Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

A Chip From The Maelstrom
by [?]

“The cop just sceert her to death, that’s what he done. For Gawd’s sake, boss, don’t let on I tole you.”

The negro, stopping suddenly in his game of craps in the Pell Street back yard, glanced up with a look of agonized entreaty. Discovering no such fell purpose in his questioner’s face, he added quickly, reassured:–

“And if he asks if you seed me a-playing craps, say no, not on yer life, boss, will yer?” And he resumed the game where he left off.

An hour before he had seen Maggie Lynch die in that hallway, and it was of her he spoke. She belonged to the tenement and to Pell Street, as he did himself. They were part of it while they lived, with all that that implied; when they died, to make part of it again, reorganized and closing ranks in the trench on Hart’s Island. It is only the Celestials in Pell Street who escape the trench. The others are booked for it from the day they are pushed out from the rapids of the Bowery into this maelstrom that sucks under all it seizes. Thenceforward they come to the surface only at intervals in the police courts, each time more forlorn, but not more hopeless, until at last they disappear and are heard of no more.

When Maggie Lynch turned the corner no one there knows. The street keeps no reckoning, and it doesn’t matter. She took her place unchallenged, and her “character” was registered in due time. It was good. Even Pell Street has its degrees and its standard of perfection. The standard’s strong point is contempt of the Chinese, who are hosts in Pell Street. Maggie Lynch came to be known as homeless, without a man, though with the prospects of motherhood approaching, yet she “had never lived with a Chink.” To Pell Street that was heroic. It would have forgiven all the rest, had there been anything to forgive. But there was not. Whatever else may be, cant is not among the vices of Pell Street.

And it is well. Maggie Lynch lived with the Cuffs on the top floor of No. 21 until the Cuffs moved. They left an old lounge they didn’t want, and Maggie. Maggie was sick, and the housekeeper had no heart to put her out. Heart sometimes survives in the slums, even in Pell Street, long after respectability has been hopelessly smothered. It provided shelter and a bed for Maggie when her only friends deserted her. In return she did what she could, helping about the hall and stairs. Queer that gratitude should be another of the virtues the slum has no power to smother, though dive and brothel and the scorn of the good do their best, working together.

There was an old mattress that had to be burned, and Maggie dragged it down with an effort. She took it out in the street, and there set it on fire. It burned and blazed high in the narrow street. The policeman saw the sheen in the windows on the opposite side of the way, and saw the danger of it as he came around the corner. Maggie did not notice him till he was right behind her. She gave a great start when he spoke to her.

“I’ve a good mind to lock you up for this,” he said as he stamped out the fire. “Don’t you know it’s against the law?”

The negro heard it and saw Maggie stagger toward the door, with her hand pressed upon her heart, as the policeman went away down the street. On the threshold she stopped, panting.

“My Gawd, that cop frightened me!” she said, and sat down on the door-step.

A tenant who came out saw that she was ill, and helped her into the hall. She gasped once or twice, and then lay back, dead.

Word went around to the Elizabeth Street station, and was sent on from there with an order for the dead-wagon. Maggie’s turn had come for the ride up the Sound. She was as good as checked for the Potter’s Field, but Pell Street made an effort and came up almost to Maggie’s standard.

Even while the dead-wagon was rattling down the Bowery, one of the tenants ran all the way to Henry Street, where he had heard that Maggie’s father lived, and brought him to the police station. The old man wiped his eyes as he gazed upon his child, dead in her sins.

“She had a good home,” he said to Captain Young, “but she didn’t know it, and she wouldn’t stay. Send her home, and I will bury her with her mother.”

The Potter’s Field was cheated out of a victim, and by Pell Street. But the maelstrom grinds on and on.