Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

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 her arrum.”

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.

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page