A Kingdom in the Slums


WHAT happened next was Dover Street.

Outwardly, Dover Street is a noisy thoroughfare cut through a South End slum, in every essential the same as Wheeler Street. Turn down any street in the slums, at random, and name it what you will, you will still observe there the same fashions of life, death, and endurance. Every one of those streets is a rubbish-heap of damaged humanity, and it will take a wise surgeon to mend it.

Dover Street is intersected near its eastern end, where we lived, by Harrison Avenue. That street is to the South End what Salem Street is to the North End. It is the heart of the South End Ghetto, for the greater part of its length; although its northern end belongs to the realm of Chinatown. Its multifarious business bursts through the narrow shop-doors, and overruns the basements, the sidewalk, the street itself, in pushcarts and open-air stands. Its multitudinous population bursts through the greasy tenement doors, and floods the corridors, the doorsteps, the gutters, the side streets, pushing in and out among the pushcarts, all day long, and half the night besides.

Rarely as Harrison Avenue is caught asleep, still more rarely is it found clean. Nothing less than a fire or flood would cleanse this street. Even Passover cannot quite accomplish this feat. For although the tenements may be scrubbed to their remotest corners on this one occasion, the cleansing stops at the curbstone. A great deal of the filthy rubbish accumulated in a year is pitched into the street, often through the windows; and what the ash-man on his daily round does not remove, is left to be trampled to powder, in which form it steals back into the houses from which it was so lately dislodged.

We had no particular reason for coming to Dover Street. It might just as well have been Applepie Alley or Letterbox Lane. For my father had sold, with the goods, fixtures, and good-will of the Wheeler Street store, all his hopes of ever making a living in the grocery trade; and I doubt if he got a silver dollar the more for them. Still we had to live somewhere, even if we were not making a living, so we came to Dover Street, where tenements were cheap. By this I mean that the rent was low. The ultimate cost of life in those tenements, in terms of human happiness, is high enough.

Our new home consisted of five small rooms up two flights of stairs, with the right of way through the dark corridors. In the ‘parlor’ the dingy paper hung in rags, and the plaster fell in chunks. One of the bedrooms was absolutely dark and air-tight. The kitchen windows looked out on a dirty court, at the back of which was the rear tenement of the estate. To us belonged, along with the five rooms and the right of way aforesaid, a block of upper air the length of a pulley line across this court, and the width of an arc described by a windy Monday’s wash in its remotest wanderings.

The little front bedroom was assigned to me, with only one partner — my sister Dora. A mouse could not have led a cat much of a chase across this room; still we found space for a narrow bed, a crazy bureau, and a small table.

From the window there was an unobstructed view of a lumber-yard, beyond which frowned the blackened walls of a factory. The fence of the lumber-yard was gay with theatre-posters and illustrated advertisements of tobacco, whiskey, and patent baby-foods. When the window was open there was a constant clang and whirr of electric cars, varied by the screech of machinery, the clatter of empty wagons, and the rumble of heavy trucks.

There was nothing worse in all this than we had had before, since our exile from Crescent Beach; but I did not take the same delight in the propinquity of electric cars and arc lights that I had at first. I suppose the tenement began to pall on me.

It must not be supposed that I enjoyed any degree of privacy because I had half a room to myself. We were seven in the five rooms; we were bound to be always in each other’s way. And as it was within our flat, so it was in the house as a whole. All doors, beginning with the street door, stood open most of the time; or if they were closed, the tenants did not wear out their knuckles knocking for admittance.

I could stand at any time in the unswept entrance hall and tell, from an analysis of the medley of sounds and smells that issued from doors ajar, what was going on in the several flats, from below up. That guttural, scolding voice, unremittent as the hissing of a steampipe, is Mrs. Rasnosky. I make a guess that she is chastising the infant Isaac for taking a second lump of sugar in his tea. Spam, bam! yes, and she is rubbing in her objections with the flat of her hand. That blubbering and moaning, accompanying an elephantine tread, is fat Mrs. Casey, second floor, home drunk from an afternoon out, in fear of the vengeance of Mr. Casey; to propitiate whom she is burning a pan of bacon, as the choking fumes and outrageous sizzling testify. I hear a feeble whining, interrupted by long silences. It is that scabby baby on the third door, fallen out of bed again, with nobody at home to pick him up.

To escape from these various horrors I ascend to the roof, where bacon and babies and child-beating are not. But there I find two figures in calico wrappers, with bare red arms akimbo, a basket of wet clothes in front of each, and only one empty clothes-line between them. I do not want to be dragged in as a witness in a case of assault and battery, so I go down to the street again, grateful to note, as I pass, that the third-floor baby is still.

In front of the door I squeeze through a group of children. They are going to play tag, and are counting to see who should be ‘it.’: —


If the children’s couplet does not give a vivid picture of the life, manners, and customs of Dover Street, no description of mine can ever do so.

Frieda was married before we came to Dover Street, and went to live in East Boston. This left me the eldest of the children at home. Whether on this account, or because I was outgrowing my childish carelessness, or because I began to believe, on the cumulative evidence of the Crescent Beach, Chelsea, and Wheeler Street adventures, that America, after all, was not going to provide for my father’s family— whether for any or all of these reasons, I began at this time to take bread-and-butter matters more to heart, and to ponder ways and means of getting rich.

VOL. 109-NO. 3

My father sought employment wherever work was going on. His health was poor; he aged very fast. Nevertheless he offered himself for every kind of labor; he offered himself for a boy’s wages. Here he was found too weak, here too old; here his imperfect English was in the way, here his Jewish appearance. He had a few short terms of work at this or that; I do not know the name of the form of drudgery that my father did not practice. But, all told, he did not earn enough to pay the rent in full and buy a bone for the soup. The only steady source of income, for I do not know how many years, was my brother’s earnings from his newspapers.

Surely this was the time for me to take my sister’s place in the workshop. I had had every fair chance until now: school, my time to myself, liberty to run and play and make friends. T had graduated from grammar school; I was of legal age to go to work. What was I doing — sitting at home and dreaming?

I was minding my business, of course; with all my might I was minding my business. As I understood it, my business was to go to school, to learn everything there was to know, to write poetry, become famous, and make the family rich. Surely it was not shirking to lay out such a programme as that for myself. I had boundless faith in my future. I was certainly going to be a great poet; I was certainly going to take care of the family.

My self-confidence was fed by the undiminished enthusiasm of the family in my cause. Since Graduation Day and its triumphs, my father’s ambition for me had soared to such a height that he determined to keep me in school till I was prepared for college, when, he was sure, I could take care of myself; and there was no one to dispute the wisdom or justice of this course.

When it was time for me to choose a school, I made a memorable excursion into the suburbs, to interview Mr. Tuttle, at that time the principal of both the Girls’ Latin and High Schools. In a matter so important as the choice of a school, I could not consider the advice of a lesser man.


A new life began for me when I entered the Latin School in September. Until then I had gone to school with my equals, and as a matter of course. Now it was distinctly a feat for me to keep in school, and my schoolmates were socially so far superior to me that my poverty became conspicuous. By these tokens I should have had serious business on my hands as a pupil in the Latin School, but I did not find it hard.

To make myself at home in an alien world was within my talents; I had been practising it day and night for the past four years. To remain unconscious of my shabby and ill-fitting clothes when the rustle of silk petticoats in the schoolroom protested against them was a matter still within my moral reach. Half a dress a year had been my allowance for many seasons; even less, for as I did not grow much I could wear my dresses almost indefinitely. And I had stood before editors, and exchanged polite calls with my teachers, untroubled by the detestable colors and archaic design of my garments. To stand up and recite Latin declensions without trembling from hunger was something more of a feat, because I sometimes went to school with little or no breakfast; but even that required no special heroism; at most it was a matter of self-control. I had the advantage of a poor appetite, too; I really did not need much breakfast. Or if I was hungry it would hardly show; I coughed so much that my unsteadiness was self-explained.

Everything helped, you see. My schoolmates helped. Aristocrats though they were, they did not hold themselves aloof from me. Some of the girls who came to school in carriages were especially cordial. They rated me by my scholarship, and not by my father’s occupation. They teased and admired me by turns for learning the foot-notes in the Latin grammar by heart; they never reproached me for my ignorance of the latest comic opera. And it was more than good breeding that made them seem unaware of the incongruity of my presence: it was a generous appreciation of what it meant for a girl from the slums to be in the Latin School, on the way to college. If our intimacy ended on the steps of the school-house, it was more my fault than theirs. Most of the girls were democratic enough to have invited me to their homes, although to some, of course, I was ‘impossible.’ But I had no time for visiting: schoolwork and reading and family affairs occupied all the day-time, and much of the nighttime.

I rarely was in a mood to care whether my neighbors spurned or embraced me. My own life sufficed me. Everything of consequence was well with me. Poverty was a superficial, temporary matter; it vanished at the touch of money. Money in America was plentiful; it was only a matter of getting some of it, and I was on my way to the mint. If Dover Street was not a pleasant place to abide in, it was only a wayside house. And I was really happy, actively happy, in the exercise of my mind in Latin, mathematics, history, and the rest; the things that satisfy a studious girl in the middle teens.

From sunrise to sunset the day was long enough for many things besides school, which occupied five hours. There was time for me to try to earn my living; or at least the rent of our tenement. Rent was a standing trouble. We were always behind, and the landlady was always very angry; so I was particularly ambitious to earn the rent.

I had had one or two poems published since the celebrated eulogy of George Washington, but nobody had paid for my poems — yet. I was coming to that, of course, but in the meantime I could not pay the rent with my writing. To be sure, my acquaintance with men of letters gave me an opening. A friend of mine introduced me to a slightly literary lady, who introduced me to the editor of the Boston Searchlight, who offered me a generous commission for subscriptions to his paper.

If our rent was three and one half dollars per week, payable on strong demand, and the annual subscription to the Searchlight was one dollar, and my commission was fifty per cent, how many subscribers did I need? How easy! Seven subscribers a week — one a day! Anybody could do that. Mr. James, the editor, said so. He said I could get two or three any afternoon, between the end of school and supper. If I worked all Saturday — my head went dizzy computing the amount of my commissions. It would be rent, and shoes, and bonnets, — everything for everybody.

Bright and early one Saturday morning in the fall I started out canvassing: in my hand a neatly folded copy of the Searchlight; in my heart faith in my lucky star and good-will toward all the world.

I began with one of the great office buildings on Tremont Street, as Mr. James had advised. The first half hour I lost, wandering through the corridors, reading the names on the doors. There were so many people in the same office, how should I know, when I entered, which was Wilson & Reed, Solicitors, and which C. Jenkins Smith, Mortgages and Bonds? I decided that it did not matter: I would call them all ‘Sir.’

I selected a door and knocked. After waiting some time, I knocked a little louder. The building buzzed with noise — swift footsteps echoed on the stone floors, snappy talk broke out with the opening of every door, bells tinkled, elevators hummed — no wonder they did not hear me knock. But I noticed that other people went in without knocking, so after a while I did the same.

There were several men and two women in the small, brightly-lighted room. They were all busy. It was very confusing. Should I say ‘Sir’ to the roomful?

’Excuse me, sir,’ I began. That was a very good beginning, I felt sure, but I must speak louder. Lately my voice had been poor in school —gave out, sometimes, in the middle of a recitation. I cleared my throat, but I did not need to repeat myself. The back of the bald head that I had addressed revolved and presented its complement, a bald front.

‘Will you — would you like — I’d like —’

I stared in dismay at the bald gentleman, unable to recall a word of what I meant to say; and he stared in impatience at me.

‘Well, well!’ he snapped. ‘What is it? What is it?’

That reminded me.

‘It’s the Boston Searchlight, sir. I take sub —’

‘Take it away—take it away. We’re busy here.’

He waved me away over his shoulder, the back of his head once more presented to me.

I stole out of the room in great confusion. Was that the way I was going to be received? Why, Mr. James had said nobody would hesitate to subscribe. It was the best paper in Boston, the Searchlight, and no business man could afford to be without it. I must have made some blunder. Was ‘Mortgages and Bonds’ a business? I ’d never heard of it, and very likely I had spoken to C. Jenkins Smith. I must try again — of course I must try again.

I selected a real estate-office next. A real-estate broker, I knew for certain, was a business man. Mr. George A. Hooker must be just waiting for the Boston Searchlight.

Mr. Hooker was indeed waiting, and he was telling ‘Central’ about it. ‘Yes, Central; waiting, waiting — What? — Yes, yes; ring four — What’s that? — Since when? — Why did n’t you say so at first, then, instead of keeping me on the line — What?— Oh, is that so? Well, never mind this time, Central. — I see, I see. — All right.’

I had become so absorbed in this monologue, that when Mr. Hooker swung around on me in his revolving chair I was startled, feeling that I had been caught eavesdropping. I thought he was going to reproach me, but he only said, ‘What can I do for you, miss? ’

Encouraged by his forbearance, I said, —

‘Would you like to subscribe to the Boston Searchlight, sir?’ — ‘Sir’ was safer, after all. — ‘It’s a dollar a year.’

I was supposed to say that it was the best paper in Boston, and so forth but Mr. Hooker did not look interested, though he was not cross.

‘No, thank you, miss; no new papers for me. Excuse me, I am very busy.’ And he began to dictate to a stenographer.

Well, that was not so bad. Mr. Hooker was at least polite. I must try to make a better speech next time.

I stuck to real estate now. O’Lair & Kennedy were both in, in my next office, and both apparently enjoying a minute of relaxation, tilted back in their chairs behind a low railing. Said I, determined to be business-like at last, and addressing myself to the whole firm, —

‘Would you like to subscribe to the Boston Searchlight? It’s a very good paper. No business man can afford it — afford to be without it, I mean. It’s only a dollar a year.’

Both men smiled at my break, and I smiled too. I wondered would they subscribe separately, or would they take one copy for the firm.

‘The Boston Searchlight,’ repeated one of the partners. ‘Never heard of it. Is that the paper you have there?'

He unfolded the paper I gave him, looked it over, and handed it to his partner.

‘Ever heard of the Searchlight, O’Lair? What do you think — can we afford to be without it?’

‘I guess we’ll make out somehow,’ replied Mr. O’Lair, handing me back my paper. ‘But I’ll buy this copy of you, miss,’ he added, from second thoughts.

‘And I’ll go partner on the bargain,’ said Mr. Kennedy.

But I objected.

‘This is a sample,’ I said. ‘I don’t sell single papers. I take subscriptions for the year. It’s one dollar.’

‘And no business man can afford it, you know.’

Mr. Kennedy winked as he said it, and we all smiled again. It would have been stupid not to see the joke.

‘I’m sorry I can’t sell you my sample,’ I said, with my hand on the doorknob.

‘That’s all right, my dear,’ said Mr. Kennedy, with a gracious wave of the hand. And his partner called after me, ‘Better luck next door!’

Well, I was getting on! The people grew friendlier all the time. But I skipped ‘next door.’ It was ‘Mortgages and Bonds.’ I tried ‘Insurance.’

‘The best paper in Boston, is it?’ remarked Mr, ’Thos.’ F. Dix, turning over my sample. ‘And who told you that, young lady?’

‘Mr. James,’ was my prompt reply.

‘Who is Mr. James? — The editor! Oh, I see. And do you also think the Searchlight the best paper in Boston?’

‘I don’t know, sir. I like the Herald much better, and the Transcript.'

At that Mr. Dix laughed. ‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘Business is business, but you tell the truth. One dollar, is it? Here you are. My name is on the door. Good-day.'

I think that I spent twenty minutes copying the name and room number from the door. I did not trust myself to read plain English. What if I made a mistake, and the Searchlight went astray, and good Mr. Dix remained unilluminated? He had paid for the year; it would be dreadful to make a mistake.

Emboldened by my one success, I went into the next office without considering the kind of business announced on the door. I tried brokers, lawyers, contractors, and all, just as they came around the corridor. But I copied no more addresses. Most of the people were polite. Some men waved me away, like C. Jenkins Smith. Some looked impatient at first, but excused themselves politely in the end. Almost everybody said, ‘We’re busy here,’ as if they suspected I wanted them to read a whole year’s issue of the Search-light at once. At last one man told me he did not think it was a nice business for a girl, going through the offices like that.

This took me aback. I had not thought anything about the nature of the business. I only wanted the money to pay the rent. I wandered through miles of stone corridors, unable to see why it was not a nice business, and yet reluctant to go on with it, with the doubt in my mind. Intent on my new problem, I walked into a messenger boy; and looking back to apologize to him, I collided softly with a cushionshaped gentleman getting out of an elevator.

I was making up my mind to leave the building forever, when I saw an office door standing open. It was the first open door I had come across since morning,— it was past noon now,— and it was a sign to me to keep on. I must not give up so easily.

Mr. Frederick A. Strong was alone in the office, surreptitiously picking his teeth. He heard me out good-naturedly.

‘How much is your commission, if I may ask?’ It was the first thing he had said.

‘Fifty cents, sir.'

‘Well, I’ll tell you what I will do. I don’t care to subscribe, but here’s a quarter for you.’

If I did not blush, it was because it is not my habit, but all of a sudden I choked. A lump jumped into my throat; almost the tears were in my eyes. That man was right who said it was not nice to go through the offices. I was taken for a beggar: a stranger offered me money for nothing.

I could not say a word. I started to go out. But Mr. Strong jumped up and prevented me.

‘Oh, don’t go like that!’ he cried.

‘ I did n’t mean to offend you; upon my word, I did n’t. I beg your pardon. I did n’t know — you see — Won’t you sit down a minute to rest ? That’s kind of you.’

Mr. Strong was so genuinely repentant that I could not refuse him. Besides, I felt a little weak. I had been on my feet since morning, and had had no lunch. I sat down, and Mr. Strong talked. He showed me a picture of his wife and little girl, and said I must go and see them some time. Pretty soon I was chatting too, and I told Mr. Strong about the Latin School; and of course he asked me if I was French, the way people always did when they wanted to say that I had a foreign accent. So we got started on Russia, and had such an interesting time that we both jumped up, surprised, when a fine young lady in a beautiful hat came in to take possession of the idle typewriter.

Mr. Strong introduced me very formally, thanked me for an interesting hour, and shook hands with me at the door. I did not add his name to my short subscription list, but I counted it a greater triumph that I had made a friend.

It would have been seeking an anticlimax to solicit any more in the building. I went out, into the roar of Tremont Street, and across the Common, still green and leafy. I rested a while on a bench, debating where to go next. It was past two by the clock on Park Street Church. I had had a long day already, but it was too early to quit work, with only one half dollar of my own in my pocket. It was Saturday — in the evening the landlady would come. I must try a little longer.

I went out along Columbus Avenue, a popular route for bicyclists at that time. The bicycle stores all along the way looked promising to me. The people did not look so busy as they did in the office building; they would at least be polite.

They were not particularly rude, but they did not subscribe. Nobody wanted the Searchlight. They had never heard of it — they made jokes about it — they did not want it at any price.

I began to lose faith in the paper myself. I got tired of the name Searchlight. I began to feel dizzy. I stopped going into the stores. I walked straight along, looking at nothing. I wanted to go back, go home, but I would n’t. I felt like doing myself spite. I walked right along, straight as the avenue ran. I did not know where it would lead me. I did not care. Everything was horrid. I would go right on until night. I would get lost. I would fall in a faint on a strange doorstep, and be found dead in the morning, and be pitied.

Would n’t that be interesting! The adventure might even end happily. I might faint at the door of a rich old man’s house, who would take me in, and order his housekeeper to nurse me, just like in the story-books. In my delirium — of course I would have a fever— I would talk about the landlady, and how I had tried to earn the rent; and the old gentleman would wipe his spectacles for pity. Then I would wake up, and ask plaintively, ‘Where am I?’ And when I got strong, after a delightfully long convalescence, the old gentleman would take me to Dover Street — in a carriage! — and we would all be reunited, and laugh and cry together. The old gentleman, of course, would engage my father as his steward, on the spot, and we would all go to live in one of his houses, with a garden around it.

I walked on, and on, gleefully aware that I had not eaten since morning. Was n’t I beginning to feel shaky? Yes; I should certainly faint before long. But I did n’t like the houses I passed. They did not look fit for my adventure. I must keep up till I reached a better neighborhood.

Anybody who knows Boston knows how cheaply my adventure ended. Columbus Avenue leads out to Roxbury Crossing. When I saw that the houses were getting shabbier, instead of finer, my heart sank. When I came out on the noisy, thrice-commonplace street-car centre, my spirit collapsed utterly.

I did not swoon. I woke up from my foolish, childish dream with a shock. I was disgusted with myself, and frightened besides. It was evening now, and I was faint and sick in good earnest, and I did not know where I was. I asked a starter at the transfer station the way to Dover Street, and he told me to hop on a car that was just coming in.

‘I’ll walk,’ I said, ‘if you will please tell me the shortest way.’

How could I spend five cents out of the little I had made?

But the starter discouraged me.

‘You can’t walk it before midnight — the way you look, my girl. Better get on that car before it goes.’

I could not resist the temptation. I rode home in the car, and felt like a thief when I paid the fare. Five cents gone to pay for my folly!

I was grateful for a cold supper; thrice grateful to hear that Mrs. Hutch, the landlady, had been and gone, content with two dollars that my father had brought home.


Mrs. Hutch seldom succeeded in collecting the full amount of their rents from her tenants. I suppose that made the book-keeping complicated, which must have been wearing on her nerves; and hence her temper. We lived, on Dover Street, in fear of her temper. Saturday had a distinct quality about it, derived from the imminence of Mrs. Hutch’s visit. Of course I awoke on Saturday morning with the no-school feeling; but the grim thing that leaped to its feet and glowered down on me, while the rest of my consciousness was still yawning on its back, was the Mrs.-Hutch-is-comingand-there ’s-no-rent feeling.

The landlady, of course, was only one symptom of the disease of poverty, but there were times when she seemed to me the sharpest tooth of the gnawing canker. Surely as sorrow trails behind sin, Saturday evening brought Mrs. Hutch. The landlady did not trail. Her movements were anything but impassive. She climbed the stairs with determination, and landed at the top with emphasis. Her knock on the door was clear, sharp, unfaltering; it was impossible to pretend not to hear it. Her ' good-evening ’ announced business; her manner of taking a chair suggested the throwing down of the gauntlet.

Invariably she asked for my father, calling him Mr. Anton, and refusing to be corrected; almost invariably he was not at home —was out looking for work. Had he left her the rent? My mother’s gentle ‘no, ma’am’ was the signal for the storm. I do not want to repeat what Mrs. Hutch said. It would be hard on her, and hard on me. She grew red in the face; her voice grew shriller with every word. My poor mother hung her head where she stood; the children stared from their corners; the frightened baby cried. The angry landlady rehearsed our sins like a prophet foretelling doom. We owed so many weeks’ rent; we were too lazy to work; we never intended to pay; we lived on others; we deserved to be put out without warning. She reproached my mother for having too many children; she blamed us all for coming to America. She enumerated her losses through non-payment of her rents; told us that she did not collect the amount of her taxes; showed us how our irregularities were driving a poor widow to ruin.

My mother did not attempt to excuse herself, but when Mrs. Hutch began to rail against my father, she tried to put in a word in his defense. The landlady grew all the shriller at that, and silenced my mother impatiently. Sometimes she addressed herself to me. I always stood by, if I was at home, to give my mother the moral support of my dumb sympathy. I understood that Mrs. Hutch had a special grudge against me, because I did not go to work as a cash-girl and earn three dollars a week. I wanted to explain to her how I was preparing myself for a great career, and I was ready to promise her the payment of the arrears as soon as I began to get rich. But the landlady would not let me put in a word. And I was sorry for her, because she seemed to be having such a bad time.

At last Mrs. Hutch got up to leave, marching out as determinedly as she had marched in. At the door she turned, in undiminished wrath, to shoot her parting dart: —

‘And if Mr. Anton does not bring me the rent on Monday, I will serve a notice to quit on Tuesday, without fail.’

We breathed when she was gone. My mother wiped away a few tears, and went to the baby, crying in the windowless, air-tight room.

I was the first to speak.

‘Is n’t she queer, mamma?’ I said. ‘She never remembers how to say our name. She insists on saying AntonAnton. Celia, say Anton.' And I made the baby laugh by imitating the landlady, who had made her cry.

But when I went to my little room I did not mock Mrs. Hutch. I thought about her, thought long and hard, and to a purpose. I decided that she must hear me out once. She must understand about my plans, my future, my good intentions. It was too irrational to go on like this, we living in fear of her, she in distrust of us. If Mrs. Hutch would only trust me, and the tax-collectors would trust her, we could all live happily forever.

I was the more certain that my argument would prevail with the landlady, if only I could make her listen, because I understood her point of view. I even sympathized with her. What she said about the babies, for instance, was not all unreasonable to me. There was this last baby, my mother’s sixth, born on Mrs. Hutch’s premises — yes, in the windowless, air-tight bedroom. Was there any need of this baby? When May was born, two years earlier, on Wheeler Street, I had accepted her; after a while I even welcomed her. She was born an American, and it was something to me to have one genuine American relative. I had to sit up with her the whole of her first night on earth, and I questioned her about the place she came from, and so we got acquainted. As my mother was so ill that my sister Frieda, who was nurse, and the doctor from the dispensary had all they could do to take care of her, the baby remained in my charge a good deal, and so I got used to her. But when Celia came I was two years older, and my outlook was broader; I could see around a baby’s charms, and discern the disadvantages of possessing the baby. I was supplied with all kinds of relatives now — I had a brother-in-law and an American-born nephew, who might become a president. Moreover, I knew that there was not enough to eat before the baby’s advent, and she did not bring any supplies with her that I could see. The baby was one too many. I resented her existence. I recorded my resentment in my journal.

I was pleased with my broad-mindedness, that enabled me to see all sides of the baby question. I could regard even the rent question disinterestedly, like a philosopher reviewing natural phenomena. It seemed not unreasonable that Mrs. Hutch should have a craving for the rent as such. A schoolgirl dotes on her books, a baby cries for its rattle, and a landlady yearns for her rents. I could easily believe that it was doing Mrs. Hutch spiritual violence to withhold the rent from her; and hence the vehemence with which she pursued the arrears.

Yes, I could analyze the landlady very nicely. I was certainly qualified to act as peacemaker between her and my family. But I must go to her own house, and not on a rent day. Saturday evening, when she was embittered by many disappointments, was no time to approach her with diplomatic negotiations. I must go to her house on a days of good omen.

And I went, as soon as my father could give me a week’s rent to take along. I found Mrs. Hutch in the gloom of a long, faded parlor. Divested of the ample black coat and widow’s bonnet in which I had always seen her, her presence would have been less formidable, had I not been conscious that I was a mere rumpled sparrow fallen into the lion’s den. When I had delivered the money, I should have begun my speech; but I did not know what came first of all there was to say. While I hesitated, Mrs. Hutch observed me. She noticed my books, and asked about them.

I thought this was my opening, and I showed her eagerly my Latin grammar, my geometry, my Virgil. I began to tell her how I was to go to college, to fit myself to write poetry, and get rich, and pay the arrears. But Mrs. Hutch cut me short at the mention of college. She broke out with her old reproaches, and worked herself into a worse fury than I had ever witnessed before.

I was all alone in the tempest, and a very old lady was sitting on a sofa, drinking tea; and the tidy on the back of the sofa was sliding down.

I was so bewildered by the suddenness of the onslaught, I felt so helpless to defend myself, that I could only stand and stare at Mrs. Hutch. She kept on railing without stopping for breath, repeating herself over and over. At last I ceased to hear what she said; I became hypnotized by the rapid motions of her mouth. Then the moving tidy caught my eye, and the spell was broken. I went over to the sofa with a decided step, and carefully replaced the tidy.

It was now the landlady’s turn to stare, and I stared back, surprised at my own action. The old lady also stared, her teacup suspended under her nose. The whole thing was so ridiculous! I had come on such a grand mission, ready to dictate the terms of a noble peace. I was met with anger and contumely; the dignity of the ambassador of peace rubbed off at a touch, like the golden dust from the butterfly’s wing. I took my scolding like a meek child; and then, when she was in the middle of a trenchant phrase, her eye fixed daggerlike on mine, I calmly went to put the enemy’s house in order! It was ridiculous, and I laughed.

Immediately I was sorry. I wanted to apologize, but Mrs. Hutch did n’t give me a chance. If she had been harsh before, she was terrific now. Did I come there to insult her? she wanted to know. Was n’t it enough that I and my family lived on her, that I must come to her on purpose to rile her with my talk about college — college! these beggars!—and laugh in her face? ‘What did you come for? Who sent you? Why do you stand there staring? Say something! College! these beggars! And do you think I’ll keep you till you go to college? You, learning geometry! Did you ever figure out how much rent your father owes me? You are all too lazy— Don’t say a word! Don’t speak to me! Coming here to laugh in my face! I don’t believe you can say one sensible word. Latin — and French ! Oh, these beggars! You ought to go to work, if you know enough to do one sensible thing. College ! Go home and tell your father never to send you again. Laughing in my face — and staring! Why don’t you say something? How old are you?’

Mrs. Hutch actually stopped, and I jumped into the pause.

‘I’m seventeen,’ I said quickly, ‘and I feel like seventy.’

This was too much, even for me who had spoken. I had not meant to say the last. It broke out, like my wicked laugh. I was afraid, if I stayed any longer, Mrs. Hutch would have the apoplexy; and I felt that I was going to cry. I moved toward the door, but the landlady got in another speech before I had escaped.

“Seventeen — seventy! And looks like twelve! The child is silly. Can’t even tell her own age. No wonder, with her Latin, and French, and—’

I did cry when I got outside, and I did n’t care if I was noticed. What was the use of anything? Everything I did was wrong. Everything I tried to do for Mrs. Hutch turned out bad. I tried to sell papers, for the sake of the rent, and nobody wanted the Searchlight, and I was told it was not a nice business. I wanted to take her into my confidence, and she would n’t hear a word, but scolded and called me names. She was an unreasonable, ungrateful landlady. I wished she would put us out; then we should be rid of her. — But was n’t it funny about that tidy? What made me do that? I never meant to. Curious, the way we sometimes do things we don’t want to at all. — The old lady must be deaf; she did n’t say anything all that time. — Oh, I have a whole book of the Æneid to review, and it’s getting late. I must hurry home.

It was impossible to remain despondent long. The landlady came only once a week, I reflected as I walked, and the rest of the time I was surrounded by friends. Everybody was good to me at home, of course, and at school; and there was Miss Dillingham, and her friend who took me out in the country to see the autumn leaves, and her friend’s friend who lent me books, and Mr. Charles, who put my poems in the Transcript, and gave me books almost every time I came, and a dozen others who did something good for me all the time, besides the several dozen who wrote me such nice letters. No, a single landlady could not spoil a world so fair as mine.

[The story of Mary Antin will be concluded in the April number.—THE EDITORS.]