He Kept His Tryst by Jacob A. Riis
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.