If it only had not been Sunday, and church time, when the issue became urgent, and the long-haired one accepted our invitation for a walk in the deep woods! In this saddening reflection I was partly comforted, while taking the by-paths for home afterward,—with Mac limping along on three legs, and minus one ear,—by the knowledge that our view of the case had prevailed. The long-haired one troubled us no more thereafter.
Mac had his strong points, but he had also his failings. One of these was a weakness for stale beer. I suppose he had been brought up on it in the dog pit. The pure air of Long Island, and the usual environment of his new home, did not wean him from it. He had not been long in our house before he took to absenting himself for days and nights at a time, returning ragged and fagged out, as if from a long spree. We found out, by accident, that he spent those vacations in a low saloon a mile up the plank road, which he had probably located on one of his excursions through the country to extend his doctrine of evolution. It was the conductor on the horse-car that ran past the saloon who told me of it. Mac had found the cars out, too, and rode regularly up and down to the place, surveying the country from the rear platform. The conductor prudently refrained from making any remarks after Mac had once afforded him a look at his jaw. I am sorry to say that I think Mac got drunk on those trips. I judged, from remarks I overheard once or twice about the "deacon's drunken dog," that the community shared my conviction. It was always quick to jump at conclusions, particularly about deacons.
Sober second thought should have acquitted me of all the allegations against me, except the one matter of the Sunday discussion in the woods, which, however, I had forgotten to mention. But sober second thought, that ought always and specially to attach itself to the deaconry, was apparently at a premium in our town. I had begun to tire of the constant explanations that were required, when the climax came in a manner wholly unforeseen and unexpected. The cashier in the office had run away, or was under suspicion, or something, and it became necessary to overhaul the accounts to find out where the office stood. When that was done, my chief summoned me down town for a private interview. Upon the table lay my weekly pay-checks for three years back, face down. My employer eyed them and me, by turns, curiously.
"Mr. Riis," he began stiffly, "I'm not going to judge you unheard; and, for that matter, it is none of my business. I have known you all this time as a sober, steady man; I believe you are a deacon in your church; and I never heard that you gambled or bet money. It seems now that I was never more mistaken in a man in my life. Tell me, how do you do it, anyhow? Do you blow in the whole of your salary every week on policy, or do you run a game of your own up there? Look at those checks."
He pointed to the lot. I stared at them in bewilderment. They were my own checks, sure enough; and underneath my name, on the back of each one, was the indorsement of the infamous blackleg whose name had been a byword ever since I could remember as that of the chief devil in the policy blackmail conspiracy that had robbed the poor and corrupted the police force to the core.
I went home and resigned my office as deacon. I did not explain. We were having a little difficulty at the time, about another matter, which made it easy. I did not add this straw, though the explanation was simple enough. My chief grasped it at once; but then, he was not a deacon. I had simply got my check cashed every week in a cigar-store next door that was known to be a policy-shop for the special accommodation of Police Headquarters in those days, and the check had gone straight into the "backer's" bank-account. That was how. But, as I said, it was hopeless to try to explain, and I didn't. I simply record here what I said at the beginning, that it is no use for a newspaper man, more particularly a police reporter, to try to be a deacon too. The chances are all against it.
FIRE IN THE BARRACKS
The rush and roar, the blaze and the wild panic of a great fire filled Twenty-third Street. Helmeted men stormed and swore; horses tramped and reared; crying women, hurrying hither and thither, stumbled over squirming hose on street and sidewalk.
The throbbing of a dozen pumping-engines merged all other sounds in its frantic appeal for haste. In the midst of it all, seven red-shirted men knelt beside a heap of trunks, hastily thrown up as for a breastwork, and prayed fervently with bared heads.
Firemen and policemen stumbled up against them with angry words, stopped, stared, and passed silently by. The fleeing crowd hailed and fell back. The rush and the roar swirled to the right and to the left, leaving the little band as if in an eddy, untouched and serene, with the glow of the fire upon it and the stars paling overhead.
The seven were the Swedish Salvation Army. Their barracks were burning up in a blast of fire so sudden and so fierce that scant time was left to save life and goods.
From the tenements next door men and women dragged bundles and feather-beds, choking stairs and halls, and shrieking madly to be let out. The police struggled angrily with the torrent. The lodgers in the Holly-Tree Inn, who had nothing to save, ran for their lives.
In the station-house behind the barracks they were hastily clearing the prison. The last man had hardly passed out of his cell when, with a deafening crash, the toppling wall fell upon and smashed the roof of the jail.
Fire-bells rang in every street as engines rushed from north and south. A general alarm had called out the reserves. Every hydrant for blocks around was tapped. Engine crews climbed upon the track of the elevated road, picketed the surrounding tenements, and stood their ground on top of the police station.
Up there two crews labored with a Siamese joint hose throwing a stream as big as a man's thigh. It got away from them, and for a while there was panic and a struggle up on the heights as well as in the street. The throbbing hose bounded over the roof, thrashing right and left, and flinging about the men who endeavored to pin it down like half-drowned kittens. It struck the coping, knocked it off, and the resistless stream washed brick and stone down into the yard as upon the wave of a mighty flood.
Amid the fright and uproar the seven alone were calm. The sun rose upon their little band perched upon the pile of trunks, victorious and defiant. It shone upon Old Glory and the Salvation Army's flag floating from their improvised fort, and upon an ample lake, sprung up within an hour where yesterday there was a vacant sunken lot. The fire was out, the firemen going home.
The lodgers in the Holly-Tree Inn, of whom there is one for every day in the year, looked upon the sudden expanse of water, shivered, and went in. The tenants returned to their homes. The fright was over, with the darkness.
WAR ON THE GOATS
War has been declared in Hell's Kitchen. An indignant public opinion demands to have "something done ag'in' them goats," and there is alarm at the river end of the street. A public opinion in Hell's Kitchen that demands anything besides schooners of mixed ale is a sign. Surer than a college settlement and a sociological canvass, it foretells the end of the slum. Sebastopol, the rocky fastness of the gang that gave the place its bad name, was razed only the other day, and now the police have been set on the goats. Cause enough for alarm.
A reconnaissance in force by the enemy showed some foundation for the claim that the goats owned the block. Thirteen were found foraging in the gutters, standing upon trucks, or calmly dozing in doorways. They evinced no particularly hostile disposition, but a marked desire to know the business of every chance caller in the block. This caused a passing unpleasantness between one big white goat and the janitress of the tenement on the corner. Being crowded up against the wall by the animal, bent on exploring her pockets, she beat it off with her scrubbing-pail and mop. The goat, thus dismissed, joined a horse at the curb in apparently innocent meditation, but with one leering eye fixed back over its shoulder upon the housekeeper setting out an ash barrel.
Her back was barely turned when it was in the barrel, with head and fore feet exploring its depths. The door of the tenement opened upon the housekeeper trundling another barrel just as the first one fell and rolled across the sidewalk, with the goat capering about. Then was the air filled with bad language and a broomstick and a goat for a moment, and the woman was left shouting her wrongs.
"What de divil good is dem goats anyhow?" she said, panting. "There's no housekeeper in de United Shtates can watch de ash cans wid dem divil's imps around. They near killed an Eyetalian child the other day, and two of them got basted in de neck when de goats follied dem and didn't get nothing. That big white one o' Tim's, he's the worst in de lot, and he's got only one horn, too."
This wicked and unsymmetrical animal is denounced for its malice throughout the block by even the defenders of the goats. Singularly enough, he cannot be located, and neither can Tim. If the scouting party has better luck and can seize this wretched beast, half the campaign may be over. It will be accepted as a sacrifice by one side, and the other is willing to give it up.
Mrs. Shallock lives in a crazy old frame-house, over a saloon. Her kitchen is approached by a sort of hen-ladder, a foot wide, which terminates in a balcony, the whole of which was occupied by a big gray goat. There was not room for the police inquisitor and the goat too, and the former had to wait till the animal had come off his perch. Mrs. Shallock is a widow. A load of anxiety and concern overspread her motherly countenance when she heard of the trouble.
"Are they after dem goats again?" she said. "Sarah! Leho! come right here, an' don't you go in the street again. Excuse me, sor! but it's all because one of dem knocked down an old woman that used to give it a paper every day. She is the mother of the blind newsboy around on the avenue, an' she used to feed an old paper to him every night. So he follied her. That night she didn't have any, an' when he stuck his nose in her basket an' didn't find any, he knocked her down, an' she bruk her arrum."
Whether it was the one-horned goat that thus insisted upon his sporting extra does not appear. Probably it was.
"There's neighbors lives there has got 'em on floors," Mrs. Shallock kept on. "I'm paying taxes here, an' I think it's my privilege to have one little goat."
"I just wish they'd take 'em," broke in the widow's buxom daughter, who had appeared in the doorway, combing her hair. "They goes up in the hall and knocks on the door with their horns all night. There's sixteen dozen of them on the stoop, if there's one. What good are they? Let's sell 'em to the butcher, mamma; he'll buy 'em for mutton, the way he did Bill Buckley's. You know right well he did."
"They ain't much good, that's a fact," mused the widow. "But yere's Leho; she's follying me around just like a child. She is a regular pet, is Leho. We got her from Mr. Lee, who is dead, and we called her after him, Leho [Leo]. Take Sarah; but Leho, little Leho, let's keep."
Leho stuck her head in through the front door and belied her name. If the widow keeps her, another campaign will shortly have to be begun in Forty-sixth Street. There will be more goats where Leho is.
Mr. Cleary lives in a rear tenement and has only one goat. It belongs, he says, to his little boy, and is no good except to amuse him. Minnie is her name, and she once had a mate. When it was sold, the boy cried so much that he was sick for two weeks. Mr. Cleary couldn't think of parting with Minnie.
Neither will Mr. Lennon, in the next yard, give up his. He owns the stable, he says, and axes no odds of anybody. His goat is some good anyhow, for it gives milk for his tea. Says his wife, "Many is the dime it has saved us." There are two goats in Mr. Lennon's yard, one perched on top of a shed surveying the yard, the other engaged in chewing at a buck-saw that hangs on the fence.
Mrs. Buckley does not know how many goats she has. A glance at the bigger of the two that are stabled at the entrance to the tenement explains her doubts, which are temporary. Mrs. Buckley says that her husband "generally sells them away," meaning the kids, presumably to the butcher for mutton.
"Hey, Jenny!" she says, stroking the big one at the door. Jenny eyes the visitor calmly, and chews an old newspaper. She has two horns.
"She ain't as bad as they lets on," says Mrs. Buckley.
The scouting party reports the new public opinion of the Kitchen to be of healthy but alien growth, as yet without roots in the soil strong enough to stand the shock of a general raid on the goats. They recommend as a present concession the seizure of the one-horned Billy that seems to have no friends on the block, if indeed he belongs there, and an ambush is being laid accordingly.
HE KEPT HIS TRYST
Policeman Schultz was stamping up and down his beat in Hester Street, trying to keep warm, on the night before Christmas, when a human wreck, in rum and rags, shuffled across his path and hailed him:—
"You allus treated me fair, Schultz," it said; "say, will you do a thing for me?"
"What is it, Denny?" said the officer. He had recognized the wreck as Denny the Robber, a tramp who had haunted his beat ever since he had been on it, and for years before, he had heard, further back than any one knew.
"Will you," said the wreck, wistfully—"will you run me in and give me about three months to-morrow? Will you do it?"
"That I will," said Schultz. He had often done it before, sometimes for three, sometimes for six months, and sometimes for ten days, according to how he and Denny and the justice felt about it. In the spell between trips to the island, Denny was a regular pensioner of the policeman, who let him have a quarter or so when he had so little money as to be next to desperate. He never did get quite to that point. Perhaps the policeman's quarters saved him. His nickname of "the Robber" was given to him on the same principle that dubbed the neighborhood he haunted the Pig Market—because pigs are the only ware not for sale there. Denny never robbed anybody. The only thing he ever stole was the time he should have spent in working. There was no denying it, Denny was a loafer. He himself had told Schultz that it was because his wife and children put him out of their house in Madison Street five years before. Perhaps if his wife's story had been heard it would have reversed that statement of facts. But nobody ever heard it. Nobody took the trouble to inquire. The O'Neil family—that was understood to be the name—interested no one in Jewtown. One of its members was enough. Except that Mrs. O'Neil lived in Madison Street, somewhere "near Lundy's store," nothing was known of her.
"That I will, Denny," repeated the policeman, heartily, slipping him a dime for luck. "You come around to-morrow, and I will run you in. Now go along."
But Denny didn't go, though he had the price of two "balls" at the distillery. He shifted thoughtfully on his feet, and said:—
"Say, Schultz, if I should die now,—I am all full o' rheumatiz, and sore,—if I should die before, would you see to me and tell the wife?"
"Small fear of yer dying, Denny, with the price of two drinks," said the policeman, poking him facetiously in the ribs with his club. "Don't you worry. All the same, if you will tell me where the old woman lives, I will let her know. What's the number?"
But the Robber's mood had changed under the touch of the silver dime that burned his palm. "Never mind, Schultz," he said; "I guess I won't kick; so long!" and moved off.
The snow drifted wickedly down Suffolk Street Christmas morning, pinching noses and ears and cheeks already pinched by hunger and want. It set around the corner into the Pig Market, where the hucksters plodded knee-deep in the drifts, burying the horse-radish man and his machine and coating the bare, plucked breasts of the geese that swung from countless hooks at the corner stand with softer and whiter down than ever grew there. It drove the suspender-man into the hallway of a Suffolk Street tenement, where he tried to pluck the icicles from his frozen ears and beard with numb and powerless fingers.
As he stepped out of the way of some one entering with a blast that set like a cold shiver up through the house, he stumbled over something, and put down his hand to feel what it was. It touched a cold face, and the house rang with a shriek that silenced the clink of glasses in the distillery, against the side door of which the something lay. They crowded out, glasses in hand, to see what it was.
"Only a dead tramp," said some one, and the crowd went back to the warm saloon, where the barrels lay in rows on the racks. The clink of glasses and shouts of laughter came through the peep-hole in the door into the dark hallway as Policeman Schultz bent over the stiff, cold shape. Some one had called him.
"Denny," he said, tugging at his sleeve.
"Denny, come. Your time is up. I am here." Denny never stirred. The policeman looked up, white in the face.
"My God!" he said, "he's dead. But he kept his date."
And so he had. Denny the Robber was dead. Rum and exposure and the "rheumatiz" had killed him. Policeman Schultz kept his word, too, and had him taken to the station on a stretcher.
"He was a bad penny," said the saloon-keeper, and no one in Jewtown was found to contradict him.
ROVER'S LAST FIGHT
The little village of Valley Stream nestles peacefully among the woods and meadows of Long Island. The days and the years roll by uneventfully within its quiet precincts. Nothing more exciting than the arrival of a party of fishermen from the city, on a vain hunt for perch in the ponds that lie hidden among its groves and feed the Brooklyn waterworks, troubles the every-day routine of the village. Two great railroad wrecks are remembered thereabouts, but these are already ancient history. Only the oldest inhabitants know of the earlier one. There hasn't been as much as a sudden death in the town since, and the constable and chief of police—probably one and the same person—haven't turned an honest or dishonest penny in the whole course of their official existence. All of which is as it ought to be.
But at last something occurred that ought not to have been. The village was aroused at daybreak by the intelligence that a robbery had been committed overnight, and a murder. The house of Gabriel Dodge, a well-to-do farmer, had been sacked by thieves, who left in their trail the farmer's murdered dog. Rover was a collie, large for his kind, and quite as noisy as the rest of them. He had been left as an outside guard, according to Farmer Dodge's awkward practice. Inside, he might have been of use by alarming the folks when the thieves tried to get in. But they had only to fear his bark; his bite was harmless.
The whole of Valley Stream gathered at Farmer Dodge's house to watch, awe-struck, the mysterious movements of the police force as it went tiptoeing about, peeping into corners, secretly examining tracks in the mud, and squinting suspiciously at the brogans of the bystanders. When it had all been gone through, this record of facts bearing on the case was made:—
Rover was dead.
He had apparently been smothered.
With the hand, not a rope.
There was a ladder set up against the window of the spare bedroom.
That it had not been there before was evidence that the thieves had set it up.
The window was open, and they had gone in.
Several watches, some good clothes, sundry articles of jewellery, all worth some six or seven hundred dollars, were missing and could not be found.
In conclusion, the constable put on record his belief that the thieves who had smothered the dog and set up the ladder had taken the property.
The solid citizens of the village sat upon the verdict in the store, solemnly considered it, and agreed that it was so. This point settled, there was left only the other: Who were the thieves? The solid citizens by a unanimous decision concluded that Inspector Byrnes was the man to tell them.
So they came over to New York and laid the matter before him, with a mental diagram of the village, the house, the dog, and the ladder at the window. There was just the suspicion of a twinkle in the corner of the inspector's eye as he listened gravely and then said:—
"It was the spare bedroom, wasn't it?"
"The spare bedroom," said the committee, in one breath.
"The only one in the house?" queried the inspector, further.
"The only one," responded the echo.
"H'm!" pondered the inspector. "You keep hands on your farm, Mr. Dodge?"
Mr. Dodge did.
"Sleep in the house?"
"Discharged any one lately?"
The committee rose as one man, and, staring at each other with bulging eyes, said "Jake!" all at once.
"Jakey, b'gosh!" repeated the constable to himself, kicking his own shins softly as he tugged at his beard. "Jake, by thunder!"
Jake was a boy of eighteen, who had been employed by the farmer to do chores. He was shiftless, and a week or two before had been sent away in disgrace. He had gone no one knew whither.
The committee told the inspector all about Jake, gave him a minute description of him,—of his ways, his gait, and his clothes,—and went home feeling that they had been wondrous smart in putting so sharp a man on the track he would never have thought of if they hadn't mentioned Jake's name. All he had to do now was to follow it to the end, and let them know when he had reached it. And as these good men had prophesied, even so it came to pass.
Detectives of the inspector's staff were put on the trail. They followed it from the Long Island pastures across the East River to the Bowery, and there into one of the cheap lodging-houses where thieves are turned out ready-made while you wait. There they found Jake.
They didn't hail him at once, or clap him into irons, as the constable from Valley Stream would have done. They let him alone and watched awhile to see what he was doing. And the thing that they found him doing was just what they expected: he was herding with thieves. When they had thoroughly fastened this companionship upon the lad, they arrested the band. They were three.
They had not been locked up many hours at Headquarters before the inspector sent for Jake. He told him he knew all about his dismissal by Farmer Dodge, and asked him what he had done to the old man. Jake blurted out hotly, "Nothing" and betrayed such feeling that his questioner soon made him admit that he was "sore on the boss." From that to telling the whole story of the robbery was only a little way, easy to travel in such company as Jake was in then. He told how he had come to New York, angry enough to do anything, and had "struck" the Bowery. Struck, too, his two friends, not the only two of that kind who loiter about that thoroughfare.
To them he told his story while waiting in the "hotel" for something to turn up, and they showed him a way to get square with the old man for what he had done to him. The farmer had money and property he would hate to lose. Jake knew the lay of the land, and could steer them straight; they would take care of the rest. "See?" said they.
Jake saw, and the sight tempted him. But in his mind's eye he saw also Rover and heard him bark. How could he be managed?
"He will come to me if I call him," pondered Jake, while his two companions sat watching his face, "but you may have to kill him. Poor Rover!"
"You call the dog and leave him to me," said the oldest thief, and shut his teeth hard. And so it was arranged.
That night the three went out on the last train, and hid in the woods down by the gatekeeper's house at the pond, until the last light had gone out in the village and it was fast asleep. Then they crept up by a back way to Farmer Dodge's house. As expected, Rover came bounding out at their approach, barking furiously. It was Jake's turn then.
"Rover," he called softly, and whistled. The dog stopped barking and came on, wagging his tail, but still growling ominously as he got scent of the strange men.
"Rover, poor Rover," said Jake, stroking his shaggy fur and feeling like the guilty wretch he was; for just then the hand of Pfeiffer, the thief, grabbed the throat of the faithful beast in a grip as of an iron vice, and he had barked his last bark. Struggle as he might, he could not free himself or breathe, while Jake, the treacherous Jake, held his legs. And so he died, fighting for his master and his home.
In the morning the ladder at the open window and poor Rover dead in the yard told of the drama of the night.
The committee of farmers came over and took Jake home, after congratulating Inspector Byrnes on having so intelligently followed their directions in hunting down the thieves. The inspector shook hands with them and smiled.
HOW JIM WENT TO THE WAR
Jocko and Jim sat on the scuttle-stairs and mourned; times were out of joint with them. Since an ill wind had blown one of the recruiting sergeants for the Spanish War into the next block, the old joys of the tenement had palled on Jim. Nothing would do but he must go to the war.
The infection was general in the neighborhood. Even base-ball had lost its savor. The Ivy nine had disbanded at the first drum-beat, and had taken the fever in a body. Jim, being fourteen, and growing "muscle" with daily pride, "had it bad." Naturally Jocko, being Jim's constant companion, developed the symptoms too, and, to external appearances, thirsted for gore as eagerly as a naturally peace-loving, long-tailed monkey could.
Jocko had belonged to an Italian organ-grinder in the days of "the persecution," when the aldermen issued an edict, against monkeys. Now he was "hung up" for rent, unpaid. And, literally, he remained hung up most of the time, usually by his tail from the banisters, in which position he was able both to abet the mischief of the children, and to elude the stealthy grabs of their exasperated elders by skipping nimbly to the other side.
The tenement was one of the old-fashioned kind, built for a better use, with wide, oval stairwell and superior opportunities for observation and escape. Jocko inhabited the well by day, and from it conducted his raids upon the tenants' kitchens with an impartiality which, if it did not disarm, at least had stayed the hand of vengeance so far.
That he gave great provocation not even his stanchest boy friend could deny. His pursuit of information was persistent. The sight of Jocko cracking stolen eggs on the stairs to see the yolk run out and then investigating the empty shell with grave concern was cheering to the children, but usually provoked a shower of execrations and scrubbing-brushes from the despoiled households.
When the postman's call was heard in the hall, Jocko was on hand to receive the mail. Once he did receive it, the impartial zeal with which he distributed the letters to friend and foe brought forth more scrubbing-brushes, and Jocko retired to his attic aerie, there to ponder with Jim, his usual companion when in disgrace, the relation of eggs and letters and scrubbing-brushes in a world that seemed all awry to their simple minds.
The sense was heavy upon them this day as they sat silently brooding on the stairs, Jim glum and hopeless, with his arms buried to the elbow in his trousers pockets, Jocko, a world of care in his wrinkled face, humped upon the step at his shoulder with limp tail. The rain beat upon the roof in fitful showers, and the April storm rattled the crazy shutters, adding to the depression of the two.
Jim broke the silence when a blast fiercer than the rest shook the old house. "'Tain't right," he said dolefully, "I know it ain't, Jock! There's Tom and Foley gone off an' 'listed, and them only four years older nor me. What's four years?" This with a sniff of contempt.
Jocko gazed straight ahead. Four years of scrubbing-brushes and stealthy grabs at his tail on the stairs! To Jocko they were a long, long time.
"An' dad!" wailed Jim, unheeding. "I hear him tell Mr. Murphy himself that he was a drummer-boy in the war, and he won't let me at them dagoes!"
A slightly upward curl of Jocko's tail testified to his sympathy.
"I seen 'em march to de camp with their guns and drums." There was a catch in Jim's voice now. "And Susie's feller was there in soger-clo'es, Jock—soger-clo'es!"
Jim broke down in desolation and despair at the recollection. Jocko hitched as close to him as the step would let him, and brought his shaggy side against the boy's jacket in mute compassion. So they sat in silence until suddenly Jim got up and strode across the floor twice.
"Jock," he said, stopping short in front of his friend, "I know what I'll do. Jock, do you hear? I know what I'm going to do!"
Jocko sat up straight, erected his tail into a huge interrogation point, cocked his wise little head on one side, and regarded his ally expectantly. The storm was over, and the afternoon sun sent a ray slanting across the floor.
"I'm going anyhow! I'll run away, Jock! That's what I'll do! I'll get a whack at them dagoes yet!"
Jim danced a gleeful breakdown on the patch of sunlight, winding up by making a grab for Jocko, who evaded him by jumping over his head to the banister, where he became an animated pinwheel in approval of the new mischief. They stopped at last, out of breath.
"Jock," said the boy, considering his playmate approvingly, "you will make a soldier yourself yet. Come on, let's have a drill! This way, Jock, up straight! Now, attention! Right hand—salute!" Jocko exactly imitated his master, and so learned the rudiments of the soldier's art as Jim knew it.
"You'll do, Jock," he said, when the dusk stole into the attic, "but you can't go this trip. Good-by to you. Here goes for the soger camp!"
There was surprise in the tenement when Jim did not come home for supper; as the evening wore on the surprise became consternation. His father gave over certain preparations for his reception which, if Jim had known of them, might well have decided him to stick to "sogering," and went to the police station to learn if the boy had been heard of there. He had not, and an alarm which the Sergeant sent out discovered no trace of him the next day.
Jim was lost, but how? His mother wept, and his father spent weary days and nights inquiring of every one within a distance of many blocks for a red-headed boy in "knee-pants" and a base-ball cap. The grocer's clerk on the corner alone furnished a clew. He remembered giving Jim two crackers on the afternoon of the storm and seeing him turn west. The clew began and ended there. Slowly the conviction settled on the tenement that Jim had really run away to enlist.
"I'll enlist him!" said his father; and the tenement acquiesced in the justice of his intentions and awaited developments. And all the time Jocko kept Jim's secret safe.
Jocko had troubles enough of his own. Jim's friendship and quick wit had more than once saved the monkey; for despite of harum-scarum ways, the boy with the sunny smile was a general favorite. Now that he was gone, the tenement rose in wrath against its tormentor; and Jocko accepted the challenge.
All his lawless instincts were given full play. Even of the banana man at the street stand who had given him peanuts when trade was good, or sold them to him in exchange for pilfered pennies, he made an enemy by grabbing bananas when his back was turned. Mrs. Rafferty, on the second floor rear, one of his few champions, he estranged by exchanging the "war extra" which the carrier left at the door for her, for the German paper served to Mrs. Schultz, her pet aversion on the floor below. Mrs. Rafferty upset the wash-tub in her rage at this prank.
"Ye imp," she shrieked, laying about her with a wet towel, "wid yer hathen Dootch! It's that yer up to, is it?" and poor Jocko paid dearly for his mistake.
As he limped painfully to his attic retreat, his bitterest reflection might have been that even the children, his former partners in every plot against the public peace, had now joined in the general assault upon him. Truly, every man's hand was raised against Jocko, and in the spirit of Ishmael he entered on his crowning exploit.
On the top floor of the rear house was Mrs. Hoffman, a quiet German tenant, who had heretofore escaped Jocko's unwelcome attentions. Now, in his banishment to the upper regions, he bestowed them upon her with an industry to which she objected loudly, but in vain. Shut off from his accustomed base of supplies, he spent his hours watching her kitchen from the fire-escape, and if she left it but for a minute, he was over the roof and, by way of the shutter, in her flat, foraging for food.
In the battles that ensued, when Mrs. Hoffman surprised him, some of her spare crockery was broken without damage to the monkey. Vainly did she turn the key of her ice-box and think herself safe. Jocko had watched her do it, and turned it, too, on his next trip, with results satisfactory to himself. The climax came when he was discovered sitting at the open skylight, under which Mrs. Hoffman and her husband were working at their tailoring trade, calmly puffing away at Mr. Hoffman's cherished meerschaum, and leisurely picking the putty from the glass and dropping it upon the heads of the maddened couple.
The old German's terror and emotion at the sight nearly choked him. "Jocko," he called, with shaking voice, "you fool monkey! Jocko! Papa's pet! Come down mit mine pipe!"
But Jocko merely brandished the pipe, and shook it at the tailor with a wicked grin that showed all his sharp little teeth. Mrs. Hoffman wanted to call a policeman and the board of health, but the thirst for vengeance suggested a more effective plan to the tailor.
"Wait! I fix him! I fix him good!" he vowed, and forthwith betook himself to the kitchen, where stood the ice-box.
From his attic lookout Jocko saw the tailor take from the ice-box a bottle of beer, and drawing the cork with careful attention to detail, partake of its contents with apparent relish. Finally the tailor put back the bottle and went away, after locking the ice-box, but leaving the key in the lock.
His step was yet on the stairs when the monkey peered through the window, reached the ice-box with a bound and turned the key. There was the bottle, just as the tailor had left it. Jocko held it as he had seen him do, and pulled the cork. It came out easily. He held the bottle to his mouth. After a while he put it down, and thoughtfully rubbed the pit of his stomach. Then he took another pull, following directions to the letter.
The last ray of the evening sun stole through the open window as Jocko arose and wandered unsteadily toward the bedroom, the door of which stood ajar. There was no one within. On the wall hung Mrs. Hoffman's brocade shawl and Sunday hat. Jocko had often watched her put them on. Now he possessed himself of both, and gravely carried them to his attic.
In the early twilight such a wail of bereavement arose in the rear house that the tenants hurried from every floor to learn what was the matter. It was Mrs. Hoffman, bemoaning the loss of her shawl and Sunday hat.
A hurried search left no doubt who was the thief. There was the open window, and the empty bottle on the door by the ice-box. Jocko's hour of expiation had come. In the uproar that swelled louder as the angry crowd of tenants made for the attic, his name was heard coupled with direful threats. Foremost in the mob was Jim's father, with the stick he had peeled and seasoned against the boy's return. In some way, not clear to himself, he connected the monkey with Jim's truancy, and it was something to be able to avenge himself on its hairy hide.
But Jocko was not in the attic. The mob ranged downstairs, searching every nook and getting angrier as it went. The advance-guard had reached the first floor landing, when a shout of discovery from one of the boy scouts directed all eyes to the wall niche at the turn of the stairs.
There, in the place where the Venus of Milo or the winged Mercury had stood in the days when wealth and fashion inhabited Houston Street, sat Jocko, draped in Mrs. Hoffman's brocade shawl, her Sunday hat tilted rakishly on one side, and with his tail at "port-arms" over his left shoulder. He blinked lazily at the foe and then his head tilted forward under Mrs. Hoffman's hat.
"Saints presarve us!" gasped Mrs. Rafferty, crossing herself. "The baste is drunk!"
Yes, Jocko was undeniably tipsy. For one brief moment a sense of the ludicrous struggled with the just anger of the mob. That moment decided the fate of Jocko. There came a thunderous rap at the door, and there stood a policeman with Jim, the runaway, in his grasp.
"Does this boy—" he shouted, and stopped short, his gaze riveted upon the monkey. Jim, shivering with apprehension, all desire to be a soldier gone out of him, felt rather than saw the whole tenement assembled in judgment, and he the culprit. He raised his tear-stained face and beheld Jocko mounting guard. Policeman, camp, failure, and the expected beating were all alike forgotten. He remembered only the sunny attic and his pranks with Jocko, their last game of soldiering.
"Attention!" he piped at the top of his shrill voice. "Right hand—salute!"
At the word of command Jocko straightened up like a veteran, looked sleepily around, and raising his right paw, saluted in military fashion. The movement pushed the hat back on his head, and gave a swaggering look to the forlorn figure that was irresistibly comical.
It was too much for the spectators. With a yell of laughter, the tenement abandoned vengeance. Peal after peal rang out, in which the policeman, Jim, and his father joined, old scores forgotten and forgiven.
The cyclone of mirth aroused Jocko. He made a last groping effort to collect his scattered wits, and met the eyes of Jim at the foot of the stairs. With a joyful squeal of recognition he gave it up, turned one mighty, inebriated somersault and went flying down, shedding Mrs. Hoffman's garments to the right and left in his flight, and landed plump on Jim's shoulder, where he sat grinning general amnesty, while a rousing cheer went up for the two friends.
The slate was wiped clean. Jim had come home from the war.
A BACKWOODS HERO
I had started out to explore the Magnetawan River from our camp on Lake Wahwaskesh toward the Georgian Bay, thirty miles south, but speedily found my way blocked by the canal rapids. The river there rushes through a deep and narrow canon strewn with sharp rocks, a perilous pass at all times for the most expert canoeist. We did not attempt it, but, making a landing in Deep Bay, took the safer portage around. At the end of a two-mile tramp we reached a clearing at the foot of the canon where the loggers had camped at one time. Black bass and partridge go well together when a man is hungry, and there was something so suggestive of birds about the place that I took a turn around with my gun, while Aleck looked after the packs. Poking about on the edge of the clearing, in the shadow of some big pines which the lumbermen had spared, I came suddenly upon the most unlikely thing of all in that wilderness, miles from any human habitation—a burying-ground! Two mounds, each with a weather-beaten board for a headstone, were all it contained; just heaps of sand with a few withered shrubs upon them. But a stout fence of cedar slabs, roughly fashioned into pickets, to keep prowling animals away, hedged them in—evidence that some one had cared. "Ormand Morden," I read upon one of the boards, cut deep to last with a jack-knife. The other, nailed up in the shape of a cross, bore the name "M. McDonald." The date under both names was the same: June 8, 1899.
What tragedy had happened here in the deep woods a year before? Even while the question was shaping itself in my mind, it was answered by another discovery. Slung on the fence at the foot of one grave was a pair of spiked shoes; at the foot of the other the dead man's shoepacks with sand and mud in them. Two river-drivers, then; drowned in the rapids probably. I remembered the grave on Deadman's Island, hard by the favorite haunt of the bass, which was still kept up after thirty years, even as the memory of its lonely tenant lived on the lake where another generation of woodsmen had replaced his. But what was the old black brier-wood pipe doing on the head-rail between the two graves? I looked about me with an involuntary start as I noticed that the ashes of the last smoke were still in the bowl, expecting I hardly knew what in the ghostly twilight of the forest.
Over our camp fire that evening Aleck set my fears at rest and told me the story of the two graves, a tale of every-day heroism of the kind of which life on the frontier has many to tell, to the credit of our poor human nature. He was "cadging" supplies to the camp that winter and was a witness at first hand of what happened.
Morden and "Mike" McDonald were "bunkies" in a gang of river-drivers that had been cutting logs on the Deer River near its junction with the Magnetawan. Morden was the older, and had a wife and children in the settlements "up north." He had been working his farm for a spell and had gone back reluctantly to shantying because he needed the money in a slack season. But he could see his way ahead now. When at night they squatted by the fire in their log hut and took turns at the one pipe they had between them, he spoke hopefully to his chum of the days that were coming. Once this drive of logs was in, that was the end of it for him. He would live like a man after that with the old woman and the kids. Mike listened and smoked in silence. He was a man of few words. But there was between them a strong bond of sympathy, despite the disparity in their age and belief. McDonald was a Catholic and single. Younger by ten years than the other, he was much the stronger and abler, the athlete of a camp where there were no weaklings.
The water was low and the drive did not get through the lake until spring was past and gone. It was a good week into June before the last logs had gone over the canal rapids. The gang was preparing to follow, to pitch camp on the spot where we were then sitting. Whether because they didn't know the danger of it, or from a reckless determination to take chances, the foreman with five of his men started to shoot the rapids in the cook's punt. McDonald and Morden were of the venturesome crew. They had not gone halfway before the punt was upset, and all six were thrown out into the boiling waters. Five of them clung to the slippery rocks and held on literally for life. Morden alone could not swim. He went under, rose once, and floated head down past McDonald, who was struggling to save himself. He put out a hand to grasp him, but only tore the shirt from his back. The doomed man was whirled down to sure death.
Just beyond were the most dangerous rocks with a tortuous fall, in which the strongest swimmer might hardly hope to live. Nothing was said; no words were wasted. Looking around from his own perilous perch, the foreman saw Mike let go his hold and make after his bunkie, swimming free with powerful strokes. The next moment the fall swallowed both up. They were seen no more.
Three days they camped in the clearing, searching for their dead. On the fourth, just as dynamite was coming from the settlement to stir up the river bottom with, they recovered the body of McDonald in Trout Lake, some miles below. A team was sent to the nearest storehouse for planks to make a coffin of. As they were hammering it together, the body of his lost bunkie rose in the eddy just below the rapids, in sight of the camp. So they made two boxes and buried them on the hill, side by side. In death, as in life, they bunked together. Their shoepacks they left at the foot of their graves, as I had found them, and the pipe they smoked in common, to show that they were chums.
There was no priest and no time to fetch one. The rough woodsmen stood around in silence, with the sunset glinting through the dark pines on their bared heads. A swamp-robin in the brush made the responses. The older men threw a handful of sand into each open grave. The one Roman Catholic among them crossed himself devoutly: "God rest their souls." "Amen!" from a score of deep voices, and the service was over. The men went back to their perilous work, harder by so much to all of them because two were gone.
The shadows were deepening in the woods; the roar of the rapids came up from the river like a distant chant of requiem as Aleck finished his story. Except that the drivers sent Morden's wife his month's pay and raised sixty dollars among themselves to put with it, there was nothing more to tell. The two silent mounds under the pines told all the rest.
"Come," I said, "give me your knife;" and I cut in the cross on McDonald's grave the letters I. H. S.
"What do they stand for?" asked Aleck, looking on. I told him, and wrote under the name, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
Aleck nodded. "Ay!" he said, "that's him."
Jack sat on the front porch in a very bad humor indeed. That was in itself something unusual enough to portend trouble; for ordinarily Jack was a philosopher well persuaded that, upon the whole, this was a very good world and Deacon Pratt's porch the centre of it on week-days. On Sundays it was transferred to the village church, and on these days Jack received there with the family. If the truth were told, it would probably have been found that Jack conceived the services to be some sort of function specially designed to do him honor at proper intervals, for he always received an extra petting on these occasions. He sat in the pew beside the deacon through the sermon as decorously as befitted a dog come to years of discretion long since, and wagged his tail in a friendly manner when the minister came down and patted him on the head after the benediction. Outside he met the Sunday-school children on their own ground, and on their own terms. Jack, if he didn't have blood, had sense, which for working purposes is quite as good, if not so common. The girls gave him candy and called him Jack Sprat. His joyous bark could be heard long after church as he romped with the boys by the creek on the way home. It was even suspected that on certain Sabbaths they had enjoyed a furtive cross-country run together; but by tacit consent the village overlooked it and put it down to the dog. Jack was privileged and not to blame. There was certainly something, from the children's point of view, also, in favor of Jack's conception of Sunday.
On week-day nights there were the church meetings of one kind and another, for which Deacon Pratt's house was always the place, not counting the sociables which Jack attended with unfailing regularity. They would not, any of them, have been quite regular without Jack. Indeed, many a question of grave church polity had been settled only after it had been submitted to and passed upon in meeting by Jack. "Is not that so, Jack?" was a favorite clincher to arguments which, it was felt, had won over his master. And Jack's groping paw cemented a treaty of good-will and mutual concession that had helped the village church over more than one hard place. For there were hard heads and stubborn wills in it as there are in other churches; and Deacon Pratt, for all he was a just man, was set on having his way.
And now all this was changed. What had come over the town Jack couldn't make out, but that it was something serious nobody was needed to tell him. Folks he used to meet at the gate, going to the trains of mornings, on neighborly terms, hurried past him without as much as a look. And Deacon Jones, who gave him ginger-snaps out of the pantry-crock as a special bribe for a hand-shake, had even put out his foot to kick him, actually kick him, when he waylaid him at the corner that morning. The whole week there had not been as much as a visitor at the house, and what with Christmas in town—Jack knew the signs well enough; they meant raisins and goodies that came only when they burned candles on trees in the church—it was enough to make any dog cross. To top it all, his mistress must come down sick, worried into it all, as like as not, he had heard the doctor say. If Jack's thoughts could have been put into words as he sat on the porch looking moodily over the road, they would doubtless have taken something like this shape, that it was a pity that men didn't have the sense of dogs, but would bear grudges and make themselves and their betters unhappy. And in the village there would have been more than one to agree with him secretly.
Jack wouldn't have been any the wiser had he been told that the trouble that had come to town was that of all things most worrisome, a church quarrel. What was it about and how did it come? I doubt if any of the men and women who strove in meeting for principle and conscience with might and main, and said mean things about each other out of meeting, could have explained it. I know they all would have explained it differently, and so added fuel to the fire that was hot enough already. In fact, that was what had happened the night before Jack encountered his special friend, Deacon Jones, and it was in virtue of his master's share in it that he had bestowed the memorable kick upon him. Deacon Pratt was the valiant leader of the opposing faction.
To the general stress of mind the holiday had but added another cause of irritation. Could Jack have understood the ethics of men he would have known that it strangely happens that:
"Forgiveness to the injured does belong, But they ne'er pardon who have done the wrong,"
and that everybody in a church quarrel having injured everybody else within reach for conscience's sake, the season of good-will and even the illness of that good woman, the wife of Deacon Pratt, admittedly from worry over the trouble, practically put a settlement of it out of the question. But being only a dog he did not understand. He could only sulk; and as this went well enough with things as they were in general, it proved that Jack was, as was well known, a very intelligent dog.
He had yet to give another proof of it, that very day, by preaching to the divided congregation its Christmas sermon, a sermon that is to this day remembered in Brownville; but of that neither they nor he, sitting there on the stoop nursing his grievances, had at that time any warning.
It was Christmas Eve. Since the early Lutherans settled there, away back in the last century, it had been the custom in the village to celebrate the Holy Eve with a special service and a Christmas tree; and preparations had been going forward for it all the afternoon. It was noticeable that the fighting in the congregation in no wise interfered with the observance of the established forms of worship; rather, it seemed to lend a keener edge to them. It was only the spirit that suffered. Jack, surveying the road from the porch, saw baskets and covered trays carried by, and knew their contents. He had watched the big Christmas tree going down on the grocer's sled, and his experience plus his nose supplied the rest. As the lights came out one by one after twilight, he stirred uneasily at the unwonted stillness in his house. Apparently no one was getting ready for church. Could it be that they were not going; that this thing was to be carried to the last ditch? He decided to go and investigate.
His investigations were brief, but entirely conclusive. For the second time that day he was spurned, and by a friend. This time it was the deacon himself who drove him from his wife's room, whither he had betaken him with true instinct to ascertain the household intentions. The deacon seemed to be, if anything, in a worse humor than even Jack himself. The doctor had told him that afternoon that Mrs. Pratt was a very sick woman, and that, if she was to pull through at all, she must be kept from all worriment in an atmosphere which fairly bristled with it. The deacon felt that he had a contract on his hands which might prove too heavy for him. He felt, too, with bitterness, that he was an ill-used man, that all his years of faithful labor, in the vineyard went for nothing because of some wretched heresy which the enemy had devised to wreck it; and all his humbled pride and his pent-up wrath gathered itself into the kick with which he sent poor Jack flying back where he had come from. It was clear that the deacon was not going to church.
Lonely and forsaken, Jack took his old seat on the porch and pondered. The wrinkles in his brow multiplied and grew deeper as he looked down the road and saw the Joneses, the Smiths, and the Allens go by toward the church. When the Merritts had passed, too, under the lamp, he knew that it must be nearly time for the sermon. They always came in after the long prayer. Jack took a turn up and down the porch, whined at the door once, and, receiving no answer, set off down the road by himself.
The church was filled. It had never looked handsomer. The rival factions had vied with each other in decorating it. Spruce and hemlock sprouted everywhere, and garlands of ground-ivy festooned walls and chancel. The delicious odor of balsam and of burning wax-candles was in the air. The people were all there in their Sunday clothes and the old minister in the pulpit; but the Sunday feeling was not there. Something was not right. Deacon Pratt's pew alone of them all was empty, and the congregation cast wistful glances at it, some secretly behind their hymn-books, others openly and sorrowfully. What the doctor had said in the afternoon had got out. He himself had told Mrs. Mills that it was doubtful if the deacon's wife got around, and it sat heavily upon the conscience of the people.
The opening hymns were sung; the Merritts, late as usual, had taken their seats. The minister took up the Book to read the Christmas gospel from the second chapter of Luke. He had been there longer than most of those who were in the church to-night could remember, had grown old with the people, had loved them as the shepherd who is answerable to the Master for his flock. Their griefs and their troubles were his. If he could not ward them off, he could suffer with them. His voice trembled a little as he read of the tidings of great joy. Perhaps it was age; but it grew firmer as he proceeded toward the end:—
"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men.'"
The old minister closed the Book and looked out over the congregation. He looked long and yearningly, and twice he cleared his throat, only to repeat, "on earth peace, good-will toward men." The people settled back in their seats, uneasily; they strangely avoided the eye of their pastor. It rested in its slow survey of the flock upon Deacon Pratt's empty pew. And at that moment a strange thing occurred.
Why it should seem strange was, perhaps, not the least strange part of it. Jack had come in alone before. He knew the trick of the door-latch, and had often opened it unaided. He was in the habit of attending the church with the folks; there was no reason why they should not expect him, unless they knew of one themselves. But somehow the click of the latch went clear through the congregation as the heavenly message of good-will had not. All eyes were turned upon the deacon's pew; and they waited.
Jack came slowly and gravely up the aisle and stopped at his master's pew. He sniffed of the empty seat disapprovingly once or twice—he had never seen it in that state before—then he climbed up and sat, serious and attentive as he was wont, in his old seat, facing the pulpit, nodding once as who should say, "I'm here; proceed!"
It is recorded that not even a titter was heard from the Sunday-school, which was out in force. In the silence that reigned in the church was heard only a smothered sob. The old minister looked with misty eyes at his friend. He took off his spectacles, wiped them and put them on again, and tried to speak; but the tears ran down his cheeks and choked his voice. The congregation wept with him.
"Brethren," he said, when he could speak, "glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men! Jack has preached a better sermon than I can to-night. Let us pray together."
It is further recorded that the first and only quarrel in the Brownville church ended on Christmas Eve and was never heard of again, and that it was all the work of Jack's sermon.
SKIPPY OF SCRABBLE ALLEY
Skippy was at home in Scrabble Alley. So far as he had ever known home of any kind it was there in the dark and mouldy basement of the rear house, farthest back in the gap that was all the builder of those big tenements had been able to afford of light and of air for the poor people whose hard-earned wages, brought home every Saturday, left them as poor as if they had never earned a dollar, to pile themselves up in his strong box. The good man had long since been gathered to his fathers: gone to his better home. It was in the newspapers, and in the alley it was said that it was the biggest funeral—more than a hundred carriages, and four black horses to pull the hearse. So it must be true, of course.
Skippy wondered vaguely, sometimes, when he thought of it, what kind of a home it might be where people went in a hundred carriages. He had never sat in one. The nearest he had come to it was when Jimmy Murphy's cab had nearly run him down once, and his "fare," a big man with whiskers, had put his head out and angrily called him a brat, and told him to get out of the way, or he would have him arrested. And Jimmy had shaken his whip at him and told him to skip home. Everybody told him to skip. From the policeman on the block to the hard-fisted man he knew as his father, and who always had a job for him with the "growler" when he came home, they were having Skippy on the run. Probably that was how he got his name. No one cared enough about it, or about the boy, to find out.
Was there anybody anywhere who cared about boys, anyhow? Were there any boys in that other home where the carriages and the big hearse had gone? And if there were, did they have to live in an alley, and did they ever have any fun? These were thoughts that puzzled Skippy's young brain once in a while. Not very long or very hard, for Skippy had not been trained to think; what training the boys picked up in the alley didn't run much to deep thinking.
Perhaps it was just as well. There were one or two men there who were said to know a heap, and who had thought and studied it all out about the landlord and the alley. But it was very tiresome that it should happen to be just those two, for Skippy never liked them. They were always cross and ugly, never laughed and carried on as other men did once in a while, and made his little feet very tired running with the growler early and late. He well remembered, too, that it was one of them who had said, when they brought him home, sore and limping, from under the wheels of Jimmy Murphy's cab, that he'd been better off if it had killed him. He had always borne a grudge against him for that, for there was no occasion for it that he could see. Hadn't he been to the gin-mill for him that very day twice?
Skippy's horizon was bounded by the towering brick walls of Scrabble Alley. No sun ever rose or set between them. On the hot summer days, when the saloon-keeper on the farther side of the street pulled up his awning, the sun came over the housetops and looked down for an hour or two into the alley. It shone upon broken flags, a mud-puddle by the hydrant where the children went splashing with dirty, bare feet, and upon unnumbered ash barrels. A stray cabbage leaf in one of those was the only green thing it found, for no ray ever strayed through the window in Skippy's basement to trace the green mould on the wall.
Once, while he had been lying sick with a fever, Skippy had struck up a real friendly acquaintance with that mouldy wall. He had pictured to himself woods and hills and a regular wilderness, such as he had heard of, in its green growth; but even that pleasure they had robbed him of. The charity doctor had said that the mould was bad, and a man scraped it off and put whitewash on the wall. As if everything that made fun for a boy was bad.
Down the street a little way, was a yard just big enough and nice to play ball in, but the agent had put up a sign that he would have no boys and no ball-playing in his yard, and that ended it; for the "cop" would have none of it in the street either. Once he had caught them at it and "given them the collar." They had been up before the judge; and though he let them off, they had been branded, Skippy and the rest, as a bad lot.
That was the starting-point in Skippy's career. With the brand upon him he accepted the future it marked out for him, reasoning as little, or as vaguely, about the justice of it as he had about the home conditions of the alley. The world, what he had seen of it, had taught him one lesson: to take things as he found them, because that was the way they were; and that being the easiest, and, on the whole, best suited to Skippy's general make-up, he fell naturally into the role assigned him. After that he worked the growler on his own hook most of the time. The "gang" he had joined found means of keeping it going that more than justified the brand the policeman had put upon it. It was seldom by honest work. What was the use? The world owed them a living, and it was their business to collect it as easily as they could. It was everybody's business to do that, as far as they could see, from the man who owned the alley, down.
They made the alley pan out in their own way. It had advantages the builder hadn't thought of, though he provided them. Full of secret ins and outs, runways and passages not easily found, to the surrounding tenements, it offered chances to get away when one or more of the gang were "wanted" for robbing this store on the avenue, tapping that till, or raiding the grocer's stock, that were A No. 1. When some tipsy man had been waylaid and "stood up," it was an unequalled spot for dividing the plunder. It happened once or twice, as time went by, that a man was knocked on the head and robbed within the bailiwick of the now notorious Scrabble Alley gang, or that a drowned man floated ashore in the dock with his pockets turned inside out. On such occasions the police made an extra raid, and more or less of the gang were scooped in; but nothing ever came of it. Dead men tell no tales, and they were not more silent than the Scrabbles, if, indeed, these had anything to tell.
It came gradually to be an old story. Skippy and his associates were long since in the Rogues' Gallery, numbered and indexed as truly a bad lot now. They were no longer boys, but toughs. Most of them had "done time" up the river and come back more hardened than they went, full of new tricks always, which they were eager to show the boys, to prove that they had not been idle while they were away. On the police returns they figured as "speculators," a term that sounded better than thief, and meant, as they understood it, much the same; viz. a man who made a living out of other people's labor. It was conceded in the slums, everywhere, that the Scrabble Alley gang was a little the boldest that had for a long time defied the police. It had the call on the other gangs in all the blocks around, for it had the biggest fighters as well as the cleverest thieves of them all.
Then one holiday morning, when in a hundred churches the paean went up, "On earth peace, good-will toward men," all New York rang with the story of a midnight murder committed by Skippy's gang. The saloon-keeper whose place they were sacking to get the "stuff" for keeping Christmas in their way had come upon them, and Skippy had shot him down while the others ran. A universal shout for vengeance went up from outraged Society.
It sounded the death-knell of the gang. It was scattered to the four winds, all except Skippy, who was tried for murder and hanged. The papers spoke of his phenomenal calmness under the gallows; said it was defiance. The priest who had been with him in his last hours said he was content to go to a better home. They were all wrong. Had the pictures that chased each other across Skippy's mind as the black cap was pulled over his face been visible to their eyes, they would have seen Scrabble Alley with its dripping hydrant, and the puddle in which the children splashed with dirty, bare feet; the dark basement room with its mouldy wall; the notice in the yard, "No ball-playing allowed here"; the policeman who stamped him as one of a bad lot, and the sullen man who thought it had been better for him, the time he was run over, if he had died. Skippy asked himself moodily if he was right after all, and if boys were ever to have any show. He died with the question unanswered.
They said that no such funeral ever went out of Scrabble Alley before. There was a real raid on the undertaker's where Skippy lay in state two whole days, and the wake was talked of for many a day as something wonderful. At the funeral services it was said that without a doubt Skippy had gone to a better home. His account was squared.
* * * * *
Skippy's story is not invented to be told here. In its main facts it is a plain account of a well-remembered drama of the slums, on which the curtain was rung down in the Tombs yard. There are Skippies without number growing up in those slums to-day, vaguely wondering why they were born into a world that does not want them; Scrabble Alleys to be found for the asking, all over this big city where the tenements abound, alleys in which generations of boys have lived and died—principally died, and thus done for themselves the best they could, according to the crusty philosopher of Skippy's set—with nothing more inspiring than a dead blank wall within reach of their windows all the days of their cheerless lives. Theirs is the account to be squared—by justice, not vengeance. Skippy is but an item on the wrong side of the ledger. The real reckoning of outraged society is not with him, but with Scrabble Alley.
MAKING A WAY OUT OF THE SLUM
One stormy night in the winter of 1882, going across from my office to the Police Headquarters of New York City, I nearly stumbled over an odd couple that crouched on the steps. As the man shifted his seat to make way for me, the light from the green lamp fell on his face, and I knew it as one that had haunted the police office for days with a mute appeal for help. Sometimes a woman was with him. They were Russian Jews, poor immigrants. No one understood or heeded them. Elbowed out of the crowd, they had taken refuge on the steps, where they sat silently watchful of the life that moved about them, but beyond a swift, keen scrutiny of all who came and went, having no share in it.
That night I heard their story. Between what little German they knew and such scraps of their harsh jargon as I had picked up, I found out that they were seeking their lost child—little Yette, who had strayed away from the Essex Street tenement and disappeared as utterly as if the earth had swallowed her up. Indeed, I often thought of that in the weeks and months of weary search that followed. For there was absolutely no trace to be found of the child, though the tardy police machinery was set in motion and worked to the uttermost. It was not until two years later, when we had long given up the quest, that little Yette was found by the merest accident in the turning over of the affairs of an orphan asylum. Some one had picked her up in the street and brought her in. She could not tell her name, and, with one given to her there, and garbed in the uniform of the place, she was so effectually lost in the crowd that the police alarm failed to identify her. In fact, her people had no little trouble in "proving property," and but for the mother love that had refused to part with a little gingham slip her lost baby had worn, it might have proved impossible. It was the mate of the one which Yette had on when she was brought into the asylum, and which they had kept there. So the child was restored, and her humble home made happy.
That was my first meeting with the Russian Jew. In after years my path crossed his often. I saw him herded with his fellows like cattle in the poorest tenements, slaving sullenly in the sweat-shop, or rising in anger against his tyrant in strikes that meant starvation as the price of his vengeance. And always I had a sense of groping in the memories of the past for a lost key to something. The other day I met him once more. It was at sunset, upon a country road in southern New Jersey. I was returning with Superintendent Sabsovich from an inspection of the Jewish colonies in that region. The cattle were lowing in the fields. The evening breathed peace. Down the sandy road came a creaking farm wagon loaded with cedar posts for a vineyard hard by. Beside it walked a sunburned, bearded man with an axe on his shoulder, in earnest conversation with his boy, a strapping young fellow in overalls. The man walked as one who is tired after a hard day's work, but his back was straight and he held his head high. He greeted us with a frank nod, as one who meets an equal.
The superintendent looked after him with a smile. To me there came suddenly the vision of the couple under the lamp, friendless and shrinking, waiting for a hearing, always waiting; and, as in a flash, I understood. I had found the key. The farmer there had it. It was the Jew who had found himself.
It is eighteen years since the first of the south Jersey colonies was started. There had been a sudden, unprecedented immigration of refugees from Russia, where Jew-baiting was then the orthodox pastime. They lay in heaps in Castle Garden, helpless and penniless, and their people in New York feared prescriptive measures. What to do with them became a burning question. To turn those starving multitudes loose on the labor market of the metropolis would make trouble of the gravest kind. The alternative of putting them back on the land, and so of making producers of them, suggested itself to the Emigrant Aid Society. Land was offered cheap in south Jersey, and the experiment was made with some hundreds of families.
[Footnote 4: This was written in 1900.]
It was well meant; but the projectors experienced the not unfamiliar fact that cheap land is sometimes very dear land. They learned, too, that you cannot make farmers in a day out of men who have been denied access to the soil for generations. That was the set purpose of Russia, and the legacy of feudalism in western Europe, which of necessity made the Jew a trader, a town dweller. With such a history, a man is not logically a pioneer. The soil of south Jersey is sandy, has to be coaxed into bearing paying crops. The colonists had not the patient skill needed for the task. Neither had they the means. Above all, they lacked the market where to dispose of their crops when once raised. Discouragements beset them. Debts threatened to engulf them. The trustees of the Baron de Hirsch Fund, entering the field eleven years later, in 1891, found of three hundred families only two-thirds remaining on their farms. In 1897, when they went to their relief, there were seventy-six families left. The rest had gone back to the city and to the Ghetto. So far, the experiment had failed.
The Hirsch Fund people had been watching it attentively. They were not discouraged. In the midst of the outcry that the Jew could not be made a farmer, they settled a tract of unbroken land in the northwest part of Cape May County, within easy reach of the older colonies. They called their settlement Woodbine. Taught by the experience of the older colonists, they brought their market with them. They persuaded several manufacturing firms to remove their plants from the city to Woodbine, agreeing to furnish their employees with homes. Thus an industrial community was created to absorb the farmer's surplus products. The means they had in abundance in the large revenues of Baron de Hirsch's princely charity, which for all purposes amounts to over $6,000,000. There was still lacking necessary skill at husbandry, and this they set about supplying without long delay. In the second year of the colony, a barn built for horses was turned into a lecture-hall for the young men, and became the nucleus of the Hirsch Agricultural School, which to-day has nearly a hundred pupils. Woodbine, for which the site was cleared half a dozen years before in woods so dense that the children had to be corralled and kept under guard lest they should be lost, was a thriving community by the time the crisis came in the affairs of the older colonies.
The settlers were threatened with eviction. The Jewish Colonization Association, upon the recommendation of the Hirsch Fund trustees, and with their cooeperation, came to their rescue. It paid off the mortgages under which they groaned, brought out factories, and turned the tide that was setting back toward the cities. The carpenter's hammer was heard again, after years of silence and decay, in Rosenhayn, Alliance, and Carmel. They built new houses there. Nearly $500,000 invested in the villages was paying a healthy interest, where before general ruin was impending. As for Woodbine, Jewish industry had raised the town taxes upon its 5300 acres of land from $72 to $1800, and only the slow country ways kept it from becoming the county-seat, as it is already the county's centre of industrial and mental activity.
It was to see for myself what the movement of which this is the brief historical outline was like that I had gone down from Philadelphia to Woodbine, some twenty-five miles from Atlantic City. I saw a straggling village, hedged in by stunted woods, with many freshly painted frame-houses lining broad streets, some of them with gardens around in which jonquil and spiderwort were growing, and the peach and gooseberry budding into leaf; some of them standing in dreary, unfenced wastes, in which the clay was trodden hard between the stumps of last year's felling. In these lived the latest graduates from the slum. I had just come from the clothing factory hard by the depot, in which a hundred of them or more were at work, and had compared the bright, clean rooms with the traditional sweat-shop of the city, wholly to the disadvantage of the latter. I had noticed the absence of the sullen looks that used to oppress me. Now as I walked along, stopping to chat with the women in the houses, it interested me to class the settlers as those of the first, the second, and the third year's stay and beyond. The signs were unmistakable. The first year was, apparently, taken up in contemplation of the house. The lot had no possibilities. In the second, it was dug up. A few potato-vines were planted, perhaps a peach tree. There were the preliminary signs of a fence. In the third, under the stimulus of a price offered by the management, a garden was evolved, with, necessarily, a fence. At this point the potato became suddenly an element. It had fed the family the winter before without other outlay than a little scratching of the ground. Its possibilities loomed large. The garden became a farm on a small scale. Its owner applied for more land and got it. That was the very purpose of the colony.
A woman, with a strong face and shrewd, brown eyes, rose from an onion bed she had been weeding to open the gate.
"Come in," she said, "and be welcome." Upon a wall of the best room hung a picture of Michael Bakounine, the nihilist. I found it in these colonies everywhere side by side with Washington's, Lincoln's, and Baron de Hirsch's. Mrs. Breslow and her husband left home for cause. He was a carpenter. Nine months they starved in a Forsyth Street tenement, paying $15 a month for three rooms. This cottage is their own. They have paid for it ($800) since they came out with the first settlers. The lot was given to them, but they bought the adjoining one to raise truck in.
"Gott sei dank," says the woman, with shining eyes, "we owe nothing and pay no rent, and are never more hungry."
Down the street a little way is the cottage of one who received the first prize for her garden last year. Fragrant box hedges in the plot. A cow with crumpled horn stands munching corncobs at the barn. Four hens are sitting in as many barrels, eying the stranger with half-anxious, half-hostile looks. A topknot, tied by the leg to the fence, struggles madly to escape. The children bring dandelions and clover to soothe its captivity.
The shadows lengthen. The shop gives up its workers. There is no overtime here. A ten-hour day rules. Families gather upon porches—the mother with the sleeping babe at her breast, the grandfather smoking a peaceful pipe, while father and the boys take a turn tending the garden. Theirs is not paradise. It is a little world full of hard work, but a world in which the work has ceased to be a curse. Ludlow Street, with its sweltering tenements, is but a few hours' journey away. For these, at all events, the problem of life has been solved.
Strolling over the outlying farms, we came to one with every mark of thrift and prosperity about it. The vineyard was pruned and trimmed, the fields ready for their crops, the outbuildings well kept, and the woodpile stout and trim. A girl with a long braid of black hair came from the house to greet us. An hour before, I had seen her sewing on buttons in the factory. She recognized me, and looked questioningly at the superintendent. When he spoke my name, she held out her hand with frank dignity, and bade me welcome on her father's farm. He was a clothing-cutter in New York, explained my guide as we went our way, but tired of the business and moved out upon the land. His thirty-acre farm is to-day one of the finest in that neighborhood. The man is on the road to substantial wealth.
Labor or lumber—both, perhaps—must be cheaper even than land in south Jersey. This five-room cottage, one of half a hundred such, was sold to the tenant for $500; the Hirsch Fund taking a first mortgage of $300, the manufacturer, or the occupant, if able, paying the rest The mortgage is paid off in monthly instalments of $3.75. Even if he had not a cent to start with, by paying less than one-half the rent for the Forsyth Street flat of three cramped rooms, dark and stuffy, the tenant becomes the absolute owner of his home in a little over eight years. I looked in upon a score of them. The rooms were large by comparison, and airy; oil-painted, clean. The hopeless disorder, the discouragement of the slum, were nowhere. The children were stout and rosy. They played under the trees, safe from the shop till the school gives up its claim to them. Superintendent Sabsovich sees to it that it is not too early. He is himself a school trustee, elected after a fight on the "Woodbine ticket," which gave notice to the farmers of the town that the aliens of that settlement are getting naturalized to the point of demanding their rights. The opposition retaliated by nicknaming the leader of the victorious faction the "Czar of Woodbine." He in turn invited them to hear the lectures at the Agricultural School. His text went home.
"The American is wasteful of food, energies—of everything," he said. "We teach here that farming can be made to pay by saving expenses." They knew it to be true. The Woodbine farm products, its flowers and chickens, took the prizes at the county fair. Yet in practice they did not compete. The Woodbine milk was dearer than the neighboring farmers'. If in spite of that it was preferred because it was better, that was their lookout. The rest must come up to it then. So with the output of the hennery, the apiary, the blacksmith-shop in the place. On that plan Woodbine has won the respect of the neighborhood. The good-will will follow, says its Czar, confidently.
He, too, was a nihilist, who dreamed with the young of his people for a better day. He has lived to see it dawn on a far-away shore. Concerning his task, he has no illusions. There is no higher education, no "frills," at Woodbine. Its scheme is intensely practical. It is to make, if possible, a Jewish yeomanry fit to take their place with the native tillers of the soil, as good citizens as they. With that end in view, everything is "for present purposes, with an eye on the future." The lad is taught dairying with scientific precision, because on that road lies the profit in keeping cows. He is taught the commercial value of extreme cleanliness in handling milk and making butter. He learns the management of the poultry-yard, of bees, of pigeons, and of field crops. He works in the nursery, the greenhouse, and the blacksmith-shop. If he does not get to know the blacksmith's trade, he learns how to mend a broken farm wagon and "save expense." So he shall be able to make farming pay, to keep his grip on the land. His native shrewdness will teach him the rest.
The vineyards were budding, and the robins sang joyously as we drove over the twenty-four-mile stretch through the colonies of Carmel, Rosenhayn, Alliance, and Brotmansville. Everywhere there were signs of reawakened thrift. Fields and gardens were being got ready for their crops; fence-corners were being cleaned, roofs repaired, and houses painted. In Rosenhayn they were building half a dozen new houses. A clothing factory there that employs seventy hands brought out twenty-four families from New York and Philadelphia, for whom shelter had to be found. Some distance beyond the village we halted to inspect the forty-acre farm of a Jew who some years ago kept a street stand in Philadelphia. He bought the land and went back to his stand to earn the money with which to run it. In three years he moved his family out.
"I couldn't raise the children in the city," he explained. A son and two daughters now run the adjoining farm. Two boys were helping him look after a berry patch that alone would "make expenses" this year. The wife minded the seven cows. The farm is free and clear save for $400 lent by the Hirsch people to pay off an onerous mortgage. Some comment was made upon the light soil. The farmer pointed significantly to the barnyard.
"I make him good," he said. Across the road was a large house with a pretentious dooryard and evergreen hedges. A Gentile farmer with many acres lived in it. The lean fields promised but poor crops. The neighborhood knew that he never paid anything on his mortgage; claimed, in fact, that he could not.