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The Kid by Jacob A. Riis

 

He was an every-day tough, bull-necked, square-jawed, red of face, and with his hair cropped short in the fashion that rules at Sing Sing and is admired of Battle Row. Any one could have told it at a glance. The bruised and wrathful face of the policeman who brought him to Mulberry Street, to be “stood up” before the detectives in the hope that there might be something against him to aggravate the offence of beating an officer with his own club, bore witness to it. It told a familiar story. The prisoner's gang had started a fight in the street, probably with a scheme of ultimate robbery in view, and the police had come upon it unexpectedly. The rest had got away with an assortment of promiscuous bruises. The “Kid” stood his ground, and went down with two “cops” on top of him after a valiant battle, in which he had performed the feat that entitled him to honorable mention henceforth in the felonious annals of the gang. There was no surrender in his sullen look as he stood before the desk, his hard face disfigured further by a streak of half-dried blood, reminiscent of the night's encounter. The fight had gone against him—that was all right. There was a time for getting square. Till then he was man enough to take his medicine, let them do their worst.

It was there, plain as could be, in his set jaws and dogged bearing as he came out, numbered now and indexed in the rogues' gallery, and started for the police court between two officers. It chanced that I was going the same way, and joined company. Besides, I have certain theories concerning toughs which my friend the sergeant says are rot, and I was not averse to testing them on the Kid.

But the Kid was a bad subject. He replied to my friendly advances with a muttered curse, or not at all, and upset all my notions in the most reckless way. Conversation had ceased before we were halfway across to Broadway. He “wanted no guff,” and I left him to his meditations respecting his defenceless state. At Broadway there was a jam of trucks, and we stopped at the corner to wait for an opening.

It all happened so quickly that only a confused picture of it is in my mind till this day. A sudden start, a leap, and a warning cry, and the Kid had wrenched himself loose. He was free. I was dimly conscious of a rush of blue and brass; and then I saw—the whole street saw—a child, a toddling baby, in the middle of the railroad track, right in front of the coming car. It reached out its tiny hand toward the madly clanging bell and crowed. A scream rose wild and piercing above the tumult; men struggled with a frantic woman on the curb, and turned their heads away—

And then there stood the Kid, with the child in his arms, unhurt. I see him now, as he set it down, gently as any woman, trying with lingering touch to unclasp the grip of the baby hand upon his rough finger. I see the hard look coming back into his face as the policeman, red and out of breath, twisted the nipper on his wrist, with a half-uncertain aside to me, “Them toughs there ain't no depending on, nohow.” Sullen, defiant, planning vengeance, I see him led away to jail. Ruffian and thief! The police blotter said so.

But, even so, the Kid had proved that my theories about toughs were not rot. Who knows but that, like sergeants, the blotter may be sometimes mistaken?

 
 
 

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