After crossing the long bridge above Claremont and the deep ravine where ships and ferryboats and coal stations abound, the bus crosses on 135th Street to Broadway. At 153d, the beautiful cemetery of Trinity Parish, leafy paths lying peaceful in the strong glow. At 166th Street is an open area now called Mitchel Square, with an outcrop of rock polished by the rearward breeks of many sliding urchins. Some children were playing on that small summit with a toy parachute made of light paper and a pebble attached by threads. On 168th Street alongside the big armoury of the Twenty-second Engineers boys were playing baseball, with a rubber ball, pitching it so that the batter received it on the bounce and struck it with his fist. According to the score chalked on the pavement the “Bronx Browns” and the “Haven Athletics” were just finishing a rousing contest, in which the former were victors, 1-0. Haven Avenue, near by, is a happy little street perched high above the river. A small terraced garden with fading flowers looks across the Hudson to the woody Palisades. Modest apartment houses are built high on enormous buttresses, over the steep scarp of the hillside. Through cellar windows coal was visible, piled high in the bins; children were trooping home for dinner; a fine taint of frying onions hung in the shining air. Everywhere in that open, half-suburban, comfortable region was a feeling of sane, established life. An old man with a white beard was greeted by two urchins, who ran up and kissed him heartily as he beamed upon them. Grandpa, one supposes! Plenty of signs indicating small apartments to rent, four and five rooms. And down that upper slant of Broadway, as the bus bumbles past rows of neat prosperous-seeming shops, one feels the great tug and pulling current of life that flows down the channel, the strange energy of the huge city lying below. The tide was momentarily stilled, but soon to resume action. There was a magic touch apparent, like the stillness of a palace in a fairy tale, bewitched into waiting silence.
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Sometimes on our way to the office in the morning we stop in front of a jeweller’s window near Maiden Lane and watch a neat little elderly gentleman daintily setting out his employer’s gauds and trinkets for the day. We like to see him brood cheerfully over the disposition of his small amber-coloured velvet mats, and the arrangement of the rings, vanity cases, necklaces, and precious stones. They twinkle in the morning light, and he leans downward in the window, innocently displaying the widening parting on his pink scalp. He purses his lips in a silent whistle as he cons his shining trifles and varies his plan of display every day.
Now a modern realist (we have a painful suspicion) if he were describing this pleasant man would deal rather roughly with him. You know exactly how it would be done. He would be a weary, saddened, shabby figure: his conscientious attention to the jewels in his care would be construed as the painful and creaking routine of a victim of commercial greed; a bitter irony would be distilled from the contrast of his own modest station in life and the huge value of the lucid crystals and carbons under his hands. His hands–ah, the realist would angrily see some brutal pathos or unconscious naughtiness in the crook of the old mottled fingers. How that widening parting in the gray head would be gloated upon. It would be very easy to do, and it would be (if we are any judge) wholly false.
For we have watched the little old gentleman many times, and we have quite an affection for him. We see him as one perfectly happy in the tidy and careful round of his tasks; and when his tenderly brushed gray poll leans above his treasures, and he gently devises new patterns by which the emeralds or the gold cigarette cases will catch the slant of 9 o’clock sunlight, we seem to see one who is enjoying his own placid conception of beauty, and who is not a figure of pity or reproach, but one of decent honour and excellent fidelity.