Ernest Poole.

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studied the lists and the letters of his patrons, Roger felt confusedly
that a new America was here.

Clippings, clippings, clippings. Business men and business firms, gigantic
corporations, kept sending here for clippings, news of themselves or their
rivals, keeping keen watch on each other's affairs for signs of strength or
weakness. How savage was the fight these days. Here was news of mines and
mills and factories all over the land, clippings sent each morning by
special messengers downtown to reach the brokers' offices before the market
opened. One broker wrote, "Please quote your terms for the following. From
nine to two o'clock each day our messenger will call at your office every
hour for clippings giving information of the companies named below."

The long list appended carried Roger's fancy out all over the continent.
And then came this injunction: "Remember that our messenger must leave your
office every hour. In information of this kind every minute counts."

Clippings, clippings, clippings. As Roger turned over his morning mail, in
spite of himself he grew absorbed. What a change in the world of
literature. What a host of names of scribblers, not authors but just
writers, not only men but women too, novelists and dramatists, poets and
muckrakers all jumbled in together, each one of them straining for a place.
And the actors and the actresses, the musicians and the lecturers, each
with his press agent and avid for publicity, "fame!" And here were society
women, from New York and other cities, all eager for press notices of
social affairs they had given or managed, charity work they had conducted,
suffrage speeches they had made. Half the women in the land were fairly
talking their heads off, it seemed. Some had been on his lists for years.
They married and wanted to hear what was said in the papers about their
weddings, they quarreled and got divorces and still sent here for
clippings, they died and still their relatives wrote in for the funeral
notices. And even death was commercialized. A maker of monuments wanted
news "of all people of large means, dead or dangerously ill, in the State
of Pennsylvania." Here were demands from charity bodies, hospitals and
colleges, from clergymen with an anxious eye on the Monday morning papers.
And here was an anarchist millionaire! And here was an insane asylum
wanting to see itself in print!

With a grim smile on his heavy visage, Roger stared out of his window.
Slowly the smile faded, a wistful look came on his face.

"Who'll take my business when I'm gone?"

If his small son had only lived, with what new zest and vigor it might have
been made to grow and expand. If only his son had been here by his side....




CHAPTER IX


DEBORAH needed rest, he thought, for the bright attractive face of his
daughter was looking rather pale of late, and the birthmark on her forehead
showed a faint thin line of red. One night at dinner, watching her, he
wondered what was on her mind. She had come in late, and though several
times she had made an effort to keep up the conversation, her cheeks were
almost colorless and more than once in her deepset eyes came a flash of
pain that startled him.

"Look here. What's the matter with you?" he asked. Deborah looked up
quickly.

"I'd rather not talk about it, dad - "

"Very well," he answered. And with a slight hesitation, "But I think I know
the trouble," he said. "And perhaps some other time - when you do feel like
talking - " He stopped, for on her wide sensitive lips he saw a twitch of
amusement.

"What do you think is the trouble?" she asked. And Roger looked at her
squarely.

"Loneliness," he answered.

"Why?" she asked him.

"Well, there's Edith's baby - and Laura getting married - "

"I see - and so I'm lonely for a family of my own. But you're forgetting my
school," she said.

"Yes, yes, I know," he retorted. "But that's not at all the same.
Interesting work, no doubt, but - well, it isn't personal."

"Oh, isn't it?" she answered, and she drew a quivering breath. Rising from
the table she went into the living room, and there a few moments later he
found her walking up and down. "I think I will tell you now," she said.
"I'm afraid of being alone to-night, of keeping this matter to myself." He
looked at her apprehensively.

"Very well, my dear," he said.

"This is the trouble," she began. "Down in my school we've a family of
about three thousand children. A few I get to know so well I try to follow
them when they leave. And one of these, an Italian boy - his name is Joe
Bolini - was one of the best I ever had, and one of the most appealing. But
Joe took to drinking and got in with a gang of boys who blackmailed small
shopkeepers. He used to come to me at times in occasional moods of
repentance. He was a splendid physical type and he'd been a leader in our
athletics, so I took him back into the school to manage our teams in
basket-ball. He left the gang and stopped drinking, and we had long talks
together about his great ambition. He wanted to enter the Fire Department
as soon as he was twenty-one. And I promised to use my influence." She
stopped, still frowning slightly.

"What happened?" Roger asked her.

"His girl took up with another man, and Joe has hot Italian blood. He got
drunk one night and - shot them both." There was another silence. "I did
what I could," she said harshly, "but he had a bad record behind him, and
the young assistant district attorney had his own record to think of, too.
So Joe got a death sentence. We appealed the case but it did no good. He
was sent up the river and is in the death house now - and he sent for me to
come to-day. His letter hinted he was scared, he wrote that his priest was
no good to him. So I went up this afternoon. Joe goes to the chair
to-morrow at six."

Deborah went to the sofa and sat down inertly. Roger remained motionless,
and a dull chill crept over him.

"So you see my work is personal," he heard her mutter presently. All at
once she seemed so far away, such a stranger to him in this life of hers.

"By George, it's horrible!" he said. "I'm sorry you went to see the boy!"

"I'm glad," was his daughter's quick retort. "I've been getting much too
sure of myself - of my school, I mean, and what it can do. I needed this to
bring me back to the kind of world we live in!"

"What do you mean?" he roughly asked.

"I mean there are schools and prisons! And gallows and electric chairs! And
I'm for schools! They've tried their jails and gallows for whole black
hideous centuries! What good have they done? If they'd given Joe back to
the school and me, I'd have had him a fireman in a year! I know, because I
studied him hard! He'd have _grown_ fighting fires, he would have _saved_
lives!"

Again she stopped, with a catch of her breath. In suspense he watched her
angry struggle to regain control of herself. She sat bolt upright, rigid;
her birthmark showed a fiery red. In a few moments he saw her relax.

"But of course," she added wearily, "it's much more complex than that. A
school is nothing nowadays - just by itself alone, I mean - it's only a part
of a city's life - which for most tenement children is either very dull and
hard, or cheap and false and overexciting. And behind all that lie the
reasons for that. And there are so many reasons." She stared straight past
her father as though at something far away. Then she seemed to recall
herself: "But I'm talking too much of my family."

Roger carefully lit a cigar:

"I don't think you are, my dear. I'd like to hear more about it." She
smiled:

"To keep my mind off Joe, you mean."

"And mine, too," he answered.

They had a long talk that evening about her hope of making her school what
Roger visaged confusedly as a kind of mammoth home, the center of a
neighborhood, of one prodigious family. At times when the clock on the
mantle struck the hour loud and clear, there would fall a sudden silence,
as both thought of what was to happen at dawn. But quickly Roger would
question again and Deborah would talk steadily on. It was after midnight
when she stopped.

"You've been good to me to-night, dearie," she said. "Let's go to bed now,
shall we?"

"Very well," he answered. He looked at his daughter anxiously. She no
longer seemed to him mature. He could feel what heavy discouragements, what
problems she was facing in the dark mysterious tenement world which she had
chosen to make her own. And compared to these she seemed a mere girl, a
child groping its way, just making a start. And so he added wistfully, "I
wish I could be of more help to you." She looked up at him for a moment.

"Do you know why you are such a help?" she said. "It's because you have
never grown old - because you've never allowed yourself to grow absolutely
certain about anything in life." A smile half sad and half perplexed came
on her father's heavy face.

"You consider that a strong point?" he asked.

"I do," she replied, "compared to being a bundle of creeds and prejudices."

"Oh, I've got prejudices enough."

"Yes," she said. "And so have I. But we're not even sure of _them_, these
days."

"The world has a habit of crowding in," her father muttered vaguely.

* * * * *

Roger did not sleep that night. He could not keep his thoughts away from
what was going to happen at dawn. Yes, the city was crowding in upon this
quiet house of his. Dimly he could recollect, in the genial years of long
ago, just glancing casually now and then at some small and unobtrusive
notice in his evening paper: "Execution at Sing Sing." It had been so
remote to him. But here it was smashing into his house, through the life
his own daughter was leading day and night among the poor! Each time he
thought of that lad in a cell, again a chill crept over him! But savagely
he shook it off, and by a strong effort of his will he turned his thoughts
to the things she had told him about her school. Yes, in her main idea she
was right. He had no use for wild reforms, but here was something solid, a
good education for every child. More than once, while she had talked,
something very deep in Roger had leaped up in swift response.

For Deborah, too, was a part of himself. He, too, had had his feeling for
humanity in the large. For years he had run a boys' club at a little
mission school in which his wife had been interested, and on Christmas Eve
he had formed the habit of gathering up a dozen small urchins right off the
street and taking them 'round and fitting them out with good warm winter
clothing, after which he had gone home to help Judith trim the Christmas
tree and fill their children's stockings. And later, when she had gone to
bed, invariably he had taken "The Christmas Carol" from its shelf and had
settled down with a glow of almost luxurious brotherhood. There was
sentiment in Roger Gale, and as he read of "Tiny Tim" his deepset eyes
would glisten with tears.

And now here was Deborah fulfilling a part of him in herself. "You will
live on in our children's lives." But this was going much too far! She was
letting herself be swallowed up completely by this work of hers! It was all
very well for the past ten years, but she was getting on in age! High time
to marry and settle down!

Again angrily he shook off the thought of that boy Joe alone in a cell,
eyes fixed in animal terror upon the steel door which would open so soon.

The day was slowly breaking. It was the early part of June. How fresh and
lovely it must be up there in the big mountains with Edith's happy little
lads. Here it was raw and garish, weird. Some sparrows began quarreling
just outside his window. Roger rose and walked the room. Restlessly he went
into the hall. The old house appeared so strange in this light - as though
stripped bare - there was something gone. Softly he came to Deborah's door.
It was open wide, for the night had been warm, and she lay awake upon her
bed with her gaze fixed on the ceiling. She turned her head and saw him
there. He came in and sat down by her window. For a long time neither made
a sound. Then the great clock on the distant tower, which had been silent
through the night, resumed its deep and measured boom. It struck six times.
There was silence again. More and more taut grew his muscles, and suddenly
it felt to him as though Deborah's fierce agony were pounding into his very
soul. The slow, slow minutes throbbed away. At last he rose and left her.
There was a cold sweat on his brow.

"I'll go down and make her some coffee," he thought.

Down in the kitchen it was a relief to bang about hunting for the utensils.
On picnics up in the mountains his coffee had been famous. He made some now
and boiled some eggs, and they breakfasted in Deborah's room. She seemed
almost herself again. Later, while he was dressing, he saw her in the
doorway. She was looking at her father with bright and grateful,
affectionate eyes.

"Will you come to school with me to-day? I'd like you to see it," Deborah
said.

"Very well," he answered gruffly.




CHAPTER X


Out of the subway they emerged into a noisy tenement street. Roger had
known such streets as this, but only in the night-time, as picturesque and
adventurous ways in an underground world he had explored in search of
strange old glittering rings. It was different now. Gone were the Rembrandt
shadows, the leaping flare of torches, the dark surging masses of weird
uncouth humanity. Here in garish daylight were poverty and ugliness, here
were heaps of refuse and heavy smells and clamor. It disgusted and repelled
him, and he was tempted to turn back. But glancing at Deborah by his side
he thought of the night she had been through. No, he decided, he would go
on and see what she was up to here.

They turned into a narrower street between tall dirty tenements, and in a
twinkling all was changed. For the street, as far as he could see, was gay
with flaunting colors, torrents of bobbing hats and ribbons, frocks and
blouses, shirts and breeches, vivid reds and yellows and blues. It was
deafening with joyous cries, a shrill incessant chatter, chatter, piercing
yells and shrieks of laughter. Children, swarms of children, children of
all sizes passed him, clean and dirty, smiling, scowling, hurrying,
running, pummeling, grabbing, whirling each other 'round and 'round - till
the very air seemed quivering with wild spirits and new life!

He heard Deborah laughing. Five hilarious small boys had hold of her hands
and were marching in triumph waving their caps. "Heigh there - heigh there!
Heigh - heigh - heigh!"

The school was close in front of them. An enormous building of brick and
tile wedged into a disordered mass of tenements, shops and factories, it
had been built around a court shut out from the street by a high steel
fence. They squeezed into the gateway, through which a shouting punching
mob of urchins were now pushing in; and soon from a balcony above Roger
looked down into the court, where out of a wild chaos order was appearing.
Boys to the right and girls to the left were forming in long sinuous lines,
and three thousand faces were turned toward the building. In front appeared
the Stars and Stripes. Then suddenly he heard a crash from underneath the
balcony, and looking down he saw a band made up of some thirty or forty
boys. Their leader, a dark Italian lad, made a flourish, a pass with his
baton, and the band broke into a blaring storm, an uproarious, booming
march. The mob below fell into step, and line after line in single file the
children marched into their school.

"Look up! Look all around you!" He heard Deborah's eager voice in his ear.
And as he looked up from the court below he gave a low cry of amazement. In
hundreds of windows all around, of sweatshops, tenements, factories, on
tier upon tier of fire escapes and even upon the roofs above, silent
watchers had appeared. For this one moment in the day the whole congested
neighborhood had stopped its feverish labor and become an amphitheater with
all eyes upon the school. And the thought flashed into Roger's mind:
"Deborah's big family!"

He had a strange confusing time. In her office, in a daze, he sat and heard
his daughter with her two assistant principals, her clerk and her
stenographer, plunge into the routine work of the day. What kind of school
teacher was this? She seemed more like the manager of some buzzing factory.
Messages kept coming constantly from class-rooms, children came for
punishment, and on each small human problem she was passing judgment
quickly. Meanwhile a score of mothers, most of them Italians with colored
shawls upon their heads, had straggled in and taken seats, and one by one
they came to her desk. For these women who had been children in peasant
huts in Italy now had children of their own in the great city of New York,
and they found it very baffling. How to keep them in at night? How to make
them go to the priest? How to feed and clothe them? How to live in these
tenement homes, in this wild din and chaos? They wanted help and they
wanted advice. Deborah spoke in Italian, but turning to her father she
would translate from time to time.

A tired scowling woman said, "My boy won't obey me. His father is dead.
When I slap him he only jumps away. I lock him in and he steals the key, he
keeps it in his pocket. He steals the money that I earn. He says I'm from
the country." And a flabby anxious woman said, "My girl runs out to dance
halls. Sometimes she comes back at two in the morning. She is fifteen and
she ought to get married. But what can I do? A nice steady man who never
dances comes sometimes to see her - but she makes faces and calls him a
fatty, she dances before him and pushes him out and slams the door. What
can I do?"

"Please come and see our janitor and make him fix our kitchen sink!" an
angry little woman cried. "When I try to wash the dishes the water spouts
all over me!" And then a plump rosy mother said in a soft coaxing voice, "I
have eight little children, all nice and clean. When you tell them to do
anything they always do it quickly. They smile at you, they are like
saints. So could the kind beautiful teacher fix it up with a newspaper to
send them to the country - this summer when it is so hot? The newspaper
could send a man and he could take our pictures."

"Most of us girls used to be in this school," said a bright looking Jewess
of eighteen. "And you taught us how we should live nice. But how can we
live nice when our shop is so rotten? Our boss is trying to kiss the
girls, he is trying to hug them on the stairs. And what he pays us is a
joke, and we must work till nine o'clock. So will you help us, teacher, and
give us a room for our meetings here? We want to have a union."

A truant officer brought in two ragged, frightened little chaps. Found on
the street during school hours, they had to give an account of themselves.
Sullenly one of them gave an address far up in the Bronx, ten miles away.
They had not been home for a week, he said. Was he lying? What was to be
done? Somewhere in the city their homes must be discovered. And the talk of
the truant officer made Roger feel ramifications here which wound out
through the police and the courts to reformatories, distant cells. He
thought of that electric chair, and suddenly he felt oppressed by the heavy
complexity of it all.

And this was part and parcel of his daughter's daily work in school! Still
dazed, disturbed but curious, he sat and watched and listened, while the
bewildering demands of Deborah's big family kept crowding in upon her. He
went to a few of the class-rooms and found that reading and writing,
arithmetic and spelling were being taught in ways which he had never
dreamed of. He found a kindergarten class, a carpenter shop and a printing
shop, a sewing class and a cooking class in a large model kitchen. He
watched the nurse in her hospital room, he went into the dental clinic
where a squad of fifty urchins were having their teeth examined, and out
upon a small side roof he found a score of small invalids in steamer
chairs, all fast asleep. It was a strange astounding school! He heard
Deborah speak of a mothers' club and a neighborhood association; and he
learned of other ventures here, the school doctor, the nurse and the
visitor endlessly making experiments, delving into the neighborhood for
ways to meet its problems. And by the way Deborah talked to them he felt
she had gone before, that years ago by day and night she had been over the
ground alone. And she'd done all this while she lived in his house!

Scattered memories out of the past, mere fragments she had told him, here
flashed back into his mind: humorous little incidents of daily battles she
had waged in rotten old tenement buildings with rags and filth and garbage,
with vermin, darkness and disease. Mingled with these had been accounts of
dances, weddings and christenings and of curious funeral rites. And
struggling with such dim memories of Deborah in her twenties, called forth
in his mind by the picture of the woman of thirty here, Roger grew still
more confused. What was to be the end of it? She was still but a pioneer in
a jungle, endlessly groping and trying new things.

"How many children are there in the public schools?" he asked.

"About eight hundred thousand," Deborah said.

"Good Lord!" he groaned, and he felt within him a glow of indignation rise
against these immigrant women for breeding so inconsiderately. With the mad
city growing so fast, and the people of the tenements breeding, breeding,
breeding, and packing the schools to bursting, what could any teacher be
but a mere cog in a machine, ponderous, impersonal, blind, grinding out
future New Yorkers?

He reached home limp and battered from the storm of new impressions coming
on top of his sleepless night. He had thought of a school as a simple
place, filled with little children, mischievous at times perhaps and some
with dirty faces, but still with minds and spirits clean, unsoiled as yet
by contact with the grim spirit of the town. He had thought of childhood as
something intimate and pure, inside his home, his family. Instead of that,
in Deborah's school he had been disturbed and thrilled by the presence all
around him of something wild, barbaric, dark, compounded of the city
streets, of surging crowds, of rushing feet, of turmoil, filth, disease and
death, of poverty and vice and crime. But Roger could still hear that band.
And behind its blaring crash and din he had felt the vital throbbing of a
tremendous joyousness, of gaiety, fresh hopes and dreams, of leaping young
emotions like deep buried bubbling springs bursting up resistlessly to
renew the fevered life of the town! Deborah's big family! Everybody's
children!

"You will live on in our children's lives." The vision hidden in those
words now opened wide before his eyes.




CHAPTER XI


She told him the next morning her night school closed for the summer that
week.

"I think I should like to see it," her father said determinedly. She gave
him an affectionate smile:

"Oh, dearie. Haven't you had enough?"

"I guess I can stand it if you can," was his gruff rejoinder, "though if I
ran a school like yours I think by night I'd have schooled enough. Do most
principals run night schools too?"

"A good many of them do."

"Isn't it taxing your strength?" he asked.

"Don't you have to tax your strength," his daughter replied good humoredly,
"to really accomplish anything? Don't you have to risk yourself in order to
really live these days? Suppose you come down to-morrow night. We won't go
to the school, for I doubt if the clubs and classes would interest you very
much. I'll take you through the neighborhood."

* * * * *

They went down the following evening. The night was warm and humid, and
through the narrow tenement streets there poured a teeming mass of life.
People by the thousands passed, bareheaded, men in shirt sleeves, their
faces glistening with sweat. Animal odors filled the air. The torches on
the pushcarts threw flaring lights and shadows, the peddlers shouted
hoarsely, the tradesmen in the booths and stalls joined in with cries,
shrill peals of mirth. The mass swept onward, talking, talking, and its
voice was a guttural roar. Small boys and girls with piercing yells kept
darting under elbows, old women dozed on doorsteps, babies screamed on
every side. Mothers leaned out of windows, and by their faces you could see
that they were screaming angrily for children to come up to bed. But you
could not hear their cries. Here around a hurdy gurdy gravely danced some


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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 6 of 22)