It was a knock-out blow. Classification by measurement had ceased at the first broadside; the last gave us the truant school which the law demanded. To make the most of it, we shall apparently have to have a new deal. I tried to persuade the Children's Aid Society to turn its old machinery to this new work. Perhaps the George Junior Republic would do better still. When there is room for every boy on the school bench, and room to toss a ball when he is off it, there will not be much left of that problem to wrestle with; but little or much, the peril of the prison is too great to be endured for a moment.
It must have been about that time that I received a letter from an old friend who was in high glee over a statement in some magazine that I had evolved a "scientific theory" as to why boys go to the bad in cities. It was plain that he was as much surprised as he was pleased, and so was I when I heard what it was all about. That which they had pitched upon as science and theory was the baldest recital of the facts as seen from Mulberry Street. Beyond putting two and two together, there was very little reasoning about it. That such conditions as were all about us should result in making "toughs" of the boys was not strange. Rather, it would have been strange had anything else come of it. With the home corrupted by the tenement; the school doors closed against them where the swarms were densest, and the children thrown upon the street, there to take their chance; with honest play interdicted, every natural right of the child turned into a means of oppression, a game of ball become a crime for which children were thrust into jail, indeed, shot down like dangerous criminals when running away from the policeman who pursued them;[Footnote: Such a case occurred on Thanksgiving Day, 1897. A great public clamor arose and the policeman was sent to Sing Sing.] with dead-letter laws on every hand breeding blackmail and bringing the police and authority into disrepute; with the lawlessness of the street added to want of rule at home, where the immigrant father looked on helpless, himself dependent in the strange surroundings upon the boy and no longer his master—it seemed as if we had set out to deliberately make the trouble under which we groaned. And we were not alone in it. The shoe fits every large city more or less snugly. I know, for I have had a good deal to do with fitting it on the last two or three years; and often, when looking my audience over in lecturing about Tony and his hardships, I am thinking about Mulberry Street and the old days when problems, civic or otherwise, were farthest from my mind in digging out the facts that lay ready to the hand of the police reporter.
In him as a reporter there may be no special virtue; but there is that in his work, in the haste and the directness of it, which compels him always to take the short cut and keeps it clear of crankery of every kind. The "isms" have no place in a newspaper office, certainly not in Mulberry Street. I confess I was rather glad of it. I had no stomach for abstract discussions of social wrongs; I wanted to right those of them that I could reach. I wanted to tear down the Mulberry Bend and let in the light so that we might the more readily make them out; the others could do the rest then. I used to say that to a very destructive crank who would have nothing less, upon any account, than the whole loaf. My "remedies" were an abomination to him. The landlords should be boiled in oil to a man; hanging was too good for them. Now he is a Tammany officeholder in a position where propping up landlord greed is his daily practice and privilege, and he thrives upon it. But I ought not to blame him. It is precisely because of his kind that Tammany is defenceless against real reform. It never can make it out. That every man has his price is the language of Fourteenth Street. They have no dictionary there to enable them to understand any other; and as a short cut out of it they deny that there is any other.
It helped me vastly that my associations in the office were most congenial. I have not often been in accord with the editorial page of my own paper, the Sun. It seemed as if it were impossible for anybody to get farther apart in their views of most things on the earth and off it than were my paper and I. It hated and persecuted Beecher and Cleveland; they were my heroes. It converted me to Grant by its opposition to him. The sign "Keep off the grass!" arouses in its editorial breast no desire to lock up the man who planted it; it does in mine. Ten years and more I have striven in its columns to make the tenement out a chief device of the devil, and it must be that I have brought some over to my belief; but I have not converted the Sun. So that on the principle which I laid down before that I must be always fighting with my friends, I ought to have had a mighty good time of it there. And so in fact I did. They let me have in pretty nearly everything my own way, though it led us so far apart. As time passed and the duties that came to me took more and more of my time from my office work, I found that end of it insensibly lightened to allow me to pursue the things I believed in, though they did not. No doubt the old friendship that existed between my immediate chief on the Evening Sun, William McCloy, and myself, bore a hand in this. Yet it could not have gone on without the assent and virtual sympathy of the Danas, father and son; for we came now and then to a point where opposite views clashed and proved irreconcilable. Then I found these men, whom some deemed cynical, most ready to see the facts as they were, and to see justice done.
I like to think of my last meeting with Charles A. Dana, the "Old Chief" as he was always called in the office. In all the years I was on the Sun I do not think I had spoken with him a half dozen times. When he wanted anything of me personally, his orders were very brief and to the point. It was generally something—a report to be digested or the story of some social experiment—which showed me that in his heart he was faithful to his early love; he had been in his youth, as everybody knows, an enthusiastic reformer, a member of the Brook Farm Community. But if he thought I saw, he let no sign escape him. He hated shams; perhaps I was on trial all the time. If so, I believe that he meant to tell me in that last hand-shake that he had not found me wanting. It was on the stairs in the Sun office that we met. I was going up; he was coming down—going home to die. He knew it. In me there was no suspicion of the truth when I came upon him at the turn of the stairs, stumbling along in a way very unlike the usual springy step of the Old Chief. I hardly knew him when he passed, but as he turned and held out his hand I saw that it was Mr. Dana, looking somehow older than I had ever seen him, and changed. I took off my hat and we shook hands.
"Well," he said, "have you reformed everything to suit you, straightened out every kink in town?"
"Pretty nearly," I said, falling into his tone of banter; "all except the Sun office. That is left yet, and as bad as ever."
"Ha!" he laughed, "you come on! We are ready for you. Come right along!" And with another hearty hand-shake he was gone. He never saw the Sun office again.
It was the only time he had ever held out his hand to me, after that first meeting of ours when I was a lonely lad, nearly thirty years before. That time there was a dollar in it and I spurned it. This time I like to believe his heart was in it. And I took it gladly and gratefully.
The police helped—sometimes. More frequently we were at odds, and few enough in the rank and file understood that I was fighting for them in fighting the department. A friend came into my office, laughing, one day, and told me that he had just overheard the doorman at Police Headquarters say, as he saw me pass:—
"Ugh! the hypocrite! See him take off his hat and then lay us out cold in his paper when he gets the chance."
He referred to my old-country habit of raising the hat in salutation instead of merely nodding or touching the brim. No doubt he expressed a feeling that was quite general at the time. But after Mulberry Street had taken notice of Roosevelt's friendship for me there was a change, and then it went to the other extreme. It never quite got over the fact that he did not "ring me in" on President McKinley and the Government, or at least make me his private secretary and deputy boss of the Empire State while he was Governor. The Mulberry Street idea of friendship includes the loaves and fishes first and last, and "pull" is the Joss it worships. In fact I had several times to explain that Mr. Roosevelt had not "gone back on me" to save his political reputation. When at a public meeting he once spoke of me as his friend, a dozen policemen brought me copies of the paper containing "the notice," with a frankly expressed wish to be remembered when I came into my own, About that time, being in the neighborhood, I strayed into the Bend one day to enjoy the sunlight there and the children sporting in it. At the curb stood a big policeman leisurely peeling an orange, to which he had helped himself from a cringing Italian's cart. I asked him how were things in the Bend since the park had come. He eyed me very coldly, and said, "Bad, very bad." At that I expressed my astonishment, saying that I was a reporter at Police Headquarters and had understood differently.
"What paper?" he grunted insolently. I told him. He bestowed a look of mingled pity and contempt upon me.
"Nix! mine friend," he said, spreading his feet farther apart and tossing the peel at the Italian, who grinned with delight at such condescension. I regarded him expectantly. He was a very aggravating chap.
"Did you say you were at Police Headquarters—for the Sun?" he observed at length.
"Yes!" He shook his head.
"Nixie! not guilty!" he said tauntingly.
"Why, what do you mean?"
"Haven't you heard of Mr. Riis, Jacob Riis?"
I said I had.
"The Governor's friend?"
"Yes; what of it?"
"Well, ain't he at Headquarters for the Sun?"
I said that was so.
I took out my card and handed it to him. "I am that man," I said.
For a fraction of a second the policeman's jaw dropped; but he was a thoroughbred. His heels came together before, as it seemed, he could have read my name; he straightened up. The half-peeled orange fell from his hand and rolled into the gutter, covertly speeded by a dextrous little kick. The unhappy Italian, believing it a mishap, made haste to select the biggest and juiciest fruit on his stand, and held it out with a propitiatory bow, but he spurned him haughtily away.
"These dagoes," he said, elaborately placing my card in the sweat-band of his hat, "ain't got no manners. It's a hard place for a good man down here. It's time I was a roundsman. You can do it. You've got de 'pull.'"
When Roosevelt had gone to Washington to help fit out the navy for the war with Spain, I spent a part of the winter there with him, and Mulberry Street took it for granted that I had at last been "placed" as I should have been long before. There was great amazement when I came back to take my old place. The truth was that I had gone partly to observe what went on at the capital for my paper, and partly to speed on the war, in which I was a hearty believer from the first. It was to me a means, first and last, of ending the murder in Cuba. One of the very earliest things I had to do with as a reporter was the Virginius massacre, and ever since it had been bloodshed right along. It was time to stop it, and the only way seemed to wrest the grip of Spain from the throat of the island. I think I never quite got over the contempt I conceived for Spain and Spanish ways when I read as a boy, in Hans Christian Andersen's account of his travels in the country of the Dons, that the shepherds brought butter from the mountains in sheep's intestines and measured them off in lengths demanded by the customers by tying knots upon them. What was to be expected from a country that sold butter by the yard? As the event showed, it ran its navies after the same fashion and was justly punished. I made friends that winter with Dr. Leonard Wood, whom we all came to know and admire afterwards as General and Governor Wood; and a fine fellow he was. He was Roosevelt's friend and physician, and we spent many strenuous hours together, being in that mood.
For the third time in my life, and the last, I wanted to go to the war, when they went, and oh! so badly. Not to fight,—I had had all I needed of that at home,—but to tell the truth about what was going on in Cuba. The Outlook offered me that post, and the Sun agreed heartily; but once more the door was barred against me. Two of my children had scarlet fever, my oldest son had gone to Washington trying to enlist with the Rough Riders, and the one next in line was engineering to get into the navy on his own hook. My wife raised no objection to my going, if it was duty; but her tears fell silently—and I stayed. It was "three times and out." I shall never go to the war now unless in defence of my own home, which may God forbid. Within a year I knew that, had I gone then, I should most likely not have returned. I had received notice that to my dreams of campaigning in that way there was an end. Thankful that I had been spared, I yet took leave of them with a sigh; most illogically, for I hate the sight of human suffering and of brutal passions aroused. But deep down in my heart there is the horror of my Viking forefathers of dying in bed, unable to strike back, as it were. I know it is wicked and foolish, but all my life I have so wished to get on a horse with a sword, and slam in just once, like another Sheridan. I, who cannot sit on a horse! Even the one Roosevelt got me at Montauk that was warranted "not to bite or scratch" ran away with me. So it is foolishness, plain to see. Yet, so I might have found out which way I would really have run when the call came. I do hope the right way, but I never have felt quite sure.
The casualties of war are not all on the battlefield. The Cuban campaign wrecked a promising career as a foreign correspondent which I had been building up for some ten or fifteen years with toilsome effort. It was for a Danish newspaper I wrote with much approval, but when the war came, they did not take the same view of things that I did, and fell to suppressing or mutilating my letters, whereupon our connection ceased abruptly. My letters were, explained the editor to me a year or two later when I saw him in Copenhagen, so—er—r—ultra-patriotic, so—er-r—youthful in their enthusiasm, that—huh! I interrupted him with the remark that I was glad we were young enough yet in my country to get up and shout for the flag in a fight, and left him to think it over. They must have aged suddenly over there, for they were not that way when I was a boy. The real fact was that somehow they could not get it into their heads that a European bully could be whipped in one round by "the States." They insisted on printing ridiculous despatches about Spanish victories. I think there was something about codfish, too, something commercial about corks and codfish—Iceland keeping Spain on a fish diet in Lent, in return for which she corked the Danish beer—I have forgotten the particulars. The bottom fact was a distrust of the United States that was based upon a curiously stubborn ignorance, entirely without excuse in a people of high intelligence like the Danes. I tried hard as a correspondent to draw a reasonable, human picture of American affairs, but it seemed to make no impression. They would jump at the Munchausen stories that are always afloat, as if America were some sort of menagerie and not a Christian country. I think nothing ever aggravated me as did an instance of that kind the year Ben Butler ran for the Presidency. I had been trying in my letters to present the political situation and issues fairly, and was beginning to feel that they must understand, when I received a copy of my paper from Copenhagen and read there a "life" of General Butler, which condensed, ran something like this:—
"Mr. Butler was an ambitious young lawyer, shrewd and full of bold schemes for enriching himself. When the war with the South broke out, he raised all the money he could and fitted out a fleet of privateers. With this he sailed for New Orleans, captured the city, and, collecting all the silver spoons it contained, freighted his vessels with them, and returned to the North. Thus he laid the foundation for his great fortune, but achieved lasting unpopularity in the South, which will prevent his election to the Presidency."
I am not joking. That was how the story of the silver spoons looked in Danish a quarter of a century after the war. Really, now, what would you have done? I laughed and—well! made remarks by turns, and in the end concluded that there was nothing else that could be done except buckle to and try again; which I did.
If I could not go to the war, I could at least go electioneering with Roosevelt when he came back and try to help him out the best I knew how in matters that touched the poor and their life, once he sat in Cleveland's chair in Albany. I do not think he felt that as an added dignity, but I did and I told him so, whereat he used to laugh a little. But there was nothing to laugh at. They are men of the same stamp, not saints any more than the rest of us, but men with minds and honest wills, if they have different ways of doing things. I wish some Cleveland would come along again soon and give me another chance to vote the ticket which Tammany obstructs with its impudent claim that it is the Democratic party. As for Roosevelt, few were nearer to him, I fancy, than I, even at Albany. No doubt he made his mistakes like the rest of us, and when he did there were not wanting critics to make the most of it. I wish they had been half as ready to lend him a hand. We might have been farther on the road then. I saw how faithfully he labored. I was his umpire with the tailors, with the drug clerks, in the enforcement of the Factory Law against sweaters, and I know that early and late he had no other thought than how best to serve the people who trusted him. I want no better Governor than that, and I guess we shall want him a long time before we get one as good.
I found out upon our electioneering tours that I was not a good stump-speaker, especially on the wing with five-minute stops of the train. It used to pull out with me inwardly raging, all the good things I meant to say unsaid. The politicians knew that trick better, and I left the field to them speedily. Thereafter I went along just for company. Only two or three times did I rise to the occasion. Once when I spoke in the square at Jamestown, N.Y., where I had worked as a young lad and trapped muskrats in the creek for a living. The old days came back to me as I looked upon that mighty throng, and the cheers that arose from it told me that I had "caught on." I was wondering whether by any chance the old ship captain who finished me as a lecturer once was in it, but he was not; he was dead. Another time was in Flushing, Long Island. There was not room in the hall, and they sent me out to talk to the crowd in the street. The sight of it, with the flickering torchlight upon the sea of upturned faces, took me somehow as nothing ever had, and the speech I made from the steps, propped up by two policemen, took the crowd, too; it cheered so that Roosevelt within stopped and thought some enemy had captured the meeting. When he was gone, with the spirit still upon me I talked to the meeting in the hall till it rose and shouted. My political pet enemy from Richmond Hill was on the platform and came over to embrace me. We have been friends since. The memory of that evening lingers yet in Flushing, I am told.
A picture from that day's trip through Long Island will ever abide on my mind. The train was about to pull out from the station in Greenport, when the public school children came swarming down to see "Teddy." He leaned out from the rear platform, grasping as many of the little hands as he could, while the train hands did their best to keep the track clear. Way back in the jostling, cheering crowd I made out the slim figure of a pale, freckled little girl in a worn garment, struggling eagerly but hopelessly to get near him. The stronger children pushed her farther back, and her mournful face was nearly the last of them all when Roosevelt saw her. Going down the steps even as the train started, he made a quick dash, clearing a path through the surging tide to the little girl, and taking her hand, gave it the heartiest shake of all, then sprinted for the departing car and caught it. The last I saw of Greenport was the poor little girl holding tight the hand her hero had shaken, with her face all one sunbeam of joy.
I know just how she felt, for I have had the same experience. One of the things I remember with a pleasure which the years have no power to dim is my meeting with Cardinal Gibbons some years ago. They had asked me to come to Baltimore to speak for the Fresh Air Fund, and to my great delight I found that the Cardinal was to preside. I had always admired him at a distance, but during the fifteen minutes' talk we had before the lecture he won my heart entirely. He asked me to forgive him if he had to go away before I finished my speech, for he had had a very exhausting service the day before, "and I am an old man, on the sunny side of sixty," he added as if in apology.
"On the shady side, you mean," amended the Presbyterian clergyman who was on the committee. The Cardinal shook his head, smiling.
"No, doctor! The sunny side—nearer heaven."
The meeting was of a kind to inspire even the dullest speaker. When I finished my plea for the children and turned around, there sat the Cardinal yet behind me, though it was an hour past his bedtime. He came forward and gave me his blessing then and there. I was never so much touched and moved. Even my mother, stanch old Lutheran that she is, was satisfied when I told her of it, though, in the nature of things, the idea of her son consorting in that way with principalities and powers in the enemy's camp must have been a shock to her.
Speaking of which, reminds me of the one brief glimpse into the mysteries of the universe I had while in Galesburg, Ill., the same year. I had been lecturing at Knox College, of which my friend John Finley was the President. It rained before the meeting, but when we came out, the stars shone brightly, and I was fired with a sudden desire to see them through the observatory telescope. The professor of astronomy took me into the dark dome and pointed the glass at Saturn, which I knew as a scintillating point of light, said to be a big round ball like our earth, and had taken on trust as a matter of course. But to see it hanging there, white and big as an apple, suspended within its broad and shining ring, was a revelation before which I stood awe-stricken and dumb. I gazed and gazed; between the star and its ring I caught the infinite depth of black space beyond; I seemed to see almost the whirl, the motion; to hear the morning stars sing together—and then like a flash it was gone. Crane my neck on my ladder as I might I could not get sight of it.
"But where did she go?" I said, half to myself. Far down in the darkness came the old professor's deep voice:—
"That time you saw the earth move."
And so I did. The clockwork that made the dome keep up with the motion of the stars—of our world rather—had run down, and when Saturn passed out of my sight, as I thought, it was the earth instead which I literally saw move.
And now that I am on my travels let me cross the ocean long enough to say that my digging among the London slums one summer only served to convince me that their problem is the same as ours, and is to be solved along the same lines. They have their ways, and we have ours, and each has something to learn from the other. We copied our law that enabled us to tear down slum tenements from the English statute under which they cleared large areas over yonder long before we got to work. And yet in their poor streets—in "Christian Street" of all places—I found families living in apartments entirely below the sidewalk grade. I found children poisoned by factory fumes in a charitable fold, and people huddled in sleeping-rooms as I had never seen it in New York. And when I asked why the police did not interfere, they looked at me, uncomprehending, and retorted that they were on their own premises—the factory, too—and where did the police come in? I told them that in New York they came in when and where they saw fit, and systematically in the middle of the night so that they might get at the exact facts. As for our cave-dwellers, we had got rid of them a long time since by the simple process of dragging out those who wouldn't go and shutting the cellar doors against them. It had to be done and it was done, and it settled the matter.
"I thought yours was a free country," said my policeman conductor.
"So it is," I told him, "freedom to poison yourself and your neighbor excepted." He shook his head, and we went on.
But these were mere divergences of practice. The principle is not affected. It was clear enough that in London, as in New York, it was less a question of transforming human nature in the tenant than of reforming it in the landlord; At St. Giles I found side by side with the work-house a church, a big bath and wash-house, and a school. It was the same at Seven Dials. At every step it recalled the Five Points. To the one as to the other, steeped in poverty and crime, had come the road-builder, the missionary, the school-teacher, and let light in together. And in their track was following, rather faster there than here as yet, the housing reformer with his atoning scheme of philanthropy and five per cent. That holds the key. In the last analysis it is a question of how we rate the brotherhood, what per cent we will take. My neighbor at table in my London boarding-house meant that, though he put it in a way all his own. He was a benevolent enough crank, but no friend of preaching. Being a crank, he condemned preachers with one fell swoop:—
"The parsons!" he said; "my 'evings, what hare they? In hall me life hi've known only two that were fit to be in the pulpit."
Returning to my own country, I found the conviction deepening wherever the slum had got a grip, that it was the problem not only of government but of humanity. In Chicago they are setting limits to it with parks and playgrounds and the home restored. In Cincinnati, in Cleveland, in Boston, they are bestirring themselves. Indeed, in Boston they have torn down more foul tenements than did we in the metropolis, and with less surrender to the slum landlord. In New York a citizens' movement paved the way for the last Tenement-House Commission, which has just finished its great work, and the movement is warrant that the fruits of that work will not be lost. Listen to the arraignment of the tenement by that Commission, appointed by the State:—
"All the conditions which surround childhood, youth, and womanhood in New York's crowded tenement quarters make for unrighteousness. They also make for disease. ... From the tenements there comes a stream of sick, helpless people to our hospitals and dispensaries... from them also comes a host of paupers and charity seekers. Most terrible of all... the fact that, mingled with the drunken, the dissolute, the improvident, the diseased, dwell the great mass of the respectable workingmen of the city with their families."
This after all the work of twenty years! Yet the work was not wasted, for at last we see the truth. Seeing, it is impossible that the monstrous wrong should go unrighted and government of the people endure, as endure it will, I know. We have only begun to find out what it can do for mankind in the day when we shall all think enough about the common good, the res publica, to forget about ourselves.
In that day, too, the boss shall have ceased from troubling. However gross he wax in our sight, he has no real substance. He is but an ugly dream of political distemper. Sometimes when I hear him spoken of with bated breath, I think of the Irish teamster who went to the priest in a fright; he had seen a ghost on the church wall as he passed it in the night.
"And what was it like?" asked the priest.
"It was like nothing so much as a big ass," said Patrick, wide-eyed.
"Go home, Pat! and be easy. You've seen your own shadow."
But I am tired now and want to go home to mother and rest awhile.
WHEN I WENT HOME TO MOTHER
There was a heavy step on the stairs, a rap that sounded much as if an elephant had knocked against the jamb in passing, and there in the door stood a six-foot giant, calmly surveying me, as if I were a specimen bug stuck on a pin for inspection, instead of an ordinary man-person with no more than two legs.
"Well?" I said, groping helplessly among the memories of the past for a clew to the apparition. Somewhere and sometime I had seen it before; that much I knew and no more.
The shape took a step into the room. "I am Jess," it said simply, "Jess Jepsen from Lustrup."
"Lustrup!" I pushed back papers and pen and strode toward the giant to pull him up to the light. Lustrup! Talk about seven league boots! that stride of mine was four thousand miles long, if it was a foot. It spanned the stormy Atlantic and the cold North Sea and set me down in sight of the little village of straw-thatched farm-houses where I played in the long ago, right by the dam in the lazy brook where buttercups and forget-me-nots nodded ever over the pool, and the pewit built its nest in spring. Just beyond, the brook issued forth from the meadows to make a detour around the sunken walls of the old manse and lose itself in the moor that stretched toward the western hills. Lustrup! Oh, yes! I pushed my giant into a chair so that I might have a look at him.
He was just like the landscape of his native plain; big and calm and honest. Nothing there to hide; couldn't if it tried. And, like his village, he smelled of the barn-yard. He was a driver, he told me, earning wages. But he had his evenings to himself; and so he had come to find, through me, a school where he might go and learn English. Just so! It was Lustrup all over. I remembered as though it were yesterday the time I went up to have a look at the dam I hadn't seen for thirty years, and the sun-fish and the pewit so anxiously solicitous for her young, and found the brook turned aside and the western earth-wall of the manse, which it skirted, all gone; and the story the big farmer, Jess Jepsen's father, told me with such quiet pride, standing there, of how because of trouble made by the Germans at the "line" a mile away the cattle business had run down and down until the farm didn't pay; how he and "the boy" unaided, working patiently year by year with spade and shovel, had dug down the nine acres of dry upland, moved the wall into the bottoms and turned the brook, making green meadow of the sandy barren, and saving the farm. The toil of twenty years had broken the old man's body, but his spirit was undaunted as ever. There was a gleam of triumph in his eye as he shook his fist at the "line" post on the causeway. "We beat them," he said; "we did."
They did. I had heard it told many times how this brave little people, driven out of the German market, had conquered the English and held it against the world, three times in one man's lifetime making a new front to changed industrial conditions; turning from grain-raising to cattle on the hoof, again to slaughtered meat, and once more to dairy-farming, and holding always their own. How, robbed of one-third of their country by a faithless foe, they had set about with indomitable energy to reclaim the arid moor, and in one generation laid under the plough or planted as woodland as great an area as that which had been stolen from them. Ay, it was a brave record, a story to make one proud of being of such a people. I, too, heard the pewit's plaint in my childhood and caught the sun-fish in the brook. I was a boy when they planted the black post at the line and watered it with the blood of my countrymen. Gray-haired and with old-time roots in a foreign soil, I dream with them yet of the day that shall see it pulled up and hurled over the river where my fathers beat back the southern tide a thousand years.
Jess? He went away satisfied. He will be there, when needed. His calm eyes warranted that. And I—I went back to the old home, to Denmark and to my mother; because I just couldn't stay away any longer.
We had wandered through Holland, counting the windmills, studying the "explications" set forth in painfully elaborate English on its old church walls with the information for travellers that further particulars were to be obtained of the sexton, who might be found with the key "in the neighborhood No. 5." We had argued with the keeper of the Prinzenhof in Delft that William the Silent could not possibly have been murdered as he said he was—that he must have come down the stairs and not gone across the hall when the assassin shot him, as any New York police reporter could tell from the bullet-hole that is yet in the wall—and thereby wounding his patriotic pride so deeply that an extra fee was required to soothe it. I caught him looking after us as we went down the street and shaking his head at those "wild Americans" who accounted nothing holy, not even the official record of murder done while their ancestors were yet savages roaming the plains. We had laughed at the coal-heavers on the frontier carrying coal in baskets up a ladder to the waiting engine and emptying it into the fender. And now, after parting company with my fellow-traveller at Hamburg, I was nearing the land where once more I should see old Dannebrog, the flag that fell from heaven with victory to the hard-pressed Danes. Literally out of the sky it fell in their sight, the historic fact being apparently that the Christian bishops had put up a job with the Pope to wean the newly converted Danes away from their heathen pirate flag and found their opportunity in one of the crusades the Danes undertook on their own hook into what is now Prussia. The Pope had sent a silken banner with the device of a white cross in red, and at the right moment, when the other was taken, the priest threw it down from a cliff into the thick of the battle and turned its tide. Ever after, it was the flag of the Danes, and their German foes had reason to hate it. Here in Slesvig, through which I was travelling, to display it was good cause for banishment. But over yonder, behind the black post, it was waiting, and my heart leaped to meet it. Have I not felt the thrill, when wandering abroad, at the sight of the stars and stripes suddenly unfolding, the flag of my home, of my manhood's years and of my pride? Happy he who has a flag to love. Twice blest he who has two, and such two.
We have yet a mile to the frontier and, with the panorama of green meadows, of placid rivers, and of long-legged storks gravely patrolling the marshes in search of frogs and lizards, passing by our car-window, I can stop to tell you how this filial pride in the flag of my fathers once betrayed me into the hands of the Philistines. It was in London, during the wedding of the Duke of York. The king and queen of Denmark were in town, and wherever one went was the Danish flag hung out in their honor. Riding under one on top of a Holborn bus, I asked a cockney in the seat next to mine what flag it was. I wanted to hear him praise it, that was why I pretended not to know. He surveyed it with the calm assurance of his kind, and made reply:—
"That, ah, yes! It is the sign of St. John's hambulance corps, the haccident flag, don't you know," and he pointed to an ambulance officer just passing with the cross device on his arm. The Dannebrog the "haccident flag"! What did I do? What would you have done? I just fumed and suppressed as well as I could a desire to pitch that cockney into the crowds below, with his pipe and his miserable ignorance. But I had to go down to do it.
But there is the hoary tower of the old Domkirke in which I was baptized and confirmed and married, rising out of the broad fields, and all the familiar landmarks rushing by, and now the train is slowing up for the station, and a chorus of voices shout out the name of the wanderer. There is mother in the throng with the glad tears streaming down her dear old face, and half the town come out to see her bring home her boy, every one of them sharing her joy, to the very letter-carrier who brought her his letters these many years and has grown fairly to be a member of the family in the doing of it. At last the waiting is over, and her faith justified. Dear old mother! Gray-haired I return, sadly scotched in many a conflict with the world, yet ever thy boy, thy home mine. Ah me! Heaven is nearer to us than we often dream on earth.
How shall I tell you of the old town by the North Sea that was the home of the Danish kings in the days when kings led their armies afield and held their crowns by the strength of their grip? Shall I paint to you the queer, crooked streets with their cobblestone pavements and tile-roofed houses where the swallow builds in the hall and the stork on the ridge-pole, witness both that peace dwells within? For it is well known that the stork will not abide with a divided house; and as for the swallow, a plague of boils awaits the graceless hand that disturbs its nest. When the Saviour hung upon the cross, did it not perch upon the beam and pour forth its song of love and pity to His dying ear, "Soothe Him! soothe Him"? The stork from the meadow cried, "Strength Him! strength Him!" but the wicked pewit, beholding the soldiers with their spears, cried, "Pierce Him! pierce Him!" Hence stork and swallow are the friends of man, while the pewit dwells in exile, fleeing ever from his presence with its lonesome cry.
Will you wander with me through the fields where the blue-fringed gentian blooms with the pink bell-heather, and the bridal torch nods from the brook-side, bending its stately head to the west wind that sweeps ever in from the sea with touch as soft as of a woman's hand? Flat and uninteresting? Yes, if you will. If one sees only the fields. My children saw them and longed back to the hills of Long Island; and in their cold looks I felt the tugging of the chain which he must bear through life who exiled himself from the land of his birth, however near to his heart that of his choice and his adoption. I played in these fields when I was a boy. I fished in these streams and built fires on their banks in spring to roast potatoes in, the like of which I have never tasted since. Here I lay dreaming of the great and beautiful world without, watching the skylark soar ever higher with its song of triumph and joy, and here I learned the sweet lesson of love that has echoed its jubilant note through all the years, and will until we reach the golden gate, she and I, to which love holds the key.
Uninteresting! Say you so? But linger here with me, casting for pickerel among the water-lilies until the sun sets red and big over the sea yonder, and you shall see a light upon these meadows where the grass is as fine silk, that is almost as if it were not of earth. And as we walk home through the long Northern twilight, listening to the curlew's distant call; with the browsing sheep looming large against the horizon upon the green hill where stood the old kings' castle, and the gray Dom rearing its lofty head over their graves, teeming with memories of centuries gone and past, you shall learn to know the poetry of this Danish summer that holds the hearts of its children with such hoops of steel.
At the south gate the "gossip benches" are filled. The old men smoke their pipes and doff their caps to "the American" with the cheery welcome of friends who knew and spanked him with hearty good will when as "a kid" he absconded with their boats for a surreptitious expedition up to the lake. Those boats! heavy, flat-bottomed, propelled with a pole that stuck in the mud and pulled them back half the time farther than they had gone. But what fun it was! In after years a steam whistle woke the echoes of these quiet waters. It was the first one, and the last. The railroad, indeed, came to town, long after I had grown to be a man, and a cotton-mill interjected its bustle into the drowsy hum of the waterwheels that had monopolized the industry of the tovn before, disturbing its harmony for a season. But the steamboat had no successors.
The river that had once borne large ships gradually sanded up at the mouth, and nothing heavier than a one-masted lighter has come up, in the memory of man, to the quay where grass grows high among the cobblestones and the lone customs official smokes his pipe all day long in unbroken peace. The steamer was a launch of the smallest. It had been brought across country on a wagon. Some one had bought it at an auction for a lark; and a huge lark was its year on the waters of the Nibs River. The whole town took a sail in it by turns, always with one aft whose business it was to disentangle the rudder from the mass of seaweed which with brief intervals suspended progress, and all hands ready to get out and lift the steamer off when it ran on a bank.
There came a day when a more than commonly ambitious excursion was undertaken, even to the islands in the sea, some six or seven miles from the town. The town council set out upon the journey, with the rector of the Latin School and the burgomaster, bargaining for dinner on their return at dusk. But it was destined that those islands should remain undiscovered by steam and the dinner uneaten. Barely outside, the tide left it high and dry upon the sands. It was then those Danes showed what stuff there was in them. The water would not be back to lift them off for six hours and more. They indulged in no lamentations, but sturdily produced the schnapps and sandwiches without which no Dane is easily to be tempted out of sight of his home: the rector evolved a pack of cards from the depths of his coat pocket, and upon the sandbank the party camped, playing a cheerful game of whist until the tide came back and bore them home.
The night comes on. The people are returning from their evening constitutional, walking in the middle of the street and taking off their hats to their neighbors as they pass. It is their custom, and the American habit of nodding to friends is held to be evidence of backwoods' manners excusable only in a people so new. In the deep recesses of the Domkirke dark shadows are gathering. The tower clock peals forth. At the last stroke the watchman lifts up his chant in a voice that comes quavering down from bygone ages:—
Ho, watchman! heard ye the clock strike ten? This hour is worth the know—ing Ye house-holds high and low, The time is here and go—ing When ye to bed should go; Ask God to guard, and say A—men! Be quick and bright, Watch fire and light, our clock just now struck ten.
I shall take his advice. But first I must go to the shoe-store to get a box of polish for my russet shoes. Unexpectedly I found it for sale there. I strike the storekeeper in an ungracious mood. He objects to being bothered about business just when he is shutting up shop.
"There," he says, handing me the desired box. "Only one more left; I shall presently have to send for more. Twice already have I been put to that trouble. I don't know what has come over the town." And he slams down the shutter with a fretful jerk. I grope my way home in Egyptian darkness, thanking in my heart the town council for its forethought in painting the lamp-posts white. It was when a dispute sprang up about the price of gas, or something. Danish disputes are like the law the world over, slow of gait; and it was in no spirit of mockery that a resolution was passed to paint the lamp-posts white, pending the controversy, so that the good people in the town might avoid running against them in the dark and getting hurt, if by any mischance they strayed from the middle of the road.
Bright and early the next morning I found women at work sprinkling white sand in the street in front of my door, and strewing it with winter-green and twigs of hemlock. Some one was dead, and the funeral was to pass that way. Indeed they all did. The cemetery was at the other end of the street. It was one of the inducements held out to my mother she told me, when father died, to move from the old home into that street. Now that she was quite alone, it was so "nice and lively; all the funerals passed by." The one buried that day I had known, or she had known me in my boyhood, and it was expected that I would attend. My mother sent the wreath that belongs,—there is both sense and sentiment in flowers at a funeral when they are wreathed by the hands of those who loved the dead, as is still the custom here; none where they are bought at a florist's and paid for with a growl,—and we stood around the coffin and sang the old hymns, then walked behind it, two by two, men and women, to the grave, singing as we passed through the gate.
"Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust." The clods rang upon the coffin with almost cheerful sound, for she whose mortal body lay within was full of years and very tired. The minister paused. From among the mourners came forth the nearest relative and stood by the grave, hat in hand. Ours were all off. "From my heart I thank you, neighbors all," he said, and it was over. We waited to shake hands, to speculate on the weather, safe topic even at funerals; then went each to his own.
I went down by the cloister walk and sat upon a bench and thought of it all. The stork had built its nest there on the stump of a broken tree, and was hatching its young. The big bird stood on one leg and looked down upon me out of its grave, unblinking eye as it did forty years ago when we children sang to it in the street the song about the Pyramids and Pharaoh's land. The town lay slumbering in the sunlight and the blossoming elders. The far tinkle of a bell came sleepily over the hedges. Once upon a time it called the monks to prayers. Ashes to ashes! They are gone and buried with the dead past. To-day it summons the Latin School boys to recitations. I shuddered at the thought. They had at the school, when the bell called me with the rest, a wretched tradition that some king had once expressed wonder at the many learned men who came from the Latin School. And the rector told him why.
"We have near here," he said, "a little birch forest. It helps, your Majesty, it helps." Faithfully did it play its part in my day, though I cannot bear witness that it helped. But its day passed, too, and is gone. The world moves and all the while forward. Not always with the speed of the wind; but it moves. The letter-carrier on his collecting rounds with his cart has stopped at the bleaching yard where his wife and little boy are hanging out washing. He lights his pipe and, after a brief rest to take breath, turns to helping the gude-wife hang the things on the line. Then he packs the dry clothes in his cart, puts the boy in with them and, puffing leisurely at his pipe, lounges soberly homeward. There is no hurry with the mail.
There is not. It was only yesterday that, crossing the meadows on a "local," I found the train pulling up some distance from the village to let an old woman, coming puffing and blowing from a farm-house with a basket on her arm, catch up.
"Well, mother, can she hurry a bit?" spake the conductor when she came within hearing. They address one another in the third person out of a sort of neighborly regard, it appears.
"Now, sonny," responded the old woman, as she lumbered on board, "don't I run as fast as I can?"
"And has she got her fare, now?" queried the conductor.
"Why, no, sonny; how should I have that till I've been in to sell my eggs?" and she held up the basket in token of good faith.
"Well, well," growled the other, "see to it that she doesn't forget to pay it when she comes back." And the train went on.
Time to wait! The deckhand on the ferry-boat lifts his hat and bids you God speed, as you pass. The train waits for the conductor to hear the station-master's account of that last baby and his assurance that the mother is doing well. The laborer goes on strike when his right is questioned to stop work to take his glass of beer between meals; the telegraph messenger, meeting the man for whom he has a message, goes back home with him "to hear the news." It would not be proper to break it in the street. I remember once coming down the chain of lakes in the Jutland peninsula on a steamer that stopped at an out-of-the-way landing where no passengers were in waiting. One, a woman, was made out, though, hastening down a path that lost itself in the woods a long way off. The captain waited. As she stepped aboard another woman appeared in the dim distance, running, too. He blew his whistle to tell her he was waiting, but said nothing. When she was quite near the steamer, a third woman turned into the path, bound, too, for the landing. I looked on in some fear lest the steamboat man should lose his temper at length. But not he. It was only when a fourth and last woman appeared like a whirling speck in the distance, with the three aboard making frantic signals to her to hurry, that he showed signs of impatience. "Couldn't she," he said, with some asperity, as she flounced aboard, "couldn't she get here sooner?"
"No," she said, "I couldn't. Didn't you see me run?" And he rang the bell to start the boat.
Time to wait! In New York I have seen men, in the days before the iron gates were put on the ferry-boats, jump when the boat was yet a yard from the landing and run as if their lives depended on it; then, meeting an acquaintance in the street, stop and chat ten minutes with him about nothing. How much farther did they get than these? When all Denmark was torn up last summer by a strike that involved three-fourths of the working population and extended through many months, to the complete blocking of all industries, not a blow was struck or an ill word spoken during all the time, determined as both sides were. No troops or extra police were needed. The strikers used the time to attend university extension lectures, visit museums and learn something useful. The people, including many of the employers, contributed liberally to keep them from starving. It was a war of principles, and it was fought out on that line, though in the end each gave in to something. Yes, it is good, sometimes, to take time to think, even if you cannot wait for the tide to float you off a sandbank. Though what else they could have done, I cannot imagine.
That night there was a great to-do in the old town. The target company had its annual shoot, and the target company included all of the solid citizens of the town. The "king," who had made the best score, was escorted with a band to the hotel on the square opposite the Dom, and made a speech from a window, adorned with the green sash of his office, and flanked by ten tallow dips by way of illumination. And the people cheered. Yes! it was petty and provincial and all that. But it was pleasant and neighborly, and oh! how good for a tired man.
When I was rested, I journeyed through the islands to find old friends, and found them. The heartiness of the welcome that met me everywhere! No need of their telling me they were glad to see me. It shone out of their faces and all over them. I shall always remember that journey: the people in the cars that were forever lunching and urging me to join in, though we had never met before. Were we not fellow-travellers? How, then, could we be strangers? And when they learned I was from New York, the inquiries after Hans or Fritz, somewhere in Nebraska or Dakota. Had I ever met them? and, if I did, would I tell them I had seen father, mother, or brother, and that they were well? And would I come and stay with them a day or two? It was with very genuine regret that I had mostly to refuse. My vacation could not last forever. As it was, I packed it full enough to last me for many summers. Of all sorts of things, too. Shall I ever forget that ride on the stage up the shore-road from Elsinore, which I made outside with the driver, a slow-going farmer who had conscientious scruples, so it seemed, against passing any vehicle on the road and preferred to take the dust of them all, until we looked like a pair of dusty millers up there on the box. To my protests he turned an incredulous ear, remarking only that there was always some one ahead, which was a fact. When at last we drew near our destination he found himself a passenger short. After some puzzled inquiry of the rest he came back and, mounting to his seat beside me, said quietly: "One of them fell out on his head, they say, down the road. I had him to deliver at the inn, but it can't be blamed on me, can it?"
He was not the only philosopher in that company. Inside rode two passengers, one apparently an official, sheriff, or something, the other a doctor, who debated all the way the propriety of uniforming the physician in attendance upon executions. The sheriff evidently considered such a step an invasion of his official privilege. "Why," cried the doctor, "it is almost impossible now to tell the difference between the doctor and the delinquent." "Ah, well," sighed the other, placidly settling back in his seat. "Just let them once take the wrong man, then we shall see."
Through forest and field, over hill and vale, by the still waters where far islands lay shimmering upon the summer sea like floating fairy-lands, into the deep, gloomy moor went my way. The moor was ever most to my liking. I was born on the edge of it, and once its majesty has sunk into a human soul, that soul is forever after attuned to it. How little we have the making of ourselves. And how much greater the need that we should make of that little the most. All my days I have been preaching against heredity as the arch-enemy of hope and effort, and here is mine, holding me fast. When I see, rising out of the dark moor, the lonely cairn that sheltered the bones of my fathers before the White Christ preached peace to their land, a great yearning comes over me. There I want to lay mine. There I want to sleep, under the heather where the bees hum drowsily in the purple broom at noonday and white shadows walk in the night. Mist from the marshes they are, but the people think them wraiths. Half heathen yet, am I? Yes, if to yearn for the soil whence you sprang is to be a heathen, heathen am I, not half, but whole, and will be all my days.
But not so. He is the heathen who loves not his native land. Thor long since lost his grip on the sons of the vikings. Over the battlefield he drives his chariot yet, and his hammer strikes fire as of old. The British remember it from Nelson's raid on Copenhagen; the Germans felt it in 1849, and again when in the fight for very life the little country held its own a whole winter against two great powers on rapine bent; felt it at Helgoland where its sailors scattered their navies and drove them from the sea, beaten. Yet never did the White Christ work greater transformation in a people, once so fierce, now so gentle unless when fighting for its firesides. Forest and field teem with legends that tell of it; tell of the battle between the old and the new, and the victory of peace. Every hilltop bears witness to it.
Here by the wayside stands a wooden cross. All the country-side knows the story of "Holy Andrew," the priest whose piety wrought miracles far and near. Once upon a time, runs the legend, he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and was left behind by his companions because he would not sail, be wind and tide ever so fair, without first going to mass to pray for a safe journey. When, his devotions ended, he went to the dock, he saw only the sail of the departing craft sinking below the horizon. Overcome by grief and loneliness, he stood watching it, thinking of friends at home whom he might never again see, when a horseman reined in his steed and bade him mount with him; he would see him on his way. Andrew did, and fell asleep in the stranger's arms. When he awoke he lay on this hill, where the cross has stood ever since, heard the cattle low and saw the spire of his church in the village where the vesper bells were ringing. Many months went by before his fellow-pilgrims reached home. Holy Andrew lived six hundred years ago. A masterful man was he, beside a holy one, who bluntly told the king the truth when he needed it, and knew how to ward the faith and the church committed to his keeping. By such were the old rovers weaned from their wild life. What a mark he left upon his day is shown yet by the tradition that disaster impends if the cross is allowed to fall into decay. Once when it was neglected, the cattle-plague broke out in the parish and ceased, says the story, not until it was restored, when right away there was an end.
Holy Andrew's church still stands over yonder. Not that one with the twin towers. That has another story to tell, one that was believed to be half or wholly legend, too, until a recent restoration of it brought to light under the whitewash of the reformation mural paintings which furnished the lacking proof that it was all true. It was in the days of Holy Andrew that the pious knight, Sir Asker Ryg, going to the war, told the lady Inge to build a new church. The folk-song tells what was the matter with the old one "with wall of clay, straw-thatched and grim":—
The wall it was mouldy and foul and green, And rent with a crack full deep; Time gnaweth ever with sharper tooth, Leaves little to mend, I ween.
Nothing was left to mend in the church of Fjenneslev, so she must build a new. "It is not fitting," says the knight in the song, "to pray to God in such a broken wrack. The wind blows in and the rain drips":—
Christ has gone to His heavenly home; No more a manger beseems Him.
"And," he whispers to her at the leave-taking, "an' thou bearest to our house a boy, build a tower upon the church; if a daughter come, build but a spire. A man must fight his way, but humility becomes a woman."
Then the fight, and the return with victory; the impatient ride that left all the rest behind as they neared home, the unspoken prayer of the knight as he bent his head over the saddle-bow, riding up the hill over the edge of which the church must presently appear, that it might be a tower; and his "sly laugh" when it comes into view with two towers for one. Well might he laugh. Those twin brothers became the makers of Danish history in its heroic age; the one a mighty captain, the other a great bishop, King Valdemar's friend and counsellor, who fought when there was need "as well with sword as with book." Absalon left the country Christian to the core. It was his clerk, Saxo, surnamed Grammaticus because of his learning, who gave to the world the collection of chronicles and traditionary lore to which we owe our Hamlet.
The church stands there with its two towers. They made haste to restore them when they read in the long-hidden paintings the story of Sir Asker's return and gratitude, just as tradition had handed it down from the twelfth century. It is not the first time the loyal faith of the people has proved a better guide than carping critics, and likely it will not be the last.
I rediscovered on that trip the ancient bellwoman, sole advertising medium before the advent of the printing-press, the extinct chimney-sweep, the ornamental policeman who for professional excitement reads detective novels at home, and the sacrificial rites of—of what or whom I shall leave unsaid. But it must have been an unconscious survival of something of the sort that prompted the butcher to adorn with gay ribbons the poor nag led to the slaughter in the wake of the town drummer. He designed it as an advertisement that there would be fresh horse-meat for sale that day. The horse took it as a compliment and walked in the procession with visible pride. And I found the church in which no collection was ever taken. It was the very Dom in my own old town. The velvet purses that used to be poked into the pews on Sundays on long sticks were missing, and I asked about them. They had not used them in a long time, said the beadle, and added, "It was a kind of Catholic fashion anyway, and no good." The pews had apparently suspected as much, and had held haughtily aloof from the purses. That may have been another reason for their going.
The old town ever had its own ways. They were mostly good ways, though sometimes odd. Who but a Ribe citizen would have thought of Knud Clausen's way of doing my wife honor on the Sunday morning when, as a young girl, she went to church to be confirmed? Her father and Knud were neighbors and Knud's barn-yard was a sore subject between them, being right under the other's dining-room window. He sometimes protested and oftener offered to buy, but Knud would neither listen nor sell. But he loved the ground his neighbor's pretty daughter walked upon, as did, indeed, every poor man in the town, and on her Sunday he showed it by strewing the offensive pile with fresh cut grass and leaves, and sticking it full of flowers. It was well meant, and it was Danish all over. Stick up for your rights at any cost. These secure, go any length to oblige a neighbor.
Journeying so, I came from the home of dead kings at last to that of the living,—old King Christian, beloved of his people,—where once my children horrified the keeper of Rosenborg Palace by playing "the Wild Man of Borneo" with the official silver lions in the great knights' hall. And I saw the old town no more. But in my dreams I walk its peaceful streets, listen to the whisper of the reeds in the dry moats about the green castle hill, and hear my mother call me once more her boy. And I know that I shall find them, with my lost childhood, when we all reach home at last.
THE AMERICAN MADE
LONG ago, when I found my work beginning to master me, I put up a nest of fifty pigeonholes in my office so that with system I might get the upper hand of it; only to find, as the years passed, that I had got fifty tyrants for one. The other day I had to call in a Hessian to help me tame the pigeonholes. He was a serious library person, and he could not quite make out what it meant when among such heads as "Slum Tenements," "The Bend," and "Rum's Curse," he came upon this one over one of the pigeonholes:—
Him all that goodly company Did as deliverer hail. They tied a ribbon round his neck, Another round his tail.
With all his learning, his education was not finished, for he had missed the "delectable ballad of the Waller lot" and Eugene Field's account of the dignities that were "heaped upon Clow's noble yellow pup," else he would have understood. The pigeonhole contained most of the "honors" that have come to me of late years,—the nominations to membership in societies, guilds, and committees, in conventions at home and abroad,—most of them declined, as I declined Governor Roosevelt's request that I should serve on the last Tenement-House Commission, for the reason which I have given heretofore, that to represent is not my business. To write is; I can do it much better and back up the other; so we are two for one. Not that I would be understood as being insensible of the real honor intended to be conferred by such tokens. I do not hold them lightly. I value the good opinion of my fellow-men, for with it comes increased power to do things. But I would reserve the honors for those who have fairly earned them, and on whom they sit easy. They don't on me. I am not ornamental by nature. Now that I have told all there is to tell, the reader is at liberty to agree with my little boy concerning the upshot of it. He was having a heart-to-heart talk with his mother the other day, in the course of which she told him that we must be patient; no one in the world was all good except God.
"And you," said he, admiringly. He is his father's son.
She demurred, but he stoutly maintained his own.
"I'll bet you," he said, "if you were to ask lots of people around here they would say you were fine. But"—he struggled reflectively with a button—"Gee! I can't understand why they make such a fuss about papa."
Out of the mouth of babes, etc. The boy is right. I cannot either, and it makes me feel small. I did my work and tried to put into it what I thought citizenship ought to be, when I made it out. I wish I had made it out earlier for my own peace of mind. And that is all there is to it.
For hating the slum what credit belongs to me? Who could love it? When it comes to that, perhaps it was the open, the woods, the freedom of my Danish fields I loved, the contrast that was hateful. I hate darkness and dirt anywhere, and naturally want to let in the light. I will have no dark corners in my own cellar; it must be whitewashed clean. Nature, I think, intended me for a cobbler, or a patch-tailor. I love to mend and make crooked things straight. When I was a carpenter I preferred to make an old house over to building a new. Just now I am trying to help a young couple set up in the laundry business. It is along the same line; that is the reason I picked it out for them. If any of my readers know of a good place for them to start I wish they would tell me of it. They are just two—young people with the world before them. My office years ago became notorious as a sort of misfit shop where things were matched that had got mislaid in the hurry and bustle of life, in which some of us always get shoved aside. Some one has got to do that, and I like the job; which is fortunate, for I have no head for creative work of any kind. The publishers bother me to write a novel; editors want me on their staffs. I shall do neither, for the good reason that I am neither poet, philosopher, nor, I was going to say, philanthropist; but leave me that. I would love my fellow-man. For the rest I am a reporter of facts. And that I would remain. So, I know what I can do and how to do it best.
We all love power—to be on the winning side. You cannot help being there when you are fighting the slum, for it is the cause of justice and right. How then can you lose? And what matters it how you fare, your cause is bound to win. I said it before, but it will bear to be said again, not once but many times: every defeat in such a fight is a step toward victory, taken in the right spirit. In the end you will come out ahead. The power of the biggest boss is like chaff in your hands. You can see his finish. And he knows it. Hence, even he will treat you with respect. However he try to bluff you, he is the one who is afraid. The ink was not dry upon Bishop Potter's arraignment of Tammany bestiality before Richard Croker was offering to sacrifice his most faithful henchmen as the price of peace; and he would have done it had the Bishop but crooked his little finger in the direction of any one of them. The boss has the courage of the brute, or he would not be boss; but when it comes to a moral issue he is the biggest coward in the lot. The bigger the brute the more abject its terror at what it does not understand.
Some of the honors I refused; there were some my heart craved, and I could not let them go. There hangs on my wall the passport Governor Roosevelt gave me when I went abroad, dearer to me than sheepskin or degree, for the heart of a friend is in it. What would I not give to be worthy of its faithful affection! Sometimes when I go abroad I wear upon my breast a golden cross which King Christian gave me. It is the old Crusaders' cross, in the sign of which my stern forefathers conquered the heathen and themselves on many a hard-fought field. My father wore it for long and faithful service to the State. I rendered none. I can think of but one chance I had to strike a blow for the old flag. That was when in a typhus epidemic I found the health officers using it as a fever flag to warn boats away from the emergency hospital pier at East Sixteenth Street. They had no idea of what flag it was: they just happened to have it on hand. But they found out quickly. I gave them half an hour in which to find another. The hospital was full of very sick patients, or I should have made them fire a salute to old Dannebrog by way of reparation. As it was, I think they had visions of ironclads in the East River. They had one of a very angry reporter, anyhow. But though I did nothing to deserve it, I wear the cross proudly for the love I bear the flag under which I was born and the good old King who gave it to me. I saw him often when I was a young lad. In that which makes the man he had not changed when last I met him in Copenhagen. They told there how beggars used to waylay him on his daily walks until the police threatened them with arrest. Then they stood at a distance making sorrowful gestures; and the King, who understood, laid a silver coin upon the palace window shelf and went his way. The King must obey the law, but he can forget the principles of alms-giving, as may the rest of us at Christmas, and be blameless.
Of that last meeting with King Christian I mean to let my American fellow-citizens know so that they may understand what manner of man is he whom they call in Europe its "first gentleman" and in Denmark "the good King." But first I shall have to tell how my father came to wear the cross of Dannebrog. He was very old at the time; retired long since from his post which he had filled faithfully forty years and more. In some way, I never knew quite how, they passed him by with the cross at the time of the retirement. Perhaps he had given offence by refusing a title. He was an independent old man, and cared nothing for such things; but I knew that the cross he would gladly have worn for the King he had served so well. And when he sat in the shadow, with the darkness closing in, I planned to get it for him as the one thing I knew would give him pleasure.
But the official red tape was stronger than I; until one day, roused to anger by it all, I wrote direct to the King and told him about it. I showed him the wrong that had been done, and told him that I was sure he would set it right as soon as he knew of it. And I was not mistaken. The old town was put into a great state of excitement and mystification when one day there arrived in a large official envelope, straight from the King, the cross long since given up; for, indeed, the Minister had told me that, my father having been retired, the case was closed. The injustice that had been done was itself a bar to its being undone; there was no precedent for such action. That was what I told the King, and also that it was his business to set precedents, and he did. Four years later, when I took my children home to let my father bless them,—they were his only grandchildren and he had never seen any of them,—he sat in his easy chair and wondered yet at the queer way in which that cross came. And I marvelled with him. He died without knowing how I had interfered. It was better so.
It was when I went home to mother that I met King Christian last. They had told me the right way to approach the King, the proper number of bows and all that, and I meant to faithfully observe it all. I saw a tired and lonely old man, to whom my heart went out on the instant, and I went right up and shook hands, and told him how much I thought of him and how sorry I was for his losing his wife, the Queen Louise, whom everybody loved. He looked surprised a moment; then such a friendly look came into his face, and I thought him the handsomest King that ever was. He asked about the Danes in America, and I told him they were good citizens, better for not forgetting their motherland and him in his age and loss. He patted my hand with a glad little laugh, and bade me tell them how much he appreciated it, and how kindly his thoughts were of them all. As I made to go, after a long talk, he stopped me and, touching the little silver cross on my coat lapel, asked what it was.
I told him; told him of the motto, "In His Name," and of the labor of devoted women in our great country, to make it mean what it said. As I spoke I remembered my father, and I took it off and gave it to him, bidding him keep it, for surely few men could wear it so worthily. But he put it back into my hand, thanking me with a faithful grasp of his own; he could not take it from me, he said. And so we parted. I thought with a pang of remorse, as I stood in the doorway, of the parting bow I had forgotten, and turned around to make good the omission. There stood the King in his blue uniform, nodding so mildly to me, with a smile so full of kindness, that I—why, I just nodded back and waved my hand. It was very improper, I dare say; perfectly shocking; but never was heartier greeting to king. I meant every bit of it.
The next year he sent me his cross of gold for the one of silver I offered him. I wear it gladly, for the knighthood it confers pledges to the defence of womanhood and of little children, and if I cannot wield lance and sword as the king's men of old, I can wield the pen. It may be that in the providence of God the shedding of ink in the cause of right shall set the world farther ahead in our day than the blood-letting of all the ages past.
These I could not forego. Neither, when friends gathered in the King's Daughters' Settlement on our silver wedding day, and with loving words gave to the new house my name, could I say them nay. It stands, that house, within a stone's throw of many a door in which I sat friendless and forlorn, trying to hide from the policeman who would not let me sleep; within hail of the Bend of the wicked past, atoned for at last; of the Bowery boarding-house where I lay senseless on the stairs after my first day's work in the newspaper office, starved well-nigh to death. But the memory of the old days has no sting. Its message is one of hope; the house itself is the key-note. It is the pledge of a better day, of the defeat of the slum with its helpless heredity of despair. That shall damn no longer lives yet unborn. Children of God are we! that is our challenge to the slum, and on earth we shall claim yet our heritage of light.
Of home and neighborliness restored it is the pledge. The want of them makes the great gap in the city life that is to be our modern civic life. With the home preserved we may look forward without fear; there is no question that can be asked of the Republic to which we shall not find the answer. We may not always agree as to what is right; but, starting there, we shall be seeking the right, and seeking we shall find it. Ruin and disaster are at the end of the road that starts from the slum.
Perhaps it is easy for me to preach contentment. With a mother who prays, a wife who fills the house with song, and the laughter of happy children about me, all my dreams come true or coming true, why should I not be content? In fact, I know of no better equipment for making them come true: faith in God to make all things possible that are right; faith in man to get them done; fun enough in between to keep them from spoiling or running off the track into useless crankery. An extra good sprinkling of that! The longer I live the more I think of humor as in truth the saving sense. A civil-service examination to hit home might well be one to make sure the man could appreciate a good story. For all editors I would have that kind made compulsory. Here is one chiding me in his paper,—oh! a serious paper that calls upon parents to "insist that children's play shall be play and not loafing" and not be allowed to obscure "their more serious responsibilities,"—chiding me for encouraging truancy! "We are quite sure," he writes, "that no really well-brought up and well-disposed boy ever thinks of such a thing." Perish the thought! And yet, if he should take the notion,—you never can tell with the devil so busy all the time,—there's the barrel they kept us in at school when we were bad; I told of it before. Putting the lid on was a sure preventive; with our little short legs we couldn't climb out. Don't think I recommend it. It just comes to me, the way things will. It was held to be a powerful means of bringing children up "well disposed" in those days.
Looking back over thirty years it seems to me that never had man better a time than I. Enough of the editor chaps there were always to keep up the spirits. The hardships people write to me about were not worth while mentioning; and anyway they had to be, to get some of the crankery out of me, I guess. But the friendships endure. For all the rebuffs of my life they have more than made up. When I think of them, of the good men and women who have called me friend, I am filled with wonder and gratitude. I know the editor of the heavy responsibilities would not have approved of all of them. Even the police might not have done it. But, then, police approval is not a certificate of character to one who has lived the best part of his life in Mulberry Street. They drove Harry Hill out of the business after milking him dry. Harry Hill kept a dive, but he was a square man; his word was as good as his bond. He was hardly a model citizen, but in a hard winter he kept half the ward from starving; his latch-string hung out always to those in need. Harry was no particular friend of mine; I mention him as a type of some to whom objection might be made.
But then the police would certainly disapprove of Dr. Parkhurst, whom I am glad to call by the name of friend. They might even object to Bishop Potter, whose friendship I return with a warmth that is nowise dampened by his disapproval of reporters as a class. There is where the Bishop is mistaken; we are none of us infallible, and what a good thing it is that we are not. Think of having an infallible friend to live alongside of always! How long could you stand it? We were not infallible, James Tanner!—called Corporal by the world, Jim by us—when we sat together in the front seats of the Old Eighteenth Street Church under Brother Simmons's teaching. Far from it; but we were willing to learn the ways of grace, and that was something. Had he only stayed! Your wife mothered my Elisabeth when she was homesick in a strange land. I have never forgotten it. And you could pass civil service, Jim, on the story I spoke of. I would be willing to let the rest go, if you will promise to forget about that bottle of champagne. It was your doings, anyhow, you know.
[Illustraion: James Tanner.]
Amos Ensign, I did not give you the credit you should have had for our success in Mulberry Street in the early days, but I give it to you now. You were loyal and good, and you have stayed a reporter, a living denial of the charge that our profession is not as good as the best Dr. Jane Elizabeth Robbins, you told me, when I was hesitating over the first chapters of these reminiscences, to take the short cut and put it all in, and I did, because you are as wise as you are good. I have told it all, and now, manlike, I will serve you as your sex has been served from the dawn of time: the woman did it! yours be the blame. Anthony Ronne, dear old chum in the days of adversity; Max Fischel, trusty friend of the years in Mulberry Street, who never said "can't" once—you always knew a way; Brother W. W. J. Warren, faithful in good and in evil report; General C. T. Christensen, whose compassion passeth understanding, for, though a banker, you bore with and befriended me, who cannot count; Mrs. Josephine Shaw Lowell, my civic conscience ever; John H. Mulchahey, without whose wise counsels in the days of good government and reform the battle with the slum would surely have gone against us; Jane Addams and Mrs. Emmons Blaine, leaven that shall yet leaven the whole unsightly lump out yonder by the western lake and let in the light; A. S. Solomons, Silas McBee, Mrs. Roland C. Lincoln, Lilian D. Wald, Felix Adler, Endicott Peabody, Lyman Abbott, Louise Seymour Houghton, Jacob H. Schiff, John Finley,—Jew and Gentile who taught me why in this world personal conduct and personal character count ever for most,—my love to you all! It is time I am off and away. William McCloy, the next time I step into your canoe and upset it, and you turn that smiling countenance upon me, up to your neck in the lake, I will surely drown you. You are too good for this world. J. Evarts Tracy, host of my happy days on restful Wahwaskesh! I know of a certain hole in under a shelving rock upon which the partridge is wont to hatch her young, where lies a bigger bass than ever you tired out according to the rules of your beloved sport, and I will have him if I have to charm him with honeyed words and a bean-pole. And Ainslie shall cook him to a turn. Make haste then to the feast!
Ahead there is light. Even as I write the little ones from Cherry Street are playing on the grass under my trees. The time is at hand when we shall bring to them in their slum the things which we must now bring them to see, and then the slum will be no more. How little we grasp the meaning of it all. In a report of the Commissioner of Education I read the other day that of kindergarten children in an Eastern city who were questioned 63 per cent did not know a robin, and more than half had not seen a dandelion in its yellow glory.
And yet we complain that our cities are misgoverned! You who think that the teaching of "civics" in the school covers it all, I am not speaking to you. You will never understand. But the rest of you who are willing to sit with me at the feet of little Molly and learn from her, listen: She was poor and ragged and starved. Her home was a hovel. We were debating, some good women who knew her and I, how best to make a merry Christmas for her, and my material mind hung upon clothes and boots and rubbers, for it was in Chicago. But the vision of her soul was a pair of red shoes! Her heart craved them; aye, brethren, and she got them. Not for all the gold in the Treasury would I have trodden it under in pork and beans, smothered it in—no, not in rubber boots, though the mud in the city by the lake be both deep and black. They were the window, those red shoes, through which her little captive soul looked out and yearned for the beauty of God's great world. Could I forget the blue boots with the tassels which I worshipped in my boyhood? Nay, friends, the robin and the dandelion we must put back into those barren lives if we would have good citizenship. They and the citizenship are first cousins. We robbed the children of them, or stood by and saw it done, and it is for us to restore them. That is my answer to the missionary who writes to ask what is the "most practical way of making good Christians and American citizens" out of the emigrants who sit heavy on her conscience, as well they may. Christianity without the robin and the dandelion is never going to reach down into the slum; American citizenship without them would leave the slum there, to dig the grave of it and of the republic.
Light ahead! The very battle that is now waged for righteousness on the once forgotten East Side is our answer to the cry of the young who, having seen the light, were willing no longer to live in darkness. I know, for I was one of the committee which Dr. Felix Adler called together in response to their appeal a year ago. The Committee of Fifteen succeeded to its work. "What does it all help?" the doubting Thomases have asked a half-score years, watching the settlements build their bridge of hearts between mansion and tenement, and hundreds give devoted lives of toil and sacrifice to make it strong and lasting; and ever the answer came back, sturdily: "Wait and see! It will come." And now it has come. The work is bearing fruit. On the East Side the young rise in rebellion against the slum; on the West Side the League for Political Education runs a ball-ground. Omen of good sense and of victory! So the country is safe. When we fight no longer for the poor, but with the poor, the slum is taken in the rear and beaten already.
The world moves. The Bend is gone; the Barracks are gone; Mulberry Street itself as I knew it so long is gone. Cat Alley, whence came the deputation of ragamuffins to my office demanding flowers for "the lady in the back," the poor old scrubwoman who lay dead in her dark basement, went when the Elm Street widening let light into the heart of our block. The old days are gone. I myself am gone. A year ago I had warning that "the night cometh when no man can work," and Mulberry Street knew me no more. I am still a young man, not far past fifty, and I have much I would do yet. But what if it were ordered otherwise? I have been very happy. No man ever had so good a time. Should I not be content?
I dreamed a beautiful dream in my youth, and I awoke and found it true. My silver bride they called her just now. The frost is upon my head, indeed; hers winter has not touched with its softest breath. Her footfall is the lightest, her laugh the merriest in the house. The boys are all in love with their mother; the girls tyrannize and worship her together. The cadet corps elects her an honorary member, for no stouter champion of the flag is in the land. Sometimes when she sings with the children I sit and listen, and with her voice there comes to me as an echo of the long past the words in her letter, that blessed first letter in which she wrote down the text of all my after-life: "We will strive together for all that is noble and good." So she saw her duty as a true American, and aye! she has kept the pledge.
But here comes our daughter with little Virginia to visit her grandpapa. Oh, the little vixen! Then where is his peace? God bless the child!
* * * * *
I have told the story of the making of an American. There remains to tell how I found out that he vas made and finished at last. It was when I went back to see my mother once more and, wandering about the country of my childhood's memories, had come to the city of Elsinore. There I fell ill of a fever and lay many weeks in the house of a friend upon the shore of the beautiful Oeresund. One day when the fever had left me they rolled my bed into a room overlooking the sea. The sunlight danced upon the waves, and the distant mountains of Sweden were blue against the horizon. Ships passed under full sail up and down the great waterway of the nations. But the sunshine and the peaceful day bore no message to me. I lay moodily picking at the coverlet, sick and discouraged and sore—I hardly knew why myself. Until all at once there sailed past, close inshore, a ship flying at the top the flag of freedom, blown out on the breeze till every star in it shone bright and clear. That moment I knew. Gone were illness, discouragement, and gloom! Forgotten weakness and suffering, the cautions of doctor and nurse. I sat up in bed and shouted, laughed and cried by turns, waving my handkerchief to the flag out there. They thought I had lost my head, but I told them no, thank God! I had found it, and my heart, too, at last. I knew then that it was my flag; that my children's home was mine, indeed; that I also had become an American in truth. And I thanked God, and, like unto the man sick of the palsy, arose from my bed and went home, healed.