How Jim Went To the War by Jacob A. Riis
Jocko and Jim sat on the scuttle-stairs and mourned; times were out
of joint with them. Since an ill wind had blown one of the recruiting
sergeants for the Spanish War into the next block, the old joys of the
tenement had palled on Jim. Nothing would do but he must go to the war.
The infection was general in the neighborhood. Even base-ball had
lost its savor. The Ivy nine had disbanded at the first drum-beat, and
had taken the fever in a body. Jim, being fourteen, and growing
muscle with daily pride, had it bad. Naturally Jocko, being Jim's
constant companion, developed the symptoms too, and, to external
appearances, thirsted for gore as eagerly as a naturally peace-loving,
long-tailed monkey could.
Jocko had belonged to an Italian organ-grinder in the days of the
persecution, when the aldermen issued an edict, against monkeys. Now
he was hung up for rent, unpaid. And, literally, he remained hung up
most of the time, usually by his tail from the banisters, in which
position he was able both to abet the mischief of the children, and to
elude the stealthy grabs of their exasperated elders by skipping nimbly
to the other side.
The tenement was one of the old-fashioned kind, built for a better
use, with wide, oval stairwell and superior opportunities for
observation and escape. Jocko inhabited the well by day, and from it
conducted his raids upon the tenants' kitchens with an impartiality
which, if it did not disarm, at least had stayed the hand of vengeance
That he gave great provocation not even his stanchest boy friend
could deny. His pursuit of information was persistent. The sight of
Jocko cracking stolen eggs on the stairs to see the yolk run out and
then investigating the empty shell with grave concern was cheering to
the children, but usually provoked a shower of execrations and
scrubbing-brushes from the despoiled households.
When the postman's call was heard in the hall, Jocko was on hand to
receive the mail. Once he did receive it, the impartial zeal with which
he distributed the letters to friend and foe brought forth more
scrubbing-brushes, and Jocko retired to his attic aerie, there to
ponder with Jim, his usual companion when in disgrace, the relation of
eggs and letters and scrubbing-brushes in a world that seemed all awry
to their simple minds.
The sense was heavy upon them this day as they sat silently brooding
on the stairs, Jim glum and hopeless, with his arms buried to the elbow
in his trousers pockets, Jocko, a world of care in his wrinkled face,
humped upon the step at his shoulder with limp tail. The rain beat upon
the roof in fitful showers, and the April storm rattled the crazy
shutters, adding to the depression of the two.
Jim broke the silence when a blast fiercer than the rest shook the
old house. 'Tain't right, he said dolefully, I know it ain't, Jock!
There's Tom and Foley gone off an' 'listed, and them only four years
older nor me. What's four years? This with a sniff of contempt.
Jocko gazed straight ahead. Four years of scrubbing-brushes and
stealthy grabs at his tail on the stairs! To Jocko they were a long,
An' dad! wailed Jim, unheeding. I hear him tell Mr. Murphy
himself that he was a drummer-boy in the war, and he won't let me at
A slightly upward curl of Jocko's tail testified to his sympathy.
I seen 'em march to de camp with their guns and drums. There was a
catch in Jim's voice now. And Susie's feller was there in
Jim broke down in desolation and despair at the recollection. Jocko
hitched as close to him as the step would let him, and brought his
shaggy side against the boy's jacket in mute compassion. So they sat in
silence until suddenly Jim got up and strode across the floor twice.
Jock, he said, stopping short in front of his friend, I know what
I'll do. Jock, do you hear? I know what I'm going to do!
Jocko sat up straight, erected his tail into a huge interrogation
point, cocked his wise little head on one side, and regarded his ally
expectantly. The storm was over, and the afternoon sun sent a ray
slanting across the floor.
I'm going anyhow! I'll run away, Jock! That's what I'll do! I'll
get a whack at them dagoes yet!
Jim danced a gleeful breakdown on the patch of sunlight, winding up
by making a grab for Jocko, who evaded him by jumping over his head to
the banister, where he became an animated pinwheel in approval of the
new mischief. They stopped at last, out of breath.
Jock, said the boy, considering his playmate approvingly, you
will make a soldier yourself yet. Come on, let's have a drill! This
way, Jock, up straight! Now, attention! Right handsalute! Jocko
exactly imitated his master, and so learned the rudiments of the
soldier's art as Jim knew it.
You'll do, Jock, he said, when the dusk stole into the attic, but
you can't go this trip. Good-by to you. Here goes for the soger camp!
There was surprise in the tenement when Jim did not come home for
supper; as the evening wore on the surprise became consternation. His
father gave over certain preparations for his reception which, if Jim
had known of them, might well have decided him to stick to sogering,
and went to the police station to learn if the boy had been heard of
there. He had not, and an alarm which the Sergeant sent out discovered
no trace of him the next day.
Jim was lost, but how? His mother wept, and his father spent weary
days and nights inquiring of every one within a distance of many blocks
for a red-headed boy in knee-pants and a base-ball cap. The grocer's
clerk on the corner alone furnished a clew. He remembered giving Jim
two crackers on the afternoon of the storm and seeing him turn west.
The clew began and ended there. Slowly the conviction settled on the
tenement that Jim had really run away to enlist.
I'll enlist him! said his father; and the tenement acquiesced in
the justice of his intentions and awaited developments. And all the
time Jocko kept Jim's secret safe.
Jocko had troubles enough of his own. Jim's friendship and quick wit
had more than once saved the monkey; for despite of harum-scarum ways,
the boy with the sunny smile was a general favorite. Now that he was
gone, the tenement rose in wrath against its tormentor; and Jocko
accepted the challenge.
All his lawless instincts were given full play. Even of the banana
man at the street stand who had given him peanuts when trade was good,
or sold them to him in exchange for pilfered pennies, he made an enemy
by grabbing bananas when his back was turned. Mrs. Rafferty, on the
second floor rear, one of his few champions, he estranged by exchanging
the war extra which the carrier left at the door for her, for the
German paper served to Mrs. Schultz, her pet aversion on the floor
below. Mrs. Rafferty upset the wash-tub in her rage at this prank.
Ye imp, she shrieked, laying about her with a wet towel, wid yer
hathen Dootch! It's that yer up to, is it? and poor Jocko paid dearly
for his mistake.
As he limped painfully to his attic retreat, his bitterest
reflection might have been that even the children, his former partners
in every plot against the public peace, had now joined in the general
assault upon him. Truly, every man's hand was raised against Jocko, and
in the spirit of Ishmael he entered on his crowning exploit.
On the top floor of the rear house was Mrs. Hoffman, a quiet German
tenant, who had heretofore escaped Jocko's unwelcome attentions. Now,
in his banishment to the upper regions, he bestowed them upon her with
an industry to which she objected loudly, but in vain. Shut off from
his accustomed base of supplies, he spent his hours watching her
kitchen from the fire-escape, and if she left it but for a minute, he
was over the roof and, by way of the shutter, in her flat, foraging for
In the battles that ensued, when Mrs. Hoffman surprised him, some of
her spare crockery was broken without damage to the monkey. Vainly did
she turn the key of her ice-box and think herself safe. Jocko had
watched her do it, and turned it, too, on his next trip, with results
satisfactory to himself. The climax came when he was discovered sitting
at the open skylight, under which Mrs. Hoffman and her husband were
working at their tailoring trade, calmly puffing away at Mr. Hoffman's
cherished meerschaum, and leisurely picking the putty from the glass
and dropping it upon the heads of the maddened couple.
The old German's terror and emotion at the sight nearly choked him.
Jocko, he called, with shaking voice, you fool monkey! Jocko! Papa's
pet! Come down mit mine pipe!
But Jocko merely brandished the pipe, and shook it at the tailor
with a wicked grin that showed all his sharp little teeth. Mrs. Hoffman
wanted to call a policeman and the board of health, but the thirst for
vengeance suggested a more effective plan to the tailor.
Wait! I fix him! I fix him good! he vowed, and forthwith betook
himself to the kitchen, where stood the ice-box.
From his attic lookout Jocko saw the tailor take from the ice-box a
bottle of beer, and drawing the cork with careful attention to detail,
partake of its contents with apparent relish. Finally the tailor put
back the bottle and went away, after locking the ice-box, but leaving
the key in the lock.
His step was yet on the stairs when the monkey peered through the
window, reached the ice-box with a bound and turned the key. There was
the bottle, just as the tailor had left it. Jocko held it as he had
seen him do, and pulled the cork. It came out easily. He held the
bottle to his mouth. After a while he put it down, and thoughtfully
rubbed the pit of his stomach. Then he took another pull, following
directions to the letter.
The last ray of the evening sun stole through the open window as
Jocko arose and wandered unsteadily toward the bedroom, the door of
which stood ajar. There was no one within. On the wall hung Mrs.
Hoffman's brocade shawl and Sunday hat. Jocko had often watched her put
them on. Now he possessed himself of both, and gravely carried them to
In the early twilight such a wail of bereavement arose in the rear
house that the tenants hurried from every floor to learn what was the
matter. It was Mrs. Hoffman, bemoaning the loss of her shawl and Sunday
A hurried search left no doubt who was the thief. There was the open
window, and the empty bottle on the door by the ice-box. Jocko's hour
of expiation had come. In the uproar that swelled louder as the angry
crowd of tenants made for the attic, his name was heard coupled with
direful threats. Foremost in the mob was Jim's father, with the stick
he had peeled and seasoned against the boy's return. In some way, not
clear to himself, he connected the monkey with Jim's truancy, and it
was something to be able to avenge himself on its hairy hide.
But Jocko was not in the attic. The mob ranged downstairs, searching
every nook and getting angrier as it went. The advance-guard had
reached the first floor landing, when a shout of discovery from one of
the boy scouts directed all eyes to the wall niche at the turn of the
There, in the place where the Venus of Milo or the winged Mercury
had stood in the days when wealth and fashion inhabited Houston Street,
sat Jocko, draped in Mrs. Hoffman's brocade shawl, her Sunday hat
tilted rakishly on one side, and with his tail at port-arms over his
left shoulder. He blinked lazily at the foe and then his head tilted
forward under Mrs. Hoffman's hat.
Saints presarve us! gasped Mrs. Rafferty, crossing herself. The
baste is drunk!
Yes, Jocko was undeniably tipsy. For one brief moment a sense of the
ludicrous struggled with the just anger of the mob. That moment decided
the fate of Jocko. There came a thunderous rap at the door, and there
stood a policeman with Jim, the runaway, in his grasp.
Does this boy he shouted, and stopped short, his gaze riveted
upon the monkey. Jim, shivering with apprehension, all desire to be a
soldier gone out of him, felt rather than saw the whole tenement
assembled in judgment, and he the culprit. He raised his tear-stained
face and beheld Jocko mounting guard. Policeman, camp, failure, and the
expected beating were all alike forgotten. He remembered only the sunny
attic and his pranks with Jocko, their last game of soldiering.
Attention! he piped at the top of his shrill voice. Right
At the word of command Jocko straightened up like a veteran, looked
sleepily around, and raising his right paw, saluted in military
fashion. The movement pushed the hat back on his head, and gave a
swaggering look to the forlorn figure that was irresistibly comical.
It was too much for the spectators. With a yell of laughter, the
tenement abandoned vengeance. Peal after peal rang out, in which the
policeman, Jim, and his father joined, old scores forgotten and
The cyclone of mirth aroused Jocko. He made a last groping effort to
collect his scattered wits, and met the eyes of Jim at the foot of the
stairs. With a joyful squeal of recognition he gave it up, turned one
mighty, inebriated somersault and went flying down, shedding Mrs.
Hoffman's garments to the right and left in his flight, and landed
plump on Jim's shoulder, where he sat grinning general amnesty, while a
rousing cheer went up for the two friends.
The slate was wiped clean. Jim had come home from the war.