The Saturday Evening Mail: New York, December 7, 1912.
LITTLE boy had appeared. He seemed surprised to see visitors. Pugsy undertook to do the honors. Pugsy, as interpreter, was energetic, but not wholly successful. He appeared to have a fixed idea that the Italian language was one easily mastered by the simple method of saying “da” instead of “the,” and adding a final “a” to any word that seemed to him to need one.
“Say, kid,” he began, “has da rent-a-man come yet-a?”
The black eyes of the wop kid clouded. He gesticulated and said something in his native language.
“He hasn’t got next,” reported Master Maloney. “He can’t git on to me curves. Dese wop kids is all boneheads. Say, kid, look-a here.” He walked to the door, rapped on it smartly, and, assuming a look of extreme ferocity, stretched out his hand and thundered: “Unbelt-a! Slip-a me da stuff!”
The wop kid’s puzzlement in the face of this address became pathetic.
“This,” said John, deeply interested, “is getting exciting. Don’t give in, Pugsy. I guess the trouble is that your too perfect Italian accent is making the kid homesick.”
Master Maloney made a gesture of disgust.
“I’m t’roo—Dese Dagos makes me tired. Dey don’t know enough to go upstairs to take de elevated. Beat it, you mutt,” he observed with moody displeasure, accompanying the words with a gesture which conveyed its own meaning. The wop kid, plainly glad to get away, slipped down the stairs like a shadow.
Pugsy shrugged his shoulders.
“Boss,” he said, resignedly, “it’s up to youse.”
“It’s all right,” he said. “Of course, if the collector had been here the kid wouldn’t be. All I’ve got to do is to wait.”
He peered over the banisters into the darkness below.
“Not that it’s not enough,” he said; “for of all the poisonous places I ever met this is the worst. I wish whoever built it had thought to put in a few windows. His idea of ventilation was apparently to leave a hole about the size of a lima bean and let the thing go at that.”
“I guess there’s a door on to de roof somewhere,” suggested Pugsy. “At de joint where I lives dere is.”
His surmise proved correct. At the end of the passage a ladder, nailed against the wall, ended in a large, square opening, through which was visible, if not “that narrow strip of blue which prisoners call the sky,” at any rate a tall brick chimney and a clothesline covered with garments that waved lazily in the breeze.
John stood beneath it, looking up.
“Well,” he said, “this isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing. I suppose the architect of this place was one of those fellows who don’t begin to appreciate air till it’s thick enough to scoop chunks out with a spoon. It’s an acquired taste, I guess, like Limburger cheese. And now, Pugsy, old scout, you had better beat it. There may be a rough-house here any minute now.”
Pugsy looked up, indignant.
“While your shoe-leather’s good,” said John, firmly. “This is no place for a minister’s son. Take it from me.”
“I want to stop and pipe de fun,” objected Master Maloney.
“I guess you ain’t here to play ball,” surmised Pugsy shrewdly, eying the big stick.
“Never mind why I’m here,” said John. “Beat it. I’ll tell you all about it to-morrow.”
Master Maloney prepared reluctantly to depart. As he did so there was a sound of well-shod feet on the stairs, and a man in a snuff-colored suit, wearing a brown Homburg hat and carrying a small notebook in one hand, walked briskly up the stairs. His whole appearance proclaimed him to be the long-expected collector of rents.
E did not see John for a moment, and had reached the door of the room when he became aware of a presence. He turned in surprise. He was a smallish, pale-faced man with protruding eyes and teeth which gave him a certain resemblance to a rabbit.
“Hello!” he said.
“Welcome to our city,” said John, stepping unostentatiously between him and the stairs.
Master Maloney, who had taken advantage of the interruption to edge back into the center of things, now appeared to consider the question of his departure permanently shelved. He sidled to a corner of the landing and sat down on an empty soap box with the air of a dramatic critic at the opening night of a new play. The scene looked good to him. It promised interesting developments. He was an earnest student of the drama, as exhibited in the theatres of the East Side, and few had ever applauded the hero of “Escaped from Sing Sing,” or hissed the villain of “Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model” with more fervor. He liked his drama to have plenty of action, and to his practiced eye this one promised well. There was a set expression on John’s face which suggested great things.
His pleasure was abruptly quenched. John, placing a firm hand on his collar, led him to the top of the stairs and pushed him down.
“Beat it,” he said.
The rent-collector watched these things with a puzzled eye. He now turned to John.
“Say, seen anything of the wops that live here?” he inquired. “My name’s Gooch. I’ve come to take the rent.”
“I don’t think there’s much chance of your seeing them to-night,” he said. “The father, I hear, is in prison. You won’t get any rent out of him.”
“Then it’s outside for theirs,” said Mr. Gooch, definitely.
“What about the kid?” said John. “Where’s he to go?”
“That’s up to him. Nothing to do with me. I’m only acting under orders from up top.”
“Whose orders?” inquired John.
“The gent who owns this joint.”
“Who is he?”
Suspicion crept into the protruding eyes of the rent-collector.
“Say!” he demanded. “Who are you, anyway, and what do you think you’re doing here? That’s what I’d like to know. What do you want with the name of the owner of this place? What business is it of yours?”
“I’m a newspaper man.”
GUESSED you were,” said Mr. Gooch, with triumph. “You can’t bluff me. Well, it’s no good, sonny. I’ve nothing for you. You’d better chase off and try something else.
He became more friendly.
“Say though,” he said, “I just guessed you were from some paper. I wish I could give you a story, but I can’t. I guess it’s this Peaceful Moments business that’s been and put your editor on to this joint, ain’t it? Say, though, that’s a queer thing, that paper. Why, only a few weeks ago it used to be a sort of take-home-and-read-to-the-kids affair. A friend of mine used to buy it regular. And then suddenly it comes out with a regular whoop and starts knocking these tenements and boosting Kid Brady, and all that. It gets past me. All I know is that it’s begun to get this place talked about. Why, you see for yourself how it is. Here is your editor sending you down to get a story about it. But, say, those Peaceful Moments guys are taking big risks. I tell you straight they are, and I know. I happen to be wise to a thing or two about what’s going on on the other side, and I tell you there’s going to be something doing if they don’t cut it out quick. Mr. Qem, the fellow who owns this place, isn’t the man to sit still and smile. He’s going to get busy. Say, what paper do you come from?”
“Peaceful Moments,” said John.
For a moment the inwardness of the information did not seem to come home to Mr. Gooch. Then it hit him. He spun round. John was standing squarely between him and the stairs.
“Hey, what’s all this?” demanded Mr. Gooch, nervously. The light was dim in the passage, but it was sufficiently light to enable him to see John’s face, and it did not reassure him.
“I’ll soon tell you,” said John. “First, however, let’s get this business of the kid’s rent settled. Take it out of this and give me the receipt.”
He pulled out a bill.
“Curse his rent,” said Mr. Gooch. “Let me pass.”
“Soon,” said John. “Business before pleasure. How much does the kid have to pay for the privilege of suffocating in this infernal place? As much as that? Well, give me a receipt, and then we can get on to more important things.”
“Let me pass.”
“Receipt,” said John, laconically.
R. GOOCH looked at the big stick, then scribbled a few words in his notebook and tore out the page. John thanked him.
“I will see that it reaches him,” he said. “And now will you kindly tell me the name of the man for whom you collected that money?”
“Let me pass,” bellowed Mr. Gooch. “I’ll bring an action against you for assault and battery. Playing a fool game like this! Get away from those stairs.”
“There has been no assault and battery—yet,” said John. “Well, are you going to tell me?”
Mr. Gooch shuffled restlessly. John leaned against the banisters.
“As you said a moment ago,” he observed, “the staff of Peaceful Moments is taking big risks. I knew it before you told me. I have had practical demonstration of the fact. And that is why this Broster street thing has got to be finished quick. We can’t afford to wait. So I am going to have you tell me this man’s name right now.”
“Help!” yelled Mr. Gooch.
The noise died away, echoing against the walls. No answering cry came from below. Custom had staled the piquancy of such cries in Broster street. If anybody heard it, nobody thought the matter worth investigation.
“If you do that again,” said John, “I’ll break you in half. Now then! I can’t wait much longer. Get busy!”
He looked huge and sinister to Mr. Gooch, standing there in the uncertain light; it was very lonely on that top floor and the rest of the world seemed infinitely far away. Mr. Gooch wavered. He was loyal to his employer, but he was still more loyal to Mr. Gooch.
“Well?” said John.
There was a clatter on the stairs of one running swiftly, and Pugsy Maloney burst into view. For the first time since John had known him Pugsy was openly excited.
“Say, boss,” he cried, “dey’s coming!”
“Why, dem. I seen dem T’ree Pointers—Spider Reilly an’——”
He broke off with a yelp of surprise. Mr. Gooch had seized his opportunity and had made his dash for safety. With a rush he dived past John, nearly upsetting Pugsy, who stood in his path, and sprang down the stairs. Once he tripped, but recovered himself, and in another instant only the faint sound of his hurrying footsteps reached them.
John had made a movement as if to follow, but the full meaning of Pugsy’s words came upon him and he stopped.
“Spider Reilly?” he said.
“I guess it was Spider Reilly,” said Pugsy, excitedly. “I guess dey piped youse comin’ in here.”
“Where did you see them, Pugsy?”
“On the street just outside. I hears dem say you was in here. Dere ain’t no ways out but de front.”
This episode was printed with an illustration captioned “For there, a bare yard away, stood Betty”—the closing words of Chapter XXV in the book. In this serial, the final part of Ch. XXV, including those words, appears as the start of Episode 14, though labeled as part of Ch. XXVI. We present the illustration at its proper place in the next episode.
Text from American book edition omitted from this serial:
The third paragraph from the end is longer in the American book (words in red are not in this serial):
“I guess it was Spider Reilly,” said Pugsy, excitedly. “Dey called him Spider. I guess dey piped youse comin’ in here. Gee! it’s pretty fierce, boss, dis! What youse goin’ to do?”
Similarly, the last paragraph is longer in the American book:
“On the street just outside. Dere was a bunch of dem spielin’ togedder, and I hears dem say you was in here. Dere ain’t no ways out but de front, so dey ain’t hurryin’. Dey just reckon to pike along upstairs, peekin’ inter each room till dey find you. An’ dere’s a bunch of dem goin’ to wait on de street in case youse beat it past down de stairs while de odder guys is rubberin’ for youse. Gee, ain’t dis de limit!”