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Chips From The Maelstrom
by [?]

It is a good many years since I ran across the Murphy family while hunting up a murder, in the old Mulberry Street days. That was not their name, but no matter; it was one just as good. Their home was in Poverty Gap, and I have seldom seen a worse. The man was a wife-beater when drunk, which he was whenever he had “the price.” Hard work and hard knocks had made a wreck of his wife. The five children, two of them girls, were growing up as they could, which was not as they should, but according to the way of Poverty Gap: in the gutter.

We took them and moved them across town from the West Side to be nearer us, for it was a case where to be neighbor one had to stand close. As another step, I had the man taken up and sent to the Island. He came home the next week, and before the sun set on another day had run his family to earth. We found one of the boys bringing beer in a can and Mr. Murphy having a good time on the money we had laid away against the landlord’s call. Mrs. Murphy was nursing a black eye at the sink. She had done her best, but she was fighting against fate.

So it seemed; for as the years went by, though he sometimes stayed out his month on the Island–more often, especially if near election time, he was back the next or even the same day–and though we moved the family into every unlikely neighborhood we could think of, always he found them out and celebrated his return home by beating his wife and chasing the children out to buy beer, the girls, as they grew up, to earn in the street the money for his debauches. I had talked the matter over with the Chief of Police, who was interested on the human side, and we had agreed that there was no other way than to eliminate Mr. Murphy. All benevolent schemes of reforming him were preposterous. So, between us, we sent him to jail nineteen times. He did not always get there. Once he was back before he could have reached the Island ferry; we never knew how. Another time, when the doorman at the police station was locking him up, he managed to get on the free side of the door, and, drunk as he was, slammed it on the policeman and locked him in. Then he sat down outside, lighted his pipe and cracked jokes at the helpless anger of his prisoner. Murphy was a humorist in his way. Had he also been a poet he might have secured his discharge as did his chum on the Island who delivered himself thus in his own defense before the police judge:

“Leaves have their time to fall,
And so likewise have I.
The reason, too, is the same,
It comes of getting dry.
The difference ‘twixt leaves and me–
I fall more harder and more frequently.”

But Murphy was no poet, and his sense of humor was of a kind too fraught with peril to life and limb. When he was arraigned the nineteenth time, the judge in the Essex Market Court lost patience when I tried to persuade him to break the Island routine and hold the man for the Special Sessions, and ordered me sternly to “Stand down, sir! This court is not to be dictated to by anybody.” I had to remind his Honor that unless he could be persuaded to deal rationally with Mr. Murphy the court might yet come to be charged before the Grand Jury with being accessory to wife murder, for assuredly it was coming to that. It helped, and Murphy’s case was considered in Sessions, where a sentence of two years and a half was imposed upon him. While serving it he died.