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The Face and the Mask/The Reclamation of Joe Hollends


V. THE RECLAMATION OF JOE HOLLENDS

The public-houses of Burwell Road—and there were many of them for the length of the street—were rather proud of Joe Hollends. He was a perfected specimen of the work a pub produces. He was probably the most persistent drunkard the Road possessed, and the periodical gathering in of Joe by the police was one of the stock sights of the street. Many of the inhabitants could be taken to the station by one policeman; some required two; but Joe's average was four. He had been heard to boast that on one occasion he had been accompanied to the station by seven bobbies, but that was before the force had studied Joe and got him down to his correct mathematical equivalent. Now they tripped him up, a policeman taking one kicking leg and another the other, while the remaining two attended to the upper part of his body. Thus they carried him, followed by an admiring crowd, and watched by other envious drunkards who had to content themselves with a single officer when they went on a similar spree. Sometimes Joe managed to place a kick where it would do the most good against the stomach of a policeman, and when the officer rolled over there was for a few moments a renewal of the fight, silent on the part of the men and vociferous on the part of the drunkard, who had a fine flow of abusive language. Then the procession went on again. It was perfectly useless to put Joe on the police ambulance, for it required two men to sit on him while in transit, and the barrow is not made to stand such a load.

Of course, when Joe staggered out of the pub and fell in the gutter, the ambulance did its duty, and trundled Joe to his abiding place, but the real fun occurred when Joe was gathered in during the third stage of his debauch. He passed through the oratorical stage, then the maudlin or sentimental stage, from which he emerged into the fighting stage, when he was usually ejected into the street, where he forthwith began to make Rome howl, and paint the town red. At this point the policeman's whistle sounded, and the force knew Joe was on the warpath, and that duty called them to the fray.

It was believed in the neighborhood that Joe had been a college man, and this gave him additional standing with his admirers. His eloquence was undoubted, after several glasses varying in number according to the strength of their contents, and a man who had heard the great political speakers of the day admitted that none of them could hold a candle to Joe when he got on the subject of the wrongs of the working man and the tyranny of the capitalist. It was generally understood that Joe might have been anything he liked, and that he was no man's enemy but his own. It was also hinted that he could tell the bigwigs a thing or two if he had been consulted in affairs of State.

One evening, when Joe was slowly progressing as usual, with his feet in the air, towards the station, supported by the requisite number of policemen, and declaiming to the delight of the accompanying crowd, a woman stood with her back to the brick wall, horror-stricken at the sight. She had a pale, refined face, and was dressed in black. Her self-imposed mission was among these people, but she had never seen Joe taken to the station before, and the sight, which was so amusing to the neighborhood, was shocking to her. She enquired about Joe, and heard the usual story that he was no man's enemy but his own, although they might in justice have added the police. Still, a policeman was hardly looked upon as a human being in that neighborhood. Miss Johnson reported the case to the committee of the Social League, and took counsel. Then it was that the reclamation of Joe Hollends was determined on.

Joe received Miss Johnson with subdued dignity, and a demeanor that delicately indicated a knowledge on his part of her superiority and his own degradation. He knew how a lady should be treated even if he was a drunkard, as he told his cronies afterwards. Joe was perfectly willing to be reclaimed. Heretofore in his life, no one had ever extended the hand of fellowship to him. Human sympathy was what Joe needed, and precious little he had had of it. There were more kicks than halfpence in this world for a poor man. The rich did not care what became of the poor; not they—a proposition which Miss Johnson earnestly denied.

It was one of the tenets of the committee that where possible the poor should help the poor. It was resolved to get Joe a decent suit of clothes and endeavor to find him a place where work would enable him to help himself. Miss Johnson went around the neighborhood and collected pence for the reclamation. Most people were willing to help Joe, although it was generally felt that the Road would be less gay when he took on sober habits. In one room, however, Miss Johnson was refused the penny she pleaded for.

"We cannot spare even a penny," said the woman, whose sickly little boy clung to her skirts. "My husband is just out of work again. He has had only four weeks' work this time."

Miss Johnson looked around the room and saw why there was no money. It was quite evident where the earnings of the husband had gone.

The room was much better furnished than the average apartment of the neighborhood. There were two sets of dishes where one would have been quite sufficient. On the mantelshelf and around the walls were various unnecessary articles which cost money.

Miss Johnson noted all this but said nothing, although she resolved to report it to the committee. In union is strength and in multitude of counsel there is wisdom. Miss Johnson had great faith in the wisdom of the committee.

"How long has your husband been out of work?" she asked.

"Only a few days, but times are very bad and he is afraid he will not get another situation soon."

"What is his trade?"

"He is a carpenter and a good workman—sober and steady."

"If you give me his name I will put it down in our books. Perhaps we may be able to help him."

"John Morris is his name."

Miss Johnson wrote it down on her tablets, and when she left, the wife felt vaguely grateful for benefits to come.

The facts of the case were reported to the committee, and Miss Johnson was deputed to expostulate with Mrs. Morris upon her extravagance. John Morris's name was put upon the books among the names of many other unemployed persons. The case of Joe Hollends then came up, and elicited much enthusiasm. A decent suit of clothing had been purchased with part of the money collected for him, and it was determined to keep the rest in trust, to be doled out to him as occasion warranted.

Two persuasive ladies undertook to find a place for him in one of the factories, if such a thing were possible.

Joe felt rather uncomfortable in his new suit of clothes, and seemed to regard the expenditure as, all in all, a waste of good money. He was also disappointed to find that the funds collected were not to be handed over to him in a lump. It was not the money he cared about, he said, but the evident lack of trust. If people had trusted him more, he might have been a better man. Trust and human sympathy were what Joe Hollends needed.

The two persuasive ladies appealed to Mr. Stillwell, the proprietor of a small factory for the making of boxes. They said that if Hollends got a chance they were sure he would reform. Stillwell replied that he had no place for anyone. He had enough to do to keep the men already in his employ. Times were dull in the box business, and he was turning away applicants every day who were good workmen and who didn't need to be reformed. However, the ladies were very persuasive, and it is not given to every man to be able to refuse the appeal of a pretty woman, not to mention two of them. Stillwell promised to give Hollends a chance, said he would consult with his foreman, and let the ladies know what could be done.

Joe Hollends did not receive the news of his luck with the enthusiasm that might have been expected. Many a man was tramping London in search of employment and finding none, therefore even the ladies who were so solicitous about Joe's welfare thought he should be thankful that work came unsought. He said he would do his best, which is, when you come to think of it, all that we have a right to expect from any man.

Some days afterwards Jack Morris applied to Mr. Stillwell for a job, but he had no sub-committee of persuasive ladies to plead for him. He would be willing to work half-time or quarter-time for that matter. He had a wife and boy dependent on him. He could show that he was a good workman and he did not drink. Thus did Morris recite his qualifications to the unwilling ears of Stillwell the box maker. As he left the place disheartened with another refusal, he was overtaken by Joe Hollends. Joe was a lover of his fellow-man, and disliked seeing anyone downhearted. He had one infallible cure for dejection. Having just been discharged, he was in high spirits, because his prediction of his own failure as a reformed character, if work were a condition of the reclamation, had just been fulfilled.

"Cheer up, old man," he cried, slapping Morris on the shoulder, "what's the matter? Come and have a drink with me. I've got the money."

"No," said Morris, who knew the professional drunkard but slightly, and did not care for further acquaintance with him, "I want work, not beer."

"Every man to his taste. Why don't you ask at the box factory? You can have my job and welcome. The foreman's just discharged me. Said I wouldn't work myself, and kept the men off theirs. Thought I talked too much about capital and labor."

"Do you think I could get your job?"

"Very likely. No harm in trying. If they don't take you on, come into the Red Lion—I'll be there—and have a drop. It'll cheer you up a bit."

Morris appealed in vain to the foreman. They had more men now in the factory than they needed, he said. So Morris went to the Red Lion, where he found Hollends ready to welcome him. They had several glasses together, and Hollends told him of the efforts of the Social League in the reclamation line, and his doubts of their ultimate success. Hollends seemed to think the ladies of the League were deeply indebted to him for furnishing them with such a good subject for reformation. That night Joe's career reached a triumphant climax, for the four policeman had to appeal to the bystanders for help in the name of the law.

Jack Morris went home unaided. He had not taken many glasses, but he knew he should have avoided drink altogether, for he had some experience of its power in his younger days. He was, therefore, in a quarrelsome mood, ready to blame everyone but himself.

He found his wife in tears, and saw Miss Johnson sitting there, evidently very miserable.

"What's all this?" asked Morris.

His wife dried her eyes, and said it was nothing. Miss Johnson had been giving her some advice, which she was thankful for. Morris glared at the visitor.

"What have you got to do with us?" he demanded rudely. His wife caught him by the arm, but he angrily tossed aside her hand. Miss Johnson arose, fearing.

"You've no business here. We want none of your advice. You get out of this." Then, impatiently to his wife, who strove to calm him, "Shut up, will you?"

Miss Johnson was afraid he would strike her as she passed him going to the door, but he merely stood there, following her exit with lowering brow.

The terrified lady told her experience to the sympathizing members of the committee. She had spoken to Mrs. Morris of her extravagance in buying so many things that were not necessary when her husband had work. She advised the saving of the money. Mrs. Morris had defended her apparent lavish expenditure by saying that there was no possibility of saving money. She bought useful things, and when her husband was out of work she could always get a large percentage of their cost from the pawnbroker. The pawnshop, she had tearfully explained to Miss Johnson, was the only bank of the poor. The idea of the pawnshop as a bank, and not as a place of disgrace, was new to Miss Johnson, but before anything further could be said the husband had come in. One of the committee, who knew more about the district than Miss Johnson, affirmed that there was something to say for the pawnbroker as the banker of the poor. The committee were unanimous in condemning the conduct of Morris, and it says much for the members that, in spite of the provocation one of them had received, they did not take the name of so undeserving a man from their list of the unemployed.

The sad relapse of Joe Hollends next occupied the attention of the League. His fine had been paid, and he had expressed himself as deeply grieved at his own frailty. If the foreman had been less harsh with him and had given him a chance, things might have been different. It was resolved to send Joe to the seaside so that he might have an opportunity of toning up his system to resist temptation. Joe enjoyed his trip to the sea. He always liked to encounter a new body of police unaccustomed to his methods. He toned up his system so successfully the first day on the sands that he spent the night in the cells.

Little by little, the portable property in the rooms of the Morrises disappeared into the pawnshop. Misfortune, as usual, did not come singly. The small boy was ill, and Morris himself seemed to be unable to resist the temptation of the Red Lion. The unhappy woman took her boy to the parish doctor, who was very busy, but he gave what attention he could to the case. He said all the boy needed was nourishing food and country air. Mrs. Morris sighed, and decided to take the little boy oftener to the park, but the way was long, and he grew weaker day by day.

At last, she succeeded in interesting her husband in the little fellow's condition. He consented to take the boy to the doctor with her.

"The doctor doesn't seem to mind what I say," she complained. "Perhaps he will pay attention to a man."

Morris was not naturally a morose person, but continued disappointment was rapidly making him so. He said nothing, but took the boy in his arms, and, followed by his wife, went to the doctor.

"This boy was here before," said the physician, which tended to show that he had paid more attention to the case than Mrs. Morris thought. "He is very much worse. You will have to take him to the country or he will die."

"How can I send him to the country?" asked Morris, sullenly. "I've been out of work for months."

"Have you friends in the country?"

"No."

"Hasn't your wife any friends in the country who would take her and the lad for a month or so?"

"No."

"Have you anything to pawn?"

"Very little."

"Then I would advise you to pawn everything you own, or sell it if you can, and take the boy on your back and tramp to the country. You will get work there probably more easily than in the city. Here are ten shillings to help you."

"I don't want your money," said Morris, in a surly tone. "I want work."

"I have no work to give you, so I offer you what I have. I haven't as much of that as I could wish. You are a fool not to take what the gods send."

Morris, without replying, gathered up his son in his arms and departed.

"Here is a bottle of tonic for him." said the doctor to Mrs. Morris.

He placed the half-sovereign on the bottle as he passed it to her. She silently thanked him with her wet eyes, hoping that a time would come when she could repay the money. The doctor had experience enough to know that they were not to be classed among his usual visitors. He was not in the habit of indiscriminately bestowing gold coins.

It was a dreary journey, and they were a long time shaking off the octopus-like tentacles of the great city, that reached further and further into he country each year, as if it lived on consuming the green fields. Morris walked ahead with the boy on his back, and his wife followed. Neither spoke, and the sick lad did not complain. As they were nearing a village, the boy's head sunk on his father's shoulder. The mother quickened her pace, and came up to them stroking the head of her sleeping son. Suddenly, she uttered a smothered cry and took the boy in her arms.

"What's the matter?" asked Morris, turning round.

She did not answer, but sat by the roadside with the boy on her lap, swaying her body to and fro over him, moaning as she did so. Morris needed no answer. He stood on the road with hardening face, and looked down on his wife and child without speaking.

The kindly villagers arranged the little funeral, and when it was over Jack Morris and his wife stood again on the road.

"Jack, dear," she pleaded, "don't go back to that horrible place. We belong to the country, and the city is so hard and cruel."

"I'm going back. You can do as you like." Then, relenting a little, he added, "I haven't brought much luck to you, my girl."

She knew her husband was a stubborn man, and set in his way, so, unprotesting, she followed him in, as she had followed out, stumbling many times, for often her eyes did not see the road. And so they returned to their empty rooms.

Jack Morris went to look for work at the Red Lion. There he met that genial comrade, Joe Hollends, who had been reformed, and who had backslid twice since Jack had foregathered with him before. It is but fair to Joe to admit that he had never been optimistic about his own reclamation, but being an obliging man, even when he was sober, he was willing to give the Social League every chance. Jack was deeply grieved at the death of his son, although he had said no word to his wife that would show it. It therefore took more liquor than usual to bring him up to the point of good comradeship that reigned at the Red Lion. When he and Joe left the tavern that night it would have taken an expert to tell which was the more inebriated. They were both in good fighting trim, and were both in the humor for a row. The police, who had reckoned on Joe alone, suddenly found a new element in the fight that not only upset their calculations but themselves as well. It was a glorious victory, and, as both fled down a side street, Morris urged Hollends to come along, for the representatives of law and order have the habit of getting reinforcements which often turn a victory into a most ignominious defeat.

"I can't," panted Hollends. "The beggars have hurt me."

"Come along. I know a place where we are safe."

Drunk as he was, Jack succeeded in finding the hole in the wall that allowed him to enter a vacant spot behind the box factory. There Hollends lay down with a groan, and there Morris sank beside him in a drunken sleep. The police were at last revenged, and finally.

When the grey daylight brought Morris to a dazed sense of where he was, he found his companion dead beside him. He had a vague fear that he would be tried for murder, but it was not so. From the moment that Hollends, in his fall, struck his head on the curb, the Providence which looks after the drunken deserted him.

But the inquest accomplished one good object. It attracted the attention of the Social League to Jack Morris, and they are now endeavoring to reclaim him.

Whether they succeed or not, he was a man that was certainly once worth saving.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.