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Page 297


One result of my out-door occupation was to make me
familiar with all parts of the city. During the first year
of my residence I had seen little else than Broadway, from
the Battery to Union Square, Chatham Street, and the
Bowery. I now discovered that there were many other
regions, each possessing a distinct individuality and a separate
city-life of its own. From noticing the external characteristics,
I came gradually to study the peculiarities of
the inhabitants, and thus obtained a knowledge which was
not only of great advantage to me in a professional sense,
but gave me an interest in men which counteracted, to
some extent, the growing cynicism of my views. Often,
when tired of reading and feeling no impulse to write, (the
greatest portion of my literary energy being now expended
on my regular duties,) I would pass an idle but not useless
hour in wandering around the sepulchral seclusion of St.
John's Park, with its obsolete gentility; or the solid plainness
of East Broadway,— home of plodding and prosperous
men of business; or the cosmopolitan rag-fair of Greenwich
Street; or the seething lowest depth of the Five
Points; the proud family aristocracy of Second, or the
pretentious moneyed aristocracy of Fifth Avenue, — involuntarily
contrasting and comparing these spheres of life,
each of which retained its independent motion, while revolving
in the same machine.

I will not trouble the reader with the speculations which
these experiences suggested. They were sufficiently commonplace,


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I dare say, and have been uttered several millions
of times, by young men of the same age; but I none
the less thought them both original and profound, and considered
myself a philosopher, in the loftiest sense of the
word. I imagined that I comprehended the several natures
of the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant,
the righteous and the vicious, from such superficial
observation, — not yet perceiving, through my own experience,
the common flesh and spirit of all men.

One afternoon, as I was slowly returning towards my
lodgings from a professional inspection of a new church
in Sixth Avenue, I was struck by the figure of a woman,
standing at the corner of Bleecker and Sullivan Streets.
A woman of the laboring class, dressed in clean but faded
calico, — leaning against the area-railing of the corner
house, with a weak, helpless appeal expressing itself in her
attitude. Her eyes were fixed upon me as I passed, with
a steady, imploring gaze, which ran through me, like a
palpable benumbing agency, laming my feet as they walked.
Yet she said nothing, and could scarcely, I thought, be a
beggar. I was well accustomed to the arts of the street-beggars,
and usually steeled myself (though with an unconquerable
sense of my own inhumanity) against their
appeals. Now and then, however, I met with one whom
I could not escape. There was a young fellow, for instance,
with both his legs cut off at the thighs, who paddled his
way around the Park by means of his hands. I had been
told that he was in good circumstances, having received
heavy damages from the Hudson River Railroad Company;
but I could not stand the supplication of his eyes whenever
we met, and was obliged either to turn my head away or
lose two shillings. There was the same magnetism in this
woman's eyes, and before I crossed the street, I felt myself
impelled to turn and look at her again.

She came forward instantly as I did so, yet not so rapidly
that I could not perceive the struggle of some powerful


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motive with her natural reluctancy. I stepped back to
the sidewalk.

“Oh, sir!” said she, “perhaps you could help a poor

I was suspicious of my own sympathy, and answered
coldly, “I don't know. What is the matter with you?”

“It 's the rent,” she said. “I can always airn my own
livin' and have done it, and the rent too, all to this last
quarter, when I 've been so ailin', and my boy gits no wages
at all. If I don't pay it, I 'll be turned into the street to-morrow.
I 'm no beggar: I niver thought to ha' beseeched
anybody while my own two hands held out: but there it is,
and here I am, and if it was n't for my boy I would n't care
how soon the world 'd come to an end for me. The best
things was pawned to pay the doctor, only my weddin'-ring
I can't let go, for Hugh's sake. His blessed soul would
n't be satisfied, if I was buried without that on my finger.”

She was crying long before she finished speaking, turning
the thin hoop of very pale gold with her other thumb
and finger, and then clasping her hands hard together, as
if with an instinctive fear that somebody might snatch it
off. This action and her tears melted me entirely to pity.

“How much must you have?” I asked.

“It 's a whole quarter's rent — fifteen dollars. If that
was paid, though I 'm a little wake yet, I could wurrk for
the two of us. Could you help me to it any way?”

“Where do you live?”

“It 's jist by here — in Gooseberry Alley. And the
Feenys will tell you it 's ivery word true I 've said. Andy,
or his wife aither, was willin' enough to help me, but she
has a baby not a week old, and they 've need of ivery

She turned, with a quick, eager movement, and I followed,
without any further question. Gooseberry Alley
was but a few blocks distant. It was a close, dirty place,
debouching on Sullivan Street, and barely wide enough for


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a single cart to be backed into. The houses were of brick,
but had evidently been built all at once, and in such a
cheap way that they seemed to be already tumbling down
from a lack of cohesive material. A multitude of young
children were playing with potato parings or stirring up
the foul gutter in the centre of the alley with rotting cabbage-stalks.
I remember thinking that Nature takes great
pains to multiply the low types of our race, while she heedlessly
lets the highest run out. A very disagreeable smell,
which I cannot describe, but which may be found wherever
the poor Irish congregate, filled the air. That alone was
misery enough, to my thinking.

About half-way up the alley, the woman entered a house
on the right-hand, saying, “It 's a poor place, sir, for the
likes of you to come into, but you must see whether I spake
the truth.”

In the narrow passage the floor was so dirty and the
walls so smutched and greasy that I shuddered and held the
skirts of my coat close to my sides; but when we had
mounted a steep flight of steps and entered the woman's
own apartment, — a rear projection of the house, — there
was a change for the better. The first room was a bedroom,
bare and with the least possible furniture, but comfortably
clean. Beyond this there was a smaller room,
which seemed to be a combined kitchen and laundry, to
judge from the few necessary implements. The woman
dusted an unpainted wooden stool with her apron and gave
it to me for a seat.

“My boy made it,” said she; “the master let him do
that much, but it 's little time he gits for such things.”

She then entered into an explanation of her circumstances,
from which I learned that her name was Mary
Maloney; that she was a native of the North of Ireland,
and had emigrated to America with her husband ten years
before. They had had many ups and downs, even while
the latter lived. I suspected, though she did not say it,


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that he was a reckless, improvident fellow, whose new
independence had completed his ruin. After his death, she
had supported herself mostly by washing, but succeeded
in getting her boy, Hugh, admitted as an apprentice into a
large upholstery establishment, and might have laid up a
little in the Savings-Bank, if she had not been obliged to
feed and lodge him for the first two years, only one of which
was passed. Hugh was a good boy, she said, the picture
of his father, and she thought he would be all the better
for having a steady trade. After a while he would get
wages, and be able to keep not only himself but her, too.
Would I go into Feeny's — the front rooms on the same
floor — and ask them to testify to her carackter?

I did not need any corroborative evidence of her story.
The woman's honesty was apparent to me, in her simple,
consistent words, in her homely, worn features and unshrinking
eyes, and in the utter yet decent poverty of her
dwelling. I determined to help her, — but there were
scarcely five dollars in my pocket and fifteen were to be
paid on the morrow. It was drawing near to Mrs. De
Peyster's dinner-hour, and I recollected that on two or
three occasions small collections for charitable purposes
had been taken up at that lady's table. I therefore determined
to state the case, and ask the assistance of the other

“I must go now,” I said, “but will try to do something
for you. Will you be here at seven o'clock this

“I niver go out o' th' evenin',” she answered, “and not
often o' th' day. Hugh 'll be home at seven. If you could
only lend me the money, sir, — I don't ask you to give it,
— I 'd do some washin' for y'rself or y'r family, a little ivery
wake, to pay ye back ag'in.”

When we had reached a proper stage of the dinner, I mentioned
the matter to Messrs. Renwick and Blossom, asking
them whether they and the other gentlemen would be willing
to contribute towards the sum required.


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“You are satisfied that it is a case of real distress, and
the money is actually needed?” asked the latter.

“I am quite sure of it.”

“Then here are two dollars, to begin with. I think we
can raise the whole amount.” He took advantage of a lull
in the conversation and repeated my statement to the company.
After a few questions which I was able to answer,
pocket-books were produced and note after note passed
down the table to me. Upon counting them, I found the
sum contributed to be nineteen dollars. I stated this fact,
adding it was more than was required. Some one answered,
“So much the better, — the woman will have four
dollars to begin the next quarter with.” The others acquiesced,
and then resumed their former topics of conversation,
satisfied that the matter was now settled. I was
greatly delighted with this generous response to my appeal,
and began to wonder whether the shallow, superficial interests
with which my fellow-boarders seemed to be occupied,
were not, after all, a mere matter of education. They had
given, in a careless, indifferent way, it was true; but then,
they had given and not withheld. I had no right to suppose
that their sympathy for the poor widow was not as genuine
as my own. I have learned, since then, that this noble
trait of generosity belongs to the city of my adoption.
With all their faults, its people are unstinted givers; and
no appeal, supported by responsible authority, is ever made
to them in vain.

When I returned to Gooseberry Alley in the evening,
I found Mary Maloney waiting for me at the door, her face
wild and pale in the dim street-light. When she saw me
I suppose she read the coming relief in my face, for she
began to tremble, retreating into the dirty, dark passage as
she whispered, “Come up-stairs, will you, plase — my boy's
at home!”

An ironing-board was laid across two boxes in the kitchen,
and Hugh, a short, stout lad of seventeen, was ironing a


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shirt upon it. His broad face, curly red hair, and thick
neck were thoroughly Irish, but his features had already
the Bowery expression, — swaggering, impudent, and good-humored.
His bare arms, shining milk-white in the light
of the single tallow-candle, showed the firmness and fulness
of the growing muscle. The picture of his father
— his mother had said. I did not doubt it; I saw already
the signs of inherited appetites which only the
strictest discipline could subdue. He stopped in his work,
as we entered, looked at me, then at his mother, and something
of her anxiety was reflected on his face. I even
fancied that his color changed as he waited for one of us
to speak.

In the interest with which I regarded him, I had almost
forgotten my errand. There was a sudden burning smell,
and an exclamation from Mrs. Maloney, —

“Hugh, my boy — look what y 're a-doin'! The shirt, —
whativer shall I do if y 've burnt a hole in it?”

Hugh's hand, holding the iron, had rested, in his suspense,
fortunately not upon the shirt, but the blanket under it,
making a yellow, elliptical scorch. He flung down the iron
before the little grate, and said, almost fiercely: —

“Why couldn 't you tell me at once, mother!”

“I have the money, Mrs. Maloney,” I answered for her,
— “the fifteen dollars and a little more.”

“I knowed you 'd bring it!” she exclaimed; “what
didn't I tell you, Hugh? I was afeared to be too shure,
but somethin' told me I 'd be helped. Bless God we 'll see
good times yit, though they 've been so long a-comin'!”

The tears were running down her face, as she tried to
say some words of thanks. Hugh's eyes were moist,
too; he darted a single grateful glance at me, but said
nothing, and presently, seating himself on the wooden
stool, began to whistle “Garryowen.” I delivered into
Mrs. Maloney's hands the fifteen dollars, and then seven
more (having added three, as my own contribution) for any


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additional necessities. I explained to her how the sum had
been raised as a free and willing gift, not a loan to be repaid
by painful savings from her scanty earnings. Then,
beginning to look upon myself as a benefactor, I added
some words of counsel which I might well have spared.
With a more sensitive subject, I fancy they would have annulled
any feeling of obligation towards me; but Mary
Maloney was too sincerely grateful not to receive them
humbly and respectfully. She begged to be allowed to
take charge of my washing, which I agreed to give her on
condition that I should pay the usual rates. Her intention,
however, as I afterwards discovered, included the careful
reparation of frayed linen, the replacement of buttons, and
the darning of stockings; and in this way my virtue was
its own reward.

I turned towards Hugh, in whom, also, I began to feel a
protecting interest. After a little hesitancy, which mostly
originated in his pride, he talked freely and quite intelligently
about his trade. It was a large establishment, and
they did work for a great many rich families. After another
year, he would get five dollars a week, taking one
season with another. He liked the place, although they
gave him the roughest and heaviest jobs, he being stronger
in the arms than any of the other boys. He could read
and write a little, he said, — would like to have a chance
to learn more, but there was ironing to do every night.
He had to help his mother to keep her customers; it was
n't a man's work, but he did n't mind that, at all, — it
went a little ways towards paying for his keep.

Something in the isolated life and mutual dependence of
this poor widow and son reminded me of my own boyish
days. For the first time in many months I spoke of my
mother, feeling sure that the humble understandings I addressed
would yet appreciate all that I could relate. My
heart was relieved and softened as I spoke of mother's self-denial,
of her secret sufferings and her tragic death; and


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Mary Maloney, though she only said “Dear, dear!” took, I
was sure, every word into her heart. Hugh listened attentively,
and the impudent, precocious expression of manhood
vanished entirely from his face. When I had finished, and
rose to leave, his mother said, —

“I must ha' felt that you was the son of a widow, this
afternoon, when I set eyes on ye. Her blessed soul is satisfied
with ye this night, and ye don't need my blessin', but
you have it all the same. Hugh won't forgit ye, neither,
will ye, Hugh?”

“I reckon not,” Hugh answered, rather doggedly.

I had a better evidence of the fact, however, when
Christmas came. He found his way to my room before I
was dressed, and with an air half sheepish, half defiant,
laid a package on the table, saying, —

“Mother says she sends you a Merry Christmas, and
many of 'em. I 've brought an upholstery along for you.
I made it myself.”

I shook hands and thanked him, whereupon he said,
“All right!” and retired. On opening the package, I
found the “upholstery” to be a gigantic hemispherical
pincushion of scarlet brocade, set in a gilt octagonal frame
of equal massiveness. A number of new pins, rather crookedly
forming the letters “J. G.,” were already inserted in
it. It was almost large enough for a footstool, and reminded
me of Hugh's red head every time I looked at it
but I devoutly gave it the place of honor on my toilet

It was the only Christmas gift I received that year.