War on the Goats by Jacob A. Riis
War has been declared in Hell's Kitchen. An indignant public opinion
demands to have something done ag'in' them goats, and there is alarm
at the river end of the street. A public opinion in Hell's Kitchen that
demands anything besides schooners of mixed ale is a sign. Surer than a
college settlement and a sociological canvass, it foretells the end of
the slum. Sebastopol, the rocky fastness of the gang that gave the
place its bad name, was razed only the other day, and now the police
have been set on the goats. Cause enough for alarm.
A reconnaissance in force by the enemy showed some foundation for
the claim that the goats owned the block. Thirteen were found foraging
in the gutters, standing upon trucks, or calmly dozing in doorways.
They evinced no particularly hostile disposition, but a marked desire
to know the business of every chance caller in the block. This caused a
passing unpleasantness between one big white goat and the janitress of
the tenement on the corner. Being crowded up against the wall by the
animal, bent on exploring her pockets, she beat it off with her
scrubbing-pail and mop. The goat, thus dismissed, joined a horse at the
curb in apparently innocent meditation, but with one leering eye fixed
back over its shoulder upon the housekeeper setting out an ash barrel.
Her back was barely turned when it was in the barrel, with head and
fore feet exploring its depths. The door of the tenement opened upon
the housekeeper trundling another barrel just as the first one fell and
rolled across the sidewalk, with the goat capering about. Then was the
air filled with bad language and a broomstick and a goat for a moment,
and the woman was left shouting her wrongs.
What de divil good is dem goats anyhow? she said, panting.
There's no housekeeper in de United Shtates can watch de ash cans wid
dem divil's imps around. They near killed an Eyetalian child the other
day, and two of them got basted in de neck when de goats follied dem
and didn't get nothing. That big white one o' Tim's, he's the worst in
de lot, and he's got only one horn, too.
This wicked and unsymmetrical animal is denounced for its malice
throughout the block by even the defenders of the goats. Singularly
enough, he cannot be located, and neither can Tim. If the scouting
party has better luck and can seize this wretched beast, half the
campaign may be over. It will be accepted as a sacrifice by one side,
and the other is willing to give it up.
Mrs. Shallock lives in a crazy old frame-house, over a saloon. Her
kitchen is approached by a sort of hen-ladder, a foot wide, which
terminates in a balcony, the whole of which was occupied by a big gray
goat. There was not room for the police inquisitor and the goat too,
and the former had to wait till the animal had come off his perch. Mrs.
Shallock is a widow. A load of anxiety and concern overspread her
motherly countenance when she heard of the trouble.
Are they after dem goats again? she said. Sarah! Leho! come right
here, an' don't you go in the street again. Excuse me, sor! but it's
all because one of dem knocked down an old woman that used to give it a
paper every day. She is the mother of the blind newsboy around on the
avenue, an' she used to feed an old paper to him every night. So he
follied her. That night she didn't have any, an' when he stuck his nose
in her basket an' didn't find any, he knocked her down, an' she bruk
Whether it was the one-horned goat that thus insisted upon his
sporting extra does not appear. Probably it was.
There's neighbors lives there has got 'em on floors, Mrs. Shallock
kept on. I'm paying taxes here, an' I think it's my privilege to have
one little goat.
I just wish they'd take 'em, broke in the widow's buxom daughter,
who had appeared in the doorway, combing her hair. They goes up in the
hall and knocks on the door with their horns all night. There's sixteen
dozen of them on the stoop, if there's one. What good are they? Let's
sell 'em to the butcher, mamma; he'll buy 'em for mutton, the way he
did Bill Buckley's. You know right well he did.
They ain't much good, that's a fact, mused the widow. But yere's
Leho; she's follying me around just like a child. She is a regular pet,
is Leho. We got her from Mr. Lee, who is dead, and we called her after
him, Leho [Leo]. Take Sarah; but Leho, little Leho, let's keep.
Leho stuck her head in through the front door and belied her name.
If the widow keeps her, another campaign will shortly have to be begun
in Forty-sixth Street. There will be more goats where Leho is.
Mr. Cleary lives in a rear tenement and has only one goat. It
belongs, he says, to his little boy, and is no good except to amuse
him. Minnie is her name, and she once had a mate. When it was sold, the
boy cried so much that he was sick for two weeks. Mr. Cleary couldn't
think of parting with Minnie.
Neither will Mr. Lennon, in the next yard, give up his. He owns the
stable, he says, and axes no odds of anybody. His goat is some good
anyhow, for it gives milk for his tea. Says his wife, Many is the dime
it has saved us. There are two goats in Mr. Lennon's yard, one perched
on top of a shed surveying the yard, the other engaged in chewing at a
buck-saw that hangs on the fence.
Mrs. Buckley does not know how many goats she has. A glance at the
bigger of the two that are stabled at the entrance to the tenement
explains her doubts, which are temporary. Mrs. Buckley says that her
husband generally sells them away, meaning the kids, presumably to
the butcher for mutton.
Hey, Jenny! she says, stroking the big one at the door. Jenny eyes
the visitor calmly, and chews an old newspaper. She has two horns.
She ain't as bad as they lets on, says Mrs. Buckley.
The scouting party reports the new public opinion of the Kitchen to
be of healthy but alien growth, as yet without roots in the soil strong
enough to stand the shock of a general raid on the goats. They
recommend as a present concession the seizure of the one-horned Billy
that seems to have no friends on the block, if indeed he belongs there,
and an ambush is being laid accordingly.