Driven from Home
by Jacob A. Riis
Doctor, what shall I do? My father wants me to tend bar on Sunday.
I am doing it nights, but SundayI don't want to. What shall I do?
The pastor of Olivet Church looked kindly at the lad who stood
before him, cap in hand. The last of the Sunday-school had trailed out;
the boy had waited for this opportunity. Dr. Schauffler knew and liked
him as one of his bright boys. He knew, too, his homethe sordid,
hard-fisted German father and his patient, long-suffering mother.
What do you think yourself, Karl?
I don't want to, Doctor. I know it is wrong.
All right then, don't.
But he will kick me out and never take me back. He told me so, and
he'll do it.
The boy's face flushed. At fourteen, to decide between home and duty
is not easy. And there was his mother. Knowing him, the Doctor let him
fight it out alone. Presently he squared his shoulders as one who has
made his choice.
I can't help it if he does, he said; it isn't right to ask me.
If he does, come straight here. Good-by!
Sunday night the door-bell of the pastor's study rang sharply. The
Doctor laid down his book and answered it himself. On the threshold
stood Karl with a small bundle done up in a bandana handkerchief.
Well, I am fired, he said.
Come in, then. I'll see you through.
The boy brought in his bundle. It contained a shirt, three collars,
and a pair of socks, hastily gathered up in his retreat. The Doctor
Going light, he smiled. Men fight better for it sometimes. Great
battles have been won without baggage trains.
The boy looked soberly at his all.
I have got to win now, Doctor. Get me a job, will you?
Things moved swiftly with Karl from that Sunday. Monday morning saw
him at work as errand-boy in an office, earning enough for his keep at
the boarding-house where his mother found him at times when his father
was alone keeping bar. That night he registered at the nearest evening
school to complete his course. The Doctor kept a grip on his studies,
as he had promised, and saw him through. It was not easy sledding, but
it was better than the smelly saloon. From the public school he
graduated into the Cooper Institute, where his teachers soon took
notice of the wide-awake lad. Karl was finding himself. He took
naturally to the study of languages, and threw himself into it with all
the ardor of an army marching without baggage train to meet an enemy.
He had got to win, and he did. All the while he earned his living
working as a clerk by daywith very little baggage yet to boast
ofand sitting up nights with his books. When he graduated from the
Institute, the battle was half won.
The other half he fought on his own ground, with the enemy's tents
in sight. His attainments procured for him a place in the Lenox
Library, where his opportunity for reading was limited only by his
ambition. He made American history and literature his special study,
and in the course of time achieved great distinction in his field. And
they were married and lived happily ever after might by right be added
to his story. He did marry an East Side girl who had been his
sweetheart while he was fighting his uphill battle, and they have
to-day two daughters attending college.
It is the drawback to these stories that, being true, they must
respect the privacy of their heroes. If that were not so, I should tell
you that this hero's name is not Karl, but one much better befitting
his fight and his victory; that he was chosen historian of his home
State, and held the office with credit until spoils politics thrust him
aside, and that he lives to-day in the capital city of another State,
an authority whose word is not lightly questioned on any matter
pertaining to Americana. That is the record of the East Side boy who
was driven from home for refusing to tend bar in his father's saloon on
Sunday because it was not right.
He never saw his father again. He tried more than once, but the door
of his home was barred against him. Not with his mother's consent; in
long after years, when once again Dr. Schauffler preached at Olivet, a
little German woman came up after the sermon and held out her hand to
You made my Karl a man, she said.
No, replied the preacher, soberly, God made him.