The New York World/October 1, 1893
Pathetic Scenes at the Food and Shelter Home in Front Street—Exorbitant Charges by the Booths for the Salvation Bonnets and Books—The Good They Do
I have been devoting myself to the Salvation Army for the last ten days.
I began with an idea that it was some sort of a nonsensical hulla-baloo, run by a lot of fanatics incidentally for the amusement of the curious, primarily for the financial benefit of a chosen few. And I end—how?
I don’t know. I can only tell without frills, precisely what I saw.
I am without prejudice. Others may judge. I do not care to.
I was walking up Fourth avenue, just opposite Cooper Union, when I met two girls.
Even the most ignorant would have drawn from a single glance that they were members of something besides the common mass one sees upon the streets. They were both clad in painfully plain dark blue gowns, and the smaller of the two wore a poke bonnet, with a plain twist of navy blue silk across the top and frilled in the spreading front, while two broad bands of ribbon tied it rather coquettishly under the left ear.
This girl carried under her arm a great lot of newspapers.
She was a pretty little thing. Her eyes were bark brown, and as clear and as bright as a babe’s. Her pretty, smooth, clear olive skin was tinted a very fetching pink, just where the actress gives a touch of rouge to brighten her eyes.
In addition to this she had an extremely pretty nose and a mouth with beauty in every curve.
Her companion, a round-shouldered, great big, black-eyed, sallow-faced girl, wore a plain black sailor hat, and carried a small book that showed constant use.
I would hesitate to address almost any unknown woman upon the street. When occasion demands I always prefer to speak to a man. But I had no feat of these girls. There was a gentleness, a subtle something in their faces that drew me to them.
“I have wanted to see some of your people,” I said, as I stopped, and they stopped with me. “I have a friend that I wish to get interested in your meetings. She is melancholy over the death of her sister, and I think if she could be induced to take an interest in something else, it would prove a blessing to her.”
They listened to me in a very sympathetic and encouraging way.
“Bring her to one of our meetings,” spoke up the one in the poke-bonnet. “We will talk to her and see if we can get her interested. I am sure we can do her some good, for we have had such people before.”
“I also thought,” I went on, “that if you would take her with you when you go out selling your papers that it might interest her in other things besides her grief.”
VISITING THE POOR
“We would gladly do that. Or, we can take her with us when I go visiting,” suggested the dark-eyed girl in the sailor hat.
“Whom do you visit?” I inquired curiously.
“The poor,” she answered simply.
“To pray with them if they will let me. We think a visit encourages people and helps them.”
“And is it your duty to sell newspapers,” I asked the other one.
She smiled gently.
“I visit, too, when I can,” she answered. “When I have time I pay visits and sell War Cries, but I have to work and can’t devote as much time as I would wish to the salvation work.”
I began to be interested.
“Suppose you let me go with you today,” I begged eagerly. “I would like it so much.”
Both girls smiled.
“Certainly; if you wish you may come along. I will take you to headquarters if you like, and they can tell you all about the army,” said the one in the bonnet.
“And I will take you visiting with me tomorrow if you will go,” offered the other.
“I am delighted,” I assured her. “What is your name and in what way are you addressed?”
Just then a voice at our side said cheerily:
“How do you do, sister? How do you do, sister?”
I had a glimpse of a smile on the face of a tall, plainly dressed girl, and a backward nod of goodfellowship as she passed on with a poorly clad man.
“That is a missionary. She works among the slums,” explained the little newspaper girl.
“A Salvationist?” I asked.
“No, she belongs to some church mission.”
“Do they all call you ‘sister’?”
“Some do, but the practice is generally confined to members of the army. My name is Ray Kemp.”
She also gave me her companion’s name, but for reasons which I shall explain later I shall call her Star.
By this time we had moved on down Fourth avenue and stood by the door of the Hall, Nos. 14 and 16, where Salvationists congregate every night to give thanks and praise to the God they worship.
TROUBLE IN CAMP
Star said she had to go in for her bonnet, and begged us to wait for her, which we did.
In a few moments she reappeared, still in her sailor hat and with a look of unhappiness upon her face.
“I saw the Captain,” she said to Miss Kemp, “and he asked me why I advised a girl to disobey his orders. I told him I did not, and he says she said I did. What shall I do?”
“Did you do it?” Miss Kemp asked, gravely.
“No, I did not. You just said that I never talked or got into any trouble and now this has happened.”
“What do they accuse you of doing?” I asked, with more curiosity than breeding.
“The Captain told a girl who had done wrong not to wear her badge, and she did, and then she told him I said to her not to mind him but to wear it anyway. I never did.”
“What is the Captain going to do about it?” Miss Kemp asked, anxiously.
“He says he wants me to face her tonight. He said I was never disobedient or told him a story, but if she would tell such a thing on me, she would face it out. What would you do? Would you go out?”
“Yes, go up and get your bonnet and come on.”
Star did as she was bid, and came down in a few minutes with her bonnet on and a lot of War Crys in her arm.
“Did he say anything more?” Miss Kemp asked.
“No; he just asked me if I was going out. Here he comes.”
A rather boyish looking fellow, but having withal a serious and strong face, clad in the salvation uniform of jacket and cap, went past us, raising his cap as he did so.
Then we girls started off together, walking three abreast., I being in the middle. “I feel awful about this talk,” Star said, referring to her trouble. “I thought perhaps I had not right to come out, feeling that way.”
“Did you kneel down and pray before you left?” Miss Kemp asked. “Always ask God to help you. He will comfort you.”
“Tell me how you became a Salvationist,” I said to Miss Kemp a little later. “I always thought the Salvation Army was a noisy thing that made money by calling people in to scoff at it. You seem to find real work in it.”
“I used to think it was a good place to go for fun,” she said laughing, “but I understand now that there is a motive in all the noise. We want to attract people, to arouse their interest, their curiosity, anything to get them in.”
“As I say,” she continued, “I went to laugh, became interested and then converted. I am a Hebrew, and my people said I was the first, as they called it, to disgrace my name. They banished me, but I have God and a place that I never knew before. I work in a dress-shield store on Broadway, and my employer is very kind to me, although he is very much against the Army. He is always saying that he can’t see how such a nice girl,” with a little smile, “Can be a Salvationist. I asked him if I am very different from what I was before, and he says he doesn’t notice any change except that I am quieter. Why, once I was so noisy and impatient and fond of running around, and cared so much for dress, and now all I care for is the Army, and my temper and impatience have vanished, and I wear nothing but this you see.
Here Star stopped at a door to sell a War Cry and we went on.
“Does Star work also?” I asked.
“She works at home,” was the answer. “Her mother is dead and she does all the housework for her father and the family. She manages to have every afternoon and evening out, always going home at 5 to get the supper, and in this way she is able to do a great deal of work for the Army.”
HOW SHE SPENT HER VACATION
“I wish I had more time,” longingly. “This summer my employer gave me a two weeks’ vacation, and told me to go off to the country and enjoy myself, but I spent every day visiting the poor and selling War Crys. I couldn’t have had a happier vacation.”
“Are you ever badly treated when you are selling newspapers?”
“Sometimes people are rude to me, but we do not mind that. The worst experience I ever had was with a man in a saloon. I asked him to buy a War Cry and he swore and told me that I should be ashamed of myself; that the Salvationists were a disgrace to the city. I asked him how he would feel if any one spoke to his sister as he had spoken to me, and he replied that if his sister was a Salvationist he hoped some one would kill her. ‘Suppose she was a lost woman then, and we found her in just such a place as this, and we made her our friend and took her away with us and stood by her until she was good again?’ ‘Is that your work? Do you do that?’ he asked me. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘that is our work.’ ‘Then I have wronged you. I shall think better of the Army,’ he said, and I am sure he meant it.
“That was my worst case,” she added, “but men, you know, try not to be funny at our expense, but we pass them by. When I asked a man one day if would buy a War Cry he said
‘What for? Is there any tips in it on racing?’ ‘No,’ I answered, ‘but there are tips in it on salvation.’ ‘Give me two,’ he said.”
“Do you sell many newspapers to women?”
“Women are not as nice to us as the men. I asked a woman one day to buy a War Cry and she turned on me, saying:
‘How dare you address me? I do not know you. I am a lady of position and means. How dare you speak to me?’
“ ‘Madam,’ I answered, ‘if you spent more upon your manners and less upon your clothes your money would be a blessing.’ “
Star did not appear again, and Miss Kemp took me on the Headquarters.
SALVATION ARMY HEADQUARTERS
High Prices Rule for the Bonnets, Caps &c.—Papers Published
The Salvation Army’s headquarters is at No. 111 Reade street, a street composed almost entirely of business houses, not one of which, I am sure, does a larger business than No. 111.
First, the posts all over the United States send their daily reports to headquarters. It is also the place of publication of their official periodicals. The War Cry, The Conqueror and The Deliverer. The first is weekly, the others monthly. Commander Ballington Booth’s name stands as proprietor of these publications.
A short visit at No. 111 will convince any one that a rushing business is done there, and that a handsome profit must be the result.
In addition to these papers, and it is claimed that 75,000 copies of the War Cry are sold every week at five cents a copy, they publish Salvation song-books, histories of the Salvation army, of its charities, &c.
It is claimed that in England the Army has a manufactory of its own, where all their cloths and caps and badges are made. These are brought to this country, and the soldiers are made to dress the Salvation Army uniform. There is but one source of supply. That is head quarters. Soldiers either pay these prices or do without.
It has been asserted that the Booths make money out of the Salvation Army. If they do, it must be in this way.
An idea can be formed from the following prices:
PRICES OF SALVATION GOODS
Take a Salvation Army bonnet, for instance. There are two grades. A coarse straw, with the fold and frilling of navy-blue china silk, costs $2.50. The fine straw costs $5.
In the first place, I think that among people who claim to care so little for the pretty things of this world, it is rather pandering to woman’s vanity to have a coarse and a fine bonnet. Why should they not all be coarse?
And then $2.50 for a coarse, ordinary bonnet. The frame at the very most is worth 25 cents. Two yards of good China silk, granting there are two yards upon a bonnet, can be had at many places for $1. A Sixth avenue trimmer would charge 25 cents for making the bonnet. This at outside prices makes the bonnet come to $1.50. The Salvation Army, manufacturing this bonnet by free labor, should sell it for even less.
It is the same with other things. An athlete’s “sweater” costs from $2.50 to $3. A Guernsey, about the same thing, costs at headquarters $3.75. A yachting cap sells in the Broadway stores for $2. An army cap, not quite so good, sells for $2.50. Trousers sell for $5; a summer coat is $5 and a winter coat is $10.
There must be a handsome profit in this for some one.
For whom is it? To what is it contributed?
Hall rents count up rapidly, and officers excepting those in the slums, who do, in my estimation, the real work, and as everybody knows the heavy work, are paid from $7 to $12 a week. They are also furnished with their board and lodging.
It is the rule of the Army that every post, every charity, shall be self supporting. While this is not always done, it is almost done.
There must be a surplus.
Look at it as one will, one feels that there is a profit, and a large one.
If so, who benefits by it?
THE BOOTHS LIVE PLAINLY
We can’t believe that the Booths are misers, who get this profit only to hard it. All evidence so far as I can find goes to prove that Ballington Booth and his wife, who live in Montclair, N.J., live as plainly and poorly as their humblest soldiers.
It is even said that Mrs. Booth went to the hospital that she might save expense when her child was born.
But this proves nothing. It may have been for effect or it may have been because she believed she would receive better care there.
Although I feel there must be a handsome profit in the headquarter business, still as it is said that the Booths live and dress like their poorest soldiers, I cannot see why they should get money to hide it away.
I do not claim to know anything about the financial side of the question. I only say they charge too much for the wares they make.
I also say they seem to be running things for their own advancement in some way.
Look at the advertisements in the War Cry.
“In Darkest England,” by Gen. Booth, Price $1.50. The first edition of this book was sold within three hours after its publication. The fifth edition is now ready, 200,000.”
There is a small fortune in that book alone.
Here is another.
“Read this. The Life of Mrs. Gen. Booth, the Mother of the Salvation Army. A thrilling and profitable record of a remarkable woman. No officer or soldier should be without these memoirs and should at once procure a copy. Price, $3.50 net.”
What does this mean? In the column I find:
“The Training of Children. How to Make Children Insto Saints and Soldiers, by Gen. Booth,” and above it:
“Watches. By this special arrangement we are enabled to offer a good watch at an exceptionally low price, and all watches offered are guaranteed to be the latest product, and all are stemwinders and setters.”
It is followed by a long advertisement stating among other things that No. 1 is a gentleman’s solid silver watch; price, $10. No. 2 is a “nickel composition, looking like silver, and wearing as well,” price $7.
Any jeweler will sell them for $5, and be satisfied with a handsome profit.
No. 3 and No. 4 repeats the same thing to “ladies” at the same prices.
The advertisement ends in this way:
“Every opportunity is now offered for our officers and soldiers to procure a watch, as we place them within the reach of all. We are also in a position to supply superior watches at an equally low figure. Write for particulars. Order at once.”
Has Gen. Booth deserted salvation for trade, or is he merely mixing one with the other?
Besides selling books and songs and watches and photographs, he sells motto fans and autoharps from $3 to $20.25.
Why should Gen. Booth, whose sole pretext is the salvation of souls, go into trade and inveigle his own followers into buying of him?
Judging from the list of advertisements the Booths are in the jewelry and publishing business. They publish nine newspapers, which would cost $16.10 a year. There is no end to their books and pamphlets, and no one but the Booths, apparently, are fit to write for the Salvation Army.
Looking down the list, that might appall a wholesale book-store, I see:
“By the General,” “By Mrs. Gen. Booth,” “By Mrs. Ballington Booth,” “By the Commissioner,” “By Mrs. Maud Booth,” &c.
I care to say no more on this particular subject.
NELLIE BLY AN AUXILIARY
I decided while at Headquarters that I could in all honesty become an auxiliary member.
I stated my intentions to Lieut. Newcomb, who told me, without asking any questions, that the fee was $5.
I told her that I wished to know all about the Army, and desired to visit the different posts.
She was very kind, and said that as an auxiliary member I might do so.
My $5 got me a little red book inscribed “Auxiliary League Pass.” Within it said:
“The bearer, ____ ____, is a member of the Salvation Army subscribers and Auxiliary League. This pass is available until Sept. 21, 1894, when it should be returned, together with a renewal subscription, to
No. 111 Reade street.
Further on it said:
“The Auxiliary League is composed of those persons who, while not perhaps indorsing and approving every method used by the Army, are sufficiently in sympathy with the great work of reclaiming drunkards, rescuing the fallen and saving the lost as to give it their prayer, influence and money.”
The badge I got consisted of a simple little letter S, which cost probably five cents a hundred. Accompanying it was this suggestive note:
“We have a more substantial pin than this, for which we charge 30 cents.
AT THE FOOD AND SHELTER
Seven Cents Will Pay for a Night’s Lodging—The Food
Wednesday night was a cold night for a man to spend in the streets.
I noticed the men on Broadway, clad in warm clothing and possessing an after-dinner air of satisfaction, button their greatcoats a little closer and keep their gloved hands deep down in their pockets.
I thought how bright the lights looked in Delmonico’s, the St. James and Hoffman’s and with a little pang of envy at man’s privileges, I noticed the cafes were unusually crowded. The men seemed to be lingering happily over their dinners, as if they did not care to leave the warmth and comfort to face the chilly blasts outside.
As I walked along, thinking of the joy of being a man, I caught passing remarks of “beastly cold,” “frost, sure,” “darned chilly.” But it did not interest me. I knew they were well-clad and well-fed, and I said to myself, what a great country this is, and what blessed people we are, and then I got into a cab and drive down to Front street.
If you have never been there you may judge from the name that it is near the river, and being near the river must necessarily be devoted to warehouses and such business places.
It is crooked and narrow, and at night very quiet and dimly lighted.
All the buildings are dark and tightly closed, and if you see any one upon the street, it is a slouching figure with bent head, and hands thrust deep into bottomless pockets.
I said all the buildings are dark. There was on, a dismal three-story warehouse with a fire escape on the front, and grated windows on the ground floor, where, by looking sharply I saw, through an open door, the flicker of a weak light.
I left the cab a few doors beyond, and going back climbed upon a platform built for the accommodation of truck loading and not for pedestrians.
Entering this barn-like door I saw a long, low room lighted by two gas jets. The brick walls were white washed and the unplastered ceiling was held up by a number of posts. The floor was divided by a continuous like of plain board tables set at right angles.
In the front by the window was a high counter inclosed by wire netting, and in the rear was an ice-box, a cupboard containing dishware, a flight of stairs leading to the floor above, and back of all crossing the extreme end of the room was a small partition that hid a range.
The head of one man was visible above the partition wall. I knew him to be the cook.
Another, a short, boyish fellow with half-parted lips and guileless expression, the one I had first seen at the Slum Nursery, stood near the end of the table line. Seated upon chairs that stood against the wall were four miserable men in that peculiar curled-up attitude that always makes me think they would like to crawl within themselves and go to sleep and forget.
“I have come down to see the Food and Shelter,” I said to the boy. “Is supper over?”
“Supper was over at 7 tonight,” he said. “Come and sit down and I’ll call the man in charge.
He disappeared up the new flight of stairs and reappeared very shortly with a beaming smile and a coatless man.
“I am an auxiliary member of the army,” I said to him, rising from my chair, “and I have come down to see the Food and Shelter because I am more interested in the slum work than any other.”
“I am glad to show you all there is to see,” he said, very cordially. “Supper is over now, and at 8 we close and go to the meeting in New Chambers street. I always get back here by a quarter past 9, for we admit the men from 9.30 until 10.30.”
“Then I shall also go to the meeting and return here when you do,” I answered. “But first tell me something about the Food and Shelter. Is there any other place like it in New York?”
SEVEN CENTS FOR A BED
“It’s the only one in New York, but the army has another in Boston. There are lots of cheap lodging-houses in the city, but the Food and Shelter is the cheapest. We charge seven cents for a night’s lodging and a bowl of soup or a cup of coffee and two slices of bread.”
The menu card that does service for all is a blackboard 2×3, which leans against the wall facing the table. Upon it in very legible writing was:
Bowl of coffee………………………………………………………3c
Corn beef and cabbage……………………………………………..5c
Bowl of Soup………………………………………………………2c
“Regulation dinner means the entire bill of fare.”
“I suppose you have hours for meals,” I said.
“We have breakfast from 6 to 7.30; dinner, 12 to 1.30; and supper from 5 to 7.30.”
As no one is allowed upstairs from 7.30 A.M. until 9.30 P.M., I went up to see how men slept for seven cents, including a bowl of soup or coffee and two slices of bread!
I found the rooms nothing but lofts, but they were clean lofts. Along the whitewashed walls was an iron structure, forming an upper and lower berth. On these berths, without pillow for a head, that did not rest comfortably low, or a coverlet for one inclined to be chilly, were leather-covered straw mattresses. That and nothing more.
They looked hard to me. Doubtless they would have looked unendurable to those men I saw in Delmonico’s and the St. James and the Hoffman, but they are a luxury compared with a bench in City Hall Park, a corner on a pier, a doorstep or an empty wagon.
They were clean, the floor was clean and if the lodgers were inclined that way, there were iron sinks at the end of the room where they could wash their faces.
“Do you give them towels?” I asked the man in charge.
“Yes, although many men carry their own towels or a big of cloth to dry upon. I do the best I can for them, but as there are only four of us at this post, the work is very heavy. I give two towels to a floor and I change them once a week. I would change them twice if I had time enough to wash them.”
“I suppose you get paid for this work,” I ventured.
WAGES 50 CENTS A WEEK
“Oh, yes, I get 50 cents a week and my board and lodging, which is exactly the same as is given to these men who pay their seven cents. We eat the same food and sleep in the same beds.”
“What do you do with your 50 cents?” I inquired curiously.
“Well, we are supposed to use it for writing paper and stamps, but you see, sometimes on the day I get paid some poor fellow comes and begs for a bed. I can’t give it to him. It is against the rules, so I buy him one with my own money, and more come along and I do the same until I’ve got but a few pennies.”
“Then,” with a little smile, “some one comes in for something to eat and I scrape up my pennies and put them with a few pennies this boy (indicating the first one I spoke of) has left out of his 50 cents, and together we can buy the man something.”
“That must be a very discouraging financial condition for you,” I suggested.
“But if you could only see these poor, miserable men,” he cried, warmly, as if to justify himself, “created in my maker’s image, and brought to this terrible condition. You can’t picture it. Why, some nights I look around at them when they are lying over the floor, the beds all filled, and I can only kneel down and bless God that he has let me, so poor and helpless and unlearned, be of some service to my fellow man. It is very little, but I thankfully give up my whole life just to be able to do that little.”
“Why don’t you wear the Salvation army uniform?”
He looked at me for a moment, and then said, frankly:
“I can’t afford to buy one.”
“Do they cost much?”
“Well, too much for me. I have no money.”
At this time I asked his name, which I learned was Charles Ingraham, and boy said his name was Luvery.
“What is your first name?” I asked.
“Willie,” he answered with a smile; and I smiled, too.
As I stood near the door, talking to them, I saw a bent, grizzled, ragged old fellow walking up and down the platform in front. Every few moments he stopped in his walk to gaze longingly into the room where we were.
“Who is that old man? Does he stay here?” I asked.
“He has stayed here,” Charles Ingraham answered, but he is penniless now and can’t even afford our poor lodgings.”
“Where will he say, then?”
“Upon the streets when he has no place else.”
“It is rather a cold night for an old man to be out,” I said. “Does he drink?”
“Never since he has been here, two weeks now.”
So I went out and spoke to the old man.
He was badly in need of a shave and his clothes were ragged and his calico shirt all frayed and buttonless.
“Where are you going to stay tonight?” I asked him.
He took off his battered hat and looked at me as if frightened.
“I don’t know, Miss,” he said, slowly, “I have been staying here, bit I haven’t got enoughto pay for a bed, and so I suppose I’ll have to stay in the street.”
Not enough? Think of it! Only seven cents!
And he looked longingly, wistfully into the barren hole.
“It’s rather a cold night for an old man like you to stay in the streets,” I ventured. “Tell me how did you get in this penniless condition?”
“Bad luck, always bad luck,” he said slowly. “I was a farmer once and had a wife and one child, a daughter. She was a nice child, smarter than her old dad, but the (with a tremble in his old voice) one day her mother put her out of doors and told her she was a disgrace, and she went away and I never saw her again. Then her mother died, and I couldn’t stand the farm, so I left and went off to work on boats, and now I’m out of a job. I’m looking for work every day, but times do seem hard.”
I looked at the poor, distressed old creature and with a strangeness of heart I thought it would be better for him if he remained out all night and froze to death.
“What if you don’t get work, and midwinter comes on?” I asked.
He turned his hat awkwardly in his hands.
“I don’t know what I’ll do,” he answered slowly, “if worse comes to worst.”
“I think worse has already come to worst.”
He gave a little gasp that might have been a laugh if he had not forgotten how.
ONLY AN ODD JOB
“Maybe it has, and maybe you’re right. But if I could only find some odd job to do I’d be a happy man.”
Some odd job! Cursed are they by fate and fortune whose living depends upon some odd job.
“How much will it cost for this man’s lodging for a week?” I asked Charles Ingraham.
The old man looked at me wonderingly.
“It will cost 49 cents,” was the reply.
The old man’s face changed from half hope to utter despair.
“And that will give him bread, soup, coffee and bed every night for a week?”
“Then let him stay here; I shall pay for it. I hope,” turning to the old man, “that in the mean time you will find work.”
He looked at me with blank amazement upon his dirty old, wrinkled face. He gasped, tried to speak, his voice broke and, rushing blindly down that platform, he leaned his face in the corner of the window against the iron grating, and I heard husky, hoarse sobs breaking jerkingly from his throat.
I don’t make any professions of any kind. I have been deceived so often that my heart is very hard to touch, but the memory of this scene lived with me, and the following morning when I sat down to breakfast and accidentally noticed that the liver and bacon I had ordered cost 40 cents, I thought of the 49 cents, and the old man, and I was ashamed to eat.
We walked away and left the old man alone, and, as it was almost 8 o’clock, I said, I would drive up to the meeting in New Chambers street.
My departure aroused the old man, who, thinking I was leaving not to return, rushed after me saying in a voice he was plainly ashamed of, but could not keep steady:
“I don’t think I’ll live long.”
“Why?” I demanded, in surprise.
“Because you’ve made me so happy. I feel so unlike myself, I’m sure I’m going to die.”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed at him.
“If you think you are going to die,” I said to him, “you would better come up to 91 New Chambers street to the Salvation meeting.”
“Are you going there?” he asked, quickly.
“Yes,” I said.
“Then I shall go,” he answered promptly, and he hobbled off.
The room was well filled when I reached there, and although I drove I was scarcely seated until my old man came in and, with a friendly nod, seated himself a little way off, pretending to listen to the services, but really slyly watching me.
Charles Ingraham and Willie Luvery came in shortly, and then a slum sister rose, one that I call my angel, to state that the Captain had been called away to do some other service for the Lord, and that the meeting would have to be conducted without her.
My slum angel’s cold was somewhat better, but she was very pale, and I noticed that when speaking she frequently pressed her hand to her chest, as if it hurt her.
I looked around that strange assemblage. I looked at those men and women upon the platform who have given their lives to a Christ they believe in and others who have left home, family, comfort, to live among and labor with life’s lowest and most depraved creates, and I asked myself, Were those low ones worth it?
Then I saw some seated well up in front who had accepted the same spiritual belief, and I noticed that while their clothes were poor and ragged, their faces were clean and they manners gentle. The scoffers were dirty and rude, yelling at the top of their voices senseless remarks they considered wit, but ever gentle, ever mild, those Salvationists answered every scoff, every rude remark with “God bless you.”
My friend, Charles Ingraham, beat upon the bass drum, and had I not known how sincere and honest was his heart, it would have been ludicrous to me to see him lay down his stick to tell of his conversion.
A RUFFIAN INTERRUPTS
But the spell of their enthusiasm was upon me, so much so that when a soldier in a red waist and broken English spoke of his conversion and was called a fool by a dirty hoodlum in the rear, I wanted to give the ruffian an emphatic hint as to an epithet fit only for him.
My anger was cooled by the soldier’s calmness.
“You call me a fool,” he said with a look of happiness; “I may be one. What do I care since God has heard my prayers and put a sweet happiness in my heart as I can’t explain to you? I may be a fool; but why need I care since God has taken away from me every wicked thought and filled my heart with only the desire to be good and to serve him?”
The hour passed all too rapidly when Charles Ingraham and Willie Luvery left, and I knew it was time to go to the Food and Shelter.
When I walked out my old man followed, and my opinion of his spiritual devotion went down several notches.
Quite a little crowd of men hung shivering around the door when we reached the Food and Shelter. Charles pulled off his coat and in his shirt sleeves took his place behind the wire-enclosed desk. Like a flash Willie removed his coat, pulled on a linen jacket and, dumping some coffee into an enormous tin pot, poured water upon it, set a match to an oil-stove and placed the coffee-pot upon that.
The bread he had cut before he went to meeting, and it lay ready in huge piles upon a little table.
At the same time the cook’s white-capped head appeared above the partition, and from the inner depths came the odor of soup.
It was good soup, too, I know. It had the smell that bespeaks good, fresh and wholesome ingredients. It made me hungry, I know, and being quite well fed, living as I do in the hotels, I am slow to hunger, and very particular about what I eat.
So my hunger spoke well for the soup.
I remember a few weeks ago when I went to the penitentiary to see Claus Timmerman. I had an honest hunger from missing my luncheon. As I turned up from the river road to walk up the drive to the penitentiary the smell of the kitchen reached me, and as a smell it was enough to make the mummies in the Metropolitan Museum bilious. It was fish, and fish I have foresworn forevermore. Hunger vanished for that day.
Naturally, I thought of this when I smelled the soup.
As the coffee was boiling the men formed in line before the desk.
FEEDING THE HUNGRY
One by one they gave their names, which are put upon the hotel register; then they put down their seven cents and received in return a brass check for their bed and a paper one for their supper.
From the desk they go immediately to the table, where Willie, as spry as a squirrel, called out, “Soup or coffee?” and quickly served them.
There was no waiting for the order there, and Willie was just as particular about wiping the bare table after every man as would be the best of waiters.
That long line of men! With what interest I scanned them!
Some were old, and some were young; most of them were ragged, and most of them dirty.
I must say that, with two exceptions, the men seemed to be sober.
One was Martin, who was rich. He had ten cents, and must have had more, judging from his gait and breath.
“Give me ould noomber,” he said to Charles Ingraham, who carefully looked over his brass checks to accommodate him.
“Here you are Martin, and I owe you three cents.”
Martin staggered off to the table.
“Ye shouldn’t kape us out so long to fraze,” grumbled one tall, shaggy fellow. “The doors should be opened arilier.”
Every crowd must have one growler, and this was the only growler I saw that evening. The others seemed to feel that they were thankful to get even what they did.
WELL-DRESSED YOUNG MEN
Along down the line I saw two young men that were very well clad. They were to all appearances German students of refinement and learning. Their looks and clothes and manners showed they were strangers to such places and scenes.
Very carefully they counted and divided the painfully few pennies they had.
One of the young men saw me and his handsome face flushed scarlet, and, although I would have liked to have spoken to him, I felt too sorry for him to do it.
When the poor fellow came up and laid down his few pennies, his white hand trembled and his eyes were fastened upon the floor.
I still watched him when he went to the table, and I noticed how hungrily he drank his soup and how slyly he slipped his slice of bread into his pocket, as if it were gold he was stealing.
There was only one colored man in the lot.
“Gib me de same bed up near de windy,” he said, with a soft chuckle as if this world had used him as well as he could wish.
“You always want the same bed, don’t you, Ben?” said Charles Ingraham.
“Allus like to sleep in me own bed, sah,” laughed Ben, and he hobbled off.
The table was crowded. Willie was flying to and fro, the line of wretched humanity was getting smaller.
“I’m going to share my bed with this man,” said one wretched fellow, pushing in seven pennies.
Whether they were all his, or he and his friend had raised seven cents between them, I do not know, but I do know that sardines in oil do not lie straighter than these men would need to to share that bunk.
“May I keep this check for something in the morning?” a pale-faced man asked wistfully.
“I’d rather have something before I go out.”
“No, that check is only good for tonight,” Charles said, and the man sighed heavily.
He ate, though, as if he needed it then as much as he ever could.
“Will you let me sleep here for five cents? It’s all I’ve got,” said a plaintive voice, and a good-natured, bloated face appeared at the grating.
“You know I cannot do that; it is against the rules,” was the decided answer.
“Won’t you trust me for two cents?” coaxingly.
“We never trust here.”
“I’ve only five cents,” in a pleading tone.
“You should not have spent the rest for drink.”
“I drink?” innocently.
“Yes, Brown, you’ve been drinking. Now, either give seven cents or go away.”
“I’ve only five”—he began again, when he espied me.
“Will you kindly lend me two cents, miss?” he asked, very wistfully.
“No,” I answered; “I will not give or lend money to a man that drinks.”
“It was only one glass of beer,” he said, pleadingly. “A friend treated me; just one glass.”
“Why didn’t you tell the friend you needed that money for a bed? You preferred to spend it for beer. Why don’t you go back to the saloon-keeper and ask him to give you a bed? Or, having made your choice, why don’t you make that glass of beer take the place of a bed? You knew your condition, you knew you needed a bed tonight, and if you wasted what little you had, I have no money or sympathy for you.”
“You are right,” he said. “I know you are right. You see what I am (he straightened himself up)—I am Henry Brown, mechanic. Who has spent sixty dollars a day once, and didn’t mind it. Now you see what I am—almost a tramp.”
I looked him over. His face was bloated and dirty, his eyes were bloodshot, his shirt was collarless, and a short coat was pulled on over a long one. I wondered why he did not wear the short one underneath, but I did not question him.
“You see what I am,” he repeated. “Almost a tramp.”
“Almost?” I echoed. “Quite.”
“You’re right, lady, I’m afraid you’re right,” he said, and I saw his eyes grow dim.
“Were you born in America?” I asked him.
“Yes, lady,” was the humble answer.
“You should be ashamed of yourself then. In this great country, where you have a chance to be what you will, to come to this. I am ashamed of you.”
“So is all my family,” he muttered, hopelessly. “I am the black sheep. It was drink, drink!”
“And you drank today, and you’ll drink tomorrow,” I added, sharply.
“If I get a bed I won’t have any money; if I sleep in the streets I’ll have five cents.”
He turned away. I hate a man who drinks, and yet I could not let him sleep in the streets, undeserving as he undoubtedly was, for two cents.
“Come back, Henry Brown,” I called. “If I give you two cents will you promise me not to drink for two days?”
“I will not drink for a year,” he answered.
“You know you won’t keep that promise, and I would rather have you tell me the truth—even to say you will drink. Can’t you promise me to stay sober for two days?”
“Two days, Miss, and a year. You can take my word. This man (Charles Ingraham) knows me, and can tell you if I break my word. Will you shake hands with me? You’ve spoken to me in the right way. You’re a lady, every inch of you, and I’ll keep my word to you.”
It sounds well, but I have heard such promises before. However, he gave his ticket, and give me a beaming smile of gratitude, took off his battered hat, made a profound bow and went to bed.
A HAPPY OLD MAN
Then came my old man, as happy as a schoolboy, his wrinkled face all lighted up with a smile that was simply glorious. He got his ticket, tried to thank me, broke down and rushed off to gulp down his sobs with hot soup, casting adoring glances at me between swallows.
Ah, unhappy power of money! My intentions might have been just as kind or kinder, and if I had not possessed the great sum of 49 cents for a week’s lodging he would not have adored me.
It was getting late. The table was almost deserted, and the men were disappearing up the stairway, beside which on a long red banner were these words:
“Remember your mother’s prayers.”
I could scarcely reconcile myself to the thought that those miserable creatures were ever laughing babes with fond mothers to play over them. I am sure it was not so in the majority of cases. They must have been brought up with blows and cross words instead of love and prayers.
There was no longer any line, and Willie announced that the soup was gone.
“I wish I could gather up all homeless people and bring them in tonight,” I said.
“Many a night I’ve slept on the streets,” Willie ejaculated suddenly, “cold nights, too. But that was before I was saved.”
“Saved?” I repeated, questioningly.
“Yes, saved. I was saved just before Easter. My father and mother died, and I was all alone. I couldn’t do anything but odd jobs, and I couldn’t find any of them to do. Then I went to the Salvation Army, and was saved, and they let me work here.”
Work there! Bless his simple heart! He works like a hero.
Up at 6 in the morning, he and Charles Ingraham. Floors to scrub, food to buy, cooking to look after, accounts to keep, meetings to attend, and not to bed until after 11 o’clock every night.
For pay? They tell me with tears in their eyes and exultation in their faces that God pays them by putting a joy in their hearts that makes all life glorious.
You may scoff at their religion, at their enthusiasm. I only tell you what they say, and I do add with all my heart, whatever it is that, as Charles Ingraham expressed it, makes temptation unknown to them and leaves only in their minds the desire to be good and do good—whatever it is, I say, it is a beautiful thing.
I was about to go when two men came in with a letter from a missionary, asking that they might be kept over night at his expense. They had no place but the streets when he found them.
Shortly after them came three men also hearing a letter from a missionary, who said the men seemed honest, but he was unable to provide for them. Would the Food and Shelter do it?
No; it was against their rules, so I talked with the men.
HUNGRY AND PENNILESS
They were Swedes, and sailors. Their boats were laid up, and for weeks they had been out of work. For two weeks they had been penniless, sleeping in the streets at night, living in the day—heaven only knows how.
“Did you have anything to eat today?” I asked the leader.
“I had something yesterday morning,” he said, slowly.
“What did you have?”
“A piece of bread.”
He looked ashamed to tell, and with flushed cheeks said, hurriedly:
“I had no money. I begged it from a baker.”
“When did you,” I said to the second men, “have something to eat?”
Pointing his finger at the first, he said simply and with a pathos that brought tears to my eyes:
“He shared his bread with me.”
Not friends, only brought together through the same fate of being hungry and sleeping in the streets, but he had shared his bread with him.
“You must be hungry,” I said, softly.
“Not so hungry as I have been,” answered the first.
I told Willie to get them something to eat. Soup was done, but he found three plates of hash left over from dinner and that with coffee and bread they ate ravenously.
They thanked me awkwardly when they finished and went the way I pointed out to them, up the stairs, past the mother’s prayer banner.
“Does the Food and Shelter pay its expenses?”
“Almost. That is, we don’t pay any rent, but we run about even on the food. It costs about $2 a day for food.”
“How many men came in tonight?”
“Just sixty-seven. We usually have more.”
I remembered the poor fellow who wanted to save his food ticket for morning. I thought it must be hard to stay out in the morning with a craving stomach to look for work. Hunger robs a man of courage.
“How much will it cost to give to your lodges coffee and bread in the morning?” I asked.
He counted it up very carefully and told me that 42 would give sixty-seven men a bowl of coffee and a slice of bread each.
“Then give it to them,” I said, “at my expense.”
That is the Food and Shelter. Don’t let my story move your heart to send it a lot of money. A few pennies rightly given does more good than dollars donated foolishly.
I don’t want you to send money to the Salvation Army Headquarters. Put on your old clothes, and when a cold night comes, go down to Front street and watch these unhappy wretches come in. If they have not seven cents, give it for them. Don’t give more. If you have work for them, blessed things, clothes, good; but money given only pauperizes.
(Source: Nellie Bly Online, http://www.nellieblyonline.com/herwriting)
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