Margaret Penrose.

Dorothy Dale in the City





He pushed the books toward Aunt Winnie.

Dont look at them, Aunt Winnie, cried Dorothy. The entries are false! We have his own words to prove his wrong-doing! His statements to Tavia and Miss Mingles word to us are different.

And by a peculiar net of circumstances, which invariably occur when one thread tightens about a guilty man, Miss Mingle at that moment walked into the room! She had come to demand justice from the man who had served removal notice upon herself and her sister, Mrs. Bergham. She held the notice in her hand. Major Dale took it, and tearing it in small pieces, placed it in a waste paper basket.

He admitted to me, quite freely, protested Tavia, that every tenant in the house paid eighty or one hundred dollars for his or her apartment!

Miss Mingle at first could not grasp the meaning of it, but as Dorothy quickly explained that her aunt was the owner of the apartment, it dawned on Miss Mingle just how, after all, the guilty are punished, even though the road to justice be a long and crooked one.

You never spent a penny on that place, growled Mr. Akerson, I spent a good pile of my own money, just to fix it up after my own ideas of a studio apartment.

I spent more than half of my income of thirty-five dollars per month from each apartment, for constant repairs, and when I discussed with you, as you well know, the advisability of advancing the rents a few dollars to cover the outlay, you discouraged it, said it was impossible in that section of the city to ask more than thirty-five dollars, said Mrs. White sternly.

What these books really show, said Dorothy, is the enormous amount that is due Aunt Winnie from Mr. Akerson!

The tenants are so dissatisfied, explained Miss Mingle, the constant increases in the rent were so unreasonable! The porter in the house, so we have found, was in league with Mr. Akerson, and kept him informed of everything that happened.

Thats how, said Tavia, with a hysterical laugh, he knew whom it was we called on at the Court Apartments!

Easy there, said Bob to Tavia, dont start laughing that way, or youll break down, and Ill have to take care of you.

Its been so awful, Bob, said Tavia, his name slipping naturally from her lips. We tried to carry it through all alone!

Just as soon as youre left to yourselves, he said with a smile, you begin to get into all sorts of trouble!

There is only one thing to say, declared Major Dale, advancing toward Mr. Akerson. Nat will figure up what you owe to Mrs. White, you will sit down and write out a check for the amount, and that will close further transactions with you!

Mr. Akerson fingered his check book, and made one last effort to explain:

Miss Mingle is influenced by her sister, who has hallucinations, but he could say no more, for Major Dale and Bob came toward him threateningly.

Miss Mingle teaches my daughter in school, and we will hear nothing from you about her family, said Major Dale, decidedly.

I demand justice! cried Mr.

Akerson, jumping from his seat.

I call this justice, calmly answered the major.

I shall not be coerced into signing a check and handing it to Mrs. White. Ill take this matter to the proper authorities, the agent fumed, as he walked rapidly to and fro. Its an injustice. I tell you Im innocent.

Then prove your innocence! answered Major Dale.

The ladies were beginning to show signs of the nervous strain. Miss Mingle and Tavia were almost in hysterics, while Dorothy clung to Mrs. Whites arm.

You do not understand the laws in this State, declared Mr. Akerson. There is no charge against me. I defy you to prove one!

Very well, we will summon one who understands the laws, and decide the matter at once, said Major Dale; meanwhile, you ladies leave these disagreeable surroundings.

After all, said Miss Mingle, as they left the office building, we wont have the awful bother of moving; will we, dear Mrs. White? Her voice was full of pleading.

No, indeed, and as soon as everything is settled, we must try to find an honest agent to care for the place. I am convinced that Mr. Akerson is not honest, in spite of all he said, said Mrs. White.

My poor sister! sighed Miss Mingle. She almost collapsed at the mere thought of having to leave that apartment.

Never mind, consoled Mrs. White, everything will be all right now. And you dear girls, how you ever had the courage to face that situation all alone, I cannot understand!

Oh, it was nothing! said Tavia, really believing, since the worst part of it was over, that it had been nothing at all.

I almost imagine we enjoyed it! Dorothy exclaimed.

Oh, nonsense, said Mrs. White, you are both so nervous, you look as though another weeks rest would be needed. You are pale, both of you.

Well, I dont feel one bit pale, said Tavia, Still I think Ill lie down, when we get home.

So will I, but Im not tired, declared Dorothy.

They are too young; too high spirited, said Mrs. White to Miss Mingle, as they parted; they wont admit the awful strain they have been under all day.

An hour later, when the boys and Major Dale returned to the apartment, all was quiet, and they tiptoed about for fear of awakening the girls. Aunt Winnie was waiting for them.

Its all settled, whispered Major Dale. We have Akerson under bonds to appear in three days to pay back all money due you.

And to think that Dorothy and Tavia unraveled the mystery! sighed Aunt Winnie.

Hurrah! said the boys, in a whisper. Hurrah for the girls!

Which brought the girls into the room.

CHAPTER XXIII
PATHOS AND POVERTY

Dorothy roused the next morning with a sense of great relief after the strenuous hours of the previous day. At last they were beginning to accomplish something in the way of straightening out Aunt Winnies complicated money matters. It was a decided rest to turn her thoughts to the poor boy who had spent a little time in their kitchenette the boy who just ate what was offered him, and grinned good-naturedly at the family.

He had evidently considered them all a part of the days routine, and accepted the food, and the warmth, and kindness with a hardened indifference that made Dorothy curious. He had grudgingly given Dorothy his street and house number. He was so flint-like, and skeptical about rich people helping poor people, his young life had had such varied experience with the settlement workers, that he plainly did not wish to see more of his hostess.

It was an easy matter for Dorothy to just smile and declare she was going out. Tavia was curled up in numerous pillows, surrounded by magazines and boxes of candy, and the boys were going skating. City ice did not keep as did the ice in the country, and the only way to enjoy it while it lasted, as Ned explained, was to spend every moment skating madly.

Dorothy read the address, Rivington Street, and wondered as she started forth what this, her first real glimpse into the life of New York Citys poor, would reveal. She was a bit tremulous, and anxious to reach the place.

Where is this number, little boy? she inquired, of a street urchin.

Over there, responded a voice buried in the depths of a turned-up collar. I know you, it said impudently. One glance into the large, heavily-lashed eyes made Dorothy smiled. Here was the very same thin boy upon whom she was going to call.

Is your mother at home? she asked.

Sure, he replied, sos father. Then he laughed impishly.

And have you brothers and sisters, too? said Dorothy.

Sure. He looked Dorothy over carefully, decided she could keep a secret, and coming close to her he whispered: We got the mostest big family in de street; nobodys got as many childrens as we got! Then he stood back proudly.

I want to see them all, coaxed Dorothy. She hesitated about entering the tenement to which the thin boy led her. It was tall and dirty and a series of odors, unknown to Dorothys well-brought-up nose, rushed to meet them as the hall door was pushed open. The fire escapes covering the front of the house were used for back yards ash heaps and garbage, bedding and washes, all hung suspended, threatening to topple over on the heads of the passersby, and the long, dark hall they entered was also littered with garbage cans, and an accumulation of dirty rags and papers and children.

Such frowsy-headed, unkempt, ragged little babies! Dorothys heart went out to them all she wanted to take each one and wash the little face, and smooth the suspicious, sullen brows. The advent of a well-dressed visitor into the main hall meant the opening of many doors and a wonderfully frank assortment of remarks as to whom the visitor might be. Little Tommy, the thin boy, glad of the opportunity to show off grandly led Dorothy up the stairs, making the most of the trip.

The other day when I was skatin with you in Central Park, flippantly fell from Tommys lips, loud enough for the words to enter bombastically through the open doors, I come home and said to the family, I sez, but what Tommy had said to the family never was known, because the remainder of Tommys family having heard in advance of Tommys coming, rushed pell-mell to meet them, and with various smudgy fingers stuck into all sizes of mouths, they stared, some through the railings, some over the railing, more from the top step the mostest biggest family exhibited no tendency to hang back.

Come in out of that, you little ones, said a soft, motherly voice, that sounded clear and sweet in the midst of the tumult of the tenement house, and Dorothy looked quickly in the direction from whence it came and beheld Tommys mother. She was small and dark, and in garments of fashion would have been dainty. She seemed little older than Tommy, who was nine, and life in the poorest section of the city, trying to bring up a large family in three rooms, had left no tragic marks on her smooth brow, and when she smiled, she dimpled. Dorothy smiled back instantly, the revelation of this mother was so unexpectedly different from anything Dorothy had imagined.

They will run out in the hall, the mother explained, apologetically, and theyre only half-dressed, and its so cold that theyll all be down with sore throats, if they dont mind me. Now come inside, every one of you! But not one of the children moved an inch until Dorothy reached the top landing, then they all backed into the room, which at a glance Dorothy was unable at first to name. There was a cot in one corner, a stove, a large table, and sink in another, and one grand easy chair near a window. Regular chairs there were none, but boxes aplenty, and opening from this kitchen-bedroom-living-room was an uncarpeted, evil-looking room, and in the doorway a giant of a man stood, looking in bleary-eyed bewilderment at Dorothy.

Youll get your rent when I get my pay, he said, with an ill-natured leer. So hes sending you around now? Afraid to come himself after the scare I gave him the last time? Dye remember the scare I gave him Nellie? he turned to the little woman.

With a curious love and pride in this great, helpless giant, his wife straightened his necktie, that hung limply about the neck of his blue flannel shirt, and patting his hand said, caressingly:

Now stop your foolin, shes not from the rent-man, shes a friend of our Tommys, the lady that went skatin with Tommy in the Park; dont you know, James?

James straightened himself against the panels of the door, and stared down at Dorothy, but his first idea that she was after his weeks pay was evident in his manner.

You wouldnt of got it if you did come for it, he declared, proudly, cause it aint so far behind that you could make me pay it.

Its only when hes gettin over a sleepless night, explained Tommys mother, pathetically, that he worries so. When hes well, she whispered to Dorothy, he dont worry about nothin; but when his moneys all gone and he aint well, the way he frets about me and the children is somethin awful! She looked at her husband with wonderful pride and pleasure in possessing so complicated a man.

Dorothy wondered, in a dazed way, what happened when the entire family wished to sit down at the same time. She could count just four suitable seating places, and there were nine members of the family. The smallest member, a wan, blue-lipped baby in arms, had a look on its face of a wise old man.

How and where to begin to help, Dorothy could not think. That the baby was almost starved for proper nourishment and should at once be taken care of, Dorothy realized. Yet such an air of cheerfulness pervaded the whole family, it was hard to believe that any of them was starving. The cheerful poor! Dorothys heart beat high with hope.

The head of the family made his way to the door opening into the main hall, and taking his hat from a hook, pulled it over his eyes and put his hand on the door knob. The little wife, forgetting all else that Dorothy was looking on, that her baby was crying, and that something was boiling over on the stove threw herself into the giants arms.

Dont go out, James! she cried, pitifully, dont go away in the cold. You wont, dearie; I know you wont! Take off your hat, theres a good man. Dont go, theres no work now. As the man opened the door, dont you know how we love you, James? Stay home to-night, dearie, and rest for to-morrow.

Im just goin down to the steps, replied the man, releasing the womans arms from about his neck, Ill be up in a jiffy. I didnt say I was goin out. Who heard me say a word about goin out? he appealed to the numerous children playing about.

You dont have to, said Tommy, bravely trying to keep his lips from quivering, you put on a hat; didnt you? And you opened the door; didnt you? and with such proof positive Tommy stood facing his father, but his lips would quiver in spite of biting them hard with his teeth.

Im just goin down for a breath of air, he explained, as his wife clung desperately to his arm, just to get the sleep out o me eyes, and Ill run into the grocers, and come back with cakes! he ended, triumphantly.

Dorothy felt awkward and intrusive. This was a family scene that had grown wearisome to the children, who took little interest in it, and the mother of the brood at last fell away, and allowed the man to leave the room. Then Dorothy saw the tragedy of the little womans life! Glistening tears fell thick and fast, and she hugged her baby tightly to her breast, murmuring softly in its little ears, oblivious to her surroundings.

Ill buy you food, said Dorothy, the weary voice of the woman bringing tears to her eyes. Tommy will come with me and well buy everything you need.

Tommy rushed for his hat, and together they started down the stairs. Reaching the steps, Dorothy looked about for some sign of Tommys father, but he must have been seated on another porch for the breath of air he was after; the only thing on the front steps was Tommys yellow dog.

Did you see my father? said the boy to the dog. The dog jumped about madly, licking Tommys face and hands and barking short, joyful doggie greetings. Hes seen him, all right, said Tommy.

Did he go to the grocers? he asked of the dog. In answer the dogs ears and tail drooped sadly, and he licked Tommys hand with less joyfulness.

No, said little Tommy, he aint gone to the grocers, hes always looking for work now, he says.

Ill see if I can bring him back, volunteered Dorothy.

The evening crowd on Rivington Street was pouring out of the doorways, bitter cold did not seem to prevent social gatherings on the corners, and the small shops were filled to overflowing with loungers. A mission meeting was in progress on one of the corners, as Dorothy hurried on, and a sweet, girlish voice was exhorting the shivering crowd to repent and mend their ways.

CHAPTER XXIV
A YOUNG REFORMER

Close in the wake of Tommys father, now returning, came Dorothy. A large automobile stood before one of the rickety buildings, and Dorothy just caught sight of a great fur coat and gray hair, as the owner of the car came from the building. It was Mr. Akerson! His chauffeur opened the door of the car, touched his cap, and the auto made its way slowly through the street.

Theres the rent collector, she heard a small girl say, as she watched the automobile out of sight. Aint he grand!

Dorothy wondered, with a shudder, how any one could come among these people and take their money from them, for housing them in such quarters!

Tommys father turned off Rivington Street into a narrow lane, little more than an alley, but it contained tall buildings nevertheless, with the inevitable fire escape decorating the fronts. He paused in front of a pawnbrokers shop, which was some feet below the level of the sidewalk. Dorothy, too, paused, leaning on the iron fence. The man was smiling an irresponsible, foolish smile as he descended the steps to the pawnshop. Dorothy peered down into the badly-lighted shop, and saw Tommys father lay an ancient watch chain, the last remaining article of the glory of his young manhood, on the counter.

The clerk behind the counter threw it back in disgust. Again Tommys father offered it, but the pawnbroker would not take it, for it was evidently not worth space in his cases. The man stumbled up the steps, and Dorothy met him face to face on the top one.

I need a watch chain, she heard herself saying in desperation, Ill buy it, please.

Youre the woman as was collecting the rent; eh? he said.

Oh, no, said Dorothy, smiling brightly, I came to see Tommys mother, and his father. I wanted to know Tommys family.

You wanted to help the boy, maybe? he asked, his attention at last arrested.

Yes, replied Dorothy, eagerly, I want to do something. I have money with me now, and Ill buy the chain.

The man suddenly turned and went on ahead. He wasnt a really desperate man, but Dorothy did not know just what state it could be called, he simply seemed unable to think quite clearly, and after walking one block, Dorothy decided he had forgotten her entirely.

I want to buy the groceries, she said, stepping close to his elbow, but there will be so many, youll have to help carry them home to your wife and Tommy.

He stared at her sullenly. Who told you to buy groceries? he demanded.

Your wife said there was nothing to eat in the house, she answered, and I would love to buy everything you need, just for this once.

I was just goin to get em, but there was no money. Hows a man goin to help his family, when they takes his money right outer his pockets; tell me that, will you? he demanded of Dorothy. She shrank as the huge form towered over her, but she answered steadily:

The children are at home, hungry, waiting for something to eat the cakes you promised them, you know, she said with a brave smile.

Well, come along; what are you standin here for wastin time when the children are hungry? he said finally.

Dorothy laughed quietly, and went along at his elbow. Such unreasonable sort of humanity! At least, one thing was certain, he would not escape from her now, since she was convinced that he had really been trying to secure money enough to buy food; if she had to call on the rough-looking element on the street to come to her aid she would help him.

In the grocers Dorothy found great delight in ordering food for a family, and they left the shop, loaded down with parcels. The grocers clock chimed out the hour of seven as they left the store.

Aunt Winnie, thought Dorothy suddenly, shell be worried ill! I had almost forgotten I had a family of my own to be anxious about. But theyll have to wait, she decided, they, at least, arent hungry. They are only worried, and I know Im safe, she ended, philosophically.

The yellow dog was in the hall, so were all the evil odors, even some of the babies still played about, evidently knowing no bedtime, until with utter weariness their small limbs refused to move another step. And the dog being there meant that Tommy had gone ahead and was safe at home.

The upper halls were noisy. The hours after supper were being turned into the festive part of the day. At Tommys door there were no loud sounds of mirth, and, opening it quietly, Dorothy entered, the man behind. A dim light burned in the room, the mother sat asleep in the old velvet chair, the smaller children curled up in her lap, and she was holding the baby in her arms. Several of the children were stretched crosswise on the kitchen cot, and Dorothy decided the remainder of the family were in the dark room just off the kitchen, and later she discovered that the surplus room of the three-room home was rented out, to help pay the rent.

The children quickly scrambled from the cot and from the mothers lap, with wild haste to unwrap the paper parcels. There was little use trying judiciously to serve the eatables to such hungry children. It mattered not to Tommy that jelly and condensed milk and butter and cheese were not all supposed to be eaten on one slice of bread. Tommy never before saw these things all at one time, and, as far as Tommy knew, he might never again have the chance to put so many different things on one slice. Oranges and bananas were unknown luxuries in that family, and the little boys eyed them suspiciously, but brave Tommy sampling them first, they picked up courage, and soon there were neither oranges nor bananas, only messy little heaps of peeling.





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