Cast Adrift by T.S. Arthur
"I take reproof to myself," said Mr. Dinneford. "As one of your board of managers, I ought to have regarded my position as more than a nominal one. I understand better now what you said about the ten or twenty of our rich and influential men who, if they could be induced to look away for a brief period from their great enterprises, and concentrate thought and effort upon the social evils, abuse of justice, violations of law, poverty and suffering that exist here and in other parts of our city, would inaugurate reforms and set beneficent agencies at work that would soon produce marvelous changes for good."
"Ah, yes," sighed Mr. Paulding. "If we had for just a little while the help of our strong men--the men of brains and will and money, the men who are used to commanding success, whose business it is to organize forces and set impediments at defiance, the men whose word is a kind of law to the people--how quickly, and as if by magic, would all this change!
"But we cannot now hope to get this great diversion in our favor. Until we do we must stand in the breach, small in numbers and weak though we are--must go on doing our best and helping when we may. Help is help and good is good, be it ever so small. If I am able to rescue but a single life where many are drowning, I make just so much head against death and destruction. Shall I stand off and refuse to put forth my hand because I cannot save a score?
"Take heart, Mr. Dinneford. Our work is not in vain. Its fruits may be seen all around. Bad as you find everything, it is not so bad as it was. When our day-school was opened, the stench from the filthy children who were gathered in was so great that the teachers were nauseated. They were dirty in person as well as dirty in their clothing. This would not do. There was no hope of moral purity while such physical impurity existed. So the mission set up baths, and made every child go in and thoroughly wash his body. Then they got children's clothing--new and old--from all possible sources, and put clean garments on their little scholars. From the moment they were washed and cleanly clad, a new and better spirit came upon them. They were more orderly and obedient, and more teachable. There was, or seemed to be, a tenderer quality in their voices as they sang their hymns of praise."
Just then there came a sudden outcry and a confusion of voices from the street. Mr. Dinneford arose quickly and went to the window. A man, apparently drunk and in a rage, was holding a boy tightly gripped by the collar with one hand and cuffing him about the head and face with the other.
"It's that miserable Blind Jake!" said Mr. Paulding.
In great excitement, Mr. Dinneford threw up the window and called for the police. At this the man stopped beating the boy, but swore at him terribly, his sightless eyes rolling and his face distorted in a frightful way. A policeman who was not far off came now upon the scene.
"What's all this about?" he asked, sternly.
"Jake's drunk again, that's the row," answered a voice.
"Lock him up, lock him up!" cried two or three from the crowd.
An expression of savage defiance came into the face of the blind man, and he moved his arms and clenched his fist like one who was bent on desperate resistance. He was large and muscular, and, now that he was excited by drink and bad passions, had a look that was dangerous.
"Go home and behave yourself," said the policeman, not caring to have a single-handed tussle with the human savage, whose strength and desperate character he well knew.
Blind Jake, as he was called, stood for a few moments half defiant, growling and distorting his face until it looked more like a wild animal's than a man's, then jerked out the words,
"Where's that Pete?" with a sound like the crack of a whip.
The boy he had been beating in his drunken fury, and who did not seem to be much hurt, came forward from the crowd, and taking him by the hand, led him away.
"Who is this blind man? I have seen him before," said Mr. Dinneford.
"You may see him any day standing at the street corners, begging, a miserable-looking object, exciting the pity of the humane, and gathering in money to spend in drunken debauchery at night. He has been known to bring in some days as high as ten and some fifteen dollars, all of which is wasted in riot before the next morning. He lives just over the way, and night after night I can hear his howls and curses and laughter mingled with those of the vile women with whom he herds."
"Surely this cannot be?" said Mr. Dinneford.
"Surely it is," was replied. "I know of what I speak. There is hardly a viler wretch in all our city than this man, who draws hundreds--I might say, without exaggeration, thousands--of dollars from weak and tender-hearted people every year to be spent as I have said; and he is not the only one. Out of this district go hundreds of thieves and beggars every day, spreading themselves over the city and gathering in their harvests from our people. I see them at the street corners, coming out of yards and alley-gates, skulking near unguarded premises and studying shop-windows. They are all impostors or thieves. Not one of them is deserving of charity. He who gives to them wastes his money and encourages thieving and vagrancy. One half of the successful burglaries committed on dwelling-houses are in consequence of information gained by beggars. Servant-girls are lured away by old women who come in the guise of alms-seekers, and by well-feigned poverty and a seeming spirit of humble thankfulness--often of pious trust in God--win upon their sympathy and confidence. Many a poor weak girl has thus been led to visit one of these poor women in the hope of doing her some good, and many a one has thus been drawn into evil ways. If the people only understood this matter as I understand it, they would shut hearts and hands against all beggars. I add beggary as a vice to drinking and policy-buying as the next most active agency in the work of making paupers and criminals."
"But there are deserving poor," said Dinneford. "We cannot shut our hearts against all who seek for help."
"The deserving poor," replied Mr. Paulding, "are never common beggars--never those who solicit in the street or importune from house to house. They try always to help themselves, and ask for aid only when in great extremity. They rarely force themselves on your attention; they suffer and die often in dumb despair. We find them in these dreary and desolate cellars and garrets, sick and starving and silent, often dying, and minister to them as best we can. If the money given daily to idle and vicious beggars could be gathered into a fund and dispensed with a wise Christian charity, it would do a vast amount of good; now it does only evil."
"You are doubtless right in this," returned Mr. Dinneford. "Some one has said that to help the evil is to hurt the good, and I guess his saying is near the truth."
"If you help the vicious and the idle," was answered, "you simply encourage vice and idleness, and these never exist without doing a hurt to society. Withhold aid, and they will be forced to work, and so not only do something for the common good, but be kept out of the evil ways into which idleness always leads.
"So you see, sir, how wrong it is to give alms to the vast crew of beggars that infest our cities, and especially to the children who are sent out daily to beg or steal as opportunity offers.
"But there is another view of the case, continued Mr. Paulding, "that few consider, and which would, I am sure, arouse the people to immediate action if they understood it as I do. We compare the nation to a great man. We call it a 'body politic.' We speak of its head, its brain, its hands, its feet, its arteries and vital forces. We know that no part of the nation can be hurt without all the other parts feeling in some degree the shock and sharing the loss or suffering. What is true of the great man of the nation is true of our smaller communities, our States and cities and towns. Each is an aggregate man, and the health and well-being of this man depend on the individual men and the groups and societies of men by which it is constituted. There cannot be an unhealthy organ in the human system without a communication of disease to the whole body. A diseased liver or heart or lung, a useless hand or foot, an ulcer or local obstruction, cannot exist without injury and impediment to the whole. In the case of a malignant ulcer, how soon the blood gets poisoned!
"Now, here is a malignant ulcer in the body politic of our city. Is it possible, do you think, for it to exist, and in the virulent condition we find it, and not poison the blood of our whole community? Moral and spiritual laws are as unvarying in their action, out of natural sight though they be, as physical laws. Evil and good are as positive entities as fire, and destroy or consume as surely. As certainly as an ulcer poisons with its malignant ichor this blood that visits every part of the body, so surely is this ulcer poisoning every part of our community. Any one who reflects for a moment will see that it cannot be otherwise. From this moral ulcer there flows out daily and nightly an ichor as destructive as that from a cancer. Here theft and robbery and murder have birth, nurture and growth until full formed and organized, and then go forth to plunder and destroy. The life and property of no citizen is safe so long as this community exists. It has its schools of instruction for thieves and housebreakers, where even little children are educated to the business of stealing and robbery. Out from it go daily hundreds of men and women, boys and girls, on their business of beggary, theft and the enticement of the weak and unwary into crime. In it congregate human vultures and harpies who absorb most of the plunder that is gained outside, and render more brutal and desperate the wretches they rob in comparative safety.
"Let me show you how this is done. A man or a woman thirsting for liquor will steal anything to get money for whisky. The article stolen may be a coat, a pair of boots or a dress--something worth from five to twenty dollars. It is taken to one of these harpies, and sold for fifty cents or a dollar--anything to get enough for a drunken spree. I am speaking only of what I know. Then, again, a man or a woman gets stupidly drunk in one of the whisky-shops. Before he or she is thrown out upon the street, the thrifty liquor-seller 'goes through' the pockets of the insensible wretch, and confiscates all he finds. Again, a vile woman has robbed one of her visitors, and with the money in her pocket goes to a dram-shop. The sum may be ten dollars or it may be two hundred. A glass or so unlooses her tongue; she boasts of her exploit, and perhaps shows her booty. Not once in a dozen times will she take this booty away. If there are only a few women in the shop, the liquor-seller will most likely pounce on her at once and get the money by force. There is no redress. To inform the police is to give information against herself. He may give her back a little to keep her quiet or he may not, just as he feels about it. If he does not resort to direct force, he will manage in some other way to get the money. I could take you to the dram-shop of a man scarcely a stone's throw from this place who came out of the State's prison less than four years ago and set up his vile trap where it now stands. He is known to be worth fifty thousand dollars to-day. How did he make this large sum? By the profits of his bar? No one believes this. It has been by robbing his drunken and criminal customers whenever he could get them in his power."
"I am oppressed by all this," said Mr. Dinneford. "I never dreamed of such a state of things."
"Nor does one in a hundred of our good citizens, who live in quiet unconcern with this pest-house of crime and disease in their midst. And speaking of disease, let me give you another fact that should be widely known. Every obnoxious epidemic with which our city has been visited in the last twenty years has originated here--ship fever, relapsing fever and small-pox--and so, getting a lodgment in the body politic, have poured their malignant poisons into the blood and diseased the whole. Death has found his way into the homes of hundreds of our best citizens through the door opened for him here."
"Can this be so?" exclaimed Mr. Dinneford.
"It is just as I have said," was replied. "And how could it be otherwise? Whether men take heed or not, the evil they permit to lie at their doors will surely do them harm. Ignorance of a statute, a moral or a physical law gives no immunity from consequence if the law be transgressed--a fact that thousands learn every year to their sorrow. There are those who would call this spread of disease, originating here, all over our city, a judgment from God, to punish the people for that neglect and indifference which has left such a hell as this in their midst. I do not so read it. God has no pleasure in punishments and retributions. The evil comes not from him. It enters through the door we have left open, just as a thief enters our dwellings, invited through our neglect to make the fastenings sure. It comes under the operations of a law as unvarying as any law in physics. And so long as we have this epidemic-breeding district in the very heart of our city, we must expect to reap our periodical harvests of disease and death. What it is to be next year, or the next, none can tell."
"Does not your perpetual contact with all this give your mind an unhealthy tone--a disposition to magnify its disastrous consequences?" said Mr. Dinneford.
The missionary dropped his eyes. The flush and animation went out of his face.
"I leave you to judge for yourself," he answered, after a brief silence, and in a voice that betrayed a feeling of disappointment. "You have the fact before you in the board of health, prison, almshouse, police, house of refuge, mission and other reports that are made every year to the people. If they hear not these, neither will they believe, though one rose from the dead."
"All is too dreadfully palpable for unbelief," returned Mr. Dinneford. "I only expressed a passing thought."
"My mind may take an unhealthy tone--does often, without doubt," said Mr. Paulding. "I wonder, sometimes, that I can keep my head clear and my purposes steady amid all this moral and physical disorder and suffering. But exaggeration of either this evil or its consequences is impossible. The half can never be told."
Mr. Dinneford rose to go. As he did so, two little Italian children, a boy and a girl, not over eight years of age, tired, hungry, pinched and starved-looking little creatures, the boy with a harp slung over his shoulder, and the girl carrying a violin, went past on the other side.
"Where in the world do all of these little wretches come from?" asked Mr. Dinneford. "They are swarming our streets of late. Yesterday I saw a child who could not be over two years of age tinkling her triangle, while an older boy and girl were playing on a harp and violin. She seemed so cold and tired that it made me sad to look at her. There is something wrong about this."
"Something very wrong," answered the missionary. "Doubtless you think these children are brought here by their parents or near relatives. No such thing. Most of them are slaves. I speak advisedly. The slave-trade is not yet dead. Its abolition on the coast of Africa did not abolish the cupidity that gave it birth. And the 'coolie' trade, one of its new forms, is not confined to the East."
"I am at a loss for your meaning," said Mr. Dinneford.
"I am not surprised. The new slave-trade, which has been carried on with a secresy that is only now beginning to attract attention, has its source of supply in Southern Italy, from which large numbers of children are drawn every year and brought to this country.
"The headquarters of this trade--cruel enough in some of its features to bear comparison with the African slave-trade itself--are in New York. From this city agents are sent out to Southern Italy every year, where little intelligence and great poverty exist. These agents tell grand stories of the brilliant prospects offered to the young in America. Let me now read to you from the published testimony of one who has made a thorough investigation of this nefarious business, so that you may get a clear comprehension of its extent and iniquity.
"He says: 'One of these agents will approach the father of a family, and after commenting upon the beauty of his children, will tell him that his boys "should be sent at once to America, where they must in time become rich." "There are no poor in America." "The children should go when young, so that they may grow up with the people and the better acquire the language." "None are too young or too old to go to America." The father, of course, has not the means to go himself or to send his children to this delightful country. The agent then offers to take the children to America, and to pay forty or fifty dollars to the father upon his signing an indenture abandoning all claims upon them. He often, also, promises to pay a hundred or more at the end of a year, but, of course, never does it.
"'After the agent has collected a sufficient number of children, they are all supplied with musical instruments, and the trip on foot through Switzerland and France begins. They are generally shipped to Genoa, and often to Marseilles, and accomplish the remainder of the journey to Havre or Calais by easy stages from village to village. Thus they become a paying investment from the beginning. This journey occupies the greater portion of the summer months; and after a long trip in the steerage of a sailing-vessel, the unfortunate children land at Castle Garden. As the parents never hear from them again, they do not know whether they are doing well or not.
"'They are too young and ignorant to know how to get themselves delivered from oppression; they do not speak our language, and find little or no sympathy among the people whom they annoy. They are thus left to the mercy of their masters, who treat them brutally, and apparently without fear of the law or any of its officers. They are crowded into small, ill-ventilated, uncarpeted rooms, eighteen or twenty in each, and pass the night on the floor, with only a blanket to protect them from the severity of the weather. In the mornings they are fed by their temporary guardian with maccaroni, served in the filthiest manner in a large open dish in the centre of the room, after which they are turned out into the streets to beg or steal until late at night.
"'More than all this, when the miserable little outcasts return to their cheerless quarters, they are required to deliver every cent which they have gathered during the day; and if the same be deemed insufficient, the children are carefully searched and soundly beaten.
"'The children are put through a kind of training in the arts of producing discords on their instruments, and of begging, in the whole of which the cruelty of the masters and the stolid submission of the pupils are the predominant features. The worst part of all is that the children become utterly unfitted for any occupation except vagrancy and theft.'
"You have the answer to your question, 'Where do all these little wretches come from?'" said the missionary as he laid aside the paper from which he had been reading. "Poor little slaves!"