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Page 355


During the summer of which I am writing, there was
an unusual demand for short, sketchy articles, moral in tendency,
but without the dulness of moral essays. They were
weak concoctions of flashy, superficial philosophy, generally
starting from the text of some trivial incident, and made
piquant with a delicate flavor of slang. The school exists
to this day, and may be found, in the hectic of its commencing
decline, in the columns of certain magazines and
literary newspapers. In the days of its youth, it possessed
an air of originality which deceived ninety-nine out of every
hundred readers, and thus became immensely popular. The
demand, increased by the emulation of rival publishers, and
accompanied by fabulous remuneration (if the advertisements
were true), soon created a corresponding supply, and the
number of Montaignes and Montaignesses who arose among
us will be a marvel to the literary historian of the next

My practice in what the foreman of the Wonder composing-room
called “fancy city articles,” enabled me to
profit at once by this new whirl in the literary current. My
sketches, entitled “The Omnibus Horse,” “Any Thing on
This Board for Four Cents,” and “Don't Jump!” (the latter
suggested by the Jersey City Ferry,) had already been extensively
copied, and when Mr. G. Jenks, — rising presently
to his feet after the failure of “The Hesperian,” as publisher
of The Ship of the Line, an illustrated weekly, in which the


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same head did duty as Gen. Cass, Pius IX., and the inventor
of the Air-Tight Stove, — when Mr. Jenks, I say, occupied
another back-office, and badgered new aspirants for publicity
with, “What 's the handle to your Brown? — or Jones?” —
he summoned me to his presence and graciously offered me
five dollars for a weekly sketch of the popular kind, not to
exceed half a column in length.

“Not too moral,” he added, by way of caution, “though
they must lean that way. If you can make 'em a little racy,
— you understand, — but not so that it can be taken hold
of, they 'll go all the better. There 's that book, `Pepper
Pot,' for instance, sold a hundred and fifty thousand copies
in six months, — puffed in all the religious papers, — would
have been a fortune to me.”

I naturally rebelled against this sort of dictation, but
having encountered it wherever I turned, I supposed that
it was a universal habit of publishers, and must of necessity
be endured. The articles required could be easily enough
produced, and the fee, small as it was, might accumulate to
a respectable little sum if laid aside, week by week, with
whatever else I could spare. I therefore accepted the offer,
and was laughed at by Brandagee for not having asked
twenty dollars.

“If you want to be valued,” said he, “you must be your
own appraiser. Taking what 's offered is admitting that
you 're only worth so much. There was Fleurot, — I knew
him when he had but one shirt, and washed it with his own
hands every night, but he would n't take a centime less than
five thousand francs for the picture on his easel, and got it,
sir! — got it, after waiting eighteen months. Then he
doubled his price and played the same game. Now, if you
want anything from his brush, you must order it six years
in advance.”

There was a large kernel of truth in Brandagee's words,
as I afterwards had occasion to discover. He had been absent
during the summer, as the Avenger's correspondent at


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the watering-places, claiming his rights as “dead-head” on
railways and in hotels, and now returned more audacious
and imperious than ever. During his absence, the Cave of
Trophonius had been, for the most part, deserted. Miles
confessed that he had been obliged to accommodate “other
parties” with the use of its oracular walls, but he promised
that “you literary gents shall 'ave it agin, 'avin' a sort o'
fust claim.”

These things, however, belong to the unimportant incidents
of my life. An event occurred — as I find by a reference
to the files of the Daily Wonder for the year 185—
on the night of the 27th of September, which was of
vital consequence to my subsequent fortunes.

One of the assistant reporters was sick, and in case anything
of interest should transpire, it was expected that I
should perform his duty. I had been unusually busy through
the day, and at eleven o'clock at night had just corrected
and sent into the composing-room my last “copy” for the
morning's paper, when the bell on the City Hall began to
boom the announcement of a fire. I forced open my heavy
eyelids, gave up, with a sigh, the near prospect of sleep
and rest, seized my pencil and note-book, and hurried off
in the direction indicated by the strokes.

It was a damp, misty night, I remember, and as I reached
the elevation of Broadway at Leonard Street, I could
distinguish a dull glimmer over the tops of the tall houses
on the western side. I could hear the sharp, quick rattle
of a fire-engine dashing up Church Street, while others,
coming from the eastern part of the city, shot through the
Canal Street crossing. The fire was somewhere in the Tenth
Ward, it seemed, — a trifling affair, not worth keeping me
from my bed, I thought, but for the certainty of the Avenger's
reporter being on hand, eager to distance the Wonder
in the morning, and then proclaim the fact, next day, as
a triumph of “newspaper enterprise.”

A few minutes more brought me to the scene. It was in


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Green Street, near Broome. The flames were already
bursting out of the windows of a tall brick house; three
or four streams from as many engines were sparkling and
hissing in the red light, having as yet made no headway
against the conflagration; and a line of policemen, on either
side, kept back the increasing mass of spectators. There
were shouts of command, cries, exclamations; alarm and
excitement in the opposite and adjoining houses, and a wet,
sooty, dirty chaos of people, furniture, beams, and bricks,
pouring out from below, or hurled down from above the
fiery confusion. I was accustomed to such scenes and
thought only of following my professional instinct, — ascertaining
the name of the owner of the property, its value,
and the amount of insurance upon it.

A word to a captain of police, and the exhibition of my
pencil and note-book, procured me admission into the space
cleared for the engines and hose-carriages in front of the
fire. Here I was alternately sprinkled by upward spirts
from pin-holes in the snaky hose, and scorched by downward
whiffs of air, but I had the entire scene under my eye and
could pick up my information from the tenants of the burning
house, as soon as they had done saving their mattresses
and looking-glasses, — the objects first rescued on such

The second house on the left, just opposite my perch on
the top of a shabby chest of drawers, was brilliantly lighted.
The shutters being thrown back and the windows
opened, I looked directly into a sumptuous double parlor,
which appeared to be the scene of an interrupted entertainment.
The lid of the piano was lifted, and a table in
the centre was covered with glasses and bottles. At each
window were grouped three or four girls, with bare white
shoulders and arms, talking and laughing loudly with such
firemen as took a moment's breathing-spell on the sidewalk
under them. Glasses, I could see, were occasionally passed
down to the latter.


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“It 's a chance if Old Western is n't smoked out of her
hole,” remarked one policeman to another.

“Faith, she might be spared from this neighborhood,”
the latter answered, laughing. “They are carrying the
hose up to her roof, now!”

I looked up and saw the helmet and red shirt of a fireman
behind the eaves. The street-door was entered without
ceremony, and I presently noticed a commotion among
the careless inmates. A policeman made his appearance
in the parlor; the bottles were swiftly removed, and, at a
signal from a middle-aged woman, with a hawk's beak of a
nose, the girls disappeared.

All at once, a part of the roof of the burning building
fell in. A cloud of fiery dust arose, raining into the street
as it rolled across the inky sky. The heat became intense:
the men who worked the nearest engine were continually
drenched with water to prevent their clothes taking fire.
My position became untenable, without more risk than a
reporter is justified in running for the sake of an item of
twelve lines, and I hastily retreated across the street. By
this time many other engines had arrived, and larger space
was required for their operations. I was literally driven to
the wall by the press of wheels and water-jets and the reckless
earnestness of the firemen.

Perceiving a narrow, arched passage between the two
houses, — an old-fashioned kitchen-entrance, — I took refuge
in it. The conflagration lighted up the further end,
and showed me that a hose had been already laid there
and carried to the rear. I therefore determined to follow
it and ascertain what could be seen from the other side.
By the help of some stakes and the remains of a grapearbor,
I climbed to the top of the board-fence which
inclosed the back-yard. The wind blew from the west,
and thus, although I found myself quite near to the fire,
I was not much incommoded by the heat. The brave fellows
on the roof of the nearest house moved about in dark


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relief against the flickering, surging background of dun
and scarlet light. I shuddered as I saw them walking
on the brink and peering down into the fatal gulf. A
strong reflected lustre was thrown upon the surrounding
houses from the low-hanging mist, and revealed every
object with wonderful distinctness.

There was a rear wing to the house designated by the
policeman as belonging to “Old Western,” and I had taken
my stand near one corner of it, at the junction of the fences
with those of two back-yards belonging to the opposite
houses in Wooster Street. I had not been stationed thus
two minutes, before an agitated, entreating voice came
down to me, —

“Oh, sir, good sir, — please help me to get away!”

I looked up. A window in the end of the rear wing was
open, and out of it leaned a girl, partly dressed, and with
her hair hanging about her ears, but with a shawl closely
drawn over her shoulders and breast. She was not more
than seventeen or eighteen. The expression of her face
was wild, frightened, eager, and I imagined that she was so
confused by fear as to have forgotten the ready means of
escape by the street-door.

“Please help me, quick — quick!” she repeated.

“The house is not on fire yet,” I said; “you can go out
through the front without danger.”

“Oh, not that way, — not that way!” she exclaimed.
“It 's not the fire, — it 's the house I 'm afraid of. Oh, save
me, sir, save me!”

I had read, in the Police Gazette and other classical
papers which sometimes fell into my hands, of innocent
girls decoyed into dens of infamy, very much as I had
read of human sacrifices in Dahomey, without supposing
that any such case would be brought directly home to my
own experience. This seemed to me to be an instance of
the kind, — the girl, at least, desired to escape from the
house, and I could not doubt, one moment, the obligation
upon me to give her assistance.


Page 361

“I will save you if I can,” I said, “but it is impossible
for you to come down from that window. Can I get into
the house?”

“There is no time,” she panted, — “you do not know the
way, — she might come back. I will go down into the
yard, and you can help me over the fence. Wait, — I 'm

With these words she disappeared from the window. I
shared her haste and anxiety, without comprehending it,
and set about devising a plan to get her over the inclosure.
The floor of the yard was paved, and, I judged, about ten
feet below me: I might barely reach her hand by stooping
down, but it would be very difficult to lift her to the top
without a stay for my own exertions. All at once I caught
an idea from the dilapidated arbor. It was an easy matter
to loosen one of the top-pieces, with its transverse lattice-bars,
and let it down in the corner. This furnished at the
same time a stay for me, and an assistance to her feet. I
had barely placed it in the proper position before a lower
door opened, and she hurried breathlessly up the pavement.

“Quick!” she whispered; “they are all over the house,
— they may see us any minute!”

I directed her how to climb. The lowest strip of lattice
broke away; the second held, and it enabled her to reach
my hand. In two more seconds she stood, tottering, on the
narrow ledge beside me.

“Now,” I said, “we must get down on the other side.”

“Here, — here!” she exclaimed, pointing into the garden
of one of the Wooster-Street houses, — “we must get
out that way. Not in front, — she would see me!”

She was so terribly in earnest that I never thought of
disputing her will. I carefully drew up the rough ladder,
let it down on the other side, and helped her to descend.
Then I followed.

There was not a moment to spare. I had scarcely
touched the earth, before a strong, stern woman's voice


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cried, “Jane! Jane!” from the room above us. The girl
shuddered and seized me by the arm. I bade her, with a
gesture, crouch in the corner, where she would be safely
hidden from view, and stole along the fence until I caught
sight of the window. Once the hawk's beak passed in profile
before it, and the same voice said, “Damn the girl!
where is she?”

A strong light shone into the room through a window on
the north side. There was a slamming of doors, a dragging
noise accompanied by shouts, and then a male voice, which
seemed very familiar to my ear, said, as if in reply to “Old
Western's” profane exclamation, —

“What 's the matter, old woman? Lost one of 'em?”

In a moment, the hose being apparently adjusted, a stout,
square figure in a red shirt came to the window. I could
plainly see that the hair, also, was red, the face broad, the
neck thick, — in short, that it was my young friend, Hugh

“She can't ha' jumped out here,” he said. “You need
n't be worrited, — you 'll find her down in front among
your other gals.”

A minute or two of further waiting convinced me that
there was no danger of the means of escape being detected.
The occupants of the Wooster-Street houses were all awake
and astir, and I must procure an exit for us through the
one to which the garden belonged. I spoke a word of encouragement
to the girl, picked up the light bundle of
clothes she had brought with her, and boldly approached
the rear of the house. This movement, of course, was observed
by the spectators at the bedroom windows, and,
after a little parley, a man came down with a candle and
admitted us into the back-kitchen. When he had carefully
refastened the bolts, darting a suspicious glance at myself
and my companion, he conducted us through to the front
door. A woman's face, framed in a nightcap, looked down
at us around the staircase-landing, and, just before the door


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slammed behind us, I heard her call out, “Don't let any
more of those creatures pass!”

I fancy the girl must have heard it too, for she turned to
me with a fresh appeal, — “I 'm not safe yet, — take me
away, — away out of danger!”

I gave her my arm, to which she clung as if it were a
fluke of Hope's own anchor, and said, as we walked up the
streets, —

“Where do you wish to go? Have you no friends or
acquaintances in the city?”

“Oh, none!” she cried. “I don't know anybody but —
but one I ought n't to have ever known! I 'm from the
country; I did n't go into that house of my own will, and
I could n't get out after I found what it was. I know what
you must think of me, sir, but I 'll tell you everything, and
maybe, then, you 'll believe that I 'm not quite so wicked as
I seem. Take me anywhere, — I don't care if it 's a shanty,
so I can hide and be safe. Don't think that I meant your
own house; you 've helped me, and I 'd die rather than put
disgrace on you. The Lord help me! — I may be doing
that now.”

She covered her face with her hands and began to cry.
I felt that she spoke the simple truth, and my pity and
sympathy were all the more keen, because I had never before
encountered this form of a ruined life. I was resolved
to help her, cost what it might. As for disgrace, the very
fear she expressed showed her ignorance of the world. In
a great city, unfortunately, young men may brave more
than one aspect of disgrace with perfect impunity.

“Would you not like to go back to your friends in the
country?” I asked, after a moment's reflection.

“I could n't,” she moaned. “I think it would kill me
to meet any of them now. It was a sin to leave them the
way I did. If I could get shelter in some out-of-the-way
street where there 'd be no danger of her finding me, —
no matter how poor and mean it was, — I 'd work night and


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day to earn an honest living. I 'm handy with the needle,
— it 's the trade I was learning when” —

A plan had presented itself to my mind while she was
speaking. I think that vision of Hugh's head at the window
suggested it. I would go with her to Mary Maloney
and beg the latter to give her shelter for a day or two,
until employment could be found. In Gooseberry Alley
she would be secure against discovery, and I believed that
Mary Maloney, even if she knew the girl's history, would
be willing to help her at my request. Nevertheless, I reflected,
it was better, perhaps, not to put the widow to this
test. It would be enough to say that the girl was a stranger
who had come to the city, had been disappointed in obtaining
employment, and now found herself alone, friendless,
and without means. Then I remembered, also, that my
own stock of linen needed to be replenished, and I could
therefore supply her with occupation for the first week or

I stated this plan in a few words, and it was gladly accepted.
The girl overwhelmed me with her professions of
gratitude, of her desire to work faithfully and prove herself
deserving of help. She knew she could never recover her
good name, she said, but it should not be made worse. I,
who had saved her, must have evidence that I had not done
it in vain.

As we turned down Houston in the direction of Sullivan
Street, we met a party of four aristocratic youths, in the
first stage of elegant dissipation. The girl clung to my
arm so convulsively and seemed so alarmed that I crossed
with her to the opposite sidewalk. They stopped and apparently
scrutinized us closely. I walked forward, however,
without turning my head until we reached the corner
of Sullivan Street. When I looked back, they had disappeared,
— there was only a single person, standing in the
shadow of the trees.

Gooseberry Alley was quiet, and the coolness of the


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night had partly suppressed its noisome odors. I stopped
under the lamp at the corner, and, while I said, “This is
the place I spoke of, — are you willing to try it?” — examined
the girl's face for the first time.

She was rather short of stature, but of slight and graceful
build. Her face was pale, but the bloom of her lips
showed that her cheeks could no doubt match them with
a pretty tint of pink. Her eyes — either of dark gray or
hazel — were troubled, but something of their girlish expression
of innocent ignorance remained. A simple, honest
loving heart, I was sure, still beat beneath the mask of
sadness and shame. It never occurred to me that I was
too young to be her protector, — that the relation between
us would not only be very suspicious in the sight of the
world, but was in itself both delicate and difficult. Neither
did it occur to me that I might have dispensed with the
confession she had promised to make, sparing her its pain,
and allowing her to work out her redemption silently, with
the little help I was able to give. On the contrary, I imagined
that this confession was necessary, — that it was my
duty to hear, as hers to give it.

“I have not time to hear your story to-night,” I said.
“I will see you again soon. But you have not yet told me
your name.”

“Jane Berry,” she whispered.

“And mine is John Godfrey.”

I knocked at the door of the tenement-house, and after
some delay, and the preliminary projection of Feeny's
sleepy head from the second-story window, was admitted by
Mary Maloney herself. She had sprung out of bed and
rushed down-stairs in a toilette improvised for the occasion,
— a ragged patch-work quilt held tightly to her spare body
and trailing on the floor behind her, — under the impression
that something must have happened to Hugh. In order
to allay her fears, I came within an ace of betraying
that I had seen the latter. I told her the fictitious story


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(Heaven pardon me for it!) which I had composed, and
asked her assistance. The fragment of burning tallow in
her hand revealed enough of Jane Berry's pretty face and
tearful, imploring eyes, to touch the Irishwoman's heart.

“Indade, and it 's little I can do,” she said, “but you 're
welcome to that little, Miss, even without Mr. Godfrey's
askin'. And to think that you met him in the street, too,
jist as I did! It 's a mercy it was him, instid o' the other
young fellows that goes ragin' around o' nights.”

I could imagine the pang which these words caused to
the poor girl's heart, and therefore, saying that I had still
work to do, and they must both go to rest at once, hurried
away from the house.

My notes were incomplete, and I was obliged to return to
the scene of the fire, where I found smoke and ruin instead
of flames. Two or three engines were playing into the
smouldering hollows, sending up clouds of steam from the
hot bricks and burning timbers, and the torches of the firemen
showed the piles of damaged furniture in the plashy
street. Two houses had been destroyed, and the walls of
one having fallen, there was a gap like a broken tooth in
the even line of the block.

I soon learned that there had been an accident. The
front wall, crashing down unexpectedly, had fallen upon a
fireman who was in the act of removing a ladder. They
had carried him to the nearest druggist's on Broadway, and
it was feared that his hurt was fatal. The men talked about
it calmly, as of an ordinary occurrence, but performed their
duties with a slow, mechanical air, which told of weariness
and sadness.

Of course, I was obliged to visit the druggist's, and obtain
the name and condition of the unfortunate man. The
business of a reporter precludes indulgence in sentiment,
prohibits delicacy of feeling. If the victim of a tragedy is
able to give his name, age, and place of residence, he may
then die in peace. The family, drowned in tears and despair,


Page 367
must nevertheless furnish the particulars of the murder
or suicide. Public curiosity, represented by the agent
of the newspaper, claims its privilege, and will not abate
one item of the harrowing details.

The policeman, guarding the door from the rush of an
excited crowd, admitted me behind the blue and crimson
globes. The injured man, bedded on such cushions as the
shop afforded, lay upon the floor, surrounded by a group of
his fellow-firemen. His shirt had been cut off, and his
white, massive breast lay bare under the lamp. There was
no external sign of injury, but a professional eye could see
knobs and protrusions of flesh which did not correspond to
the natural overlapping of the muscles. A surgeon, kneeling
beside his head, held one arm, with his finger on
the pulse, and wiped away with a sponge the bloody foam
which bubbled from his lips.

Presently the man opened his eyes, — large, clear, solemn
eyes, full of mysterious, incomprehensible speech.
His lips moved feebly, and although no sound came from
them, I saw, and I think all the others saw, that the word
he would have uttered was, “Good-bye!”

“He has but a minute more, poor fellow!” whispered
the surgeon.

Then, as by a single impulse, each one of the rough group
of firemen took off his helmet, knelt upon the floor, and
reverently bowed his head in silence around the dying man.
I knelt beside them, awed and thrilled to the depths of my
soul by the scene. The fading lips partly curved in an ineffable
smile of peace; the eyes did not close again, but
the life slowly died out of them; a few convulsive movements
of the body, and the shattered breast became stone.
Then a hand gently pressed down the lids, and the kneeling
men arose. There was not a sob, nor a sound, but
every face was wet with tears unconsciously shed. They
lifted the body of their comrade and bore him tenderly


Page 368

It was nearly three o'clock in the morning before my
task was finished, and I could go home to bed with a good
conscience. I had passed the crisis of fatigue, and was preternaturally
awake in every sense. The two incidents of
the night powerfully affected me; dissimilar as they were,
either seemed to spring from something originally noble
and undefiled in the nature of Man. The homage of those
firemen to the sanctity of Death made them my brothers;
the ruder and more repellant aspects of their lives drifted
away like smoke before this revelation of tenderness. To
Jane Berry, however, my relation assumed the pride and
importance of a protector, — possibly of a saving agent.
The remembrance of what I had done in her case filled
me with perfect, serene happiness. I will not say that vanity,
— that selfishness (though Heaven knows how!) had
no part in my satisfaction; many profound teachers and
exceedingly proper persons will tell us so; — nor do I much
care. I knew that I had done a good deed, and it was right
I should deem that the approving smile of Our Father hallowed
my sleep that night.