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Making A Way Out Of The Slum
by [?]

One stormy night in the winter of 1882, going across from my office to the Police Headquarters of New York City, I nearly stumbled over an odd couple that crouched on the steps. As the man shifted his seat to make way for me, the light from the green lamp fell on his face, and I knew it as one that had haunted the police office for days with a mute appeal for help. Sometimes a woman was with him. They were Russian Jews, poor immigrants. No one understood or heeded them. Elbowed out of the crowd, they had taken refuge on the steps, where they sat silently watchful of the life that moved about them, but beyond a swift, keen scrutiny of all who came and went, having no share in it.

That night I heard their story. Between what little German they knew and such scraps of their harsh jargon as I had picked up, I found out that they were seeking their lost child–little Yette, who had strayed away from the Essex Street tenement and disappeared as utterly as if the earth had swallowed her up. Indeed, I often thought of that in the weeks and months of weary search that followed. For there was absolutely no trace to be found of the child, though the tardy police machinery was set in motion and worked to the uttermost. It was not until two years later, when we had long given up the quest, that little Yette was found by the merest accident in the turning over of the affairs of an orphan asylum. Some one had picked her up in the street and brought her in. She could not tell her name, and, with one given to her there, and garbed in the uniform of the place, she was so effectually lost in the crowd that the police alarm failed to identify her. In fact, her people had no little trouble in “proving property,” and but for the mother love that had refused to part with a little gingham slip her lost baby had worn, it might have proved impossible. It was the mate of the one which Yette had on when she was brought into the asylum, and which they had kept there. So the child was restored, and her humble home made happy.

That was my first meeting with the Russian Jew. In after years my path crossed his often. I saw him herded with his fellows like cattle in the poorest tenements, slaving sullenly in the sweat-shop, or rising in anger against his tyrant in strikes that meant starvation as the price of his vengeance. And always I had a sense of groping in the memories of the past for a lost key to something. The other day I met him once more. It was at sunset, upon a country road in southern New Jersey. I was returning with Superintendent Sabsovich from an inspection of the Jewish colonies in that region. The cattle were lowing in the fields. The evening breathed peace. Down the sandy road came a creaking farm wagon loaded with cedar posts for a vineyard hard by. Beside it walked a sunburned, bearded man with an axe on his shoulder, in earnest conversation with his boy, a strapping young fellow in overalls. The man walked as one who is tired after a hard day’s work, but his back was straight and he held his head high. He greeted us with a frank nod, as one who meets an equal.

The superintendent looked after him with a smile. To me there came suddenly the vision of the couple under the lamp, friendless and shrinking, waiting for a hearing, always waiting; and, as in a flash, I understood. I had found the key. The farmer there had it. It was the Jew who had found himself.