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The City’s Heart
by [?]

“Bosh!” said my friend, jabbing impatiently with his stick at a gaunt cat in the gutter, “all bosh! A city has no heart. It’s incorporated selfishness; has to be. Slopping over is not business. City is all business. A poet’s dream, my good fellow; pretty but moonshine!”

We turned the corner of the tenement street as he spoke. The placid river was before us, with the moonlight upon it. Far as the eye reached, up and down the stream, the shores lay outlined by rows of electric lamps, like strings of shining pearls; red lights and green fights moved upon the water. From a roofed-over pier near by came the joyous shouts of troops of children, and the rhythmic tramp of many feet to the strains of “Could you be true to eyes of blue if you looked into eyes of brown?” A “play-pier” in evening session.

I looked at my friend. He stood gazing out over the river, hat in hand, the gentle sea-breeze caressing the lock at his temple that is turning gray. Something he started to say had died on his lips. He was listening to the laughter of the children. What thoughts of days long gone, before the office and the market reports shut youth and sunshine out of his life, came to soften the hard lines in his face, I do not know. As I watched, the music on the pier died away in a great hush. The river with its lights was gone; my friend was gone. The years were gone with their burden. The world was young once more.

I was in a court-room full of men with pale, stern faces. I saw a child brought in, carried in a horse-blanket, at the sight of which men wept aloud. I saw it laid at the feet of the judge, who turned his face away, and in the stillness of that court-room I heard a voice raised claiming for the human child the protection men had denied it, in the name of the homeless cur of the street. And I heard the story of little Mary Ellen told again, that stirred the souls of a city and roused the conscience of a world that had forgotten. The sweet-faced missionary who found Mary Ellen was there, wife of a newspaper man–happy augury; where the gospel of faith and the gospel of facts join hands the world moves. She told how the poor consumptive in the dark slum tenement, at whose bedside she daily read the Bible, could not die in peace while “the child they called Mary Ellen” was beaten and tortured in the next flat; and how on weary feet she went from door to door of the powerful, vainly begging mercy for it and peace for her dying friend. The police told her to furnish evidence, prove crime, or they could not move; the societies said: “bring the child to us legally, and we will see; till then we can do nothing”; the charitable said, “it is dangerous to interfere between parent and child; better let it alone.” And the judges said that it was even so; it was for them to see that men walked in the way laid down, not to find it–until her woman’s heart rebelled in anger against it all, and she sought the great friend of the dumb brute, who made a way.

“The child is an animal,” he said. “If there is no justice for it as a human being, it shall at least have the rights of the cur in the street. It shall not be abused.”

And as I looked I knew that I was where the first charter of the Children’s rights was written under warrant of that made for the dog; for from that dingy court-room, whence a wicked woman went to jail, thirty years ago came forth the Children’s Society, with all it has meant to the world’s life. It is quickening its pulse to this day in lands and among peoples who never spoke the name of my city and Mary Ellen’s. For her–her life has run since like an even summer stream between flowery shores. When last I had news of her, she was the happy wife of a prosperous farmer up-State.