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- The Making of an American - 49/49 -


Amos Ensign, I did not give you the credit you should have had for our success in Mulberry Street in the early days, but I give it to you now. You were loyal and good, and you have stayed a reporter, a living denial of the charge that our profession is not as good as the best Dr. Jane Elizabeth Robbins, you told me, when I was hesitating over the first chapters of these reminiscences, to take the short cut and put it all in, and I did, because you are as wise as you are good. I have told it all, and now, manlike, I will serve you as your sex has been served from the dawn of time: the woman did it! yours be the blame. Anthony Ronne, dear old chum in the days of adversity; Max Fischel, trusty friend of the years in Mulberry Street, who never said "can't" once--you always knew a way; Brother W. W. J. Warren, faithful in good and in evil report; General C. T. Christensen, whose compassion passeth understanding, for, though a banker, you bore with and befriended me, who cannot count; Mrs. Josephine Shaw Lowell, my civic conscience ever; John H. Mulchahey, without whose wise counsels in the days of good government and reform the battle with the slum would surely have gone against us; Jane Addams and Mrs. Emmons Blaine, leaven that shall yet leaven the whole unsightly lump out yonder by the western lake and let in the light; A. S. Solomons, Silas McBee, Mrs. Roland C. Lincoln, Lilian D. Wald, Felix Adler, Endicott Peabody, Lyman Abbott, Louise Seymour Houghton, Jacob H. Schiff, John Finley,--Jew and Gentile who taught me why in this world personal conduct and personal character count ever for most,--my love to you all! It is time I am off and away. William McCloy, the next time I step into your canoe and upset it, and you turn that smiling countenance upon me, up to your neck in the lake, I will surely drown you. You are too good for this world. J. Evarts Tracy, host of my happy days on restful Wahwaskesh! I know of a certain hole in under a shelving rock upon which the partridge is wont to hatch her young, where lies a bigger bass than ever you tired out according to the rules of your beloved sport, and I will have him if I have to charm him with honeyed words and a bean-pole. And Ainslie shall cook him to a turn. Make haste then to the feast!

[Illustration: The little ones from Cherry Street.]

Ahead there is light. Even as I write the little ones from Cherry Street are playing on the grass under my trees. The time is at hand when we shall bring to them in their slum the things which we must now bring them to see, and then the slum will be no more. How little we grasp the meaning of it all. In a report of the Commissioner of Education I read the other day that of kindergarten children in an Eastern city who were questioned 63 per cent did not know a robin, and more than half had not seen a dandelion in its yellow glory.

And yet we complain that our cities are misgoverned! You who think that the teaching of "civics" in the school covers it all, I am not speaking to you. You will never understand. But the rest of you who are willing to sit with me at the feet of little Molly and learn from her, listen: She was poor and ragged and starved. Her home was a hovel. We were debating, some good women who knew her and I, how best to make a merry Christmas for her, and my material mind hung upon clothes and boots and rubbers, for it was in Chicago. But the vision of her soul was a pair of red shoes! Her heart craved them; aye, brethren, and she got them. Not for all the gold in the Treasury would I have trodden it under in pork and beans, smothered it in--no, not in rubber boots, though the mud in the city by the lake be both deep and black. They were the window, those red shoes, through which her little captive soul looked out and yearned for the beauty of God's great world. Could I forget the blue boots with the tassels which I worshipped in my boyhood? Nay, friends, the robin and the dandelion we must put back into those barren lives if we would have good citizenship. They and the citizenship are first cousins. We robbed the children of them, or stood by and saw it done, and it is for us to restore them. That is my answer to the missionary who writes to ask what is the "most practical way of making good Christians and American citizens" out of the emigrants who sit heavy on her conscience, as well they may. Christianity without the robin and the dandelion is never going to reach down into the slum; American citizenship without them would leave the slum there, to dig the grave of it and of the republic.

Light ahead! The very battle that is now waged for righteousness on the once forgotten East Side is our answer to the cry of the young who, having seen the light, were willing no longer to live in darkness. I know, for I was one of the committee which Dr. Felix Adler called together in response to their appeal a year ago. The Committee of Fifteen succeeded to its work. "What does it all help?" the doubting Thomases have asked a half-score years, watching the settlements build their bridge of hearts between mansion and tenement, and hundreds give devoted lives of toil and sacrifice to make it strong and lasting; and ever the answer came back, sturdily: "Wait and see! It will come." And now it has come. The work is bearing fruit. On the East Side the young rise in rebellion against the slum; on the West Side the League for Political Education runs a ball-ground. Omen of good sense and of victory! So the country is safe. When we fight no longer for the poor, but with the poor, the slum is taken in the rear and beaten already.

[Illustration: My Silver Bride.]

The world moves. The Bend is gone; the Barracks are gone; Mulberry Street itself as I knew it so long is gone. Cat Alley, whence came the deputation of ragamuffins to my office demanding flowers for "the lady in the back," the poor old scrubwoman who lay dead in her dark basement, went when the Elm Street widening let light into the heart of our block. The old days are gone. I myself am gone. A year ago I had warning that "the night cometh when no man can work," and Mulberry Street knew me no more. I am still a young man, not far past fifty, and I have much I would do yet. But what if it were ordered otherwise? I have been very happy. No man ever had so good a time. Should I not be content?

[Illustration: Here comes the Baby!]

I dreamed a beautiful dream in my youth, and I awoke and found it true. My silver bride they called her just now. The frost is upon my head, indeed; hers winter has not touched with its softest breath. Her footfall is the lightest, her laugh the merriest in the house. The boys are all in love with their mother; the girls tyrannize and worship her together. The cadet corps elects her an honorary member, for no stouter champion of the flag is in the land. Sometimes when she sings with the children I sit and listen, and with her voice there comes to me as an echo of the long past the words in her letter, that blessed first letter in which she wrote down the text of all my after-life: "We will strive together for all that is noble and good." So she saw her duty as a true American, and aye! she has kept the pledge.

But here comes our daughter with little Virginia to visit her grandpapa. Oh, the little vixen! Then where is his peace? God bless the child!

* * * * *

I have told the story of the making of an American. There remains to tell how I found out that he vas made and finished at last. It was when I went back to see my mother once more and, wandering about the country of my childhood's memories, had come to the city of Elsinore. There I fell ill of a fever and lay many weeks in the house of a friend upon the shore of the beautiful Oeresund. One day when the fever had left me they rolled my bed into a room overlooking the sea. The sunlight danced upon the waves, and the distant mountains of Sweden were blue against the horizon. Ships passed under full sail up and down the great waterway of the nations. But the sunshine and the peaceful day bore no message to me. I lay moodily picking at the coverlet, sick and discouraged and sore--I hardly knew why myself. Until all at once there sailed past, close inshore, a ship flying at the top the flag of freedom, blown out on the breeze till every star in it shone bright and clear. That moment I knew. Gone were illness, discouragement, and gloom! Forgotten weakness and suffering, the cautions of doctor and nurse. I sat up in bed and shouted, laughed and cried by turns, waving my handkerchief to the flag out there. They thought I had lost my head, but I told them no, thank God! I had found it, and my heart, too, at last. I knew then that it was my flag; that my children's home was mine, indeed; that I also had become an American in truth. And I thanked God, and, like unto the man sick of the palsy, arose from my bed and went home, healed.

[Illustration: That minute I knew]


The Making of an American - 49/49

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