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 mortal hands.
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 young—and the old, too, for that matter—take 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 afraid—I 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 tight.
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 carnival.
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 the fire.
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, reassured:—
"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 Pell Street.
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 to her.
"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 door-step.
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 standard.
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 her mother."
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 entered.
"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 could.
"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 the poor:—
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 three—the 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, and—Christmas is not too critical—one 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 flag—signs 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 us—without; 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 Court forever.
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 chance before.
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 there—three families in four rooms.
"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 dollars—two 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 seven—"what 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 mother"—herself a child of less than a dozen winters—who 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 work.
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 hungriest—the 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 toys.
"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 bell—the 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 the slum.
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 kept—not only in Seventh Avenue, but in every industrial school—since. Fighting Mary won the biggest fight of her troubled life that day, without striking a blow.
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 attic—where 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 Wah—to the office of the Charity Organization Society, with a bundle for a friend who had helped her over a rough spot—the 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 hold.
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's"—a 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 slum?
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 day—one 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 Christmas."
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 now—not 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 laughs—it 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 get stole."
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 song—a 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 couples—between 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 Abe—Abe ran.
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, trembling.
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 in thanksgiving.
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 homes.
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 tall roofs.
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. Donegahawa—one cannot help wishing that the picturesque old chief had kept his name of the council lodge—was 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 Hoo—ochsjawai," 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 Street—they all live over there—is 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 Lightfoot—that was the child's name, it appeared—said 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.