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The Making of an American
by Jacob A. Riis
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What had happened was that just at the right moment the politicians had concluded, upon the evidence of the recent elections, that they could not allow an independent paper in the ward, and had offered to buy it outright. I was dreadfully overworked. The doctor urged a change. I did not need much urging. So I sold the paper for five times what I had paid for it, and took the first steamer for home. Only the other day, when I was lecturing in Chicago, a woman came up and asked if I was the Riis she had travelled with on a Hamburg steamer twenty-five years before, and who was going home to be married. She had never forgotten how happy he was. She and the rest of the passengers held it to be their duty to warn me that "She" might not turn out as nice as I thought she was.

"I guess we might have spared ourselves the trouble," she said, looking me over.

Yes, they might. But I shall have to put off telling of that till next time. And I shall let Elizabeth, my Elizabeth now, tell her part of it in her own way.



CHAPTER VII

ELIZABETH TELLS HER STORY

How well I remember the days of which my husband has written—our childhood in the old Danish town where to this day, in spite of my love for America, the air seems fresher, the meadows greener, the sea more blue, and where above it all the skylark sings his song clearer, softer, and sweeter than anywhere else in the world! I—it is too bad that we cannot tell our own stories without all the time talking about ourselves, but it is so, and there is no help for it. Well, then, I was a happy little girl in those days. Though my own father, a county lawyer, had died early and left my dear mother without any means of support for herself and three children except what she earned by teaching school and music, it did not make life harder for me, for I had been since I was three years old with mother's youngest and loveliest sister and her husband. They were rich and prosperous. They brought me up as their own, and never had a child a kinder father and mother or a more beautiful home than I had with my uncle and aunt. Besides, I was naturally a happy child. Life seemed full of sunshine, and every day dawned with promise of joy and pleasure. I remember often saying to my aunt, whom, by the way, I called mother, "I am so happy I don't know what to do!"



So I skipped and danced about among the lumber in the sight of Jacob Riis, till, in sheer amazement, he cut his finger off. He says admiration, not amazement, but I have my own ideas about that. I see him yet with his arm in a sling and a defiant look, making his way across the hall at dancing-school to engage me as his partner. I did not appreciate the compliment in the least, for I would a good deal rather have had Charles, who danced well and was a much nicer looking boy. Besides, Charles's sister Valgerda had told me in confidence how Jacob had said to Charles that he would marry me when I was a woman, or die. And was there ever such assurance? From the day I learned of this, I treated Jacob with all the coolness and contempt of which my naturally kindly disposition was capable. When he spoke to me I answered him hardly a word, and took pains to show my preference for Charles or some other boy. But it seemed to make no difference to him.

I was just seventeen when I received my first love-letter from Jacob. Like the dutiful fellow he was, he sent it through his mother, to my mother, who read it before giving it to me. She handed it to me with the words: "I need not tell you that neither father nor I would ever give our consent to an engagement between you two till Jacob had some good position." Way down in my heart there was a small voice whispering: "Well, if I loved him I wouldn't ask anybody." But the letter was a beautiful one, and after these many years I know that every word in it was prompted by true, unselfish love. I cried over it and answered it as best I could, and then after a while forgot about it and was happy as ever with my studies, my music, and plenty of dances and parties to break the routine. Jacob had gone away to America.

Before I was twenty years old I met one who was to have a great influence on my life. He was a dashing cavalry officer, much older than I, and a frequent visitor at our home. And here I must tell that my own dear mother had died when I was fifteen years old, and my brother and sister had come to live with us in Ribe. There was house-room and heart-room for us all there. They were very good to us, my uncle and aunt, and I loved them as if they were indeed my parents. They spared no expense in our bringing up. Nothing they gave their only son was too good for us. Our home was a very beautiful and happy one.



It was in the summer of 1872 that I met Raymond. That is not a Danish name, but it was his. He came to our little town as next in command of a company of gendarmes—mounted frontier police. In the army he had served with my mother's brother, and naturally father and mother, whose hospitable home welcomed every distinguished stranger, did everything to make his existence, in what must to a man of the world have been a dull little town, less lonely than it would otherwise have been. He had a good record, had been brave in the war, was the finest horseman in all the country, could skate and dance and talk, and, best of all, was known to be a good and loving son to his widowed mother, and greatly beloved by his comrades. So he came into my life and singled me out before the other girls at the balls and parties where we frequently met. Strange as it may seem, for I was not a pretty girl, I had many admirers among the young men in our town. Perhaps there wasn't really any admiration about it; perhaps it was just because we knew each other as boys and girls and were brought up together. Most of the young men in our town were college students who had gone to school in Ribe and came back at vacation time to renew old friendships and have a good time with old neighbors. I danced well, played the piano well, and was full of life, and they all liked to come in our house, where there were plenty of good things of all kinds. So I really ought not to say that I, who frequently cried over the length of my nose, had admirers. I should rather say good friends, who saw to it in their kindness that I never was a wall-flower at a ball, or lacked favors at a cotillon.

But he was so different. The others were young like myself. He had experience. He was a man, handsome and good, just such a man as would be likely to take the fancy of a girl of my age. And he, who had seen so many girls prettier and better than I, singled me out of them all; and I—well, I was proud of the distinction, and I loved him.

How well I remember the clear winter day when he and I skated and talked, and talked and skated, till the moon was high in the heavens, and my brother was sent out to look for me! I went home that evening the happiest girl in the world, so I thought; for he had called me "a beautiful child," and told me that he loved me. And father and mother had given their consent to our engagement. Never did the sun shine so brightly, never did the bells ring out so clearly and appealingly in the old Cathedral, and surely never was the world so beautiful as on the Sunday morning after our engagement when I awoke early in my dear little room. Oh, how I loved the whole world and every one in it! how good God was, how kind and loving my father and mother and brother and sisters! How I would love to be good to every one around me, and thus in a measure show my gratitude for all the happiness that was mine!

So passed the winter and spring, with many preparations for our new home and much planning for our future life. In a town like ours, where everybody knew all about everybody else from the day they were born till the day they died, it was only reasonable to suppose that somebody had told my betrothed about Jacob Riis's love for me. I had hoped that Jacob would learn to look at me in a different light, but from little messages which came to me off and on from the New World, I knew that he was just as faithful as ever to his idea that we were meant for one another, and that "I might say him No time and time again, the day would come when I would change my mind." But in the first happy days of our engagement I confess that I did not think very much about him, except for mentioning him once or twice to my friend as a good fellow, but such a queer and obstinate one, who some day would see plainly that I was not half as good as he thought, and learn to love some other girl who was much better.

But one day there came a letter from America, and so far was Jacob from my thoughts at that moment that, when my lieutenant asked me from whom did I think that American letter came, I answered in perfect good faith that I could not imagine, unless it were from a former servant of ours who lived over there.

"No servant ever wrote that address," said Raymond, dryly. It was from Jacob, and filled with good wishes for us both. He listened to it in silence. I said how glad I was to find that at last he looked upon me merely as a friend. "You little know how to read between the lines," was his sober comment. He was very serious, almost sad, it seemed to me.

In the early summer came the first cloud on my sunlit sky. One evening, when we were invited to a party of young people at our doctor's house, word was sent from Raymond that he was sick and could not come, but that I must on no account stay home. But I did. For me there was no pleasure without him, no, not anywhere in the world. He recovered soon, however; but after that, short spells of illness, mostly heavy colds, were the rule. He was a strong man and had taken pride in being able to do things which few other men could do without harm coming to them; for instance, to chop a hole in the ice and go swimming in midwinter. But exposure to the chill, damp air of that North Sea country and the heavy fogs that drifted in from the ocean at night, when he rode alone, often many miles over the moor on his tours of inspection, had undermined his splendid constitution, and before the summer was over the doctors pronounced my dear one a sufferer from bronchial consumption, and told us that his only chance lay in his seeking a milder climate. I grieved at the thought of separation for a whole winter, perhaps longer, and at his suffering; but I felt sure that he would come back to me from Switzerland a well man.

So we parted. That winter we lived in our letters. The fine climate in Montreux seemed to do him good, and his messages were full of hope that all would be well. Not so with my parents. They had been told by physicians who had treated Raymond that his case was hopeless; that he might live years, perhaps, in Switzerland, but that in all probability to return to Denmark would be fatal to him. They told me so, and I could not, would not, believe them. It seemed impossible that God would take him away from me. They also told me that on no condition must I think of marrying him, because either I should be a widow soon after marriage, or else I should be a sick-nurse for several years. So they wished me to break the engagement while he was absent.

This and much more was said to me. And I, who had always been an obedient daughter and never crossed their will in any way, for the first time in my life opposed them and told them that never should anybody separate me from the one I loved until God himself parted us. Mother reminded me of my happy childhood, and of how much she and my foster-father had done for me, and that now they had only my happiness in view—a fact which I might not understand till I was older, she said, but must now take on trust. Beside which, Raymond would be made to feel as if a load were taken off his mind if of my free will I broke our engagement and left him free from any responsibility toward me. But all the time his letters told me that he loved me better than ever, and I lived only in the hope of his home-coming. So I refused to listen to them. They wrote to him; told him what the doctor said and appealed to him to set me free. And he, loyal and good as he was, gave me back my promise. He believed he would get well. But he knew he could not return to Ribe. He had resigned his command and gone back to the rank and pay of a plain lieutenant. He could not offer me now such a home as I was used to these many years; and as he was so much older than I, he thought it his duty to tell me all this. And all the time he knew, oh, so well! that I would never leave him, come what might, sickness, poverty, or death itself. I was bound to stand by him to the last.

That was a hard winter. Father and mother, who could not look into my heart and see that I still loved them as dearly as ever—I know so well they meant it all for the best—called me ungrateful and told me that I was blind and would not see what made for my good, and that therefore they must take their own measures for my happiness. So they offered me the choice between giving up the one I loved or leaving the home that had been mine so long. I chose the last, for I could not do otherwise. I packed my clothes and said good-by to my friends, of whom many treated me with coldness, since they, too, thought I must be ungrateful to those who had done so much for me. Homeless and alone I went to Raymond's brother, who had a little country home near the city of Copenhagen. With him and his young wife I stayed until one day my Raymond returned, much better apparently, yet not the same as before. Suffering, bodily and mental, had left its traces upon his face and frame, but his love for me was greater than ever, and he tried hard to make up to me all I lost; as if I had really lost anything in choosing him before all the world.

We were very happy at first in the joy of being together. But soon he suffered a relapse, and decided to go to the hospital for treatment. He never left it again, except once or twice for a walk with me. All the long, beautiful summer days he spent in his room, the last few months in bed. Many friends came to see him, and as for me, I spent all my days with him, reading softly to him or talking with him. And I never gave up hope of his getting better some day. He probably knew that his time was short, but I think that he did not have the heart to tell me. Sometimes he would say, "I wonder whether your people would take you back to your home if I died." Or, "If I should die, and some other man who loved you, and who you knew was good and faithful, should ask you to marry him, you ought to accept him, even if you did not love him." I never could bear to hear it or to think of it then.

One raw, dark November morning I started on the long walk from his mother's house, where I had stayed since he took to his bed, to go and spend the day with him as usual. By this time I was well acquainted with every one in the hospital. The nurses were good to me. They took off my shoes and dried and warmed them for me, and some brought me afternoon coffee, which otherwise was contraband in the sick-rooms. But this morning the nurse in charge of Raymond's ward turned her back upon me and pretended not to hear me when I bid her good-morning. When I entered his room, it was to find the lifeless body of him who only a few hours before had bidden me a loving and even cheerful good-night.

Oh! the utter loneliness of those days; the longing for mother and home! But no word came from Ribe then. My dear one was laid to rest, with the sweet, resigned smile on his brave face, and I stayed for a while with his people, not being quite able to look into the future. My father had meanwhile made provision for me at Copenhagen. When I was able to think clearly, I went to the school in which my education had been "finished" in the happy, careless days, and through its managers secured a position in Baron von D—-'s house, not far from my old home, but in the province that was taken from Denmark by Germany the winter I played in the lumber-yard. My employers were kind to me, and my three girl pupils soon were the firm friends of the quiet little governess with the sad face. We worked hard together, to forget if I could. But each day I turned my face to the west toward Ribe, and my heart cried out for my happy childhood.



At last mother sent for me to come to them in the summer vacation. Oh, how good it was to go home again! How nice they all were, and what quiet content I felt, though I knew I should never forget! The six weeks went by like a dream. On the last day, as I was leaving, mother gave me a letter from Jacob Riis, of whom I had not thought for a long while. It was a letter of proposal, and I was angry. I answered it, however, as nicely as I could, and sent the letter to his mother. Then I returned to my three pupils in their pleasant country home, and soon we were busy with our studies and our walks. But I felt lonelier than ever, longed more than ever for the days that had been and would never return. I could not sleep, and grew pale and thin. And ever Raymond's words about a friend, good and faithful, who loved me truly, came back to me. Did he mean Jacob, who had surely proved constant, and like me, had suffered much? He was lonely and I was lonely, oh! so lonely! What if I were to accept his offer, and when he came home go back with him to his strange new country to share his busy life, and in trying to make him happy, perhaps find happiness myself? Unless I asked him to come, he would probably never return. The thought of how glad it would make his parents if they could see him again, now that they had buried two fine sons, almost tempted me.

Yet again, it was too soon, too soon. I banished the thought with angry impatience. But in the still night watches it came and knocked again. Jacob need not come home just now. We might write and get acquainted, and get used to the idea of each other, and his old people could look forward to the joy of having him return in a year or two.

At last, one night, I got up at two o'clock, sat down at my desk, and wrote to him in perfect sincerity all that was in my mind concerning him, and that if he still would have me, I was willing to go with him to America if he would come for me some time. Strange to say, Jacob's mother had never sent the letter in which I refused him a second time. Perhaps she thought his constancy and great love would at last touch my heart, longing as it was for somebody to cling to. So that he got my last letter first. But instead of waiting several years, he came in a few weeks. He was always that way.

And now, after twenty-five happy years—

ELISABETH. [Footnote: That is right. Up to this the printer has had his way. Now we will have ours, she and I, and spell her name properly. Together we shall manage him.]

I cut the rest of it off, because I am the editor and want to begin again here myself, and what is the use of being an editor unless you can cut "copy"? Also, it is not good for woman to allow her to say too much. She has already said too much about that letter. I have got it in my pocket, and I guess I ought to know. "Your own Elisabeth"—was not that enough? For him, with his poor, saddened life, peace be to its memory! He loved her. That covers all. How could he help it?

If they did not think I had lost my senses before, they assuredly did when that telegram reached Ribe. Talk about the privacy of the mails (the telegraph is part of the post-office machinery there), official propriety, and all that—why, I don't suppose that telegraph operator could get his coat on quick enough to go out and tell the amazing news. It would not have been human nature, certainly not Ribe human nature. Before sundown it was all over town that Jacob Riis was coming home, and coming for Elisabeth. Poor girl! It was in the Christmas holidays, and she was visiting there. She had been debating in her own mind whether to tell her mother, and how; but they left her precious little time for debate. In a neighborhood gathering that night one stern, uncompromising dowager transfixed her with avenging eye.

"They say Jacob Riis is coming home," she observed. Elisabeth knitted away furiously, her cheeks turning pink for all she made believe she did not hear.

"They say he is coming back to propose to a certain young lady again," continued the dowager, pitilessly, her voice rising. There was the stillness of death in the room. Elisabeth dropped a stitch, tried to pick it up, failed, and fled. Her mother from her seat observed with never-failing dignity that it blew like to bring on a flood. You could almost hear the big cathedral bell singing in the tower. And the subject was changed.

But I will warrant that Ribe got no wink of sleep that night, the while I fumed in a wayside Holstein inn. In my wild rush to get home I had taken the wrong train from Hamburg, or forgot to change, or something. I don't to this day know what. I know that night coming on found me stranded in a little town I had never heard of, on a spur of the road I didn't know existed, and there I had to stay, raging at the railroad, at the inn, at everything. In the middle of the night, while I was tossing sleepless on the big four-poster bed, a drunken man who had gone wrong fell into my room with the door and a candle. That man was my friend. I got up and kicked him out, called the landlord and blew him up, and felt much better. The sun had not risen when I was posting back to the junction, counting the mile-posts as we sped, watch in hand.

If mother thought we had all gone mad together, there was certainly something to excuse her. Here she had only a few weeks before forwarded with a heavy heart to her son in America Elisabeth's flat refusal to hear him, and when she expected gloom and despair, all at once his letters overflowed with a hysterical happiness that could only hail from a disordered mind. To cap it all, Christmas Eve brought her the shock of her life. Elisabeth, sitting near her in the old church and remorsefully watching her weep for her buried boys, could not resist the impulse to steal up behind, as they were going out, and whisper into her ear, as she gave her a little vicarious hug: "I have had news from Jacob. He is very happy." The look of measureless astonishment on my mother's face, as she turned, recalled to her that she could not know, and she hurried away, while mother stood and looked after her, for the first time in her life, I verily believe, thinking hard things of a fellow-being—and of her! Oh, mother! could you but have known that that hug was for your boy!

Counting hours no longer, but minutes, till I should claim it myself, I sat straining my eyes in the dark for the first glimmer of lights in the old town, when my train pulled up at a station a dozen miles from home. The guard ran along and threw open the doors of the compartments. I heard voices and the cry:—

"This way, Herr Doctor! There is room in here," and upon the step loomed the tall form of our old family physician. As I started up with a cry of recognition, he settled into a seat with a contented—

"Here, Overlaerer, is one for you," and I was face to face with my father, grown very old and white. My heart smote me at the sight of his venerable head.



"Father!" I cried, and reached out for him. I think he thought he saw a ghost. He stood quite still, steadying himself against the door, and his face grew very pale. It was the doctor, ever the most jovial of men, who first recovered himself.

"Bless my soul!" he cried, "bless my soul if here is not Jacob, come back from the wilds as large as life! Welcome home, boy!" and we laughed and shook hands. They had been out to see a friend in the country and had happened upon my train.

At the door of our house, father, who had picked up two of my brothers at the depot, halted and thought.

"Better let me go in first," he said, and, being a small man, put the door of the dining-room between me and mother, so that she could not see me right away.

"What do you think—" he began, but his voice shook so that mother rose to her feet at once. How do mothers know?

"Jacob!" she cried, and, pushing past him, had me in her embrace.

That was a happy tea-table. If mother's tears fell as she told of my brothers, the sting was taken out of her grief. Perhaps it was never there. To her there is no death of her dear ones, but rejoicing in the midst of human sorrow that they have gone home where she shall find them again. If ever a doubt had arisen in my mind of that home, how could it linger? How could I betray my mother's faith, or question it?

Perfectly happy were we; but when the tea-things were removed and I began to look restlessly at my watch and talk of an errand I must go, a shadow of anxiety came into my father's eyes. Mother looked at me with mute appeal. They were still as far from the truth as ever. A wild notion that I had come for some other man's daughter had entered their minds, or else, God help me, that I had lost mine. I kissed mother and quieted her fears.

"I will tell you when I come back;" and when she would have sent my brothers with me: "No! this walk I must take alone. Thank God for it."

So I went over the river, over the Long Bridge where I first met Her, and from the arch of which I hailed the light in her window, the beacon that had beckoned me all the years while two oceans surged between us; under the wild-rose hedge where I had dreamed of her as a boy, and presently I stood upon the broad stone steps of her father's house, and rang the bell.

An old servant opened the door, and, with a grave nod of recognition, showed me into the room to the left,—the very one where I had taken leave of her six years before,—then went unasked to call "Miss Elisabeth." It was New Year's Eve, and they were having a card party in the parlor.

"Oh, it isn't—?" said she, with her heart in her mouth, pausing on the threshold and looking appealingly at the maid. It was the same who years before had told her how I kept vigil under her window.

"Yes! it is!" she said, mercilessly, "it's him," and she pushed her in.



I think it was I who spoke first.

"Do you remember when the ice broke on the big ditch and I had you in my arms, so, lifting you over?"

"Was I heavy?" she asked, irrelevantly, and we both laughed.

Father's reading-lamp shone upon the open Bible when I returned. He wiped his spectacles and looked up with a patiently questioning "Well, my boy?" Mother laid her hand upon mine.

"I came home," I said unsteadily, "to give you Elisabeth for a daughter. She has promised to be my wife."

Mother clung to me and wept. Father turned the leaves of the book with hands that trembled in spite of himself, and read:—

"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory for thy mercy—"

His voice faltered and broke.

The old town turned out, to the last man and woman, and crowded the Domkirke on that March day, twenty-five years ago when I bore Her home my bride. From earliest morning the street that led to "the Castle" had seen a strange procession of poor and aged women pass, carrying flowers grown in window-gardens in the scant sunlight of the long Northern winter—"loved up," they say in Danish for "grown"; in no other way could it be done. They were pensioners on her mother's bounty, bringing their gifts to the friend who was going away. And it was their flowers she wore when I led her down the church aisle my wife, my own.

The Castle opened its doors hospitably at last to the carpenter's lad. When they fell to behind us, with father, mother, and friends waving tearful good-bys from the steps, and the wheels of the mail-coach rattled over the cobblestones of the silent streets where old neighbors had set lights in their windows to cheer us on the way,—out into the open country, into the wide world,—our life's journey had begun. Looking steadfastly ahead, over the bleak moor into the unknown beyond, I knew in my soul that I should conquer. For her head was leaning trustfully on my shoulder and her hand was in mine; and all was well.



CHAPTER VIII

EARLY MARRIED LIFE; I BECOME AN ADVERTISING BUREAU; ON THE "TRIBUNE"



It was no easy life to which I brought home my young wife. I felt it often with a secret pang when I thought how few friends I had to offer her for those she had left, and how very different was the whole setting of her new home. At such times I set my teeth hard and promised myself that some day she should have the best in the land. She never with word or look betrayed if she, too, felt the pang. We were comrades for better or worse from the day she put her hand in mine, and never was there a more loyal and faithful one. If, when in the twilight she played softly to herself the old airs from home, the tune was smothered in a sob that was not for my ear, and shortly our kitchen resounded with the most tremendously energetic housekeeping on record, I did not hear. I had drunk that cup to the dregs, and I knew. I just put on a gingham apron and turned in to help her. Two can battle with a fit of homesickness much better than one, even if never a word is said about it. And it can very rarely resist a man with an apron on. I suppose he looks too ridiculous.

Besides, housekeeping in double harness was a vastly different matter from going it single. Not that it was plain sailing by any manner of means. Neither of us knew anything about it; but we were there to find out, and exploring together was fine fun. We started fair by laying in a stock of everything there was in the cook-book and in the grocery, from "mace," which neither of us knew what was, to the prunes which we never got a chance to cook because we ate them all up together before we could find a place where they fitted in. The deep councils we held over the disposal of those things, and the strange results which followed sometimes! Certain rocks we were able to steer clear of, because I had carefully charted them in the days of my bachelorhood. In the matter of sago, for instance, which swells so when cooked. You would never believe it. But there were plenty of unknown reefs. I mind our first chicken. I cannot to this day imagine what was the matter with that strange bird. I was compelled to be at the office that afternoon, but I sent my grinning "devil," up to the house every half-hour for bulletins as to how it was getting on. When I came home in the gloaming, it was sizzling yet, and my wife was regarding it with a strained look and with cheeks which the fire had dyed a most lovely red. I can see her now. She was just too charming for anything. With the chicken something was wrong. As I said, I don't know what it was, and I don't care. The skin was all drawn tight over the bones like the covering on an umbrella frame, and there was no end of fat in the pan that we didn't know what to do with. But our supper of bread and cheese that night was a meal fit for a king. My mother, who was a notable cook, never made one so fine. It is all stuff about mothers doing those things better. Who cares, anyhow? Have mothers curls of gold and long eyelashes, and have they arch ways? And do they pout, and have pet names? Well, then, are not these of the very essence of cookery, all the dry books to the contrary notwithstanding? Some day some one will publish a real cook-book for young housekeepers, but it will be a wise husband with the proper sense of things, not a motherly person at all, who will write it. They make things that are good enough to eat, but that is not the best part of cooking by long odds.

There is one housekeeping feat of which Elisabeth says she is ashamed yet. I am not. I'll bet it was fine. It was that cake we took so much trouble with. The yeast went in all right, but something else went wrong. It was not put to soak, or to sizzle, in the oven, or whatever it was. Like my single-blessed pancake, it did not rise, and in the darkness before I came home she smuggled it out of the house; only to behold, with a mortification that endures to this day, the neighbor-woman who had taken such an interest in our young housekeeping, examining it carefully in the ash-barrel next morning. People are curious. But they were welcome to all they could spy out concerning our household. They discovered there, if they looked right, the sweetest and altogether the bravest little housekeeper in all the world. And what does a cake matter, or a hen, or twenty, when only the housekeeper is right?

In my editorial enthusiasm for the new plan there was no doubtful note. The "beats" got a rest for a season while I transferred my attention to the boarding-house. My wife teases me yet with those mighty onslaughts on the new enemy. Having clearly made him out by the light of our evening lamp, I went for him with might and main, determined to leave no boarding-house through the length and breadth of the land, or at least of South Brooklyn. "Ours," I cried, weekly "to fulfil its destiny, must be a nation of homes. Down with the boarding-house!" and the politicians applauded. They were glad to be let alone. So were the beats who were behind in their bills, and whose champion I had unexpectedly become. A doughty champion, too, a walking advertisement of my own prescription; for I grew fat and strong, whereas I had been lean and poor. I was happy, that was it; very, very happy, and full of faith in our ability to fight our way through, come what might. Nor did it require the gift of a prophet to make out that trying days were coming; for my position, again as the paid editor of my once "owners," the politicians, was rapidly becoming untenable. It was an agreement entered into temporarily. When it should lapse, what then? I had pledged myself when I sold the paper not to start another for ten years in South Brooklyn. So I would have to begin life over again in a new place. I gave the matter but little thought. I suppose the old folks, viewing it all from over there, thought it trifling with fate. It was not. It was a trumpet challenge to it to come on, all that could crowd in. Two, we would beat the world.

Before I record the onset that ensued, I must stop to tell of another fight, one which in my soul I regret, though it makes me laugh even now. Non-resistance never appealed to me except in the evildoer who has been knocked down for cause. I suppose it is wicked, but I promised to tell the truth, and—I always did like Peter for knocking off the ear of the high priest's servant. If only it had been the high priest's own ear! And so when the Rev. Mr.—no, I will not mention names; he was Brother Simmons's successor, that is what grieves me—when he found fault with the News for being on sale Sundays, if I remember rightly, and preached about it, announcing that "never in the most anxious days of the war had he looked in a newspaper on the Sabbath"; and when ill luck would have it that on the same Sunday I beheld his Reverence, who was a choleric man, hotly stoning a neighbor's hen from his garden, I drew editorial parallels which were not soothing to the reverend temper. What really ailed Mr.—- was that he was lacking in common sense, or he would never have called upon me with his whole board of deacons in the quiet of the Sunday noon, right after church, to demand a retraction. I have no hope that a sense of the humor of the thing found its way into the clerical consciousness when I replied that I never in the most exciting times transacted business on Sunday; for if it had, we would have been friends for life. But I know that it "struck in" in the case of the deacons. They went out struggling with their mirth behind their pastor's back. I think he restrained himself with difficulty from pronouncing the major excommunication against me, with bell, book, and candle, then and there.

About that time I saw advertised for sale a stereopticon outfit, and bought it without any definite idea of what to do with it. I suppose it ought to be set down as foolishness and a waste of money. And yet it was to play an important part in the real life-work that was waiting for me. Without the knowledge which the possession of it gave me, that work could not have been carried out as it was. That is not to say that I recommend every man to have a magic lantern in his cellar, or the promiscuous purchase of all sorts of useless things as though the world were a kind of providential rummage sale. I should rather say that no effort to in any way add to one's stock of knowledge is likely to come amiss in this world of changes and emergencies, and that Providence has a way of ranging itself on the side of the man with the strongest battalions of resources when the emergency does come. In other words, that to "trust God and keep your powder dry" is the plan for all time.

The process of keeping mine dry came near blowing up the house. My two friends, Mackellar and Wells, took a sympathetic interest in the lantern proceedings, which was well, because, being a druggist, Wells knew about making the gas and could prevent trouble on that tack. It was before the day of charged tanks. The gas we made was contained in wedge-shaped rubber bags, in a frame with weights on top that gave the necessary pressure. Mackellar volunteered to be the weight, and sat on the bags, at our first seance, while Wells superintended the gas and I read the written directions. We were getting along nicely when I came to a place enjoining great caution in the distribution of the weight. "You are working," read the text, "with two gases which, if allowed to mix in undue proportion, have the force and all the destructive power of a bombshell." Mackellar, all ear, from fidgeting fell into a tremble on his perch. He had not dreamed of this; neither had we. I steadied him with an imperative gesture.

"Sit still," I commanded. "Listen! 'If, by any wabbling of the rack, the pressure were to be suddenly relieved, the gas from one bag might be sucked into the other, with the result of a disastrous explosion.'"

We stood regarding each other in dumb horror. Mackellar was deathly pale.

"Let me off, boys," he pleaded faintly. "I've got to go to the station to turn out the men." He made a motion to climb down.

Wells had snatched the book from me. "Jack! for your life don't move!" he cried, and pointed to the next paragraph in the directions:—

"Such a thing has happened when the frame has been upset, or the weight in some other way suddenly shifted."

Mac sat as if frozen to stone. Ed and I sneaked out of the back door on tiptoe to make for downstairs, three steps at a time. In less time than it takes to tell it we were back, each with an armful of paving-stones, which we piled up beside our agonized comrade, assuring him volubly that there was no danger if he would only sit still, still as a mouse, till we came back. Then we were off again. The third trip gave us stones enough, and with infinite care we piled them, one after another, upon the rack as the Captain eased up, until at last he stood upon the floor, a freed and saved man. It was only then that it occurred to us that we might have turned off the gas in the first place, and so saved ourselves all our anguish and toil.

I can say honestly that I tried the best I knew how to get along with the politicians I served, but in the long run it simply could not be done. They treated me fairly, bearing no grudges. But it is one thing to run an independent newspaper, quite another to edit an "organ." And there is no deceiving the public. Not that I tried. Indeed, if anything, the shoe was on the other foot. We parted company eventually to our mutual relief, and quite unexpectedly I found my lantern turning the breadwinner of the family. The notion of using it as a means of advertising had long allured me. There was a large population out on Long Island that traded in Brooklyn stores and could be reached in that way. In fact, it proved to be so. I made money that fall travelling through the towns and villages and giving open-air exhibitions in which the "ads" of Brooklyn merchants were cunningly interlarded with very beautiful colored views, of which I had a fine collection. When the season was too far advanced to allow of this, I established myself in a window at Myrtle Avenue and Fulton Street and appealed to the city crowds with my pictures. So I filled in a gap of several months, while our people on the other side crossed themselves at my having turned street fakir. At least we got that impression from their letters. They were not to blame. That is their way of looking at things. A chief reason why I liked this country from the very beginning was that it made no difference what a man was doing, so long as it was some honest, decent work. I liked my advertising scheme. I advertised nothing I would not have sold the people myself, and I gave it to them in a way that was distinctly pleasing and good for them; for my pictures were real work of art, not the cheap trash you see nowadays on street screens.

The city crowds were always appreciative. In the country the hoodlums made trouble occasionally. We talk a great deal about city toughs. In nine cases out of ten they are lads of normal impulses whose resources have all been smothered by the slum; of whom the street and its lawlessness, and the tenement that is without a home, have made ruffians. With better opportunities they might have been heroes. The country hoodlum is oftener what he is because his bent is that way, though he, too, is not rarely driven into mischief by the utter poverty—aesthetically I mean—of his environment. Hence he shows off in his isolation so much worse than his city brother. It is no argument for the slum. It makes toughs, whereas the other is one in spite of his country home. That is to say, if the latter is really a home. There is only one cure then—an almighty thrashing.

There ought to be some ex-hoodlums left in Flushing to echo that sentiment, even after a quarter of a century. From certain signs I knew, when I hung my curtain between two trees in the little public park down by the fountain with the goldfish, that there was going to be trouble. My patience had been pretty well worn down, and I made preparations. I hired four stout men who were spoiling for a fight, and put good hickory clubs into their hands, bidding them restrain their natural desire to use them till the time came. My forebodings were not vain. Potatoes, turnips, and eggs flew, not only at the curtain, but at the lantern and me. I stood it until the Castle of Heidelberg, which was one of my most beautiful colored views, was rent in twain by a rock that went clear through the curtain. Then I gave the word. In a trice the apparatus was gathered up and thrown into a wagon that was waiting, the horses headed for Jamaica. We made one dash into the crowd, and a wail arose from the bruised and bleeding hoodlums that hung over the town like a nightmare, while we galloped out of it, followed by cries of rage and a mob with rocks and clubs. But we had the best team in town, and soon lost them.

Vengeance? No! Of course there was the ruined curtain and those eggs to be settled for; but, on the whole, I think we were a kind of village improvement society for the occasion, though we did not stay to wait for a vote of thanks. I am sure it was our due all the same.

Along in the summer of 1877 Wells and I hatched out a scheme of country advertising on a larger scale, of which the lantern was to be the vehicle. We were to publish a directory of the city of Elmira. How we came to select that city I have forgotten, but the upshot of that latest of my business ventures I am not likely to forget soon. Our plan was to boom the advertising end of the enterprise by a nightly street display in the interest of our patrons. We had barely got into town when the railroad strikes of that memorable summer reached Elmira. There had been dreadful trouble, fire and bloodshed, in Pennsylvania, and the citizens took steps at once to preserve the peace. A regiment of deputy sheriffs were sworn in, and the town was put under semi-martial law. Indeed, soldiers with fixed bayonets guarded every train and car that went over the bridge between the business section of the town and the railroad shops across the Chemung River.

Our ill luck—or good; when a thing comes upon you so unexpectedly as did that, I am rather disposed to consider it a stroke of good fortune, however disguised—would have it that the building we had chosen to hang our curtain on was right at the end of this bridge which seemed to be the danger point. From the other end the strikers looked across the river, hourly expected to make a movement of some kind, exactly what I don't know. I know that the whole city was on pins and needles about it, while we, all unconscious that we were the object of sharp scrutiny, were vainly trying to string our sixteen-foot curtain. There was a high wind that blew it out over the river despite all our efforts to catch and hold it. Twice it escaped our grasp. We could see a crowd of strikers watching us on the other side. The deputies who held our end of the bridge saw them too. We were strangers; came from no one knew where. They must have concluded that we were in league with the enemy and signalling to him. When for the third time our big white flag was wafted toward the shops, a committee of citizens came up from the street and let us know in as few words as possible that any other place would be healthier for us just then than Elmira.

In vain we protested that we were noncombatants and engaged in peaceful industry. The committee pointed to the flag and to the crowd at the farther end of the bridge. They eyed our preparations for making gas askance, and politely but firmly insisted that the next train out of town was especially suited for our purpose. There was nothing to be done. It was another case of circumstantial evidence, and in the absence of backing of any kind we did the only thing we could; packed up and went. It was not a time for trifling. The slaughter of a number of militiamen in a Pennsylvania round-house that was set on fire by the strikers was fresh in the public mind. But it was the only time I have been suspected of sympathy with violence in the settlement of labor disputes. The trouble with that plan is that it does not settle anything, but rakes up fresh injuries to rankle indefinitely and widen the gap between the man who does the work and the man who hires it done so that he may have time to attend to his own. Both workmen, they only need to understand each other and their common interests to see the folly of quarrelling. To do that they must know one another; but a blow and a kick are a poor introduction. I am not saying that the provocation is not sometimes great; but better not. It does not do any good, but a lot of harm. Besides, if we haven't got to the point yet where we can settle our disputes peaceably by discussion, the fault is not all the employers by any manner of means.

We jumped out of the ashes into the fire, as it turned out. At Scranton our train was held up. There were torpedoes on the track; rails torn up or something. For want of something better to do, we went out to take a look at the town. At the head of the main street was a big crowd. Untaught by experience, we bored our way through it to where a line of men with guns, some in their shirt-sleeves, some in office coats, some in dusters, were blocking advance to the coal company's stores. The crowd hung sullenly back, leaving a narrow space clear in front of the line. Within it a man—I learned afterward that he was the Mayor of the town—was haranguing the people, counselling them to go back to their homes quietly. Suddenly a brick was thrown from behind me and struck him on the head.

I heard a word of brief command, the rattle of a score of guns falling into as many extended hands, and a volley was fired into the crowd point blank, A man beside me weltered in his blood. There was an instant's dead silence, then the rushing of a thousand feet and wild cries of terror as the mob broke and fled. We ran with it. In all my life I never ran so fast. I would never have believed that I could do it. Ed teased me to the day of his death about it, insisting that one might have played marbles on my coat-tails, they flew out behind so. But he was an easy winner in that race. The riots were over, however, before they had begun, and perhaps a greater calamity was averted. It was the only time I was ever under fire, except once when a crazy man came into Mulberry Street years after and pointed a revolver at the reporters. I regret to say that I gave no better account of myself then, and for a man who was so hot to go to war I own it is a bad showing. Perhaps it was as well I didn't go, even on that account. I might have run the wrong way when it came to the scratch.

We were not yet done suffering undeserved indignities on that trip, for when we got as far as Stanhope, on the Morris and Essex road, our money had given out. I offered the station-master my watch as security for the price of two tickets to New York, but he bestowed only a contemptuous glance upon it and remarked that there were a good many fakirs running about the country palming off "snide" gold watches on people. Our lantern outfit found no more favor with him, and we were compelled to tramp it to the village in Schooley's Mountains where my wife was then summering with our baby. We walked all night, and when at dawn we arrived, had the mortification of being held up by the farmer's dog, who knew nothing about us. He walked alongside of me all that day, as I was pushing the baby-carriage up hill, eying me with a look that said plainly enough I had better not make a move to sneak away with the child. Wells went on to the city to replenish our funds.

And here I take leave of this loyal friend in the story of my life. A better one I never had. He lived to grow rich in possessions, but his wealth was his undoing. It is one of the sore spots in my life—and there are many more than I like to think of—that when he needed me most I was not able to be to him what I would and should have been. We had drifted too far apart then, and the influence I had over him once I had myself surrendered. It was so with Charles. It was so with Nicolai. They come, sometimes when I am alone, and nod to me out of the dim past: "You were not tempted. You should have helped!" Yes, God help me! it is true. I am more to blame than they. I should have helped and did not. What would I not give that I could unsay that now! Two of them died by their own hand, the third in Bloomingdale. I had been making several attempts to get a foothold on one of the metropolitan newspapers, but always without success. That fall I tried the Tribune, the city editor of which, Mr. Shanks, was one of my neighbors, but was told, with more frankness than flattery, that I was "too green." Very likely Mr. Shanks had been observing my campaign against the beats and thought me a dangerous man in those days of big libel suits. I should have done the same thing. But a few weeks after he changed his mind and invited me to come on the paper and try my hand. So I joined the staff of the Tribune five years after its great editor had died, a beaten and crushed man, one of the most pathetic figures in American political history.

They were not halcyon days, those winter months of reporting for the Tribune. I was on trial, and it was hard work and very little pay, not enough to live on, so that we were compelled to take to our little pile to make ends meet. But there was always a bright fire and a cheery welcome for me at home, so what did it matter? It was a good winter despite the desperate stunts sometimes set me. Reporters on general work do not sleep on flowery beds of ease. I remember well one awful night when word came of a dreadful disaster on the Coney Island shore. Half of it had been washed away by the sea, the report ran, with houses and people. I was sent out to get at the truth of the thing. I started in the early twilight and got as far as Gravesend. The rest of the way I had to foot it through snow and slush knee-deep in the face of a blinding storm, and got to Sheepshead Bay dead beat, only to find that the ice and the tide had shut off all approach to the island.

I did the next best thing; I gathered from the hotel-keepers of the Bay an account of the wreck on the beach that lacked nothing in vividness, thanks to their laudable desire not to see an enterprising reporter cheated out of his rightful "space." Then I hired a sleigh and drove home through the storm, wet through—"I can hear the water yet running out of your boots," says my wife—wet through and nearly frozen stiff, but tingling with pride at my feat.

The Tribune next day was the only paper that had an account of the tidal wave on the island. But something about it did not seem to strike the city editor just right. There was an unwonted suavity in his summons when he called me to his desk which I had learned to dread as liable to conceal some fatal thrust.

"So you went to the island last night, Mr. Riis," he observed, regarding me over the edge of the paper.

"No, sir! I couldn't get across; nobody could."

"Eh!" He lowered the paper an inch, and took a better look: "this very circumstantial account—"

"Was gathered from the hotel-keepers in Sheepshead Bay, who had seen it all. If there had been a boat not stove by the ice, I would have got across somehow."

Mr. Shanks dropped the paper and considered me almost kindly. I saw that he had my bill for the sleigh-ride in his hand.

"Right!" he said. "We'll allow the sleigh. We'll allow even the stove, to a man who owns he didn't see it, though it is pretty steep." He pointed to a paragraph which described how, after the wreck of the watchman's shanty, the kitchen stove floated ashore with the house-cat alive and safe upon it. I still believe that an unfriendly printer played me that trick.

"Next time," he added, dismissing me, "make them swear to the stove. There is no accounting for cats."

But, though I did not hear the last of it in the office for a long time, I know that my measure was taken by the desk that day. I was trusted after that, even though I had made a mistake.

In spite of it, I did not get on. There was not a living in it for me, that was made plain enough. We were too many doing general work. After six months of hard grubbing I decided that I had better seek my fortune elsewhere. Spring was coming, and it seemed a waste of time to stay where I was. I wrote out my resignation and left it on the city editor's desk. Some errand took me out of the office. When I returned it lay there still, unopened. I saw it, and thought I would try another week. I might make a strike. So I took the note away and tore it up, just as Mr. Shanks entered the room.

That evening it set in snowing at a great rate. I had been uptown on a late assignment, and was coming across Printing-House Square, running at top speed to catch the edition. The wind did its part. There is no corner in all New York where it blows as it does around the Tribune building. As I flew into Spruce Street I brought up smack against two men coming out of the side door. One of them I knocked off his feet into a snowdrift. He floundered about in it and swore dreadfully. By the voice I knew that it was Mr. Shanks. I stood petrified, mechanically pinning his slouch hat to the ground with my toe. He got upon his feet at last and came toward me, much wrought up.

"Who in thunder—" he growled angrily and caught sight of my rueful face. I was thinking I might as well have left my note on his desk that morning, for now I was going to be discharged anyhow.

"Is that the way you treat your city editor, Riis?" he asked, while I handed him his hat.

"It was the wind, sir, and I was running—"

"Running! What is up that set you going at that rate?"

I told him of the meeting I had attended—it was of no account—and that I was running to catch the edition. He heard me out.

"And do you always run like that when you are out on assignments?"

"When it is late like this, yes. How else would I get my copy in?"

"Well, just take a reef in when you round the corner," he said, brushing the snow from his clothes. "Don't run your city editor down again." And he went his way.

It was with anxious forebodings I went to the office the next morning. Mr. Shanks was there before me. He was dictating to his secretary, Mr. Taggart, who had been witness of the collision of the night before, when I came in. Presently I was summoned to his desk, and went there with sinking heart. Things had commenced to look up a bit in the last twenty-four hours, and I had hoped yet to make it go. Now, it was all over.

"Mr. Riis," he began stiffly, "you knocked me down last night without cause."

"Yes, sir! But I—" [ Illustration: Mulberry Street.]

"Into a snowdrift," he went on, unheeding. "Nice thing for a reporter to do to his commanding officer. Now, sir! this will not do. We must find some way of preventing it in the future. Our man at Police Headquarters has left. I am going to send you up there in his place. You can run there all you want to, and you will want to all you can. It is a place that needs a man who will run to get his copy in and tell the truth and stick to it. You will find plenty of fighting there. But don't go knocking people down—unless you have to."

And with this kind of an introduction I was sent off to Mulberry Street, where I was to find my life-work. It is twenty-three years since the day I took my first walk up there and looked over the ground that has since become so familiar to me. I knew it by reputation as the hardest place on the paper, and it was in no spirit of exultation that I looked out upon the stirring life of the block. If the truth be told, I think I was, if anything, a bit afraid. The story of the big fight the Tribune reporter was having on his hands up there with all the other papers had long been echoing through newspaperdom, and I was not deceived. But, after all, I had been doing little else myself, and, having given no offence, my cause would be just. In which case, what had I to fear? So in my soul I commended my work and myself to the God of battles who gives victory, and took hold.

Right here, lest I make myself appear better than I am, I want to say that I am not a praying man in the sense of being versed in the language of prayer or anything of that kind. I wish I were. So, I might have been better able to serve my unhappy friends when they needed me. Indeed, those who have known me under strong provocation—provocation is very strong in Mulberry Street—would scorn such an intimation, and, I am sorry to say, with cause. I was once a deacon, but they did not often let me lead in prayer. My supplications ordinarily take the form of putting the case plainly to Him who is the source of all right and all justice, and leaving it so. If I were to find that I could not do that, I should decline to go into the fight, or, if I had to, should feel that I were to be justly beaten. In all the years of my reporting I have never omitted this when anything big was on foot, whether a fire, a murder, a robbery, or whatever might come in the way of duty, and I have never heard that my reports were any the worse for it. I know they were better. Perhaps the notion of a police reporter praying that he may write a good murder story may seem ludicrous, even irreverent, to some people. But that is only because they fail to make out in it the human element which dignifies anything and rescues it from reproach. Unless I could go to my story that way I would not go to it at all. I am very sure that there is no irreverence in it—just the reverse.

So I dived in. But before I did it I telegraphed to my wife:—

"Got staff appointment. Police Headquarters. $25 a week. Hurrah!"

I knew it would make her happy.



CHAPTER IX

LIFE IN MULBERRY STREET



It was well that I stopped to make explanations before I took hold in my new office. Mighty little time was left me after. What the fight was about to which I fell heir I have long since forgotten. Mulberry Street in those days was prone to such things. Somebody was always fighting somebody else for some fancied injury or act of bad faith in the gathering of the news. For the time being they all made common cause against the reporter of the Tribune, who also represented the local bureau of the Associated Press. They hailed the coming of "the Dutchman" with shouts of derision, and decided, I suppose, to finish me off while I was new. So they pulled themselves together for an effort, and within a week I was so badly "beaten" in the Police Department, in the Health Department, in the Fire Department, the Coroner's office, and the Excise Bureau, all of which it was my task to cover, that the manager of the Press Bureau called me down to look me over. He reported to the Tribune that he did not think I would do. But Mr. Shanks told him to wait and see. In some way I heard of it, and that settled it that I was to win. I might be beaten in many a battle, but how could I lose the fight with a general like that?

And, indeed, in another week it was their turn to be called down to give an account of themselves. The "Dutchman" had stolen a march on them. I suppose it was to them a very astounding thing, yet it was perfectly simple. Their very strength, as they held it to be, was their weakness. They were a dozen against one, and each one of them took it for granted that the other eleven were attending to business and that he need not exert himself overmuch. A good many years after, I had that experience as a member of a board of twelve trustees, each one of whom had lent his name but not his work to the cause we were supposed to represent. When we met at the end of that season, and heard how narrow had been the escape from calamity due to utter lack of management, a good Methodist brother put in words what we were each and every one of us thinking about.

"Brethren," he said, "so far as I can make out, but for the interposition of a merciful Providence we should all be in jail, as we deserve. Let us pray!"

I think that prayer was more than lip-service with most of us. I know that I registered a vow that I would never again be trustee of anything without trusteeing it in fact. And I have kept the vow.



But to return to Mulberry Street. The immediate result of this first victory of mine was a whirlwind onslaught on me, fiercer than anything that had gone before. I expected it and met it as well as I could, holding my own after a fashion. When, from sheer exhaustion, they let up to see if I was still there, I paid them back with two or three "beats" I had stored up for the occasion. And then we settled down to the ten years' war for the mastery, out of which I was to come at last fairly the victor, and with the only renown I have ever coveted or cared to have, that of being the "boss reporter" in Mulberry Street. I have so often been asked in later years what my work was there [Footnote: I say was; only in the last twelvemonth have I grasped Mr. Dana's meaning in calling his reporters his "young men." They need to be that. I, for one, have grown too old.], and how I found there the point of view from which I wrote my books, that I suppose I shall have to go somewhat into the details of it.

The police reporter on a newspaper, then, is the one who gathers and handles all the news that means trouble to some one: the murders, fires, suicides, robberies, and all that sort, before it gets into court. He has an office in Mulberry Street, across from Police Headquarters, where he receives the first intimation of the trouble through the precinct reports. Or else he does not receive it. The police do not like to tell the public of a robbery or a safe "cracking," for instance. They claim that it interferes with the ends of justice. What they really mean is that it brings ridicule or censure upon them to have the public know that they do not catch every thief, or even most of them. They would like that impression to go out, for police work is largely a game of bluff. Here, then, is an opportunity for the "beats" I speak of. The reporter who, through acquaintance, friendship, or natural detective skill, can get that which it is the policy of the police to conceal from him, wins. It may seem to many a reader a matter of no great importance if a man should miss a safe-burglary for his paper; but reporting is a business, a very exacting one at that, and if he will stop a moment and think what it is he instinctively looks at first in his morning paper, even if he has schooled himself not to read it through, he will see it differently. The fact is that it is all a great human drama in which these things are the acts that mean grief, suffering, revenge upon somebody, loss or gain. The reporter who is behind the scenes sees the tumult of passions, and not rarely a human heroism that redeems all the rest. It is his task so to portray it that we can all see its meaning, or at all events catch the human drift of it, not merely the foulness and the reek of blood. If he can do that, he has performed a signal service, and his murder story may easily come to speak more eloquently to the minds of thousands than the sermon preached to a hundred in the church on Sunday.



Of the advantages that smooth the way to news-getting I had none. I was a stranger, and I was never distinguished for detective ability. But good hard work goes a long way toward making up for lack of genius; and I mentioned only one of the opportunities for getting ahead of my opponents. They were lying all about us. Any seemingly innocent slip sent out from the police telegraph office across the way recording a petty tenement-house fire might hide a fire-bug, who always makes shuddering appeal to our fears; the finding of John Jones sick and destitute in the street meant, perhaps, a story full of the deepest pathos. Indeed, I can think of a dozen now that did. I see before me, as though it were yesterday, the desolate Wooster Street attic, with wind and rain sweeping through the bare room in which lay dying a French nobleman of proud and ancient name, the last of his house. He was one of my early triumphs. New York is a queer town. The grist of every hopper in the world comes to it. I shall not soon forget the gloomy tenement in Clinton Street where that day a poor shoemaker had shot himself. His name, Struensee, had brought me over. I knew there could not be such another. That was where my Danish birth stood me in good stead. I knew the story of Christian VII.'s masterful minister; of his fall and trial on the charge of supplanting his master in the affections of the young and beautiful Queen, sister of George III. Very old men told yet, when I was a boy, of that dark day when the proud head fell under the executioner's axe in the castle square—dark for the people whose champion Struensee had tried to be. My mother was born and reared in the castle at Elsinore where the unhappy Queen, disgraced and an outcast, wrote on the window-pane of her prison cell: "Lord, keep me innocent; make others great." It was all a familiar story to me, and when I sat beside that dead shoemaker and, looking through his papers, read there that the tragedy of a hundred years before was his family story, I knew that I held in my hands the means of paying off all accumulated scores to date.

Did I settle in full? Yes, I did. I was in a fight not of my own choosing, and I was well aware that my turn was coming. I hit as hard as I knew how, and so did they. When I speak of "triumphs," it is professionally. There was no hard-heartedness about it. We did not gloat over the misfortunes we described. We were reporters, not ghouls. There lies before me as I write a letter that came in the mail this afternoon from a woman who bitterly objects to my diagnosis of the reporter's as the highest and noblest of all callings. She signs herself "a sufferer from reporters' unkindness," and tells me how in the hour of her deep affliction they have trodden upon her heart. Can I not, she asks, encourage a public sentiment that will make such reporting disreputable? All my life I have tried to do so, and, in spite of the evidence of yellow journalism to the contrary, I think we are coming nearer to that ideal; in other words, we are emerging from savagery. Striving madly for each other's scalps as we were, I do not think that we scalped any one else unjustly. I know I did not. They were not particularly scrupulous, I am bound to say. In their rage and mortification at having underestimated the enemy, they did things unworthy of men and of reporters. They stole my slips in the telegraph office and substituted others that sent me off on a wild-goose chase to the farthest river wards in the midnight hour, thinking so to tire me out. But they did it once too often. I happened on a very important case on such a trip, and made the most of it, telegraphing down a column or more about it from the office, while the enemy watched me helplessly from the Headquarters' stoop across the way. They were gathered there, waiting for me to come back, and received me with loud and mocking ahems! and respectfully sympathetic toots on a tin horn, kept for that purpose. Its voice had a mournful strain in it that was especially exasperating. But when, without paying any attention to them, I busied myself with the wire at once, and kept at it right along, they scented trouble, and consulted anxiously among themselves. My story finished, I went out and sat on my own stoop and said ahem! in my turn in as many aggravating ways as I could. They knew they were beaten then, and shortly they had confirmation of it. The report came in from the precinct at 2 A.M., but it was then too late for their papers, for there were no telephones in those days. I had the only telegraph wire. After that they gave up such tricks, and the Tribune saved many cab fares at night; for there were no elevated railroads, either, in those days, or electric or cable cars.

On the other hand, this enterprise of ours was often of the highest service to the public. When, for instance, in following up a case of destitution and illness involving a whole family, I, tracing back the origin of it, came upon a party at which ham sandwiches had been the bill of fare, and upon looking up the guests, found seventeen of the twenty-five sick with identical symptoms, it required no medical knowledge, but merely the ordinary information and training of the reporter, to diagnose trichinosis. The seventeen had half a dozen different doctors, who, knowing nothing of party or ham, were helpless, and saw only cases of rheumatism or such like. I called as many of them as I could reach together that night, introduced them to one another and to my facts, and asked them what they thought then. What they thought made a sensation in my paper the next morning, and practically decided the fight, though the enemy was able to spoil my relish for the ham by reporting the poisoning of a whole family with a dish of depraved smelt while I was chasing up the trichinae. However, I had my revenge. I walked in that afternoon upon Dr. Cyrus Edson at his microscope surrounded by my adversaries, who besought him to deny my story. The doctor looked quizzically at them and made reply:—

"I would like to oblige you, boys, but how I can do it with those fellows squirming under the microscope I don't see. I took them from the flesh of one of the patients who was sent to Trinity Hospital to-day. Look at them yourself."

He winked at me, and, peering into his microscope, I saw my diagnosis more than confirmed. There were scores of the little beasts curled up and burrowing in the speck of tissue. The unhappy patient died that week.

We had our specialties in this contest of wits. One was distinguished as a sleuth. He fed on detective mysteries as a cat on a chicken-bone. He thought them out by day and dreamed them out by night, to the great exasperation of the official detectives, with whom their solution was a commercial, not in the least an intellectual, affair. They solved them on the plane of the proverbial lack of honor among thieves, by the formula, "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours."

Another came out strong on fires. He knew the history of every house in town that ran any risk of being burned; knew every fireman; and could tell within a thousand dollars, more or less, what was the value of the goods stored in any building in the dry-goods district, and for how much they were insured. If he couldn't, he did anyhow, and his guesses often came near the fact, as shown in the final adjustment. He sniffed a firebug from afar, and knew without asking how much salvage there was in a bale of cotton after being twenty-four hours in the fire. He is dead, poor fellow. In life he was fond of a joke, and in death the joke clung to him in a way wholly unforeseen. The firemen in the next block, with whom he made his headquarters when off duty, so that he might always be within hearing of the gong, wished to give some tangible evidence of their regard for the old reporter, but, being in a hurry, left it to the florist, who knew him well, to choose the design. He hit upon a floral fire-badge as the proper thing, and thus it was that when the company of mourners was assembled, and the funeral service in progress, there arrived and was set upon the coffin, in the view of all, that triumph of the florist's art, a shield of white roses, with this legend written across it in red immortelles: "Admit within fire lines only." It was shocking, but irresistible. It brought down even the house of mourning.

The incident recalls another, which at the time caused me no little astonishment. A telegram from Long Branch had announced the drowning of a young actor, I think, whose three sisters lived over on Eighth Avenue. I had gone to the house to learn about the accident, and found them in the first burst of grief, dissolved in tears. It was a very hot July day, and to guard against sunstroke I had put a cabbage-leaf in my hat. On the way over I forgot all about it, and the leaf, getting limp, settled down snugly upon my head like a ridiculous green skullcap. Knowing nothing of this, I was wholly unprepared for the effect my entrance, hatless, had upon the weeping family. The young ladies ceased crying, stared wildly, and then, to my utter bewilderment, broke into hysterical laughter. For the moment I thought they had gone mad. It was only when in my perplexity I put up my hand to rub my head, that I came upon the cause of the strange hilarity. For years afterward the thought of it had the same effect upon me that the cabbage-leaf produced so unexpectedly in that grief-stricken home.

I might fill many pages with such stories, but I shall not attempt it. Do they seem mean and trifling in the retrospect? Not at all. They were my work, and I liked it. And I got a good deal of fun out of it from time to time. I mind Dr. Bryant's parrot story. Dr. Joseph D. Bryant was Health Commissioner at the time, and though we rarely agreed about anything—there is something curious about that, that the men I have thought most of were quite often those with whom I disagreed ordinarily about everything—I can say truly that there have been few better Health Commissioners, and none for whom I have had a more hearty respect and liking. Dr. Bryant especially hated reporters. He wras built that way; he disliked notoriety for himself and his friends, and therefore, when one of these complained of a neighbor's parrot to the Health Department, he gave strict orders that the story was to be guarded from the reporters, and particularly from me, who had grieved him more than once by publishing things which, in his opinion, I ought to have said nothing about. I heard of it within the hour, and promptly set my wit against the Doctor's to unearth the parrot.



But it would not come out. Dig as I might, I could not get at it. I tried every way, while the Doctor laughed in his sleeve and beamed upon me. At last, in desperation, I hit upon a bold plan. I would get it out of the Doctor himself. I knew his hours for coming to Sanitary Headquarters—from his clinics, I suppose. He always came up the stairs absorbed in thought, noticing nothing that passed. I waylaid him in the turn of the dark hall, and before he had time to think plumped at him an—

"Oh, Doctor! about that parrot of your friend—er—er, oh! what was his name?"

"Alley," said the Doctor, mechanically, and went in, only half hearing what I said. I made for the city directory. There were four Alleys in it. In an hour I had located my man, and the next morning's Tribune had a column account of the tragedy of the parrot.

The Doctor was very angry. He went to Headquarters and summoned me solemnly before the assembled Board. The time had come, he said, to have an explanation from me as to who it was that gave me information against orders and the public interest. Evidently there was a traitor in camp, by whatever means I had procured his treachery.

In vain did I try to show the Doctor how unprofessional my conduct would be in betraying my informant, even how contemptible. He was inexorable. This time I should not escape, nor my accomplice either. Out with it, and at once. With a show of regretful resignation I gave in. For once I would break my rule and "tell on" my informant. I thought I detected a slight sneer on the Doctor's lip as he said that was well; for he was a gentleman, every inch of him, and I know he hated me for telling. The other Commissioners looked grave.

"Well, then," I said, "the man who gave me the parrot story was—you, Dr. Bryant."

The Doctor sat bolt upright with a jerk. "No bad jokes, Mr. Riis," he said. "Who gave you the story?"

"Why, you did. Don't you remember?" And I told how I waylaid him in the hall. His face, as the narrative ran on, was a study. Anger, mirth, offended pride, struggled there; but the humor of the thing got the upper hand in the end, and the one who laughed loudest in the Board room was Dr. Bryant himself. In my soul I believe that he was not a little relieved, for under a manner of much sternness he had the tenderest of hearts.

But it was not always I who came out ahead in the daily encounters which made up the routine of my day. It was an important part of my task to be on such terms with the heads of departments that they would talk freely to us so that we might know in any given case, or with reference to the policy of the department, "where we were at." I do not mean talk for publication. It is a common mistake of people who know nothing about the newspaper profession that reporters flit about public men like so many hawks, seizing upon what they can find to publish as their lawful prey. No doubt there are such guerrillas, and they have occasionally more than justified their existence; but, as applied to the staff reporters of a great newspaper, nothing could be farther from the truth. The department reporter has his field as carefully laid out for him every day as any physician who starts out on his route, and within that field, if he is the right sort of man, he is friend, companion, and often counsellor to the officials with whom he comes in contact—always supposing that he is not fighting them in open war. He may serve a Republican paper and the President of the Police Board may be a Democrat of Democrats; yet in the privacy of his office he will talk as freely to the reporter as if he were his most intimate party friend, knowing that he will not publish what is said in confidence. This is the reporter's capital, without which he cannot in the long run do business.

I presume he is sometimes tempted to gamble with it for a stake. I remember well when the temptation came to me once after a quiet hour with Police Commissioner Matthews, who had been telling me the inside history of an affair which just then was setting the whole town by the ears. I told him that I thought I should have to print it; it was too good to keep. No, it wouldn't do, he said. I knew well enough he was right, but I insisted; the chance was too good a one to miss. Mr. Matthews shook his head. He was an invalid, and was taking his daily treatment with an electric battery while we talked and smoked. He warned me laughingly against the consequences of what I proposed to do, and changed the subject.

"Ever try these?" he said, giving me the handles. I took them, unsuspecting, and felt the current tingle in my finger-tips. The next instant it gripped me like a vice. I squirmed with pain.

"Stop!" I yelled, and tried to throw the things away; but my hands crooked themselves about them like a bird's claws and held them fast. They would not let go. I looked at the Commissioner. He was studying the battery leisurely, and slowly pulling out the plug that increased the current.

"For mercy's sake, stop!" I called to him. He looked up inquiringly.

"About that interview, now," he drawled. "Do you think you ought to print—"

"Wow, wow! Let go, I tell you!" It hurt dreadfully. He pulled the thing out another peg.

"You know it wouldn't do, really. Now, if—" He made as if to still further increase the current. I surrendered.

"Let up," I begged, "and I will not say a word. Only let up."

He set me free. He never spoke of it once in all the years I knew him, but now and again he would offer me, with a dry smile, the use of his battery as "very good for the health." I always declined with thanks.



I got into Mulberry Street at what might well be called the heroic age of police reporting. It rang still with the echoes of the unfathomed Charley Ross mystery. That year occurred the Stewart grave robbery and the Manhattan Bank burglary—three epoch-making crimes that each in its way made a sensation such as New York has not known since. For though Charley Ross was stolen in Philadelphia, the search for him centered in the metropolis. The three-million-dollar burglary within the shadow of Police Headquarters gave us Inspector Byrnes, who broke up the old gangs of crooks and drove those whom he did not put in jail over the sea to ply their trade in Europe. The Stewart grave robbery ended the career of the ghouls, and the Charley Ross case put a stop to child-stealing for a generation, by making those crimes unprofitable. The public excitement was so great that it proved impossible for the thieves to deliver the goods and effect the change for ransom. At intervals for years these cases kept turning up in one new phase or another. You could never tell where to look for them. Indeed, I have to thank the Stewart ghouls for the first public recognition that came to me in those early years of toil. Of all the mysteries that ever vexed a reporter's soul, that was the most agonizing. The police, most of the time, were as much in the dark as the rest of us, and nothing was to be got from that source. Heaven knows I tried. In our desperation we caught at every straw. One stormy night in the hottest of the excitement Judge Hilton, who had offered the $50,000 reward for the stolen body on behalf of Mrs. Stewart, went to Headquarters and stayed an hour in the detective office. When he came out, he was attended by two of the oldest and ablest detectives. Clearly something big was on foot. They were just like so many sphinxes, and went straight to the carriage that waited at the Mulberry Street door. I do not know how it ever entered my head; perhaps it didn't at all, but was just done mechanically. The wind had blown out the lamp on the steps, and the street was in profound darkness. As they stepped into the carriage, I, with only the notion in my head that here was news which must be got somehow, went in last and sank down in the vacant seat, pulling the door to after me. The carriage went on. To my intense relief, it rounded the corner. I was undiscovered! But at that moment it came to a sudden stop. An invisible hand opened the door, and, grasping my collar, gently but firmly propelled me into the street and dropped me there. Then the carriage went on. Not a word had been spoken. They understood and so did I. It was enough.



But, as I said, I had my revenge. It came when the opposition reporters, believing the mystery to be near its solution, [Footnote: This was, as nearly as I remember, in the autumn of 1879, the year following the robbery] entered into a conspiracy to forestall it and deliberately invented the lines of the coming denouement. Day by day they published its progress "upon the authority of a high official" who never existed, announcing that "behind each one of the grave-robbers stood a detective with uplifted hand" ready to arrest him when the word was given. It was truly the dawn of yellow journalism. With such extraordinary circumstantiality were the accounts given that for once my office wavered in its faith in Ensign and me. Amos Ensign was my partner at the time, a fine fellow and a good reporter. If we turned out to be wrong, we were given to understand our careers on the Tribune would be at an end. I slept little or none during that month of intense work and excitement, but spent my days as my nights sifting every scrap of evidence. There was nothing to justify the stories, and we maintained in our paper that they were lies. Mr. Shanks himself left the city desk and came up to work with us. His head, too, would fall, we heard, if his faith in the police office had been misplaced. The bubble burst at last, and, as we expected, there was nothing in it. The Tribune was justified. The opposition reporters were fined or suspended. Ensign and I were made much of in the office. I have still the bulletin in which Mr. Shanks spoke of me as the man whose work had done much to "make the Tribune police reports the best in the city." Sweet comfort for "the Dutchman"! My salary was raised, but that was of less account. We had saved the day and the desk. After that it was not all pulling up-stream in Mulberry Street. Nothing in this world succeeds like success.

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