waiting for a hearing, always waiting; and, as in a flash, I
understood. I had found the key. The farmer there had it. It was the
Jew who had found himself.
It is eighteen years since the first of the south Jersey colonies
was started. There had been a sudden, unprecedented immigration of
refugees from Russia, where Jew-baiting was then the orthodox pastime.
They lay in heaps in Castle Garden, helpless and penniless, and their
people in New York feared prescriptive measures. What to do with them
became a burning question. To turn those starving multitudes loose on
the labor market of the metropolis would make trouble of the gravest
kind. The alternative of putting them back on the land, and so of
making producers of them, suggested itself to the Emigrant Aid Society.
Land was offered cheap in south Jersey, and the experiment was made
with some hundreds of families.
[Footnote 4: This was written in 1900.]
It was well meant; but the projectors experienced the not unfamiliar
fact that cheap land is sometimes very dear land. They learned, too,
that you cannot make farmers in a day out of men who have been denied
access to the soil for generations. That was the set purpose of Russia,
and the legacy of feudalism in western Europe, which of necessity made
the Jew a trader, a town dweller. With such a history, a man is not
logically a pioneer. The soil of south Jersey is sandy, has to be
coaxed into bearing paying crops. The colonists had not the patient
skill needed for the task. Neither had they the means. Above all, they
lacked the market where to dispose of their crops when once raised.
Discouragements beset them. Debts threatened to engulf them. The
trustees of the Baron de Hirsch Fund, entering the field eleven years
later, in 1891, found of three hundred families only two-thirds
remaining on their farms. In 1897, when they went to their relief,
there were seventy-six families left. The rest had gone back to the
city and to the Ghetto. So far, the experiment had failed.
The Hirsch Fund people had been watching it attentively. They were
not discouraged. In the midst of the outcry that the Jew could not be
made a farmer, they settled a tract of unbroken land in the northwest
part of Cape May County, within easy reach of the older colonies. They
called their settlement Woodbine. Taught by the experience of the older
colonists, they brought their market with them. They persuaded several
manufacturing firms to remove their plants from the city to Woodbine,
agreeing to furnish their employees with homes. Thus an industrial
community was created to absorb the farmer's surplus products. The
means they had in abundance in the large revenues of Baron de Hirsch's
princely charity, which for all purposes amounts to over $6,000,000.
There was still lacking necessary skill at husbandry, and this they set
about supplying without long delay. In the second year of the colony, a
barn built for horses was turned into a lecture-hall for the young men,
and became the nucleus of the Hirsch Agricultural School, which to-day
has nearly a hundred pupils. Woodbine, for which the site was cleared
half a dozen years before in woods so dense that the children had to be
corralled and kept under guard lest they should be lost, was a thriving
community by the time the crisis came in the affairs of the older
The settlers were threatened with eviction. The Jewish Colonization
Association, upon the recommendation of the Hirsch Fund trustees, and
with their coöperation, came to their rescue. It paid off the mortgages
under which they groaned, brought out factories, and turned the tide
that was setting back toward the cities. The carpenter's hammer was
heard again, after years of silence and decay, in Rosenhayn, Alliance,
and Carmel. They built new houses there. Nearly $500,000 invested in
the villages was paying a healthy interest, where before general ruin
was impending. As for Woodbine, Jewish industry had raised the town
taxes upon its 5300 acres of land from $72 to $1800, and only the slow
country ways kept it from becoming the county-seat, as it is already
the county's centre of industrial and mental activity.
It was to see for myself what the movement of which this is the
brief historical outline was like that I had gone down from
Philadelphia to Woodbine, some twenty-five miles from Atlantic City. I
saw a straggling village, hedged in by stunted woods, with many freshly
painted frame-houses lining broad streets, some of them with gardens
around in which jonquil and spiderwort were growing, and the peach and
gooseberry budding into leaf; some of them standing in dreary, unfenced
wastes, in which the clay was trodden hard between the stumps of last
year's felling. In these lived the latest graduates from the slum. I
had just come from the clothing factory hard by the depot, in which a
hundred of them or more were at work, and had compared the bright,
clean rooms with the traditional sweat-shop of the city, wholly to the
disadvantage of the latter. I had noticed the absence of the sullen
looks that used to oppress me. Now as I walked along, stopping to chat
with the women in the houses, it interested me to class the settlers as
those of the first, the second, and the third year's stay and beyond.
The signs were unmistakable. The first year was, apparently, taken up
in contemplation of the house. The lot had no possibilities. In the
second, it was dug up. A few potato-vines were planted, perhaps a peach
tree. There were the preliminary signs of a fence. In the third, under
the stimulus of a price offered by the management, a garden was
evolved, with, necessarily, a fence. At this point the potato became
suddenly an element. It had fed the family the winter before without
other outlay than a little scratching of the ground. Its possibilities
loomed large. The garden became a farm on a small scale. Its owner
applied for more land and got it. That was the very purpose of the
A woman, with a strong face and shrewd, brown eyes, rose from an
onion bed she had been weeding to open the gate.
Come in, she said, and be welcome. Upon a wall of the best room
hung a picture of Michael Bakounine, the nihilist. I found it in these
colonies everywhere side by side with Washington's, Lincoln's, and
Baron de Hirsch's. Mrs. Breslow and her husband left home for cause. He
was a carpenter. Nine months they starved in a Forsyth Street tenement,
paying $15 a month for three rooms. This cottage is their own. They
have paid for it ($800) since they came out with the first settlers.
The lot was given to them, but they bought the adjoining one to raise
Gott sei dank, says the woman, with shining eyes, we owe
nothing and pay no rent, and are never more hungry.
Down the street a little way is the cottage of one who received the
first prize for her garden last year. Fragrant box hedges in the plot.
A cow with crumpled horn stands munching corncobs at the barn. Four
hens are sitting in as many barrels, eying the stranger with
half-anxious, half-hostile looks. A topknot, tied by the leg to the
fence, struggles madly to escape. The children bring dandelions and
clover to soothe its captivity.
The shadows lengthen. The shop gives up its workers. There is no
overtime here. A ten-hour day rules. Families gather upon porchesthe
mother with the sleeping babe at her breast, the grandfather smoking a
peaceful pipe, while father and the boys take a turn tending the
garden. Theirs is not paradise. It is a little world full of hard work,
but a world in which the work has ceased to be a curse. Ludlow Street,
with its sweltering tenements, is but a few hours' journey away. For
these, at all events, the problem of life has been solved.
Strolling over the outlying farms, we came to one with every mark of
thrift and prosperity about it. The vineyard was pruned and trimmed,
the fields ready for their crops, the outbuildings well kept, and the
woodpile stout and trim. A girl with a long braid of black hair came
from the house to greet us. An hour before, I had seen her sewing on
buttons in the factory. She recognized me, and looked questioningly at
the superintendent. When he spoke my name, she held out her hand with
frank dignity, and bade me welcome on her father's farm. He was a
clothing-cutter in New York, explained my guide as we went our way, but
tired of the business and moved out upon the land. His thirty-acre farm
is to-day one of the finest in that neighborhood. The man is on the
road to substantial wealth.
Labor or lumberboth, perhapsmust be cheaper even than land in
south Jersey. This five-room cottage, one of half a hundred such, was
sold to the tenant for $500; the Hirsch Fund taking a first mortgage of
$300, the manufacturer, or the occupant, if able, paying the rest The
mortgage is paid off in monthly instalments of $3.75. Even if he had
not a cent to start with, by paying less than one-half the rent for the
Forsyth Street flat of three cramped rooms, dark and stuffy, the tenant
becomes the absolute owner of his home in a little over eight years. I
looked in upon a score of them. The rooms were large by comparison, and
airy; oil-painted, clean. The hopeless disorder, the discouragement of
the slum, were nowhere. The children were stout and rosy. They played
under the trees, safe from the shop till the school gives up its claim
to them. Superintendent Sabsovich sees to it that it is not too early.
He is himself a school trustee, elected after a fight on the Woodbine
ticket, which gave notice to the farmers of the town that the aliens
of that settlement are getting naturalized to the point of demanding
their rights. The opposition retaliated by nicknaming the leader of the
victorious faction the Czar of Woodbine. He in turn invited them to
hear the lectures at the Agricultural School. His text went home.
The American is wasteful of food, energiesof everything, he
said. We teach here that farming can be made to pay by saving
expenses. They knew it to be true. The Woodbine farm products, its
flowers and chickens, took the prizes at the county fair. Yet in
practice they did not compete. The Woodbine milk was dearer than the
neighboring farmers'. If in spite of that it was preferred because it
was better, that was their lookout. The rest must come up to it then.
So with the output of the hennery, the apiary, the blacksmith-shop in
the place. On that plan Woodbine has won the respect of the
neighborhood. The good-will will follow, says its Czar, confidently.
He, too, was a nihilist, who dreamed with the young of his people
for a better day. He has lived to see it dawn on a far-away shore.
Concerning his task, he has no illusions. There is no higher education,
no frills, at Woodbine. Its scheme is intensely practical. It is to
make, if possible, a Jewish yeomanry fit to take their place with the
native tillers of the soil, as good citizens as they. With that end in
view, everything is for present purposes, with an eye on the future.
The lad is taught dairying with scientific precision, because on that
road lies the profit in keeping cows. He is taught the commercial value
of extreme cleanliness in handling milk and making butter. He learns
the management of the poultry-yard, of bees, of pigeons, and of field
crops. He works in the nursery, the greenhouse, and the
blacksmith-shop. If he does not get to know the blacksmith's trade, he
learns how to mend a broken farm wagon and save expense. So he shall
be able to make farming pay, to keep his grip on the land. His native
shrewdness will teach him the rest.
The vineyards were budding, and the robins sang joyously as we drove
over the twenty-four-mile stretch through the colonies of Carmel,
Rosenhayn, Alliance, and Brotmansville. Everywhere there were signs of
reawakened thrift. Fields and gardens were being got ready for their
crops; fence-corners were being cleaned, roofs repaired, and houses
painted. In Rosenhayn they were building half a dozen new houses. A
clothing factory there that employs seventy hands brought out
twenty-four families from New York and Philadelphia, for whom shelter
had to be found. Some distance beyond the village we halted to inspect
the forty-acre farm of a Jew who some years ago kept a street stand in
Philadelphia. He bought the land and went back to his stand to earn the
money with which to run it. In three years he moved his family out.
I couldn't raise the children in the city, he explained. A son and
two daughters now run the adjoining farm. Two boys were helping him
look after a berry patch that alone would make expenses this year.
The wife minded the seven cows. The farm is free and clear save for
$400 lent by the Hirsch people to pay off an onerous mortgage. Some
comment was made upon the light soil. The farmer pointed significantly
to the barnyard.
I make him good, he said. Across the road was a large house with a
pretentious dooryard and evergreen hedges. A Gentile farmer with many
acres lived in it. The lean fields promised but poor crops. The
neighborhood knew that he never paid anything on his mortgage; claimed,
in fact, that he could not.
Ah! said Mr. Sabsovich, emerging from a wrangle with his client
about matters agricultural, he has not learned to 'make him good.'
Come over to the school, and I will show you stock. You can't afford to
keep poor cows. They cost too much.
The other shook his head energetically. Them's the seven finest
cows in the country, he yelled after us as we started. The
superintendent laughed a little.
You see what they arestubborn; will have their way in an
argument. But that fellow will be over to Woodbine before the week is
out, to see what he can learn. He is not going to let me crow if he can
help it. Not to be driven, they can be led, though it is not always
easy. Suspicious, hard at driving a bargain as the Russian Jew is, I
sometimes think I can see his better nature coming out already.
As we drove along, I thought so, too, more than once. From every
farm and byway came men to have a word with the superintendent. For me
they had a sidelong look, and a question, put in Hebrew. To the answer
they often shook their heads, demanding another. After such a
conference, I asked what it was about.
You, said Mr. Sabsovich. They are asking, 'Who is he?' I tell
them that you are not a Jew. This is the answer they give: 'I don't
care if he is a Jew. Is he a good man?'
Over the supper table that night, I caught the burning eyes of a
young nihilist fixed upon me with a look I have not yet got over. I had
been telling of my affection for the Princess Dagmar, whom I knew at
Copenhagen in my youth. I meant it as something we had in common; she
became Empress of Russia in after years. I forgot that it was by virtue
of marrying Alexander III. I heard afterward that he protested
vehemently that I could not possibly be a good man. Well for me I did
not tell him my opinion of the Czar himself! It was gleaned from
Copenhagen, where they thought him the prince of good fellows.
At Carmel I found the hands in the clothing factory making from $10
to $13 a week at human hours, and the population growing. Forty
families had come from Philadelphia, where the authorities were helping
the colonies by rigidly enforcing the sweat-shop ordinances. Inquiries
I made as to the relative cost of living in the city and in the country
brought out the following facts: A contractor with a family of eight
paid shop rent in Sheriff Street, New York, $20 per month; for four
rooms in a Monroe Street tenement, $15; household expenses, $60. Here
he pays shop rent (whole house), $6; dwelling on farm, $4; household,
$35. This family enjoys greater comfort in the country for $50 a month
less. A working family of eight paid $11 for three rooms in an Essex
Street tenement, $35 for the household; here the rent is $5, and the
household expenses $24better living for $17 less a month.
Near the village a Jewish farmer who had tracked us from one of the
other villages caught up with us to put before Mr. Sabsovich his
request for more land. We halted to debate it in the road beside a
seven-acre farm worked by a Lithuanian brickmaker. The old man in his
peaked cap and sheepskin jacket was hoeing in the back lot. His wife,
crippled and half blind, sat in the sunshine with a smile upon her
wrinkled face, and listened to the birds. They came down together, when
they heard our voices, to say that four of the seven acres were worked
up. The other three would come. They had plenty, and were happy. Only
their boy, who should help, was gone.
It was the one note of disappointment I heard: the boys would not
stay on the farm. To the aged it gave a new purpose, new zest in life.
There was a place for them, whereas the tenement had none. The young
could not be made to stay. It was the old story. I had heard it in New
England in explanation of its abandoned farms; the work was too hard,
was without a break. The good sense of the Jew recognizes the issue and
meets it squarely. In Woodbine strenuous efforts were being made to
develop the social life by every available means. No opportunity is
allowed to pass that will give the boy a chance. Here on the farms
there were wiser fathers than the Lithuanian. Let one of them speak for
His was one of a little settlement of fifteen families that had
fought it out alone, being some distance from any of the villages. In
the summer they farmed, and in the winter tailoring for the
Philadelphia shops helped them out. Radetzky was a presser in the city
ten years. There were nine in his house. Seven to work on the farm,
said the father, proudly, surveying the brown, muscular troop, but the
two little ones are good in summer at berry-picking. They had just
then come in from the lima-bean field, where they had planted poles.
Even the baby had helped.
I put two beans in a hill instead of four. I tell you why, said
the farmer; I wait three days, and see if they come up. If they do
not, I put down two more. Most of them come up, and I save two beans. A
farmer has got to make money on saving expenses.
The sound of a piano interrupted him. It is my daughter, he said.
They help me, and I let them have in turn what young people
wantpiano, music lessons, a good horse to drive. It pays. They are
all here yet. In the beginning we starved together, had to eat corn
with the cows, but the winter tailoring pulled us through. Now I want
to give it up. I want to buy the next farm. With our 34 acres, it will
make 60, and we can live like men, and let those that need the
tailoring get it. I wouldn't exchange this farm for the best property
in the city.
His two eldest sons nodded assent to his words.
Late that night, when we were returning to Woodbine, we came
suddenly upon a crowd of boys filling the road. They wore the uniform
of the Hirsch School. It was within ten minutes of closing-time, and
they were half a mile from home. The superintendent pulled up and asked
them where they were going. There was a brief silence, then the
It is a surprise party.
Mr. Sabsovich eyed the crowd sharply and thought awhile.
Oh, he said, remembering all at once, it is Mr. Billings and his
new wife. Go ahead, boys!
To me, trying vainly to sleep in the village hotel in the midnight
hour with a tin-pan serenade to the newly married teacher going on
under the window, there came in a lull, with the challenge of the
loudest boy, Mr. Billings! If you don't come down, we will never go
home, an appreciation of the Woodbine system of discipline which I had
lacked till then. It was the Radetzky plan over again, of giving the
boys a chance, to make them stay on the farm.
If it is difficult to make the boy stay, it is sometimes even harder
to make the father go. Out of a hundred families picked on New York's
East Side as in especial need of transplanting to the land, just seven
consented when it came to the journey. They didn't relish the society
of the stumps. The Jews' colonies need many things before they can
hope to rival the attraction of the city to the man whom the slum has
robbed of all resources. They sum themselves up in the social life of
which the tenement has such unsuspected stores in the closest of touch
with one's fellows. The colonies need business opportunities to boom
them, facilities for marketing produce in the cities,
canning-factories, store cellars for the product of the vineyardsall
of which time must supply. Though they have given to hundreds the
chance of life, it cannot be said for them that they have demonstrated
yet the Jews' ability to stand alone upon the land, backed as they are
by the Hirsch Fund millions. In fact, I have heard no such claim
advanced. But it can at least be said that for these they have solved
the problem of life and of the slum. And that is something!
Nor is it all. Because of its being a concerted movement, this of
south Jersey, it has been, so to speak, easier to make out. But
already, upon the experience gained there, 700 families, with some
previous training and fitness for farming, have been settled upon New
England farms and are generally doing well. More than $2,000,000 worth
of property in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and their sister states is
owned by Jewish husbandmen. They are mostly dairy-farmers, poultrymen,
sheep breeders. The Russian Jew will not in this generation be fit for
what might be called long-range farming. He needs crops that turn his
money over quickly. With that in sight, he works hard and faithfully.
The Yankee, as a rule, welcomes him. He has the sagacity to see that
his coming will improve economic conditions, now none too good. As
shrewd traders, the two are well matched. The public school brings the
children together on equal terms, levelling out any roughness that
If the showing that the Jewish population of New England has
increased in 17 years from 9000 to 74,000 gives anybody pause, it is
not at least without its compensation. The very need of the immigrant
to which objection is made, plus the energy that will not let him sit
still and starve, make a way for him that opens it at the same time for
others. In New York he made the needle industry, which he
monopolized. He brought its product up from $30,000,000 to $300,000,000
a year, that he might live, and founded many a great fortune by his
midnight toil. In New England, while peopling its abandoned farms, in
self-defence he takes up on occasion abandoned manufacturing plants to
make the work he wants. At Colchester, Connecticut, 120 Jewish families
settled about the great rubber-works. The workings of a trust shut it
down after 40 years' successful operation, causing loss of wages and
much suffering to 1500 hands. The Christian employees, who must have
been in overwhelming majority, probably took it out in denouncing
trusts. I didn't hear that they did much else, except go away, I
suppose, in search of another job. The Jews did not go away. Perhaps
they couldn't. They cast about for some concern to supply the place of
the rubber-works. At last accounts I heard of them negotiating with a
large woollen concern in Leeds to move its plant across the Atlantic to
Colchester. How it came out, I do not know.
The attempt to colonize Jewish immigrants had two objects: to
relieve the man and to drain the Ghetto. In this last it failed. In 18
years 1200 families had been moved out. In five months just before I
wrote this 12,000 came to stay in New York City. The number of
immigrant Jews during those months was 15,233, of whom only 3881 went
farther. The population of the Ghetto passed already 250,000. It was
like trying to bail out the ocean. The Hirsch Fund people saw it and
took another tack. Instead of arguing with unwilling employees to take
the step they dreaded, they tried to persuade manufacturers to move out
of the city, depending upon the workers to follow their work.
They did bring out one, and built homes for his hands. The argument
was briefly that the clothing industry makes the Ghetto by lending
itself most easily to tenement manufacture. The Ghetto, with its crowds
and unhealthy competition, makes the sweat-shop in turn, with all the
bad conditions that disturb the trade. To move the crowds out is at
once to kill the Ghetto and the sweat-shops, and to restore the
industry to healthy ways. The argument is correct. The economic gains
by such an exodus are equally clear, provided the philanthropy that
starts it will maintain a careful watch to prevent the old slum
conditions being reproduced in the new places and unscrupulous
employers from taking advantage of the isolation of their workers. With
this chance removed, strikes are not so readily fomented by
home-owners. The manufacturer secures steady labor, the worker a steady
job. The young are removed from the contamination of the tenement. The
experiment was interesting, but the fraction of a cent that was added
by the freight to the cost of manufacture killed it. The factory moved
back and the crowds with it.
Very recently, the B'nai B'rith has taken the lead in a movement
that goes straight to the heart of the matter. It is now proposed to
head off the Ghetto. Places are found for the immigrants all over the
country, and they are not allowed to stop in New York on coming over,
but are sent out at once. Where they go others follow instead of
plunging into the city maelstrom and being swallowed up by it. Soon, it
is argued, a rut will have been made for so much of the immigration to
follow to the new places, and so much will have been diverted from the
cities. To that extent, then, a real way out of the slum will have