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He Kept His Tryst by Jacob A. Riis


Policeman Schultz was stamping up and down his beat in Hester Street, trying to keep warm, on the night before Christmas, when a human wreck, in rum and rags, shuffled across his path and hailed him:—

“You allus treated me fair, Schultz,” it said; “say, will you do a thing for me?”

“What is it, Denny?” said the officer. He had recognized the wreck as Denny the Robber, a tramp who had haunted his beat ever since he had been on it, and for years before, he had heard, further back than any one knew.

“Will you,” said the wreck, wistfully—“will you run me in and give me about three months to-morrow? Will you do it?”

“That I will,” said Schultz. He had often done it before, sometimes for three, sometimes for six months, and sometimes for ten days, according to how he and Denny and the justice felt about it. In the spell between trips to the island, Denny was a regular pensioner of the policeman, who let him have a quarter or so when he had so little money as to be next to desperate. He never did get quite to that point. Perhaps the policeman's quarters saved him. His nickname of “the Robber” was given to him on the same principle that dubbed the neighborhood he haunted the Pig Market—because pigs are the only ware not for sale there. Denny never robbed anybody. The only thing he ever stole was the time he should have spent in working. There was no denying it, Denny was a loafer. He himself had told Schultz that it was because his wife and children put him out of their house in Madison Street five years before. Perhaps if his wife's story had been heard it would have reversed that statement of facts. But nobody ever heard it. Nobody took the trouble to inquire. The O'Neil family—that was understood to be the name—interested no one in Jewtown. One of its members was enough. Except that Mrs. O'Neil lived in Madison Street, somewhere “near Lundy's store,” nothing was known of her.

“That I will, Denny,” repeated the policeman, heartily, slipping him a dime for luck. “You come around to-morrow, and I will run you in. Now go along.”

But Denny didn't go, though he had the price of two “balls” at the distillery. He shifted thoughtfully on his feet, and said:—

“Say, Schultz, if I should die now,—I am all full o' rheumatiz, and sore,—if I should die before, would you see to me and tell the wife?”

“Small fear of yer dying, Denny, with the price of two drinks,” said the policeman, poking him facetiously in the ribs with his club. “Don't you worry. All the same, if you will tell me where the old woman lives, I will let her know. What's the number?”

But the Robber's mood had changed under the touch of the silver dime that burned his palm. “Never mind, Schultz,” he said; “I guess I won't kick; so long!” and moved off.

The snow drifted wickedly down Suffolk Street Christmas morning, pinching noses and ears and cheeks already pinched by hunger and want. It set around the corner into the Pig Market, where the hucksters plodded knee-deep in the drifts, burying the horse-radish man and his machine and coating the bare, plucked breasts of the geese that swung from countless hooks at the corner stand with softer and whiter down than ever grew there. It drove the suspender-man into the hallway of a Suffolk Street tenement, where he tried to pluck the icicles from his frozen ears and beard with numb and powerless fingers.

As he stepped out of the way of some one entering with a blast that set like a cold shiver up through the house, he stumbled over something, and put down his hand to feel what it was. It touched a cold face, and the house rang with a shriek that silenced the clink of glasses in the distillery, against the side door of which the something lay. They crowded out, glasses in hand, to see what it was.

“Only a dead tramp,” said some one, and the crowd went back to the warm saloon, where the barrels lay in rows on the racks. The clink of glasses and shouts of laughter came through the peep-hole in the door into the dark hallway as Policeman Schultz bent over the stiff, cold shape. Some one had called him.

“Denny,” he said, tugging at his sleeve.

“Denny, come. Your time is up. I am here.” Denny never stirred. The policeman looked up, white in the face.

“My God!” he said, “he's dead. But he kept his date.”

And so he had. Denny the Robber was dead. Rum and exposure and the “rheumatiz” had killed him. Policeman Schultz kept his word, too, and had him taken to the station on a stretcher.

“He was a bad penny,” said the saloon-keeper, and no one in Jewtown was found to contradict him.


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