Chapter 19

Me Word of Honor


Yerkes straightened up and brushed off his sleeve. "You know. . .I should have little trouble finding a new writer for 'Windy' if you feel that you are no longer up to the task," he added, as flatly as the continual ticking of his ticker tape machine. "That will be all, Emma."

Emma started to speak. Her head ached with the desire to tell Yerkes what he could do with his job. But what held her back was her family. Vina had told Emma to keep helping them and she herself felt compelled to do whatever she could. For now, that meant putting up with Yerkes and Martinson. She looked into his collie eyes.

How many women were enchanted by the stories of Yerkes' eyes, of his piracy even, in the press? Of course, the women at Hull House had talked to that editor about the stories that he couldn't print: women maimed, driven to suicide. . . Emma had heard those stories from Florence Kelley, but she had written some of it off to envy. Poor people with hum-drum lives, wishing ill to the rich. She couldn't believe those things of Yerkes. . .Now, looking into his eyes, she believed he was capable of all the things that Florence had related.

Still, people had rumors of some of Yerkes's criminality with young girls. The worse he behaved, the more many of the women of Chicago admired him. But those women had never seen his eyes full of spite as they were now. This morning Yerkes hadn't once looked at Emma in his bemused, appraising way. This was the look that Yerkes saved for Marshall Field and his clique when he told them he would plow them under. This was the flat yet threatening tone of voice that he saved for those he was about to destroy. Emma got up, unsteady on her feet.

"I would like to see that next story tomorrow at seven," said Yerkes.

"I'll bring it by," Emma said dully.

"Not here," Yerkes said without looking up from the ticker tape he was reading. "At the house, up on Michigan Avenue. I want to go over your next column for . . . er . . . grammatical errors."

As she left the office, Mister Martinson handed her a new sheet with an assignment written on it.

"Be sure that you get the facts, this time!" he spat the words out loudly enough to assure that Yerkes could hear.

"I will be sure to, Mister Martinson," Emma said, nodding idiotically. She looked down at the paper in her hand.


"Mister Yerkes wants to be sure to get coverage of that!" Martinson smirked at Emma, as if he knew how much she cared about Jane Addams, for this was a Johnny Powers-organized protest. Johnny would go to all the flea bag hotels and saloons and gather his "citizens' deputation" to harass the meeting that Jane was holding to gain support for her appointment to Ward One's garbage inspector.


"Watch your great, mucky boots, you lummox!" The little Irish woman squealed as one of Powers's hand-picked thugs tripped over her in the swelling crowd.

"Why, pardon me, Grandma!" The man cooed, looming over her head and beaming an ocher-toothed grin at her.

"I'm not your grandma!" The minuscule figure snapped and pulled her ecru shawl tightly around her. The man did not hear because he was making hand signals to several other hulking figures spaced about the mostly non-English-speaking crowd. Voices rose in a hum of Greek, Italian, Spanish, Russian, and Yiddish. In each cluster was a youngster who could translate for the elders.

Emma had worked her way to the front windows of Podorevski's cracker bakery. The aroma of newly baked pretzels hit her nose and reminded Emma that she hadn't eaten since supper the evening before.

She thought of darting inside and buying some bread or pretzels with the nickel she had in her purse, but the crowd was already so thick that she knew she would lose her vantage point. She stayed put.

"Here she comes!" someone whispered excitedly in front of Emma.

Jane led a small boy up onto the platform with her. She stood the little fellow on a chair so that he could be seen by the crowd. He didn't seem the least bit shy, even though he was a runty little thing. Emma wrote a couple phrases of description of the boy: stoop-shouldered, pallid complexion . . ..

"This is my nephew Edward," Jane announced. Edward nodded his little head to the crowd and smiled. "I am Edward's guardian. As you see, he is a delicate child. Last May I realized that the sickening stench and foul vapors that pervade this ward would make it impossible for Edward to summer here with me at Hull House. He is here only for the day, so that you can meet him. Annie, you can take Edward for his ice cream . . . thank you, Edward!" The little boy jumped down off the chair and went off into Hull House with one of the social workers.

"Well, la-de-da," said a burly man near the back of the crowd.

Jane watched Edward go inside and then went on. "The same week I decided to send Edward to boarding school, Solly Saranoff died of consumption. I am ashamed that it never occurred to me to take up the work of sanitation in this ward until my own nephew had to be sent out to the country." Jane looked intently into the faces before her.

"I may well be ashamed that other children were torn from their families — not like my Edward — but into eternity." She nodded and Emma and several other Hull House residents began distributing Jane's campaign literature.

Jane motioned to the little Irish woman in the shawl to come up and join her on the platform. "Many of you know Annie Doyle.
Annie has been president of the Irish seamstresses' union for three years. Despite the fact that the high infant death rate was not in her Irish section of our Ward, but where more recent immigrants live, Annie volunteered to walk the alleys three nights a week to look for sanitation hazards . . .."

Jane asked Annie to tell the people what she found there in those alleys.

"Well, it's many a night I have had cause to rouse me sister Eileen from smokin' her pipe on her doorstep. You all know how hard it is to do a day's laundry 'till your arms want to drop off at the shoulders. But Eileen and seven others did walk with me down the alleys. There we saw carcasses of draft animals, foul rag dumps, entrails from the butchers, things left to bloat and buzz with flies. . .And you all know as well as I do that the big trash bins are the only play furniture that our little ones have!"

Annie continued, squinting her eyes at the recollection, "Young lads sit with their sweethearts on these same trash boxes for they have nowhere else to go. There's a thunderin' disaster lyin' ahead if we don't do something about the terrible filth in our streets and alleys!"

Jane thanked Annie and went on outlining her campaign. The thugs held their peace until she named the garbage commissioner by name and said that his inspectors weren't doing their jobs. Shouts went up from scattered positions in the crowd.

"Go back to Cedarville!"

"Amateur political skirt!"

Emma kept taking her little pad out of her apron and marking frenzied notes on it.

Detective Wooldridge had also seen the meeting announcements and he had several of his men posted in strategic spots, as well.
He was in his favorite disguise: The Tramp. He pulled out a grimy, red calico cloth and wiped his forehead, which was the signal to be ready to move in on the hecklers.

Oblivious to the two potential combatant groups in the crowd, Jane said that she was putting in a bid of her own to cart off the trash. Some of the thugs booed. The women around them told them to pipe down. Jane tried to go on, but one of the Powers men picked up a clod of clay and threw it toward the platform. A melee broke out: women who were on Jane's side took parasols and batted the Powers men a few good ones; the Powers men unleashed their stores of eggs and rotting fruit towards the stage; Detective Wooldridge waved his red cloth over his head and his men drew out their cuffs and began rounding up the hooligans. Due to the projectile fruit, Jane had had to beat a hasty retreat into Hull House and she leaned against a credenza, fighting back tears. Florence Kelley caught a glimpse of herself in the foyer mirror and calmly wiped some tomato off her cheek.

"I've seen worse crowds," Florence volunteered to no one in particular. "But usually they were the late night audience of the variety show at Central Music Hall."

"Florence, you don't actually attend such performances!" This drew Jane a bit out of herself.

"I certainly do!" insisted Florence. "We need to know what the people around Hull House are thinking. And they aren't always thinking about Socrates. I've found it useful to engage them on the subject of living conditions in between acts, those who aren't busy throwing things at the stage. . .."

"Anton says it's a badge of honor to have played the variety night at Central and gone off with no tomato," Emma blurted. "They say our South Chicago audiences are tougher then anywhere."

"'You think you're good? Go play South Chicago!'is the way I heard it," said Florence, warming to the topic.

"Well, I think that I need some rest. . .er. . .before I go out to play South Chicago again!" Jane remarked, stifling a yawn. She turned and trudged off to her room.

"I think her spine is troubling her," said Florence, stifling a yawn and stretching her arms. "She complained of it this afternoon," Florence paused, looking over her spectacles. "Emma, I hear that you're something of a writer.

"Oh . . . I write some things, here and there," Emma tried to seem noncommittal. She didn't want Florence or anyone to guess that she had been behind the unflattering reports of Hull House in the "Windy" column. She tensed, hoping Florence had not somehow gotten on to the source of her little extra income. But Florence seemed just casually curious. "Because the reason I ask is that about fifty women here in the First Ward are pooling our talents and starting a Women's Press. Some of our equipment was donated by that Bohemian paper, the Zensky Listy . . . What's that mean? Women's Day?"

"Women's Pages," said Emma.

"Yes, it's they and some of the young Jewish girls from over at the Maxwell Street Settlement and Mary Hennessey from the Ladies' Typesetters," Florence stretched her arms and yawned."I'm sorry I have to get up so early on my rounds of the factories. . ."

"How is that going, Florence?"

"Well, I haven't been shot at again," she smiled. "I'd say that's something, wouldn't you? We're getting a lot of data. That's something no child has ever had the benefit of before. Ah. . .when one gets injured, I mean."


"Boys," the Mayor began with a rare gleam in his eye. "Now's the time to finish Yerkes. I'll be needing your discreet cooperation in this task." With garbage flying in the breeze throughout the First Ward, Mayor Harrison thought it wise to confer with Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John.

The Bath stood at the French door to the balcony and stared vacantly across the street.

"We've had some word of Yerkes's proclivities. . ."

Bathhouse John cut in, waking up to the interesting turn that the conversation was taking. "What's that you say?"

The Mayor resumed. "It has been a not-well-kept secret that Yerkes has a special fondness for young girls. And some of those young girls do not come out of the man's grasp without scars. . ."

"You don't say, man!" Hinky Dink's little moustache bristled with righteous indignation.

"Ach, Michael, was you sleeping then, when the detective told us the whole story about himself and his wild parties?" Bathhouse snorted."Nevertheless, me mind wanders back to what Senator Billy Mason once told me, 'Keep clear of the big stuff, John, it's dangerous. You and Mike stick to th' small stuff; there's little risk and in the long run it pays a damn sight more.' That man Yerkes is ever and always after the big stuff and nothing but. Makes a fella think he's above all the rules, that does. Mister Maar, we're with you and we'll do what we can. . ."

"I appreciate your enthusiasm," Mayor Harrison smiled, "but I haven't finished the details. We caught an ex-circus girl named Minnie Moore with that jewelled whip that was taken from the Belgian exhibit at the Fair a few days back. She claims that she had an appointment to sell the repulsive objet d'art to Yerkes."

"Why repulsive, Mister Maar? Ain't that the whip that had all those jewels set into it?" Bathhouse scratched his head. Kenna frowned at this dim intellect to which his fortunes were so inextricably twined.

Hinky Dink could stand The Bath's cluelessness no longer and blurted out, "John, the man must have a passion for whipping or being whipped!"

"The bloody Devil, you say!" exclaimed the Bath, not meaning to pun.

"But back to our topic, please! I think that Leopold the King of the Belgians ground every jewel in that thing out of the living flesh of his Negro subjects in the Congo," the Mayor shook his head. "Fitting that Yerkes should be fascinated with the heinous whip and should try to buy it from the thieves. . .." The Mayor shook his head rapidly trying to brush off the filth.

"So, our plan is to let Minnie proceed out to her rendezvous with Yerkes at his mansion and we'll put the finger on him there as a receiver of stolen goods," said the Mayor.

"I see!" exclaimed the little man Kenna. "This will shed such a shadow on Yerkes that his Powers boys won't dare to vote in that Cosmopolitan Electric Ordinance! They would be lynched for sure, being as their connection to Yerkes is common knowledge. Brilliant!"

"It—that bill—is nothing short of robbery." The Mayor slammed his fist onto the table. "Yerkes has robbed Chicago blind over street railways for seven years, but this is too much! He wants the rights to supply heat, power, and signal communications for pennies on the dollar--virtually a give away--for the next fifty years!"

"And a few well-placed bribes to Powers and his nephews, his cousins, and his aunts. . ." The Dink said and grinned.

"But back to that whip, Michael. I was reading in th' papers all about how mysteriously it vanished from the Columbian Exposition and wondering if anything would turn up. I don't like this, though. It means gettin' ourselves mixed up in the big stuff and . . ." Bathhouse started, but the Mayor cut him short.

"If you don't do this now, think of all the poor girls . . ." the Mayor began.

"All right, then." Bathhouse drawled out at length. "We'll do it. But what the devil is it?"

"I know you have assorted fellows who can keep an eye on Minnie between now and tomorrow at three. Make sure she doesn't go over the hill and through the trees."

"You've me word of honor, sir," Bathhouse said solemnly. This statement worried the Mayor, but he kept it to himself.

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