Heaven by Jacob A. Riis
The door-bell of the Nurses' Settlement rang loudly one rainy night,
and a Polish Jewess demanded speech with Miss Wald. This was the story
she told: She scrubbed halls and stairs in a nice tenement on the East
Side. In one of the flats lived the Schaibles, a young couple not long
in the country. He was a music teacher. Believing that money was found
in the streets of America, they furnished their flat finely on the
installment plan, expecting that he would have many pupils, but none
came. A baby did instead, and when they were three, what with doctor
and nurse, their money went fast. Now it was all gone; the installment
collector was about to seize their furniture for failure to pay, and
they would lose all. The baby was sick and going to die. It would have
to be buried in the trench, for the father and mother were utterly
friendless and penniless.
She told the story dispassionately, as one reciting an every-day
event in tenement-house life, until she came to the sick baby. Then her
soul was stirred.
I couldn't take no money out of that house, she said. She gave her
day's pay for scrubbing to the poor young couple and came straight to
Miss Wald to ask her to send a priest to them. She had little ones
herself, and she knew that the mother's heart was grieved because she
couldn't meet the baby in her heaven if it died and was buried like a
'Tain't mine, she added with a little conscious blush at Miss
Wald's curious scrutiny; but it wouldn't be heaven to her without her
child, would it?
They are not Roman Catholics at the Nurses' Settlement, either, as
it happens, but they know the way well to the priest's door. Before the
night was an hour older a priest was in the home of the young people,
and with him came a sister of charity. Save the baby they could not,
but keep it from the Potter's Field they could and did. It died, and
was buried with all the comforting blessings of the Church, and the
poor young parents were no longer friendless. The installment
collector, met by Miss Wald in person, ceased to be a terror.
And to think, said that lady indignantly from behind the coffee
urn in the morning, to think that they don't have a pupil, not a
The residenters seated at the breakfast table laid down their spoons
with a common accord and gazed imploringly at her. They were used to
having their heads shampooed for the cause by unskilled hands, to have
their dry goods spoiled by tyros at dressmaking, and they knew the
Leading lady, they chorused, oh, leading lady! Have we got
to take music lessons?