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   Chapter 5 THE CRY OF THE CITY

The One Woman By Thomas Dixon Characters: 29628

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Kate Ransom entered the church with enthusiasm. Even Van Meter, learning that she lived on Gramercy Park and was a woman of wealth, congratulated Gordon on the event.

She organized a working-girls' club and became its presiding genius. Her beauty and genial ways won every girl with whom she came in contact. Her club became at once a force in Gordon's work, absolutely loyal to his slightest wish. She formed a corps of visitors and asked to be allowed to help in his pastoral work.

"Before we begin," she said, "let me be your assistant for a day. I wish to see the city as you see it, that I can direct my girls with intelligence."

On the day fixed, she acted as usher for his callers at the church.

The President of his boys' club was admitted first to tell him a saloon had been opened next door to their building in spite of their protest to the Board of Excise.

Gordon frowned.

"It's no use to waste breath on the Board. They know that saloon is within the forbidden number of feet from our church. But as the Governor of New York has recently said, 'Give me the vote of the saloons; I don't mind the churches,' go down to this lawyer and tell him to insist on an indictment of Crook, the Chairman of the Board, for the violation of his oath of office."

"It's no use, sir," said Anderson, his assistant. "I've been to see him. He tells me there were three indictments for penitentiary offenses pending against Crook when the Mayor promoted him to be Chairman of the Board. Three courts have pronounced him guilty, but the new Legislature is going to pass an ex-post facto law to relieve him of his term in prison."

"Then try him with one more indictment and include the whole Board of Excise this time. We will let them know we are alive."

Kate ushered in a slatternly little woman, dirty, ugly, cross-eyed and her face red from weeping. "Please, Doctor, come quick. They've got Dan. They knocked him in the head, dragged him down the stairs and flung him in the wagon. He's in jail, and they say they'll have him in Sing Sing in a week. He ain't done a thing. You're the only friend we've got in the world."

"On what charge did they arrest him, Mrs. Hogan?"

"Just a lot o' policemen charged on him with billies!"

"But why did they do it?"

"It's the policeman on the beat who's got a grudge agin him. He swore he'd land him in Sing Sing. And if you can't stop him, he'll do it."

Gordon wrote a note to a lawyer and handed it to her.

"Go to this lawyer and tell him to take the case."

"Dan's a friend of mine," he explained to Kate. "I've taken him out of the hospital three times from delirium tremens, and found work for him a dozen times. But he can't hold his job. Everything seems against him.

"'It's me face, Doctor,' he tells me in despair. 'When they see me they won't stand me. Me wife's cross-eyed, or she'd 'a' never married me. I was tin years prowlin' up an' down the earth seekin' a woman. But I couldn't catch one. She'd 'a' got away from me if she could 'a' seed straight.'"

Kate laughed and ushered in a young woman with blond hair and an ill-fitting dress. She walked as in a dream, and there was a strange look in her eye.

"I hope you are feeling better to-day, Miss Alice."

She made no reply, but seated herself wearily, while Gordon drew a cheque for fifty dollars and handed it to her. She placed it mechanically in her purse.

"I hope you are making progress in your art now that you have a comfortable studio," he said kindly.

"I want to see him," she replied in a low voice.

"But I can't give you his address, When he came to me, conscience stricken, and told me that you were wandering about the streets of New York ill and half starved, and placed this fund at my disposal, he stipulated that he would pay it only so long as you let him alone. You promised me last month to stop writing letters to the general post-office."

"I can't help it. I love him. I don't want this money; I want him."

"But you know he is married."

"He said he'd get a divorce. I love him. I'll be his servant, his dog-if he will only see me and speak to me. Tell me where to find him. I believe all men are friends to one another."

Kate, waiting behind the curtain which cut off Gordon's desk, could hear distinctly.

When the young woman emerged she led her into the adjoining room, and there was the sound of a kiss at the door as she left.

An aged father and mother came, dressed in their best clothes, and very timid.

"We have a great sorrow, Doctor," the father began tremulously. "We are strangers in New York. We hate to trouble you. But we heard you preach, and you seemed to get so close to our hearts we felt we had known you all our lives."

He paused and the mother began to brush the tears from her eyes.

"Our boy is a medical student here. We were proud of him-all we had dreamed and never seen, all we had hoped to be and never been in life, we expected to see in him. We skimped and saved and gave him an education. Sometimes we didn't have much to eat at home, but we didn't care. Did we, Ma?"

The mother shook her head.

"Then we mortgaged the farm and sent him here to study three years and be a great doctor."

He paused, bent low and covered his face with his hands.

"And now, sir, he's taken to drink, and they tell us at the college he won't get his diploma! And we thought, after we heard you, maybe you could see him, get hold of him, and help us save him. He's all we've got. The rest are dead."

Gordon looked away and his lips quivered.

"You'll help us, Doctor?"

"I'll do the best I can for you, my friends. It's such a sad old story in this town that one gets hardened to it till we see it in some fresh revelation of anguish like yours."

He took the name and address and the old man and woman went out, softly crying.

A widow came to tell him of an assault on her twelve-year-old daughter.

"And because the brute is a rich man on an avenue," she sobbed, "they've turned him loose with a fine. I'm poor and ignorant, and I'm not a member of your church, but all the people are talking about you in our neighbourhood, and told me you were a friend of the weak, and I'm here."

He called his assistant in.

"Anderson, do you know anything of this case? How could such a thing be?"

"I've looked into it. It's just as she tells you. The man was arraigned before a police magistrate, who had no power to try such a case. He was allowed to plead under an assumed name-John Stevens, of Newark, New Jersey, fined and discharged. I informed the city editor of the Herald of the case; he detailed a reporter, who wrote it up. He left out the man's real name. Nothing has come of it. Our courts have become so debased, God only knows what they will do next. We have a police judge now who is the owner of five disreputable dives, which he runs every day and Sunday. He sits down on the bench on Monday and discharges the cases against his saloons. We've another, who was drunk in the gutter, with two warrants out for his arrest, when the Boss made him a judge. What can we expect from such courts?"

He sent her away with the premise to consult the best legal talent.

A little frousle-headed woman, carrying a bag full of documents, then explained to him that she was the inventor of a process for preserving dead bodies, meats and eggs by treating them with the purifying ozone of the air, and wished him to organise a company, make her president, and act as her secretary.

"It's the greatest invention ever conceived by the human mind," she explained, as she spread out scores of letters and testimonials from men who had tested it, and many who had signed anything to get rid of her.

"Madam, if your process can only be applied to the city government of New York you will deserve a monument higher than the Statue of Liberty. But I'm afraid there's not enough ozone in the atmosphere."

He had to call help to get her out, and then she only went after she got the loan of five dollars to tide her over the week.

A theological student with an open hatchet face, from the western plains, on his way to Moody's school at Northfield, asked for money to get there.

"I had a-plenty," he explained, "but I met a man who asked me to change a bill for him. He got the change, but I'm looking for him to get the bill. I don't know, to save my life, how he got away. I still have his umbrella that he asked me to hold."

Gordon smiled and loaned him the money.

"I don't ask you for any references. You are the real thing, my boy."

A woman in mourning, whom he recognised immediately from her published pictures, asked him to champion the cause of her son, who was under sentence of death.

Gordon readily recalled the case as a famous one. He had followed it with some care and was sure from the evidence that the young man was guilty.

For a half hour she poured out her mother's soul to him in piteous accents.

"My dear madam," he said at last, "I cannot possibly undertake such work."

"Then who will save him? I've tramped the streets of New York for six months and appealed to every man of power. Your voice raised in protest against this shameful and unjust death will turn the tide of public opinion and save him. You can't refuse me!"

"I must refuse," he answered firmly.

She turned pale, and her mouth twitched nervously. He looked into her white face with a great pity and a feeling of horror swept his heart. The pathos and the agony of the tragedy filled him with strange foreboding. In his imagination he could hear the click of handcuffs on his own wrists and feel the steel of prison bars on his own hands as he peered through the grating toward the gate of Death.

But he was firm in his refusal, and she left with words of bitterness and reproach.

After a long procession of people, sick, and most of them out of work, he was surprised to see one of his own deacons approach with a look of dejection.

"Why, Ludlow, what ails you?"

"Sorry to trouble you, Pastor, but I've lost my place. You see, I'm more than fifty years old, and though I've worked for my firm twenty years, they laid me off for a younger man. I'm ruined unless I can get work. I've four people dependent on me. I've come to ask you to see the Manager of the new department store and get me a place. I've been there three times, but I can't get to the Manager."

"I'll do it to-day, Deacon. Let me know when you need anything."

After two hours of this work, he left, with Kate Ransom, for his round of visits.

She looked at him as he started smilingly from the church.

"And you have gone through with this every day for ten years?"

"Of course."

"While I have been around the corner laughing and dancing with a lot of idiots. And you seem as cheerful as though you had been listening to ravishing music!"

"Yes, I must be cheerful."

"How do you endure it? Yet it fascinates me, this life-in touch with drama more thrilling than poets dream. It seems to me I'm just beginning to live. I am very grateful to you."

He looked into her face, smiling.

"The gratitude is on my side. You are going to be more popular than the pastor."

"I'm sure you will not be jealous."

"Hardly, as long as I hear the extravagant things you are telling your girls about loyalty to the leader."

She blushed and turned her violet eyes frankly on him.

"I believe in loyalty."

He answered with a look of gratitude.

"We must go first to that store for Ludlow. He's the best deacon in the church, a staunch friend, a loyal, tireless worker."

Gordon waited patiently at the store a half hour and succeeded in reaching the Manager. As they left, he said to Kate:

"Did you see that crowd of two hundred men waiting at his door?"

"Yes; what were they doing there?"

"Waiting their turn to see the Manager. They will come back to-morrow, and next day and next day, just like that. I felt mean to sneak in ahead of them by a private door because my card could open it. The Manager gave me a note to the head of the department Ludlow wishes to enter and asked him to suspend the rule against men fifty years of age and give my man a trial. In return for this favour he coolly asked me to deliver a lecture before his employees that will cost me a week's work. I had to do it. The head of the department who read the note told me to send Ludlow to see him, but he scowled at me as though he would like to tear my eyes out. He will put him on and discharge him in a month for some frivolous offense."

They boarded a Broadway car and got off at City Hall Park.

"Where are you going down here?" she asked.

"To a building that collapsed yesterday and killed thirty working people. That house was condemned fifteen years ago by the Inspector. But its owner was a friend of the Boss, and it stood till it fell and killed those people."

The street was blocked by the fire department playing their streams on the smouldering ruins, while gangs of men worked cleaning away the rubbish and searching for dead bodies.

A crowd of relatives and friends were pressing close to the ropes. Many of them had stood there all night, crazed with grief, wringing their hands, hoping and praying they might find some token of love left of those dear to them, and yet hoping against hope that they might find nothing and that their beloved would appear, saved by some miracle.

Gordon had promised a mother whose daughter was missing to help her in the search. She did not know where her own child worked. She only knew it was downtown near the City Hall. A building had fallen in, and she had not come home.

Just as they approached the ruins a body was found and brought to the enclosure for identification. The mother recognized her daughter by an earring. She flung herself across the black-charred trunk with a shriek that rang clear and soul-piercing above the roar and thunder of the city's life at high tide. Above the rumble of car, the rattle of wagon, the jar of machinery, the tramp and murmur of millions the awful cry pierced the sky.

Kate put her hand on Gordon's arm and pressed her red lips together, shivering. "O dear! O dear! what a cry! I can't go any closer. I'll wait for you out at the edge of the crowd."

He pushed into the throng, lifted the woman, spoke a few words of tenderness to her, and told her he would call at her home later.

As he was about to leave, a tall, delicate man working among the ruins reeled and sank in a faint. When he revived, he quit his job and went home without a word.

"What was the matter with that man?" Gordon asked the foreman of the wrecking company.

"Starved, to tell you the truth. He came here yesterday and begged for a job. He looked so pa

le and sick I couldn't refuse him. He fainted the first hour and went home. He came back this morning and begged me to try him again. I did, but you see he is too weak. He told me his family was starving."

He joined Kate and they crossed the City Hall Square and walked down Centre Street to the Tombs prison.

She was pale and quiet, glancing at him now and then.

"I've an engagement at the Tombs," he told her, "with a lady to whom I used to make innocent love in our youth in a college town. I got a note from her yesterday, written in the clear, beautiful hand I recognised from the memory of little perfumed things she used to send me. You don't know what a queer sick feeling came over me when I recognised from the street number that she was in prison. I haven't seen her in fifteen years. She was the village belle and made what was supposed to be a brilliant marriage."

They entered the grim old prison, that looked like an Egyptian temple, with its huge slanting walls of granite squatting low on Centre Street like a big pot-bellied spider, watching with one eye the brilliant insects of wealth on Broadway and with the other the gray vermin swarming under the Bridge and along the river.

Kate put her hand on Gordon's arm and drew closer as they passed down its gloomy corridor to the warden's office.

She tried to smile, but by the twitching at the corners of her full lips he could see she was nearer to crying. Again, as her body touched his, he felt the warmth and glow of her beauty, her blue eyes, cordial and grave, her waving auburn hair with its glowing fires, her step luxurious and rhythmic, and. now as her hand trembled, instead of the gleam of cruelty and conscious power, the timid appeal to the strength of the man.

She looked at him and lowered her eyes, and then flashed them up straight into his face with a smile.

"I'm not afraid!" she said impulsively.

"Of course not."

His steel-gray eyes looked into hers, and they both laughed.

Gordon asked the warden's permission to see the woman whose letter had brought him and also the young man who had returned from Sing Sing for a new trial.

"What is the charge against the woman?" he asked.

"Shoplifting, sir. She's been here before and begged off. But they are going to send her up this time. I'll allow her to see you in the reception room."

She came in, with a poor attempt at dignity, and then collapsed into whining but hopeful lying. She was dressed in an old sunburnt frock. Her hair was tousled, her shoes untied, and a corset-string was hanging outside her skirt. Her front teeth were out, and the red blotches on her face told the story of drink and drugs.

"Doctor, it's all a mistake. I swear to you I am innocent. You don't know how it humiliates me for you to see me like this-you, who knew me in the old days at home, when I was rich and petted and loved. And now I haven't a friend in the world. My husband left me. If you will tell them to let me off, they will do it for your sake. I swear to you I will leave New York, go back to my old home and try to begin life over again." She buried her face in her hands.

"What shall I do?" he whispered to Kate. "She is lying. She will never leave New York."

"Promise her-promise her; I'll try to do something for her."

They passed inside, along Murderers' Row, and stopped before the cell in which stood the man waiting his new trial. He poured out his story again, and as Gordon looked sadly through the bars at his face the certainty of his guilt gave the lie to every fair word.

As his glib tongue rattled on, Gordon's mind was farther and farther away. He was thinking of that grim sentence from the old Bible, "Sin when it is full grown bringeth forth death." And again this problem of sin, the wilful and persistent violation of known law, threw its shadow for a moment over his dream of social brotherhood. The voice of the man angered him. He frowned, bade him good-by and left.

And as he passed out, he felt, in spite of the charm of Kate's companionship, the shadow of that veiled mother by his side, and heard the bitter cries of her broken heart, until the sin and shame of the man seemed his own. The pity and pathos of it all haunted and filled him with vague forebodings.-"Now for something more cheerful," he said, as they passed out of the Tombs and boarded an uptown car.

"A derrick at work in that wreck yesterday fell on a working-man.

He has a wife and four children. We must see how he is getting on."

They got off on the Bowery, turned down a cross street toward the East River, threading their way through the masses of people jamming the sidewalks, and dodging missiles from dirty children screaming and romping at play.

"Mercy!" exclaimed Kate, "I thought Broadway and Fifth Avenue and the shopping districts crowded-but this is beyond belief! I didn't know there were so many people in the world."

"And what you see, just a drop in the ocean of humanity. There are miles and miles of these tenements in New York-square mile after square mile, packed from cellar to attic. We have a million and a half crowded behind these grim walls on this island alone."

"Surely not all so ugly and wretched as these?"

"Many worse. But don't let the outside deceive you. Back of these nightmares of scorched mud, festooned with shabby clothes, are thousands of brave loving men and women, living their lives cheerfully, not asking us for pity. Even in this squalor grow beautiful, innocent girls like flowers in a muck-heap. When I see these children growing up thus into fair men and women with such sur-roundings, I know that every babe is born a child of God, not of the devil."

They climbed a dark stairway and knocked at the back door of a double-decker tenement.

A stout woman opened it, and they entered the tiny kitchen, so small that the table had to be pushed against the wall to pass it and the family of six could not all eat at one time because the table could not be pulled out into the room.

"How is John this afternoon, Mrs. McDonald?"

"We don't know, sir. The doctor's in there now. If he dies, God knows what we will do; and if he lives, a cripple, it'll be worse."

The doctor called them into the front room and whispered to Gordon:

"He's got to die, and I'm going to tell him. I'm glad you are here."

He took the man by the hand.

"Well, John, I'm sorry to say so to you, but you must know it. You can't live beyond the day."

The man drew himself upon his elbow, looked at the doctor in a dazed sort of way and then at his wife holding his crying baby in her arms, the other little ones clinging to her dress, and gasped:

"Did you say die? Here-now-to-day-die? And if I do, I leave my helpless ones to starve."

He paused, fingering the covering nervously, shut his jaws firmly and looked at the doctor.

"Almighty God! I can't die!" he growled through his teeth. "I will not die!"

"No, no, you sha'n't die, John. We'll help you to live!" his wife cried.

"Very well; if you keep on feeling that way you may live," said the doctor cheerfully. "We will hope for the best."

Kate's eyelids drooped as she stood watching this scene as in a dream. She took the woman by the hand as she left:

"I do hope he will live for your sake. I believe he will."

When they reached the street, the doctor said to her:

"Glad to welcome you, Miss Ransom, from the little world into the great one."

"Thank you. I begin to feel I have not been in the world at all before. Will he live, do you think?"

"If he holds that iron will with the grip he has on it now he'll pull through-and be a hopeless invalid for life. He will join the great army of industrial cripples-a havoc that makes war seem harmless. The wrecking corporation have already sent their lawyer and settled his case for eighty-five dollars cash: not enough to bury him. He thought it better than nothing."

The doctor hurried on to another patient.

It had grown quite dark. Gordon took Kate by the arm after the modern fashion, and they threaded their way through the crowds made denser by the return of the working people. She had removed her right glove in the house and did not replace it immediately. His big hand clasped her rounded, beautiful arm, and a thrill of emotion swept him at the consciousness of her nearness, her sympathy, her open admiration and sweet companionship in his work.

Again, as she walked with the quick, sinuous and graceful swing of her body, he was impressed with her perfect health and vital power. She had recovered her balance now, and when she spoke it was with contagious enthusiasm.

"I can never thank you enough for opening the door of a real world to me, Doctor," she declared, looking up at him soberly.

"And you have no idea what inspiration you have given the church-just at a time I need it, too," he answered warmly.

"I've been wondering what I did here for nine years, unconscious of this wonderful drama of love and shame, joy and sorrow about me. But what did he mean by an army of cripples greater than the havoc of war?"

"Victims of machinery. It's incredible to those who do not come in contact with it. The railroads alone kill and wound thirty-five thousand working-men every year: this is a small percentage of the grand total. More men are killed and wounded by machinery in America than were killed and wounded any year in the great Civil War, the bloodiest and most fatal struggle in history. We pay billions in pensions to our soldiers, but nothing is done about this. The social order that permits such atrocity must go down before the rising consciousness of human brotherhood. The employers ask, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' and forget that they are echoing the shriek of the first murderer over his victim's body."

"And I never thought of it before. How strange that so many people are in the world and never a part of it."

"You can begin to see the outlines of the problems before us. It will be years before you can realise the height and depth of need that calls here to-day for deeds more heroic than knights of old ever dreamed."

Again she looked at him with frank admiration.

"But the most wonderful thing I have seen to-day has been a man," she boldly said. "Your faith, your optimism, your dreams in the face of the awful facts of life, and with it a tenderness of sympathy I never thought in you, have been a revelation to me. I feel more and more ashamed of the years I have wasted."

She said this very tenderly, while Gordon unconsciously tightened the grip of his big hand on her arm, and then went on as though she had not spoken.

"What a call to an earnest life! New York City furnishes two-thirds of the convicts of the state. We have one murder and ten suicides every week. More than eighty thousand men and women are arrested here every year. Fifty thousand pass through that basilisk's den we saw to-day. We have a hundred thousand child workers out of whose tender flesh we are coining gold. Three hundred thousand of our women are hewers of wood and drawers of water, robbed of their divine right of love and motherhood. There are twenty thousand children and fifty thousand men and women homeless in our streets. I have seen more than five hundred of them fighting for the chance of sleeping on the bare planks of a dirty police lodging-house."

He felt her nerves quiver with sympathy and surprise.

"I never dreamed such things took place in New York."

"Yes, and those homeless children are the saddest tragedy. We haven't orphanages for them. When a house burns down that has a coal shute or an opening in it where a child can crawl, the firemen thrust their hooks in and pull out a bundle of charred rags and flesh-one of these homeless waifs. No father or mother that ever bent over a cradle, looked into a baby's face and felt its warm breath can realise that horror and not go mad. We don't realise it. We ignore it. We have four hundred churches. We open them a few hours every week. We have nine thousand saloons opened all day, most of the night, and Sunday too. We haven't orphanages, but we have these nine thousand factories where orphans are made. When our country friends come to see us we take them to see the saloons! Our shame is our glory. You have to-day seen some of the fruits."

"And yet you have faith?"

"Yes; I have eyes that see the invisible. In all this crash of brute forces I see beauty in ugliness, innocence in filth. Here one is put to the test. Here the great powers of Nature have gathered for their last assault and have challenged man's soul to answer for its life. Dark spiritual forces shriek their battle-cries over the din of matter. The swiftness of progress, crushing and enriching, the mad greed for gold, the worship of success-a success that sneers at duty, honour, love and patriotism-the filth and frivolity of our upper strata, the growth of hate and envy below, the restlessness of the masses, the waning of faith, the growth of despair, the triumph of brute force, the reign of the liar and huckster-all these are more real and threatening here, as beasts and reptiles increase in size as we near the tropics. We are nearing the tropics of civilisation. We must not forget that the flowers will be richer, wilder, more beautiful, and life capable of higher things."

They had reached her door, and he released her arm, soft, round and warm, with a sense of loss and regret.

"Yet with all its shadows and sorrows," he cried with enthusiasm, "I love this imperial city. It is the centre of our national life-its very beating heart. If we can make it clean, its bright blood will go back to the farthest village and country seat with life. I shall live to see its black tenements swept away, and homes for the people, clean, white and beautiful, rise in their places. I have a vision of its streets swept and garnished, of green parks full of happy children, of working-men coming to their homes with songs at night as men once sang because their work was glad. I haven't much to depend on just now in the church. But God lives. I have a growing group of loyal young dreamers, and you have come as an omen of greater things."

She smiled.

"I'll do my best not to disappoint you."

He shook hands with her, declining to go in, and, as she sprang swiftly and gracefully up the steps, his eyes lingered a moment on the rhythm of her movement and the glory of her splendid figure in sheer rapture for its perfect beauty.

As he turned homeward, he thrust his hand, yet warm with the touch of her bare arm, into his pocket, drew out two pearls, looked tenderly at them and felt their smooth, rounded forms. A longing for such companionship in work with his wife swept his soul.

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