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The Rent Baby
by [?]

Adam Grunschlag sat at his street stand in a deep brown study. He heeded not the gathering twilight, or the snow that fell in great white flakes, as yet with an appreciable space between, but with the promise of a coming storm in them. He took no notice of the bustle and stir all about that betokened the approaching holiday. The cries of the huckster hawking oranges from his cart, of the man with the crawling toy, and of the pedler of colored Christmas candles passed him by unheard. Women with big baskets jostled him, stopped and fingered his cabbages; he answered their inquiries mechanically. Adam’s mind was not in the street, at his stand, but in the dark back basement where his wife Hansche was lying, there was no telling how sick. They could not afford a doctor. Of course, he might send to the hospital for one, but he would be sure to take her away, and then what would become of little Abe? Besides, if they had nothing else in the whole world, they had yet each other. When that was no longer the case–Adam would have lacked no answer to the vexed question if life were then worth living.

Troubles come not singly, but in squads, once the bag be untied. It was not the least sore point with Adam that he had untied it himself. They were doing well enough, he and his wife, in their home in Leinbach, Austria, keeping a little grocery store, and living humbly but comfortably, when word of the country beyond the sea where much money was made, and where every man was as good as the next, made them uneasy and discontented. In the end they gave up the grocery and their little home, Hansche not without some tears; but she dried them quickly at the thought of the good times that were waiting. With these ever before them they bore the hardships of the steerage, and in good season reached Hester Street and the longed-for haven, only to find–this. A rear basement, dark and damp and unwholesome, for which the landlord, along with the privilege of keeping a stand in the street, which was not his to give, made them pay twelve dollars a month. Truly, much money was made in America, but not by those who paid the rent. It was all they could do, working early and late, he with his push-cart and at his stand, she with the needle, slaving for the sweater, to get the rent together and keep a roof over the head of little Abe.

Five years they had kept that up, and things had gone from bad to worse. The police blackmail had taken out of it what little profit there was in the push-cart business. Times had grown harder than they ever were in Hester Street. To cap it all, two weeks ago gas had begun to leak into the basement from somewhere, and made Hansche sick, so that she dropped down at her work. Adam had complained to the landlord, and he had laughed at him. What did he want for twelve dollars, anyway? If the basement wasn’t good enough for him, why didn’t he hire an upstairs flat? The landlord did not tell him that he could do that for the same rent he paid for the miserable hole he burrowed in. He had a good thing and he knew it. Adam Grunschlag knew nothing of the Legal Aid Society, that is there to help such as he. He was afraid to appeal to the police. He was just a poor, timid Jew, of a race that has been hunted for centuries to make sport and revenue for the great and mighty. When he spoke of moving and the landlord said that he would forfeit the twenty dollars deposit that he had held back all these years, and which was all the capital the pedler had, he thought that was the law, and was silent. He could not afford to lose it, and yet he must find some way of making a change, for the sake of little Abe as well as his wife, and the child.