When Berty’s eyes rested on Tom, he came forward hat in hand.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” he inquired, calmly, but with inward anxiety as he noticed her flushed face.
“No, thank you,” she said, wearily, “I was just talking to some of my friends here.”
Tom nodded to the men in a civil manner, then said, “Are you going home?”
“Yes, presently,” she returned. “I will just finish what I was saying. I was telling these men, Mr. Everest, that when I came to River Street, and saw how many things needed to be done in order to make the place comfortable, my brain was on fire. I wished to do everything to enable my neighbours to have decent homes and a pure atmosphere in which to bring up their children. But now I have got discouraged with them. They don’t second me. All the rich people say that poor people are shiftless and ungrateful, and I am beginning to think they are right. Here are these men standing before us. They are just as sensible as you are, or as any man in the city, but again and again they will vote for aldermen who care no more for their interests than they do for the interests of the sparrows flying about the city. They can pick up a living the best way they can. The city council has not one bit of care of its children, except the rich ones, and I say to these men here that there is no use for me or anybody to try to help them. They have got to help themselves.”
Tom looked concerned, but made no endeavour to reply, and Berty went on:
“It is all very fine to talk of helping the poor, and uplifting the poor. It just makes them more pauper-like for you to settle down among them, and bear all the burden of lifting them up. They have got to help you, and because they won’t help me, I am going to leave River Street just as soon as I get money enough. I’m disgusted with these people.”
Tom, to Berty’s surprise, gave no expression of relief—and yet how many times he had begged her to turn her back on this neighbourhood.
The wharf-men sank into a state of greater sheepishness than before. One of them, who carried a whip under his arm, shifted it, and, reaching forward, pushed Malone with it.
Other of the men were nudging him, and at last he remarked, regretfully, “I’m sorry to hear you say that you want to quit the street, miss. I hope you’ll change your mind.”
“Well, now, do you think it is a nice thing for me to be constantly running about interviewing aldermen who hate the sight of me, on the subject of the rights of great strong men like you and these others? Come, now, is it work for a girl?”
“Well, no, miss, it isn’t,” said Malone, uneasily.
“Then why don’t you do it yourselves? The ideal thing is to trust people, to believe that your neighbour loves you as well as he does himself, but he doesn’t. He pretends he does, but you’ve got to watch him to make a pretence a reality. For the good of your alderman neighbour make him love you. You don’t want plush sofas and lace window curtains. Bah, I’m getting so I don’t care a fig for the ‘rags’ of life—but you want well-made furniture, and a clean pane of glass to look out at God’s sky.”
“That’s so,” muttered Malone.
“Then for goodness’ sake get to work. Municipal reform can start right here on River Street as well as on Grand Avenue. I have all sorts of lovely papers telling just how model municipal government should be, and is conducted. It’s a living, acting plan in several cities, but I sha’n’t tell any of you one thing about it, unless you come and ask me. I’m tired of cramming information down your throats. Go on and strike, and do anything foolish you can. Let your wives freeze, and your poor children cry for food this winter. In the spring there will be a fine lot of funerals.”
“Oh, I say, Berty,” remarked Tom, in an undertone.
Her eyes were full of tears, but she went plunging on. “And I’ll tell you one thing that may be published to the city any day. I was not told not to tell it. Mr. Jimson wrote me a letter while he was away, and I think he is going to resign the mayoralty. He won’t tell why, of course, but I know it is because the city council is so corrupt. Now if you men had stood by him, and put in a decent set of councillors, he might have stayed in. I haven’t said a word of this before, because I felt so badly about it.”
The men scarcely heard her last sentences. The “River Streeters,” as they were called, took to a man an extraordinary interest in civic affairs, and they fell to discussing this bit of news among themselves.
“Come home, Berty,” said Tom.
“Yes, I will,” she said, meekly. “I’ve said all I want to. Just steady me over that crossing. I’ve got dust in my eyes.”
Poor Berty—she was crying, and good, honest Tom choked back a sudden sympathetic lump in his throat.
“Don’t worry, little girl,” he said, huskily. “You’ve done a lot of good already, and we’re all proud of you.”
“I have done nothing,” said Berty, passionately, “nothing but get the park for the children. I just love the children on this street. I want their fathers to do something for them. It’s awful, Tom, to bring up boys and girls in such an atmosphere. What will their parents say when they stand before the judgment seat—I can’t stand it, Tom—the lost souls of the little ones just haunt me.”
“There, there,” murmured Tom, consolingly, “we’re most home. Try to think of something else, Berty—you’ll live to do lots of work for the children