“Inside was a smaller, but still prosperous-looking man sitting like a roly-poly behind a desk, and blinking amiably at me with his small eyes.”
Margaretta smiled, and asked, “Young or old?”
“Oh, dear, I don’t know—couldn’t tell his age any more than I could tell the age of a plum-pudding. His face was fat and red, and he had so little hair that it might be either gray or sandy. I’d give him any age between fifteen and fifty.”
“Well, now, I don’t suppose he would be fifteen.”
“He acts like it sometimes,” said Berty, warmly. “Years have not taught him grace and experience, as they have Grandma.”
“What is his name?”
“Let me see,” murmured Margaretta, “there is a Mrs. Jimson and there are two Misses Jimson who are dying to get into our set. I heard the Everests laughing about them.”
“Same ones, probably—well, he knew enough to stand up when I went in. I said ‘Good morning’ and he looked so amiable that I thought he would give me not only what I wanted, but the whole city besides.
“When we had both sat down, I said, ‘I will not take up your time, sir. I have merely come to ask you to give the children of the East End a park to play in.’
“He lowered his eyes, and began to play with a paper-knife. Then he looked up, and said, ‘May I ask your name?’
“‘My name is Miss Gravely,’ I told him, ‘and I am Mrs. Travers’s granddaughter.’
“‘Oh, indeed,’ he replied, ‘and why are you interested in the children of the East End?’
“‘Because I live there—on River Street. We have lost our money.’
“He looked surprised at the first part of my sentence. I think he knew about the last of it. Then he said, ‘Have the children asked for a park?’
“‘No, sir,’ I said, ‘they haven’t.’
“‘Then why give it to them?’ he inquired, mildly.
“‘Does a good father always wait to have his children demand a necessity before he offers it?’ I replied.
“He smiled, and began to play with the paper-knife again.
“‘The children have nowhere to go, sir,’ I went on. ‘The mothers drive them from the dirty houses, the sailors drive them from the wharves, the truck-men drive them from the streets.’
“‘A park might be a good thing,’ he said, cautiously, ‘but there is no money in the treasury.’
“I felt myself growing hot. ‘No money in the treasury, sir, and you can put up a magnificent building like this? Some of this money has been taken from the children.’
“He said the city had its dignity to maintain.
“‘But there is charity, sir, as well as dignity.’
“He smiled sweetly—his whole attitude was one of indulgent sympathy for a youthful crank, and I began to get more and more stirred up.
“‘Sir,’ I said, ‘I think you must be a stepfather.’
“‘Sometimes step-parents display more wisdom than real parents,’ he said, benevolently.
“I thought of the good stepmother Grandma had when a girl. He was right this time, and I was wrong, but this didn’t make me more comfortable in my mind. ‘There is no need of new pavements on Broadway, sir,’ I blurted out.
“‘We must make the business part of the city attractive,’ he said, ‘or strangers won’t come here.’
“‘Strangers must come,’ I said, bitterly, ‘the children can die.’
“‘There is no place for a park on River Street,’ he went on. ‘Property is held there at a high figure. No one would sell.’
“‘There is Milligan’s Wharf, sir,’ I replied. ‘It is said to be haunted, and no sailors will go there. You could make a lovely fenced-in park.’
“‘But there is no money,’ he said, blandly.
“Something came over me. I wasn’t angry on my own account. I have plenty of fresh air, for I am boating half the time, but dead children’s faces swam before me, and I felt like Isaiah and Jeremiah rolled in one.
“‘Who made you, unkind man?’ I said, pointing a finger at him.
“He wouldn’t tell me, so I told him, ‘God made you, and me, and the little children on River Street. Do you dare to say that you stand higher in His sight than they do?’
“He said no, he wouldn’t, but he was in office to save the city’s money, and he was going to do it.
“‘Let the city deny itself for the children. You know there are things it could do without. If you don’t, the blood of the children will be on your head.’
“He twisted his shoulders, and said, ‘See here, young lady, I’ve been all through this labour and capital business. Labour is unthrifty and brainless. You’re young and extreme, and don’t understand. I’ve done good turns to many a man, and never had a word of thanks.’
“‘Tell me what you like about grown people,’ I said, wildly, ‘I’ll believe anything, but don’t say a word against the children.’
“He twisted his shoulders again, and slyly looked at his watch.
“I got up. ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘River Street is choked with dust in summer, and buried in mud and snow in winter. The people have neither decency nor comfort in their houses. The citizens put you over the city, and you are neglecting some of them.’
“He just beamed at me, he was so glad I was going. ‘Young lady,’ he said, ‘you have too much heart. I once had, but for years I’ve been trying to educate it out of myself. I’ve nearly succeeded.’
“‘YOU HAVE TOO MUCH HEART’”
“‘There must be a little left,’ I said, ‘just a little bit. I’ll make it my business to find it. Good morning,’ and with this threat I left him and ran, ran for River Street.”
“Good for you,” said Margaretta.
“I swept along like a whirlwind. I gathered up the children and took them down on Milligan’s Wharf.”
“‘Children,’ I said, ‘do you know who the Mayor is?’
“They said he was the big man down in the city hall.
“‘And how did he get there?’
“‘They votes him in, and they votes him out,’ a bootblack said.
“‘Who votes?’ I asked.
“‘All the men in the city.’
“‘Do your fathers vote?’”
“‘Course—ain’t they Riverporters?’
“‘Then,’ I said, ‘you belong to the city, and you own a little bit of the Mayor, and I have just been asking him to give you a park to play in, but he won’t.’
“The children didn’t seem to care, so I became demagoguish. ‘Boys and girls,’ I said, ‘the children of the North End have a park, the children of the South End have a park, the children of the West End have a park, but the children of the East End aren’t good enough to have a park! What do you think ought to be done to the Mayor?’
“A little girl giggled, and said, ‘Duck him in the river,’ and a boy said, ‘Tar and feather him.’
“‘No,’ I said, ‘that would not be right, but, come now, children, don’t you want a park—a nice wide place with trees, and benches, and swings, and a big heap of sand to play in?’
“‘Oh, glorymaroo!’ said a little girl, ‘it would be just like a Sunday-school picnic.’
“‘Yes, just like a picnic every day, and now, children, you can have this park if you will do as I tell you; will you?’
“‘Yes, yes,’ they all shouted, for they had begun to get excited. ‘Now listen,’ I went on, and I indicated two of the most ragged little creatures present, ‘go to the city hall, take each other’s hands, and when you see the Mayor coming, go up to him politely, and say, “Please, Mr. Mayor, will you give the children of the East End a park to play in?”’
“They ran off like foxes before I could say another word, then they rushed back. ‘We don’t know that gen’l’man.’
“Here was a dilemma, but a newsboy, with eyes like gimlets, got me out of it. ‘See here,’ he said, ‘I can’t wiggle in ’count of business, but I’ll give signals. You, here, Biddy Malone, when you see me hop on one leg, and kick a stone, you’ll know the Mayor’s coming, see?’
“The girls nodded and ran off, and he ran after them.
“I mustn’t forget to say I told them to go ask their mothers, but, bless you, the street is so narrow that the women all knew what I was doing, and approved, I could tell by their grins.
“‘Now I want a boy for the Mayor’s house,’ I said.
“A shock-headed urchin volunteered, and I detailed him to sit on the Mayor’s steps till that gentleman betook himself home for luncheon, and then to rise and say, ‘Please, Mr. Mayor, give the children of the East End a park to play in.’
“Well, I sent out about ten couples and six singles. They were to station themselves at intervals along the unhappy man’s route, and by this time the little monkeys had all got so much in the spirit of it, that I had hard work to keep the whole crowd from going.”
Margaretta leaned back in her chair and laughed quietly. “Well, if you’re not developing.”
“Put any creature in a tight place,” said Berty, indignantly, “and see how it will squirm.”
“How did the Mayor take this persecution?”
“Like an angel, for the first few days. Then I began to increase the number of my scouts. They met him on his own sidewalk, on the corner as he waited for the car, on the steps of his club, till at last he began to dodge them.”
“Then they got their blood up. You can’t elude the children of the streets. I told them not to beg or whine, just to say their little formula, then vanish.
“At the end of a week he began to have a hunted look. Then he began to peer around street corners, then he took to a coupé, and then he sprained his ankle.”
“What did the children do?”
“Politely waited for him to get well, but he sent me a note, saying he would do all he could to get them their park, and with his influence that meant, of course, that they should have it.”
“How lovely—weren’t you glad?”
“I danced for joy—but this puzzled me. I hadn’t expected to get at his heart so soon. Who had helped me? Grandma said it was the Lord.”
“Aided by Mrs. Jimson, I suspect,” added Margaretta, shrewdly. “This explains a mystery. Some time ago, I heard Roger and Tom Everest down in the library nearly killing themselves laughing. When I asked Roger what it was about, he said only a Jimson joke. Then he said, ‘Can’t you keep Berty out of the city hall?’”
“I said, ‘What do you mean?’ but he wouldn’t tell me any more. I believe that Mr. Jimson’s men friends teased him, and his mother and sisters brought pressure to bear upon him.”
“They called yesterday,” said Berty, demurely.
“Well, well, and did they mention your park?”
“They were full of it. I went down to the wharf with them. I am there half the time. You must come, Margaretta, and see the work going on.”
“Where did the Mayor get the money?”
“Squeezed it out of something. He said his councillors approved. He won’t see me, though—carries on all the business by correspondence.”
Margaretta looked anxious, but Berty was unheeding, and went on, eloquently. “Isn’t it queer how Grandma’s teaching is in our very bones? I didn’t know I had it in me to keep even our own family together, but I have. I’d fight like a wolf for you and Bonny, Margaretta, and now I’m getting so I’ll fight like a wolf for our bigger human family.”
Margaretta’s anxiety passed away, and she smiled indulgently. “Very well, sister. It’s noble to fight for the right, but don’t get to be that thing that men hate so. What is it they call that sort of person—oh, yes, a new woman.”
Berty raised both hands. “I’ll be a new woman, or an old woman, or a wild woman, or a tame woman, or any kind of a woman, except a lazy woman!”