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Title: Nibsy's Christmas
Author: Riis, Jacob A., 1849-1914
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nibsy's Christmas" ***

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                [Illustration: Nibsy as Santa Claus.]

                        NIBSY'S CHRISTMAS

                               BY

                        JACOB AUGUST RIIS

                  Short Story Index Reprint Series

                     BOOKS FOR LIBRARIES PRESS

                        FREEPORT, NEW YORK

                       First Published 1893

                         Reprinted 1969

                 STANDARD BOOK NUMBER: 8369-3073-8

          LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER: 71-90590

      MANUFACTURED BY HALLMARK LITHOGRAPHERS, INC. IN THE U.S.A.

                 *       *       *       *       *
                  _To Her Most Gracious Majesty
                               Louise
                         Queen of Denmark
          the friend of the afflicted and the mother of the
                  motherless in my childhood's home
                     these leaves are inscribed
             with the profound respect and admiration
                                 of
                           the Author_

                 *       *       *       *       *



                        NIBSY'S CHRISTMAS


It was Christmas-eve over on the East Side. Darkness was closing in on a
cold, hard day. The light that struggled through the frozen windows of
the delicatessen store, and the saloon on the corner, fell upon men with
empty dinner-pails who were hurrying homeward, their coats buttoned
tightly, and heads bent against the steady blast from the river, as if
they were butting their way down the street.

The wind had forced the door of the saloon ajar, and was whistling
through the crack; but in there it seemed to make no one afraid. Between
roars of laughter, the clink of glasses and the rattle of dice on the
hard-wood counter were heard out in the street. More than one of the
passers-by who came within range was taken with an extra shiver in which
the vision of wife and little ones waiting at home for his coming was
snuffed out, as he dropped in to brace up. The lights were long out when
the silent streets re-echoed his unsteady steps toward home, where the
Christmas welcome had turned to dread.

But in this twilight hour they burned brightly yet, trying hard to
pierce the bitter cold outside with a ray of warmth and cheer. Where the
lamps in the delicatessen store made a mottled streak of brightness
across the flags, two little boys stood with their noses flattened
against the window. Their warm breath made little round holes on the
frosty pane, that came and went, affording passing glimpses of the
wealth within, of the piles of smoked herring, of golden cheese, of
sliced bacon and generous, fat-bellied hams; of the rows of odd-shaped
bottles and jars on the shelves that held there was no telling what good
things, only it was certain that they must be good from the looks of
them.

And the heavenly smell of spices and things that reached the boys
through the open door each time the tinkling bell announced the coming
or going of a customer! Better than all, back there on the top shelf the
stacks of square honey-cakes, with their frosty coats of sugar, tied in
bundles with strips of blue paper.

The wind blew straight through the patched and threadbare jackets of the
lads as they crept closer to the window, struggling hard with the frost
to make their peep-holes bigger, to take in the whole of the big cake
with the almonds set in; but they did not heed it.

"Jim!" piped the smaller of the two, after a longer stare than usual;
"hey, Jim! them's Sante Clause's. See 'em?"

"Sante Claus!" snorted the other, scornfully, applying his eye to the
clear spot on the pane. "There ain't no ole duffer like dat. Them's
honey-cakes. Me 'n' Tom had a bite o' one wunst."

"There ain't no Sante Claus?" retorted the smaller shaver, hotly, at his
peep-hole. "There is, too. I seen him myself when he cum to our alley
last----"

"What's youse kids a-scrappin' fur?" broke in a strange voice.

Another boy, bigger, but dirtier and tougher looking than either of the
two, had come up behind them unobserved. He carried an armful of unsold
"extras" under one arm. The other was buried to the elbow in the pocket
of his ragged trousers.

The "kids" knew him, evidently, and the smallest eagerly accepted him as
umpire.

"It's Jim w'at says there ain't no Sante Claus, and I seen him----"

"Jim!" demanded the elder ragamuffin, sternly, looking hard at the
culprit; "Jim! y'ere a chump! No Sante Claus? What're ye givin' us? Now,
watch me!"

With utter amazement the boys saw him disappear through the door under
the tinkling bell into the charmed precincts of smoked herring, jam, and
honey-cakes. Petrified at their peep-holes, they watched him, in the
veritable presence of Santa Claus himself with the fir-branch, fish out
five battered pennies from the depths of his pocket and pass them over
to the woman behind the jars, in exchange for one of the bundles of
honey-cakes tied with blue. As if in a dream they saw him issue forth
with the coveted prize.

"There, kid!" he said, holding out the two fattest and whitest cakes to
Santa Claus's champion; "there's yer Christmas. Run along, now, to yer
barracks; and you, Jim, here's one for you, though yer don't desarve it.
Mind ye let the kid alone."

"This one'll have to do for me grub, I guess. I ain't sold me 'Newses,'
and the ole man'll kick if I bring 'em home."

And before the shuffling feet of the ragamuffins hurrying homeward had
turned the corner, the last mouthful of the newsboy's supper was
smothered in a yell of "Extree!" as he shot across the street to
intercept a passing stranger.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the evening wore on it grew rawer and more blustering still. Flakes
of dry snow that stayed where they fell, slowly tracing the curb-lines,
the shutters, and the doorsteps of the tenements with gathering white,
were borne up on the storm from the water. To the right and left
stretched endless streets between the towering barracks, as beneath
frowning cliffs pierced with a thousand glowing eyes that revealed the
watch-fires within--a mighty city of cave-dwellers held in the thraldom
of poverty and want.

Outside there was yet hurrying to and fro. Saloon doors were slamming
and bare-legged urchins, carrying beer-jugs, hugged the walls close for
shelter. From the depths of a blind alley floated out the discordant
strains of a vagabond brass band "blowing in" the yule of the poor.
Banished by police ordinance from the street, it reaped a scant harvest
of pennies for Christmas-cheer from the windows opening on the backyard.
Against more than one pane showed the bald outline of a forlorn little
Christmas-tree, some stray branch of a hemlock picked up at the grocer's
and set in a pail for "the childer" to dance around, a dime's worth of
candy and tinsel on the boughs.

From the attic over the way came, in spells between, the gentle tones
of a German song about the Christ-child. Christmas in the East-Side
tenements begins with the sunset on the "holy eve," except where the
name is as a threat or a taunt. In a hundred such homes the whir of many
sewing-machines, worked by the sweater's slaves with weary feet and
aching backs, drowned every feeble note of joy that struggled to make
itself heard above the noise of the great treadmill.

To these what was Christmas but the name for persecution, for suffering,
reminder of lost kindred and liberty, of the slavery of eighteen hundred
years, freedom from which was purchased only with gold. Aye, gold! The
gold that had power to buy freedom yet, to buy the good will, aye, and
the good name, of the oppressor, with his houses and land. At the
thought the tired eye glistened, the aching back straightened, and to
the weary foot there came new strength to finish the long task while the
city slept.

Where a narrow passage-way put in between two big tenements to a
ramshackle rear barrack, Nibsy, the newsboy, halted in the shadow of
the doorway and stole a long look down the dark alley.

He toyed uncertainly with his still unsold papers--worn dirty and ragged
as his clothes by this time--before he ventured in, picking his way
between barrels and heaps of garbage; past the Italian cobbler's hovel,
where a tallow dip, stuck in a cracked beer-glass, before a cheap print
of the "Mother of God," showed that even he knew it was Christmas and
liked to show it; past the Sullivan flat, where blows and drunken curses
mingled with the shriek of women, as Nibsy had heard many nights before
this one.

He shuddered as he felt his way past the door, partly with a premonition
of what was in store for himself, if the "old man" was at home, partly
with a vague, uncomfortable feeling that somehow Christmas-eve should be
different from other nights, even in the alley. Down to its farthest
end, to the last rickety flight of steps that led into the filth and
darkness of the tenement. Up this he crept, three flights, to a door at
which he stopped and listened, hesitating, as he had stopped at the
entrance to the alley; then, with a sudden, defiant gesture, he pushed
it open and went in.

A bare and cheerless room; a pile of rags for a bed in the corner,
another in the dark alcove, miscalled bedroom; under the window a broken
cradle and an iron-bound chest, upon which sat a sad-eyed woman with
hard lines in her face, peeling potatoes in a pan; in the middle of the
room a rusty stove, with a pile of wood, chopped on the floor alongside.
A man on his knees in front fanning the fire with an old slouch hat.
With each breath of draught he stirred, the crazy old pipe belched forth
torrents of smoke at every point. As Nibsy entered, the man desisted
from his efforts and sat up glaring at him. A villainous ruffian's face,
scowling with anger.

"Late ag'in!" he growled; "an' yer papers not sold. What did I tell yer,
brat, if ye dared----"

"Tom! Tom!" broke in the wife, in a desperate attempt to soothe the
ruffian's temper.

"The boy can't help it, an' it's Christmas-eve. For the love o'----"

"To thunder with yer rot and with yer brat!" shouted the man, mad with
the fury of passion. "Let me at him!" and, reaching over, he seized a
heavy knot of wood and flung it at the head of the boy.

Nibsy had remained just inside the door, edging slowly toward his
mother, but with a watchful eye on the man at the stove. At the first
movement of his hand toward the woodpile he sprang for the stairway with
the agility of a cat, and just dodged the missile. It struck the door,
as he slammed it behind him, with force enough to smash the panel.

Down the three flights in as many jumps Nibsy went, and through the
alley, over barrels and barriers, never stopping once till he reached
the street, and curses and shouts were left behind.

In his flight he had lost his unsold papers, and he felt ruefully in his
pocket as he went down the street, pulling his rags about him as much
from shame as to keep out the cold.

Four pennies were all he had left after his Christmas treat to the two
little lads from the barracks; not enough for supper or for a bed; and
it was getting colder all the time.

On the sidewalk in front of the notion store a belated Christmas party
was in progress. The children from the tenements in the alley and across
the way were having a game of blindman's-buff, groping blindly about in
the crowd to catch each other. They hailed Nibsy with shouts of
laughter, calling to him to join in.

"We're having Christmas!" they yelled.

Nibsy did not hear them. He was thinking, thinking, the while turning
over his four pennies at the bottom of his pocket.

Thinking if Christmas was ever to come to him, and the children's Santa
Claus to find his alley where the baby slept within reach of her
father's cruel hand. As for him, he had never known anything but blows
and curses. He could take care of himself. But his mother and the
baby----. And then it came to him with shuddering cold that it was
getting late, and that he must find a place to sleep.

He weighed in his mind the merits of two or three places where he was in
the habit of hiding from the "cops" when the alley got to be too hot for
him.

There was the hay-barge down by the dock, with the watchman who got
drunk sometimes, and so gave the boys a chance. The chances were at
least even of its being available on Christmas-eve, and of Santa Claus
having thus done him a good turn after all.

Then there was the snug berth in the sandbox you could curl all up in.
Nibsy thought with regret of its being, like the hay-barge, so far away
and to windward too.

Down by the printing-offices there were the steam-gratings, and a chance
corner in the cellars, stories and stories underground, where the big
presses keep up such a clatter from midnight till far into the day.

As he passed them in review, Nibsy made up his mind with sudden
determination, and, setting his face toward the south, made off down
town.

       *       *       *       *       *

The rumble of the last departing news-wagon over the pavement, now
buried deep in snow, had died away in the distance, when, from out of
the bowels of the earth there issued a cry, a cry of mortal terror and
pain that was echoed by a hundred throats.

From one of the deep cellar-ways a man ran out, his clothes and hair and
beard afire; on his heels a breathless throng of men and boys; following
them, close behind, a rush of smoke and fire.

The clatter of the presses ceased suddenly, to be followed quickly by
the clangor of hurrying fire-bells. With hook and axes the firemen
rushed in; hose was let down through the manholes, and down there in the
depths the battle was fought and won.

The building was saved; but in the midst of the rejoicing over the
victory there fell a sudden silence. From the cellar-way a grimy,
helmeted figure arose, with something black and scorched in his arms. A
tarpaulin was spread upon the snow and upon it he laid his burden, while
the silent crowd made room and word went over to the hospital for the
doctor to come quickly.

Very gently they lifted poor little Nibsy--for it was he, caught in his
berth by a worse enemy than the "cop" or the watchman of the
hay-barge--into the ambulance that bore him off to the hospital cot, too
late.

Conscious only of a vague discomfort that had succeeded terror and pain,
Nibsy wondered uneasily why they were all so kind. Nobody had taken the
trouble to as much as notice him before. When he had thrust his papers
into their very faces they had pushed him roughly aside. Nibsy, unhurt
and able to fight his way, never had a show. Sick and maimed and sore,
he was being made much of, though he had been caught where the boys were
forbidden to go. Things were queer, anyhow, and----

The room was getting so dark that he could hardly see the doctor's
kindly face, and had to grip his hand tightly to make sure that he was
there; almost as dark as the stairs in the alley he had come down in
such a hurry.

There was the baby now--poor baby--and mother--and then a great blank,
and it was all a mystery to poor Nibsy no longer. For, just as a
wild-eyed woman pushed her way through the crowd of nurses and doctors
to his bedside, crying for her boy, Nibsy gave up his soul to God.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was very quiet in the alley. Christmas had come and gone. Upon the
last door a bow of soiled crape was nailed up with two tacks. It had
done duty there a dozen times before, that year.

Upstairs, Nibsy was at home, and for once the neighbors, one and all,
old and young, came to see him.

Even the father, ruffian that he was, offered no objection. Cowed and
silent, he sat in the corner by the window farthest from where the plain
little coffin stood, with the lid closed down.

A couple of the neighbor-women were talking in low tones by the stove,
when there came a timid knock at the door. Nobody answering, it was
pushed open, first a little, then far enough to admit the shrinking form
of a little ragamuffin, the smaller of the two who had stood breathing
peep-holes on the window-pane of the delicatessen store the night before
when Nibsy came along.

He dragged with him a hemlock branch, the leavings from some
Christmas-tree fitted into its block by the grocer for a customer.

"It's from Sante Claus," he said, laying it on the coffin. "Nibsy
knows." And he went out.

Santa Claus had come to Nibsy, after all, in his alley. And Nibsy knew.

[Illustration]



         WHAT THE CHRISTMAS SUN SAW IN THE TENEMENTS


The December sun shone clear and cold upon the city. It shone upon rich
and poor alike. It shone into the homes of the wealthy on the avenues
and in the uptown streets, and into courts and alleys hedged in by
towering tenements down town. It shone upon throngs of busy holiday
shoppers that went out and in at the big stores, carrying bundles big
and small, all alike filled with Christmas cheer and kindly messages
from Santa Claus.

It shone down so gayly and altogether cheerily there, that wraps and
overcoats were unbuttoned for the north wind to toy with. "My, isn't it
a nice day?" said one young lady in a fur shoulder-cape to a friend,
pausing to kiss and compare lists of Christmas gifts.

"Most too hot," was the reply, and the friends passed on. There was
warmth within and without. Life was very pleasant under the Christmas
sun up on the avenue.

Down in Cherry Street the rays of the sun climbed over a row of tall
tenements with an effort that seemed to exhaust all the life that was in
them, and fell into a dirty block, half-choked with trucks, with
ash-barrels and rubbish of all sorts, among which the dust was whirled
in clouds upon fitful, shivering blasts that searched every nook and
cranny of the big barracks. They fell upon a little girl, bare-footed
and in rags, who struggled out of an alley with a broken pitcher in her
grimy fist, against the wind that set down the narrow slit like the
draught through a big factory chimney. Just at the mouth of the alley it
took her with a sudden whirl, a cyclone of dust and drifting ashes,
tossed her fairly off her feet, tore from her grip the threadbare shawl
she clutched at her throat, and set her down at the saloon-door
breathless and half-smothered. She had just time to dodge through the
storm-doors before another whirlwind swept whistling down the street.

"My, but isn't it cold?" she said, as she shook the dust out of her
shawl and set the pitcher down on the bar. "Gimme a pint," laying down a
few pennies that had been wrapped in a corner of the shawl, "and mamma
says make it good and full."

"All'us the way with youse kids--want a barrel when yees pays fer a
pint," growled the bartender. "There, run along, and don't ye hang
around that stove no more. We ain't a steam-heatin' the block fer
nothin'."

The little girl clutched her shawl and the pitcher, and slipped out into
the street where the wind lay in ambush and promptly bore down on her in
pillars of whirling dust as soon as she appeared. But the sun that
pitied her bare feet and little frozen hands played a trick on old
Boreas--it showed her a way between the pillars, and only just her skirt
was caught by one and whirled over her head as she dodged into her
alley. It peeped after her half-way down its dark depths, where it
seemed colder even than in the bleak street, but there it had to leave
her.

It did not see her dive through the doorless opening into a hall where
no sun-ray had ever entered. It could not have found its way in there
had it tried. But up the narrow, squeaking stairs the girl with the
pitcher was climbing. Up one flight of stairs, over a knot of children,
half babies, pitching pennies on the landing, over wash-tubs and
bedsteads that encumbered the next--house-cleaning going on in that
"flat;" that is to say, the surplus of bugs was being burned out with
petroleum and a feather--up still another, past a half-open door through
which came the noise of brawling and curses. She dodged and quickened
her step a little until she stood panting before a door on the fourth
landing that opened readily as she pushed it with her bare foot.

A room almost devoid of stick or rag one might dignify with the name of
furniture. Two chairs, one with a broken back, the other on three legs,
beside a rickety table that stood upright only by leaning against the
wall. On the unwashed floor a heap of straw covered with dirty bed-tick
for a bed; a foul-smelling slop-pail in the middle of the room; a crazy
stove, and back of it a door or gap opening upon darkness. There was
something in there, but what it was could only be surmised from a heavy
snore that rose and fell regularly. It was the bedroom of the apartment,
windowless, airless, and sunless, but rented at a price a millionaire
would denounce as robbery.

"That you, Liza?" said a voice that discovered a woman bending over the
stove. "Run 'n' get the childer. Dinner's ready."

The winter sun glancing down the wall of the opposite tenement, with a
hopeless effort to cheer the backyard, might have peeped through the one
window of the room in Mrs. McGroarty's "flat," had that window not been
coated with the dust of ages, and discovered that dinner-party in
action. It might have found a hundred like it in the alley. Four unkempt
children, copies each in his or her way of Liza and their mother, Mrs.
McGroarty, who "did washing" for a living. A meat bone, a "cut" from
the butcher's at four cents a pound, green pickles, stale bread and
beer. Beer for the four, a sup all round, the baby included. Why not? It
was the one relish the searching ray would have found there. Potatoes
were there, too--potatoes and meat! Say not the poor in the tenements
are starving. In New York only those starve who cannot get work and have
not the courage to beg. Fifty thousand always out of a job, say those
who pretend to know. A round half-million asking and getting charity in
eight years, say the statisticians of the Charity Organization. Any one
can go round and see for himself that no one need starve in New York.

From across the yard the sunbeam, as it crept up the wall, fell
slantingly through the attic window whence issued the sound of
hammer-blows. A man with a hard face stood in its light, driving nails
into the lid of a soap-box that was partly filled with straw. Something
else was there; as he shifted the lid that didn't fit, the glimpse of
sunshine fell across it; it was a dead child, a little baby in a white
slip, bedded in straw in a soap-box for a coffin. The man was hammering
down the lid to take it to the Potter's Field. At the bed knelt the
mother, dry-eyed, delirious from starvation that had killed her child.
Five hungry, frightened children cowered in the corner, hardly daring to
whisper as they looked from the father to the mother in terror.

There was a knock on the door that was drowned once, twice, in the noise
of the hammer on the little coffin. Then it was opened gently, and a
young woman came in with a basket. A little silver cross shone upon her
breast. She went to the poor mother, and putting her hand soothingly on
her head knelt by her with gentle and loving words. The half-crazed
woman listened with averted face, then suddenly burst into tears and hid
her throbbing head in the other's lap.

The man stopped hammering and stared fixedly upon the two; the children
gathered around with devouring looks as the visitor took from her basket
bread, meat, and tea. Just then, with a parting, wistful look into the
bare attic room, the sun-ray slipped away, lingered for a moment about
the coping outside and fled over the house-tops.

As it sped on its winter-day journey, did it shine into any cabin in an
Irish bog more desolate than these Cherry Street "homes?" An army of
thousands whose one bright and wholesome memory, only tradition of home,
is that poverty-stricken cabin in the desolate bog, are herded in such
barracks to-day in New York. Potatoes they have; yes, and meat at four
cents--even seven. Beer for a relish--never without beer. But home? The
home that was home even in a bog, with the love of it that has made
Ireland immortal and a tower of strength in the midst of her
suffering--what of that? There are no homes in New York's poor
tenements.

Down the crooked path of the Mulberry Street Bend the sunlight slanted
into the heart of New York's Italy. It shone upon bandannas and yellow
neckerchiefs; upon swarthy faces and corduroy breeches; upon
blackhaired girls--mothers at thirteen; upon hosts of bow-legged
children rolling in the dirt; upon pedlers' carts and ragpickers
staggering under burdens that threatened to crush them at every step.
Shone upon unnumbered Pasquales dwelling, working, idling, and gambling
there. Shone upon the filthiest and foulest of New York's tenements,
upon Bandits' Roost, upon Bottle Alley, upon the hidden by-ways that
lead to the tramp's burrows. Shone upon the scene of annual infant
slaughter. Shone into the foul core of New York's slums that is at last
to go to the realm of bad memories because civilized man may not look
upon it and live without blushing.

It glanced past the rag-shop in the cellar, whence welled up stenches to
poison the town, into an apartment three flights up that held two women,
one young, the other old and bent. The young one had a baby at her
breast. She was rocking it tenderly in her arms, singing in the soft
Italian tongue a lullaby, while the old granny listened eagerly, her
elbows on her knees, and a stumpy clay-pipe, blackened with age,
between her teeth. Her eyes were set on the wall, on which the musty
paper hung in tatters, fit frame for the wretched, poverty-stricken
room, but they saw neither poverty nor want; her aged limbs felt not the
cold draught from without, in which they shivered; they looked far over
the seas to sunny Italy, whose music was in her ears.

"O dolce Napoli," she mumbled between her toothless jaws, "O suol
beato----"

The song ended in a burst of passionate grief. The old granny and the
baby woke up at once. They were not in sunny Italy; not under Southern,
cloudless skies. They were in "The Bend" in Mulberry Street, and the
wintry wind rattled the door as if it would say, in the language of
their new home, the land of the free: "Less music! More work! Root, hog,
or die!"

Around the corner the sunbeam danced with the wind into Mott Street,
lifted the blouse of a Chinaman and made it play tag with his pig-tail.
It used him so roughly that he was glad to skip from it down a
cellar-way that gave out fumes of opium strong enough to scare even the
north wind from its purpose. The soles of his felt shoes showed as he
disappeared down the ladder that passed for cellar-steps. Down there,
where daylight never came, a group of yellow, almond-eyed men were
bending over a table playing fan-tan. Their very souls were in the game,
every faculty of the mind bent on the issue and the stake. The one
blouse that was indifferent to what went on was stretched on a mat in a
corner. One end of a clumsy pipe was in his mouth, the other held over a
little spirit-lamp on the divan on which he lay. Something spluttered in
the flame with a pungent, unpleasant smell. The smoker took a long
draught, inhaling the white smoke, then sank back on his couch in
senseless content.

Upstairs tiptoed the noiseless felt shoes, bent on some house errand, to
the "household" floors above, where young white girls from the tenements
of The Bend and the East Side live in slavery worse, if not more
galling, than any of the galley with ball and chain--the slavery of the
pipe. Four, eight, sixteen--twenty odd such "homes" in this tenement,
disgracing the very name of home and family, for marriage and troth are
not in the bargain.

In one room, between the half-drawn curtains of which the sunbeam works
its way in, three girls are lying on as many bunks, smoking all. They
are very young, "under age," though each and every one would glibly
swear in court to the satisfaction of the police that she is sixteen,
and therefore free to make her own bad choice. Of these, one was brought
up among the rugged hills of Maine; the other two are from the tenement
crowds, hardly missed there. But their companion? She is twirling the
sticky brown pill over the lamp, preparing to fill the bowl of her pipe
with it. As she does so, the sunbeam dances across the bed, kisses the
red spot on her cheek that betrays the secret her tyrant long has known,
though to her it is hidden yet--that the pipe has claimed its victim and
soon will pass it on to the Potter's Field.

"Nell," says one of her chums in the other bunk, something stirred
within her by the flash--"Nell, did you hear from the old farm to home
since you come here?"

Nell turns half around, with the toasting-stick in her hand, an ugly
look on her wasted features, a vile oath on her lips.

"To hell with the old farm," she says, and putting the pipe to her mouth
inhales it all, every bit, in one long breath, then falls back on her
pillow in drunken stupor.

That is what the sun of a winter day saw and heard in Mott Street.

It had travelled far toward the west, searching many dark corners and
vainly seeking entry to others; had gilt with equal impartiality the
spires of five hundred churches and the tin cornices of thirty thousand
tenements, with their million tenants and more; had smiled courage and
cheer to patient mothers trying to make the most of life in the teeming
crowds, that had too little sunshine by far; hope to toiling fathers
striving early and late for bread to fill the many mouths clamoring to
be fed.

The brief December day was far spent. Now its rays fell across the
North River and lighted up the windows of the tenements in Hell's
Kitchen and Poverty Gap. In the Gap especially they made a brave show;
the windows of the crazy old frame-house under the big tree that set
back from the street looked as if they were made of beaten gold. But the
glory did not cross the threshold. Within it was dark and dreary and
cold. The room at the foot of the rickety, patched stairs was empty. The
last tenant was beaten to death by her husband in his drunken fury. The
sun's rays shunned the spot ever after, though it was long since it
could have made out the red daub from the mould on the rotten floor.

Upstairs, in the cold attic, where the wind wailed mournfully through
every open crack, a little girl sat sobbing as if her heart would break.
She hugged an old doll to her breast. The paint was gone from its face;
the yellow hair was in a tangle; its clothes hung in rags. But she only
hugged it closer. It was her doll. They had been friends so long, shared
hunger and hardship together, and now----.

Her tears fell faster. One drop trembled upon the wan cheek of the doll.
The last sunbeam shot athwart it and made it glisten like a priceless
jewel. Its glory grew and filled the room. Gone were the black walls,
the darkness and the cold. There was warmth and light and joy. Merry
voices and glad faces were all about. A flock of children danced with
gleeful shouts about a great Christmas-tree in the middle of the floor.
Upon its branches hung drums and trumpets and toys, and countless
candles gleamed like beautiful stars. Farthest up, at the very top, her
doll, her very own, with arms outstretched, as if appealing to be taken
down and hugged. She knew it, knew the mission-school that had seen her
first and only real Christmas, knew the gentle face of her teacher, and
the writing on the wall she had taught her to spell out: "In His Name."
His name, who, she had said, was all little children's friend. Was he
also her dolly's friend, and would know it among the strange people?

The light went out; the glory faded. The bare room, only colder and
more cheerless than before, was left. The child shivered. Only that
morning the doctor had told her mother that she must have medicine and
food and warmth, or she must go to the great hospital where papa had
gone before, when their money was all spent. Sorrow and want had laid
the mother upon the bed he had barely left. Every stick of furniture,
every stitch of clothing on which money could be borrowed, had gone to
the pawnbroker. Last of all, she had carried mamma's wedding-ring, to
pay the druggist. Now there was no more left, and they had nothing to
eat. In a little while mamma would wake up, hungry.

The little girl smothered a last sob and rose quickly. She wrapped the
doll in a threadbare shawl, as well as she could, tiptoed to the door
and listened a moment to the feeble breathing of the sick mother within.
Then she went out, shutting the door softly behind her, lest she wake
her.

Up the street she went, the way she knew so well, one block and a turn
round the saloon corner, the sunset glow kissing the track of her bare
feet in the snow as she went, to a door that rang a noisy bell as she
opened it and went in. A musty smell filled the close room. Packages,
great and small, lay piled high on shelves behind the worn counter. A
slovenly woman was haggling with the pawnbroker about the money for a
skirt she had brought to pledge.

"Not a cent more than a quarter," he said, contemptuously, tossing the
garment aside. "It's half worn out it is, dragging it back and forth
over the counter these six months. Take it or leave it. Hallo! What have
we here? Little Finnegan, eh? Your mother not dead yet? It's in the
poor-house ye will be if she lasts much longer. What the----"

He had taken the package from the trembling child's hand--the precious
doll--and unrolled the shawl. A moment he stood staring in dumb
amazement at its contents. Then he caught it up and flung it with an
angry oath upon the floor, where it was shivered against the coal-box.

"Get out o' here, ye Finnegan brat," he shouted; "I'll tache ye to come
a'guyin' o' me. I'll----"

The door closed with a bang upon the frightened child, alone in the cold
night. The sun saw not its home-coming. It had hidden behind the
night-clouds, weary of the sight of man and his cruelty.

Evening had worn into night. The busy city slept. Down by the wharves,
now deserted, a poor boy sat on the bulwark, hungry, footsore, and
shivering with cold. He sat thinking of friends and home, thousands of
miles away over the sea, whom he had left six months before to go among
strangers. He had been alone ever since, but never more so than that
night. His money gone, no work to be found, he had slept in the streets
for nights. That day he had eaten nothing; he would rather die than beg,
and one of the two he must do soon.

There was the dark river, rushing at his feet; the swirl of the unseen
waters whispered to him of rest and peace he had not known since----it
was so cold--and who was there to care, he thought bitterly. No one who
would ever know. He moved a little nearer the edge, and listened more
intently.

A low whine fell on his ear, and a cold, wet face was pressed against
his. A little, crippled dog that had been crouching silently beside him
nestled in his lap. He had picked it up in the street, as forlorn and
friendless as himself, and it had stayed by him. Its touch recalled him
to himself. He got up hastily, and, taking the dog in his arms, went to
the police station near by and asked for shelter. It was the first time
he had accepted even such charity, and as he lay down on his rough plank
he hugged a little gold locket he wore around his neck, the last link
with better days, and thought, with a hard, dry sob, of home.

In the middle of the night he awoke with a start. The locket was gone.
One of the tramps who slept with him had stolen it. With bitter tears he
went up and complained to the Sergeant at the desk, and the Sergeant
ordered him to be kicked out in the street as a liar, if not a thief.
How should a tramp boy have come honestly by a gold locket? The doorman
put him out as he was bidden, and when the little dog showed its teeth,
a policeman seized it and clubbed it to death on the step.

       *       *       *       *       *

Far from the slumbering city the rising moon shines over a wide expanse
of glistening water. It silvers the snow upon a barren heath between two
shores, and shortens with each passing minute the shadows of countless
headstones that bear no names, only numbers. The breakers that beat
against the bluff wake not those who sleep there. In the deep trenches
they lie, shoulder to shoulder, an army of brothers, homeless in life,
but here at rest and at peace. A great cross stands upon the lonely
shore. The moon sheds its rays upon it in silent benediction and floods
the garden of the unknown, unmourned dead with its soft light. Out on
the Sound the fishermen see it flashing white against the starlit sky,
and bare their heads reverently as their boats speed by, borne upon the
wings of the west wind.



                   SKIPPY OF SCRABBLE ALLEY


Skippy was at home in Scrabble Alley. So far as he had ever known home
of any kind it was there in the dark and mouldy basement of the rear
house, farthest back in the gap that was all the builder of those big
tenements had been able to afford of light and of air for the poor
people whose hard-earned wages, brought home every Saturday, left them
as poor as if they had never earned a dollar, to pile themselves up in
his strong-box. The good man had long since been gathered to his
fathers--gone to his better home. It was in the newspapers, and in the
alley it was said that it was the biggest funeral--more than a hundred
carriages, and four black horses to pull the hearse. So it must be true,
of course.

Skippy wondered vaguely, sometimes, when he thought of it, what kind of
a home it might be where people went in a hundred carriages. He had
never sat in one. The nearest he had come to it was when Jimmy Murphy's
cab had nearly run him down once, and his "fare," a big man with
whiskers, had put his head out and angrily called him a brat, and told
him to get out of the way, or he would have him arrested. And Jimmy had
shaken his whip at him and told him to skip home. Everybody told him to
skip. From the policeman on the block to the hard-fisted man he knew as
his father, and who always had a job for him with the growler when he
came home, they were having Skippy on the run. Probably that was how he
got his name. No one cared enough about it, or about the boy, to find
out.

Was there anybody anywhere who cared about boys, anyhow? Were there any
boys in that other home where the carriages and the big hearse had gone?
And if there were, did they have to live in an alley, and did they ever
have any fun? These were thoughts that puzzled Skippy's young brain once
in a while. Not very long or very hard, for Skippy had not been trained
to think; what training the boys picked up in the alley didn't run much
to deep thinking.

Perhaps it was just as well. There were one or two men there who were
said to know a heap, and who had thought and studied it all out about
the landlord and the alley. But it was very tiresome that it should
happen to be just those two, for Skippy never liked them. They were
always cross and ugly, never laughed and carried on as the other men did
once in a while, and made his little feet very tired running with the
growler early and late. He well remembered, too, that it was one of them
who had said, when they brought him home, sore and limping, from under
the wheels of Jimmy Murphy's cab, that he'd been better off if it had
killed him. He had always borne a grudge against him for that, for there
was no occasion for it that he could see. Hadn't he been to the gin-mill
for him that very day twice?

Skippy's horizon was bounded by the towering brick walls of Scrabble
Alley. No sun ever rose or set between them. On the hot summer days,
when the saloon-keeper on the farther side of the street pulled up his
awning, the sun came over the house-tops and looked down for an hour or
two into the alley. It shone upon broken flags, a mud-puddle by the
hydrant where the children went splashing with dirty, bare feet, and
upon unnumbered ash-barrels. A stray cabbage-leaf in one of these was
the only green thing it found, for no ray ever strayed through the
window in Skippy's basement to trace the green mould on the wall.

Once, while he had been lying sick with a fever, Skippy had struck up a
real friendly acquaintance with that mouldy wall. He had pictured to
himself woods and hills and a regular wilderness, such as he had heard
of, in its green growth; but even that pleasure they had robbed him of.
The charity doctor had said that the mould was bad, and a man scraped it
off and put whitewash on the wall. As if everything that made fun for a
boy was bad.

Down the street a little way was a yard just big enough and nice to play
ball in, but the agent had put up a sign that he would have no boys and
no ball-playing in his yard, and that ended it; for the "cop" would have
none of it in the street either. Once he had caught them at it and
"given them the collar." They had been up before the judge, and though
he let them off they had been branded, Skippy and the rest, as a bad
lot.

That was the starting-point in Skippy's career. With the brand upon him
he accepted the future it marked out for him, reasoning as little, or as
vaguely, about the justice of it as he had about the home conditions of
the alley. The world, what he had seen of it, had taught him one lesson:
to take things as he found them, because that was the way they were; and
that being the easiest, and, on the whole, best suited to Skippy's
general make-up, he fell naturally into the _rôle_ assigned him. After
that he worked the growler on his own hook most of the time. The "gang"
he had joined found means of keeping it going that more than justified
the brand the policeman had put upon it. It was seldom by honest work.
What was the use? The world owed them a living, and it was their
business to collect it as easily as they could. It was everybody's
business to do that, as far as they could see, from the man who owned
the alley, down.

They made the alley pan out in their own way. It had advantages the
builder hadn't thought of, though he provided them. Full of secret ins
and outs, runways and passages, not easily found, to the surrounding
tenements, it offered chances to get away when one or more of the gang
were "wanted" for robbing this store on the avenue, tapping that till,
or raiding the grocer's stock, that were A No. 1. When some tipsy man
had been waylaid and "stood up," it was an unequalled spot for dividing
the plunder. It happened once or twice, as time went by, that a man was
knocked on the head and robbed within the bailiwick of the now notorious
Scrabble Alley gang, or that a drowned man floated ashore in the dock
with his pockets turned inside out. On such occasions the police made
an extra raid, and more or less of the gang were scooped in, but nothing
ever came of it. Dead men tell no tales, and they were not more silent
than the Scrabbles, if, indeed, these had anything to tell.

It came gradually to be an old story. Skippy and his associates were
long since in the Rogues' Gallery, numbered and indexed as truly a bad
lot now. They were no longer boys, but toughs. Most of them had "done
time" up the river and come back more hardened than they went, full of
new tricks always, which they were eager to show the boys to prove that
they had not been idle while they were away. On the police returns they
figured as "speculators," a term that sounded better than thief, and
meant, as they understood it, much the same, viz., a man who made a
living out of other people's labor. It was conceded in the slums,
everywhere, that the Scrabble-Alley gang was a little the boldest that
had for a long time defied the police. It had the call in the other
gangs in all the blocks around, for it had the biggest fighters as well
as the cleverest thieves of them all.

Then one holiday morning, when in a hundred churches the pæan went up,
"On earth peace, good-will toward men," all New York rang with the story
of a midnight murder committed by Skippy's gang. The saloon-keeper whose
place they were sacking to get the "stuff" for keeping Christmas in
their way had come upon them, and Skippy had shot him down while the
others ran. A universal shout for vengeance went up from outraged
Society.

It sounded the death-knell of the gang. It was scattered to the four
winds, all except Skippy, who was tried for murder and hanged. The
papers spoke of his phenomenal calmness under the gallows; said it was
defiance. The priest who had been with him in his last hours said he was
content to go to a better home. They were all wrong. Had the pictures
that chased each other across Skippy's mind as the black cap was pulled
over his face been visible to their eyes, they would have seen Scrabble
Alley with its dripping hydrant, and the puddle in which the children
splashed with dirty, bare feet; the dark basement room with its mouldy
wall; the notice in the yard, "No ball-playing allowed here;" the
policeman who stamped him as one of a bad lot, and the sullen man who
thought it had been better for him, the time he was run over, if he had
died. Skippy asked himself moodily if he was right after all, and if
boys were ever to have any show. He died with the question unanswered.

They said that no such funeral ever went out of Scrabble Alley before.
There was a real raid on the undertaker's where Skippy lay in state two
whole days, and the wake was talked of for many a day as something
wonderful. At the funeral services it was said that without a doubt
Skippy had gone to a better home. His account was squared.

       *       *       *       *       *

Skippy's story is not invented to be told here. In its main facts it is
a plain account of a well-remembered drama of the slums, on which the
curtain was rung down in the Tombs yard. There are Skippies without
number growing up in those slums to-day, vaguely wondering why they were
born into a world that does not want them; Scrabble Alleys to be found
for the asking, all over this big city where the tenements abound,
alleys in which generations of boys have lived and died--principally
died, and thus done for themselves the best they could, according to the
crusty philosopher of Skippy's set--with nothing more inspiring than a
dead blank wall within reach of their windows all the days of their
cheerless lives. Theirs is the account to be squared--by justice, not
vengeance. Skippy is but an item on the wrong side of the ledger. The
real reckoning of outraged society is not with him, but with Scrabble
Alley.





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