Silent Sam and Other Stories of Our Day/Tammany's Tithes
AT this time of night, the street was as quiet as a creek ran dry,—with nothing to recall the day's turbulent flow of traffic except its empty channel of paving-stones worn smooth. Over the black walls of the warehouses, a moon hung like the frosted globe of an arclight in the slope of a high sky. A parade of street-lamps, marching down the deserted sidewalks, had halted along the gutter-edge; and under the light of one of these lamps, Patrolman Feeny was planted foursquare on the comer bend of the curb, straddling his shadow, with his head down.
He had recently been transferred to this precinct from a station-house in Harlem, because he had refused to buy the privilege of remaining conveniently near his home. Still more recently he had been called before the Deputy Commissioner on a baseless charge of being off post, and he had been fined two weeks' pay. Finally, he had just been warned that he would continue to be so transferred, fined, and generally persecuted until he gave up the twenty-five dollars that was required of him. And he was glowering at the gutter here, his chest tight with a suppressed wrath, ready for all impossible revolts.
Or were they impossible? The elections were coming on. The reformers were making "police graft" the great issue of the campaign. He could give some evidence that would be worth hearing; and if he made Tammany his enemy forever, he would make all respectable citizens his friends. There were other ways of earning a living besides walking the beat, weren't there? A man had a right to call his soul his own, had n't he? He was n't owned by a lot of dirty grafters who could shake him down every time they wanted money, was he? Not by a —!
He raised his head defiantly—his big bullock head. He was n't going to pay them for his right to earn an honest living, Not by a good deal! If he had to leave the department, he 'd go. He could get along. He had saved a little bank account out of his salary. He could get a job somewhere.
He could get a job—for that matter—on the tunnel work, as night-watchman, like old Joe.
The thought was flashed on him by the sight of old Joe's lanterns further up the street, where the red lamps of a tunnel-digging burned in the solitude like the signals of a deserted railway yard. They reminded him that it was time old Joe had his coffee; and he started up the flagstones to relieve the friendly watchman, his shadow now shouldering along determinedly before him, now following doggedly behind.
An iron shutter creaked somewhere in the wind; the blazing windows of a trolley car floated silently across the distant head of the street; a manhole was steaming in the gutter. For the rest, he was the only thing that made sound or motion.
When the red lights were still a block away, he saw "old Joe" doddering down to meet him, muffled in a yellow horse-blanket that he had doubled over his shoulders for a cape. He had a teamster's cap drawn down to his eyes. Under the peak of it, his old black pipe protruded, smokeless, as usual, for he generally sucked it cold.
"All right," Feeny said gruffly. "I 'll look out till yuh get back."
The old man stood to tamp his pipe with a hooked finger. Feeny turned him round with a hand on the shoulder, and they went along together.
The watchman coughed feebly. "I seen two dips goin' yonder to the baths," he said, "the Turkish baths. They 'll be out fer no good to any one, d' yeh think?"
Feeny grunted; he did not reply.
"It 's none av my business, that 's true enough," the watchman muttered. "I thought yeh 'd want to know."
"I don't care a curse if yuh seen all the crooks off the Bowery," Feeny growled.
The old man stiffened in his step. "Eh? What 's that? What 's that yeh 're sayin'?"
Feeny took him by the elbow. "Come on," he said. "I 'm sore. They 've been poundin' me—up to Headquarters. No offense, Joe. They 've been tryin' to shake me down.… An' by God,—" he broke out, clenching his gloved fist before him, "I won't stand fer it. I 'll fight 'em on it. I 'll squeal on the whole layout. I will, s' welp me! I will!"
"Tsh, man, not so loud," the watchman cautioned. "What is it? Squeal, d' yeh say? Are yeh goin' to fight Tammany Hall?"
Feeny thudded his fist into his open palm. "I am!"
The watchman struck down at Teeny's hands with a passionate blow that knocked them apart. "Niver! Niver!" he cried. "Are yeh crazy, man? Niver try that. Niver, niver! Hear what I tell yeh." He had caught Feeny by the sleeve and clung to him. "Hear what I tell yeh." He dropped his voice. "They 'll crush yeh like a toad." His old loose lips, set between the heavy wrinkles that fell from his nose, writhed out the words in a hissing whisper. "The way they did me!"
Feeny took a long breath. "What 's the matter? What ails yuh?" He had been startled.
The watchman pushed up the peak of his cap. "Did y' iver hear av Vinny Doyle?"
Feeny shook his head. "Doyle? What Doyle?"
"Yer father 'd 'a' knowed." He tapped the patrolman twice on the broad chest. "I 'm Vinny Doyle." He drew back. "Me!"
The light of an electric lamp above them shone in his face. It was the gray face of senility, grooved and hollowed. A three days' beard had covered his chin with a growth as fine and white as a mould. His stretched neck was shrunken to the sinews. There were tears in his eyes. "Vinny Doyle!"
Feeny backed him into the shadow of a doorway. "Here, Joe," he said, "pull yerself together."
The old man shook him off. "I know—I know what yeh 're thinkin'—" He passed his hand over his worried forehead. "Wait now. Vinny Doyle! It 's a name on a gravestone, that!"
Feeny stepped out to reach an empty barrel plastered over with theater posters. He rolled it into the doorway. "Sit down," he said.
The old man sat down weakly. He sighed and shook his head. In a little while he sighed again. Suddenly he asked: "D' yeh mind 'Big Six'? Old 'Big Six'?—Tweed's 'Americus Six'?"
Feeny did not understand.
"The fire injun—the big one—the double-decker," the old man urged.
"I guess that was before my time," Feeny said.
"Sure enough, it was.… Well, well… I ust to run with her, an' fight with her… An' Bill Tweed? Yeh mind Bill Tweed?"
"I mind when he died in Ludlow Street Jail," Feeny answered patiently.
The old man chuckled. "He did that. He did that. But this was thurty years befoore—down in th' injun house in Hinry Street—whin he was foreman av No. Six."
"Uh-huh," Feeny said. "Yuh 're an ol' vamp, are yuh?"
"I am that." He threw back the corner of his blanket, and went through his pockets for a match.
Feeny filled his cheek with a ball of fine cut, and leaned back against the door-post. "Them was gay ol' days, if yuh believe all yuh hear."
The watchman wagged his head. "I mind the nights better thin the days," he said. "With us sittin' 'round in the dark—an' the light leakin' out av the cracks in th' ol' stove—an' the wood that was blazin' in it, stole over Grigg's back fince the night befoore. An' Duffy singin' 'Red Robin' er 'Th' Angil's Whisper.'… My, my, how Duffy cud sing. I niver heerd the bate av him."
Feeny said, absent-mindedly: "Uh-huh!" and his thoughts returned to his troubles. He heard the watchman rambling: "Niver the bate av Conny Duffy to sing—an' Butcher Sleeman to fight—till I wint at him, bare-handed, in the bunkroom, an' pounded his faytures into a mince. After that, I was 'Banty Doyle' the 'Tirror av the Tigers'—an' me two eyes blue-black fer a week."
This did not seem very important. Feeny's attention wandered. When he listened again, the old man was saying: "'Yeh 're a beauty,' Molly says to me. 'So I am,' says I. 'But I 'm a plaster cast to yer frien' Butch Sleeman,' I says. 'I come to tell yeh he won't be 'round to see yeh fer a month.' An' we wint off to Niblo's Garden, that night togither, Molly an' me."
Feeny asked: "Who was Molly?"
"She was a great gurl—a great gurl. But she wanted all the fun av coortin', an' none av the trouble that begins whin the coortin' inds, an' she kep' me an' Butch prowlin' 'round there, spittin' an' spattin' like a pair av tomcats on a fince, till we splitted the comp'ny into two halves with our fracshuns. An' whin Tweed run fer Alderman from the Sivinth, we both woorked to see which cud woork the hardest—an' Tweed wint in, with a toorch-light percession an' a hill av a jambaree—an' I got me job in the Coort House—an' Butch got a plintiful promise av big things to be."
Feenj snorted. "It 's a dirty game, politics. They 're a gang o' fakers."
"It 's like iv'rythin' ilse," the watchman replied. "It 's what we make av it. But it takes big men to play it big, an' the little men it makes little shysters." He reached out his black claw of a hand. "Man alive, if we Irish had the men to lead us! If we had the men! We stick to such as we have—we vote fer thim, an' fight fer thim, an' believe in thim whin iv'ry one ilse is peltin' thim with pursecutions—an' by God, they chate us, an' sell us, an' laugh at us—laugh at us!—till some one ilse sinds thim to jail fer stealin' from us! An' even thin do we give thim up? No, sor! 'Tis the curse av loyalty that's on us—the curse av loyalty. I mind the day whin I 'd' ve bit off me thumb fer Bill Tweed, an' I—"
"What 'd he do to yuh?" Feeny cut in. "What 'd he do to yuh?"
"He done me dirt. He done me dirt." He gulped. "Wait, now. I 'll tell yeh. Lind me the loan av a match."
His hand shook as he took it. When the dottle of his pipe was glowing again, he went on, hoarsely: "Yeh mind, in thim days, the fire companies was a sort av military, too? Well, I was the best shot av the Young Americus Guard. An' whin we 'd p'rade home from a target excoorsion—an' that was a clam-bake er a chowder party, 's the case might be—there 'd be a big buck nigger at the head av us with the wooden target slung 'round his neck, an' somewheres about the middle av that butt there 'd be my mark, now, yeh cud be sure av that.… That 's how I come to jine the Zouaves—th' Ellsworth's Zouaves—the 'Pet Lambs' they called us—whin the war bruk out. I wint to pot holes in the ribils, an' Sleeman, that cud n't no more than hit a side av beef with his fat fist, he stayed to home, sure enough.
"An' he was the wiser man. But Hivens! there was 'liven hunderd av the boys listed from the fire-houses in three days, mind yeh! Sleeman must 've been as cold-blooded as one av his own steaks to 've stud the whoop that carried us all in.
"I wint to Molly. An', 'Molly,' I says, 'I 'm off to Washin'ton. I 've jined,' I says.
"'Jined?' says she. 'Jined what?' An' her hand was gone limp where I held it.
"'I 've listed with the boys,' I says. 'We 're goin' to defind Washin'ton.' An' with that she gave a little grunt, like some one 'd hit her in the wind, an' she come into me arms sobbin'.
"She was a fine fat gurl, as soft as feathers.
"'Faith,' I says, 'if I 'd knowed this, now, I 'd niver 've done it. 'Tis worse an' better than I thought,' I says. 'But look yeh now,' I says. 'I 'm only sworn fer three months,' I says, 'an' if yeh 'll marry me now, I 'll be back in July to yeh.'
"'Twas takin' advantage av the poor gurl, I know. But we done it. I married her with her eyes wet. An' 'twas n't the las' time they were so ner mine nayther—God hilp us!"
A rubber-tired coupé bowled past them, carrying the wreck of some midnight dissipation to the Turkish baths around the corner. Feeny spat solemnly and changed the leg.
"God hilp us!" the watchman said. "We marched off that day—the twilft' av April—like we was goin' to another clam-bake down the Bay—with the crowd, whoopin', an' the band bleatin', an' us the bully boys!—down Canal Street to th' ol' 'Baltic,' that was lyin' where we 'd ust to catch eels, many 's the time—long, yellah-bellied eels—an' bat thim on the head fer supper.… My, my! Little we thought! Little we thought!"
Feeny cleared his throat. "Did yuh serve all the war?"
"I did not—worse luck! I got no further than Bull Run.… We sailed down to Washin'ton an' wint into quarters there. An' we toorned out to a fire that was burnin' nex to a big hotel. I mind that well.… An' thin we were shunted here an' shunted there fer months, an' there was nothin' but the divilmint av the boys till we wint to the front cheerin', to wollop the ribils.
"What happened I dunno, fer right to the start av it, I got a bullet in me right arrm—here!" He stretched out his deformed wrist. "An' while I was huntin' fer a doctor, all the boys came runnin' back through the woods on top av me, cursin', an' weepin', an' talkin' to thimsilves—an' the sight av thim scared the soul out av me, an' I tied mesilf up in a han'kerchief an' run till the groun' lifted up an' bumped into me—an' that 's all I rimimber fer a week."
He shook his head. "'Twas a bad bus'ness. 'Twas that."
"An' whin I heard the doctors talkin'—er thought I did—I was not in me right mind, no doubt—talkin' av cuttin' off me arrm at th' elbow, I says to mesilf, 'No soree! If yez can't fix me togither, I know a man that can.' An' I slid out av hospital, an' crawled to the depot, an' the nex' thing I rimimber I was bein' bandaged be ol' Doc. McGrath right here in Cherry Street. But how I got there, no one niver cud tell."
Feeny coughed apologetically.
The old man hastened to add: "Anyways it made no matter. Me time was up, an' I was no good fer soldierin' with the hole in the hinge av me hand. 'Not a bit. Not a bit. … Rot the pipe! Have yeh the makin's av a smoke about yeh, at all?"
"I 've got a cigar," Feeny said, feeling in the breast of his overcoat.
The watchman sniffed. "What good 's a saygar? Gi' me a pinch av yer chewin'. I 'll smoke that."
Feeny passed him the package of fine-cut, and he filled a pipe-bowl that was burned as thin and jagged as the half of a scorched eggshell. He blinked his pathetic old hound's eyes at the flame of the match. When the tobacco had begun to fume and bubble rankly, he settled down with his elbows on his knees, and said: "Listen, now. I 've come to the pint. Listen!"
"When I got foot on the pavemints again, what d' yeh think I larned?—that Sleeman had me job in the Coort House—Butch Sleeman!—an' him givin' me the laugh! 'Faith,' I says, 'I 'll fix you, me brave boy,' an' I wint to Tweed. An' he toorned me down! Toorned me down!… 'Yeh wint galivantin' off to the war,' he says, 'an' left yer frien's to fight out their own troubles here,' he says, 'an' now yeh can make good,' he says. 'Go an' make good,' he says.
"I looked at him, an', 'I 'm a married man,' I says—'an' tried fer to say it meek, fer Molly's sake, the way av married men—'I 'm a married man,' I says, 'an' the wife 's in trouble, an' there 's the doctor to pay, an' the likes av that,' I says.
"He waved me off like a street beggar. 'That 's none av my doin',' says he. An' with that, 'twas as if some one had pulled a trigger in me head, an' I boorst out with a curse av Tweed, like yersilf here—jus' like! In thim days, I feared no man, nayther. I was young an' raised rough, with fires, an' fightin', an' the divil knows what. An' I dared Tweed to his face. 'I 'll make good,' I says. 'I 'll show yeh, niver fear. I 'll show yeh,' I says. 'I 'll show yeh!"
"An' I done it. I got Barney Coogan to promise he 'd run ag'in' Tweed's man fer alderman. I got a meetin' togither an' nominated him. I woorked fer four months in the ward, with me frien's—an' I had plinty—an' Tweed bein' busy with his own campaign fer sheriff, an' Coogan a pop'lar man—we got Coogan ilicted by the lin'th av his long ears, an' the boys av No. 6 swore they 'd batter me to a pulp.
"Look yeh now. Here 's what happened. I was so blown up with what I 'd done, that one night I walked into a joint they called the 'Tiger,' to show the gang I was in no fear av thim—if I had raytreated all the way from Bull Run to Cherry Street, hot foot, as they 'd been sayin' durin' th' 'liction. Me arrm was in a sling, but I had a pistol in m' other pocket, an' I strode up to the bar an' ordered me drink like a loord. An' whin I toorned on me elbow, there they sat watchin' me, quiet, like so many circus cats in a cage. An' I knew, thin, I 'd done wrong.
"There was no word said, but one av thim got up an' slid too'rds the door, an' whin I started backin' on it, whippin' out me shooter, the tables wint over with a leap—an' the room full av thim pounced on me—an' some one grabbed the gun—an' it wint off in his grip—an' through the smoke I saw Butch Sleeman open his big mouth an' clutch at a-splatter av blood on bis throat an' go down with a gurgle!
"The bullet had took him fair in the neck, an' bruk his spine. He was dead whin they picked him up off the sawdust, an' I dropped the gun an' run fer dear life.
I was with Molly whin the police caught up to me—waitin' fer thim—sittin' on the side av the bed, an' Molly propped up with the pillows, in her night-clothes—waitin' fer thim.… I mind the ruffles on 'round her neck, an' all.… Niver a word she 'd said, but jus' screamed whin I 'd told her—an' caught hold av me hand, an' held to it, dumb.… She sat up whin they come in, starin', an' her lips as white as her teeth, breathin' hard. An' whin I kissed her good-by, she did n't take her two big eyes off thim, an' the sweat was drippin' off her face like water.… I cud n't speak. Me voice was dried up in me throat.… An' that was the last I iver saw av Molly."
He dropped his hands between his knees and stared out at the white street. "The last I saw av Molly.… They swoore I 'd walked into the 'Tiger' an' had words with Sleeman an' pulled out me gun an' shot 'm. One after th' ither, they got up an' swoore to it—the whole gang—Tweed's gang. An' they told av th' old inmity between us two, an' how Sleeman 'd took me job from me. An' they had the gun with the chamber impty, an' the broken bullet. An' they had me, like a man in a dream, listenin' an' watchin' till the cold crep' up from me feet, an' me heart toorned over an' died inside me."
He licked his lips. "They sintinced me to prison fer life."
Feeny swore a great oath. "That—Tweed!"
"No!" he cried. "No! 'Twas not Tweed. Little need had he to do it. 'Twas done fer 'm be the toads that wanted to get right with 'm. There 's the danger! Whin yeh fight Tammany, yeh fight all the thaves, an' liars, an' jail-burds that do the dirty work without bein' told—in the hopes av what they 'll get fer it. Yeh 'll fight Tammany, d' yeh think? The dogs that live off Tammany's leavin's, they 're the ones yeh 'll fight, Feeny. An' God hilp yeh!" He reached his hands up over his head. "God hilp yeh, fer yeh 'll need it. It 's me that knows—me that 's laid awake nights holdin' mesilf down in me bed to kape from leapin' at the bars like a wild-cat—me that 's been buried alive these thurty years, a livin' corpse—me that 's lost wife, an' child, an' frien's, an' fam'ly—All lost, Feeny, all lost!" He broke into sobs, his old toothless mouth trembling and distorted, the thin tears streaking the hollow of his cheeks. "Me! The husk av a man! That dare not go into a crowd—that dare not so much as inter a departmint store—fer fear av what might happen to drag me back to me cell! Out on commuted sintince fer good conduc'! All the life wrung from me, drop be drop, an' the dried rind av me thrown out here in the gutter! Take yer lesson here, Feeny. Take it here, fer it 's bitter teachin' yeh 'll get from thim!"
Feeny took off his helmet and wiped his forehead. The old man sank down on himself, exhausted.
"At first, I thought 'twas all done be way av just frightenin' me—that after a month er so some one 'd come foorth an' clear me, an' I 'd go back to Molly contint to have no more to do with Tweed, ner Tammany, ner any other.… Thin Molly died, an' the child after, an' she ust to come to me like, at nights—with the ruffles 'round her neck, an' all, an' her black hair pinned up the way she ust to pin it up fer bed—an' we 'd whisper an' talk low togither fer fear the guards 'd hear us.… Well, well, 'twas years since—years an' years since. I was half crazed, no doubt.
"She wint, like iv'rythin' ilse. Molly wint. I dunno how ner why. An' I kep' writin' fer pardons—writin'—an' talkin' to this one an' that one—year in an' year out.… I was 'trusty' av 'Millionaires' Row,' as they called it; an' they all promised to hilp me whin they 'd get out—Jawn Y. McCabe an' Biff Ellis an' all the rest. An' some one hilped me, no doubt; fer Guv'ner Roosevelt commuted me sintince to fifty-five years, an' I got twinty-two off fer good conduc', an' here I am.… Here I am."
There followed the silence of despair—the old man hunched up on his barrel, gazing at nothing and sucking on his cold pipe—and Feeny standing with his jaws set, blinking at the red lights in the road.
"What 'll I do, then?" he said at last.
"Aye," the watchman answered, "what can yeh do? What can one man do to right what we've all av us made wrong, an' our fathers befoore us? We must make oursilves right first, Feeny. 'Tis in the nature av us—deep, deep! 'Tis like Jawn Y. McCabe that was sint up the river fer falsifyin' his register lists—an' I 've seen him readin' his Bible in his cell iv'ry mornin', an' niver cud he see that he 'd done wrong—niver!" He put his pipe in his pocket and rose stiff-kneed. "'Twill all come right some day. Whin we 're dead an' gone, mebbe. But nayther through you ner me, Feeny. Nayther through you ner me." He muffled himself in his horse-blanket. "Kape yer eye on thim planks a jiffy," he said huskily, "I 'm goin' 'round the corner to get a dish av tay."
Feeny watched him go. The silence closed in behind the shuffling footsteps. The distant murmur of traffic was no more than the restlessness of a city asleep. And Nicholas Pascal Feeny was alone with the curse of his kind.
He took off his gloves. He tucked them into his belt. He drew a roll of bills from his pocket, counted off twenty-five dollars for Tammany's tithe, and put them inside the sweat-leather of his helmet to have them handy.