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- Philip Dru: Administrator - 5/33 -
"Fear, causes perhaps more unhappiness than any one thing that we have let take possession of us. Some are never free from it. They awake in the morning with a vague, indefinite sense of it, and at night a foreboding of disaster hands over the to-morrow. Life would have for us a different meaning if we would resolve, and keep the resolution, to do the best we could under all conditions, and never fear the result. Then, too, we should be trained not to have such an unreasonable fear of death. The Eastern peoples are far wiser in this respect than we. They have learned to look upon death as a happy transition to something better. And they are right, for that is the true philosophy of it. At the very worst, can it mean more than a long and dreamless sleep? Does not the soul either go back to the one source from which it sprung, and become a part of the whole, or does it not throw off its material environment and continue with individual consciousness to work out its final destiny?
"If that be true, there is no death as we have conceived it. It would mean to us merely the beginning of a more splendid day, and we should be taught that every emotion, every effort here that is unselfish and soul uplifting, will better fit us for that spiritual existence that is to come."
THE TRAGEDY OF THE TURNERS
The trip north from Fort Magruder was a most trying experience for Philip Dru, for although he had as traveling companions Gloria and Jack Strawn, who was taking a leave of absence, the young Kentuckian felt his departure from Texas and the Army as a portentous turning point in his career. In spite of Gloria's philosophy, and in spite of Jack's reassurances, Philip was assailed by doubts as to the ultimate improvement of his eyesight, and at the same time with the feeling that perhaps after all, he was playing the part of a deserter.
"It's all nonsense to feel cut up over it, you know, Philip," insisted Jack. "You can take my word for it that you have the wrong idea in wanting to quit when you can be taken care of by the Government. You have every right to it."
"No, Jack, I have no right to it," answered Dru, "but certain as I am that I am doing the only thing I could do, under the circumstances, it's a hard wrench to leave the Army, even though I had come to think that I can find my place in the world out of the service."
The depression was not shaken off until after they had reached New York, and Philip had been told by the great specialist that his eyesight probably never again would pass the Army tests. Once convinced that an Army career was impossible, he resigned, and began to reconstruct his life with new hope and with a new enthusiasm. While he was ordered to give his eyes complete rest for at least six months and remain a part of every day in a darkened room, he was promised that after several months, he probably would be able to read and write a little.
As he had no relatives in New York, Philip, after some hesitation, accepted Jack Strawn's insistent invitation to visit him for a time, at least. Through the long days and weeks that followed, the former young officer and Gloria were thrown much together.
One afternoon as they were sitting in a park, a pallid child of ten asked to "shine" their shoes. In sympathy they allowed him to do it. The little fellow had a gaunt and hungry look and his movements were very sluggish. He said his name was Peter Turner and he gave some squalid east side tenement district as his home. He said that his father was dead, his mother was bedridden, and he, the oldest of three children, was the only support of the family. He got up at five and prepared their simple meal, and did what he could towards making his mother comfortable for the day. By six he left the one room that sheltered them, and walked more than two miles to where he now was. Midday meal he had none, and in the late afternoon he walked home and arranged their supper of bread, potatoes, or whatever else he considered he could afford to buy. Philip questioned him as to his earnings and was told that they varied with the weather and other conditions, the maximum had been a dollar and fifteen cents for one day, the minimum twenty cents. The average seemed around fifty cents, and this was to shelter, clothe and feed a family of four.
Already Gloria's eyes were dimmed with tears. Philip asked if they might go home with him then. The child consented and led the way.
They had not gone far, when Philip, noticing how frail Peter was, hailed a car, and they rode to Grand Street, changed there and went east. Midway between the Bowery and the river, they got out and walked south for a few blocks, turned into a side street that was hardly more than an alley, and came to the tenement where Peter lived.
It had been a hot day even in the wide, clean portions of the city. Here the heat was almost unbearable, and the stench, incident to a congested population, made matters worse.
Ragged and dirty children were playing in the street. Lack of food and pure air, together with unsanitary surroundings, had set its mark upon them. The deathly pallor that was in Peter's face was characteristic of most of the faces around them.
The visitors climbed four flights of stairs, and went down a long, dark, narrow hall reeking with disagreeable odors, and finally entered ten- year-old Peter Turner's "home."
"What a travesty on the word 'home,'" murmured Dru, as he saw for the first time the interior of an East Side tenement. Mrs. Turner lay propped in bed, a ghost of what was once a comely woman. She was barely thirty, yet poverty, disease and the city had drawn their cruel lines across her face. Gloria went to her bedside and gently pressed the fragile hand. She dared not trust herself to speak. And this, she thought, is within the shadow of my home, and I never knew. "Oh, God," she silently prayed, "forgive us for our neglect of such as these."
Gloria and Philip did all that was possible for the Turners, but their helping hands came too late to do more than to give the mother a measure of peace during the last days of her life. The promise of help for the children lifted a heavy load from her heart. Poor stricken soul, Zelda Turner deserved a better fate. When she married Len Turner, life seemed full of joy. He was employed in the office of a large manufacturing concern, at what seemed to them a munificent salary, seventy-five dollars a month.
Those were happy days. How they saved and planned for the future! The castle that they built in Spain was a little home on a small farm near a city large enough to be a profitable market for their produce. Some place where the children could get fresh air, wholesome food and a place in which to grow up. Two thousand dollars saved, would, they thought, be enough to make the start. With this, a farm costing four thousand dollars could be bought by mortgaging it for half. Twenty-five dollars a month saved for six years, would, with interest, bring them to their goal.
Already more than half the sum was theirs. Then came disaster. One Sunday they were out for their usual walk. It had been sleeting and the pavements here and there were still icy. In front of them some children were playing, and a little girl of eight darted into the street to avoid being caught by a companion. She slipped and fell. A heavy motor was almost upon her, when Len rushed to snatch her from the on-rushing car. He caught the child, but slipped himself, succeeding however in pushing her beyond danger before the cruel wheels crushed out his life. The dreary days and nights that followed need not be recited here. The cost of the funeral and other expenses incident thereto bit deep into their savings, therefore as soon as she could pull herself together, Mrs. Turner sought employment and got it in a large dressmaking establishment at the inadequate wage of seven dollars a week. She was skillful with her needle but had no aptitude for design, therefore she was ever to be among the plodders. One night in the busy season of overwork before the Christmas holidays, she started to walk the ten blocks to her little home, for car-fare was a tax beyond her purse, and losing her weary footing, she fell heavily to the ground. By the aid of a kindly policeman she was able to reach home, in great suffering, only to faint when she finally reached her room. Peter, who was then about seven years old, was badly frightened. He ran for their next door neighbor, a kindly German woman. She lifted Zelda into bed and sent for a physician, and although he could find no other injury than a badly bruised spine, she never left her bed until she was borne to her grave.
The pitiful little sum that was saved soon went, and Peter with his blacking box became the sole support of the family.
When they had buried Zelda, and Gloria was kneeling by her grave softly weeping, Philip touched her shoulder and said, "Let us go, she needs us no longer, but there are those who do. This experience has been my lesson, and from now it is my purpose to consecrate my life towards the betterment of such as these. Our thoughts, our habits, our morals, our civilization itself is wrong, else it would not be possible for just this sort of suffering to exist."
"But you will let me help you, Philip?" said Gloria.
"It will mean much to me, Gloria, if you will. In this instance Len Turner died a hero's death, and when Mrs. Turner became incapacitated, society, the state, call it what you will, should have stepped in and thrown its protecting arms around her. It was never intended that she should lie there day after day month after month, suffering, starving, and in an agony of soul for her children's future. She had the right to expect succor from the rich and the strong."
"Yes," said Gloria, "I have heard successful men and women say that they cannot help the poor, that if you gave them all you had, they would soon be poor again, and that your giving would never cease." "I know," Philip replied, "that is ever the cry of the selfish. They believe that they merit all the blessings of health, distinction and wealth that may come to them, and they condemn their less fortunate brother as one deserving his fate. The poor, the weak and the impractical did not themselves bring about their condition. Who knows how large a part the mystery of birth and heredity play in one's life and what environment and opportunity, or lack of it, means to us? Health, ability, energy, favorable environment and opportunity are the ingredients of success. Success is graduated by the lack of one or all of these. If the powerful use their strength merely to further their own selfish desires, in what way save in degree do they differ from the lower animals of creation? And how can man under such a moral code justify his dominion over land and sea?
"Until recently this question has never squarely faced the human race, but it does face it now and to its glory and honor it is going to be answered right. The strong will help the weak, the rich will share with the poor, and it will not be called charity, but it will be known as justice. And the man or woman who fails to do his duty, not as he sees it, but as society at large sees it, will be held up to the contempt of
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